Thursday, January 27, 2011

another little pizza my heart

While its been only little over a week ago that I was singing praise for Peter Reinhart's neo-Naplotena dough recipe, after that post I felt maybe I was a little quick to settle.  If anything, I felt more inspired to experiment.  There are a bunch of recipes, styles, flour types, etc that I've been wanting to try and I'm feeling pretty motivated right now.

So here it is, three glorious nights (and two glorious leftover lunches) of pizza:


If each pie was baked in the same oven, using the same ingredients, and each dough was given the same length of time to rise, I'd be able to say that sunday night's dough was the control.  But seeing as none of these were constant, we'll just have to think of sunday night's dough as being familiar.  I made two pies using my 'stand-by' Peter Reinhart neo-Napoletana dough recipe glorified in my previous post on pizza. I allowed the dough to rise for 24 hours in my fridge and let it relax for one or two more at room temperature. At 24 hours, I had a great rise and a loose dough that baked into a fine crust - yeasty/bread-y, one of the better pies I've made with this recipe... although I probably could have salted the dough a little bit more.      

Mushroom pie - tomatoes, garlic, capers, fontina, taleggio, mozzarella, mushrooms, parmigiano


Monday night's pizza dough was made with "00" flour from Caputo.  I've been wanting to try this flour for some time.  This flour is super-soft and seems to be considered the only flour fit for pizza-making in Naples.  Finely milled winter wheat (sown in the winter, harvested in the spring - comparable in protein/gluten to APF), makes for a silky and light dough.  Having only a rough idea of where to start with this flour I found a basic recipe on fornobravo that I adapted a little bit.  Here's what I came up with:

  • 500g or 4 cups of "00" flour
  • 10g or 4tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (plus approx. 20%more) bloomed in 1/4 cup hot water (under 140F) and about 1/8 - 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup water at room temp - plus 1 or 2T more if needed
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 T honey
(The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups water + 2-3 T - I deducted 1/4 cup from this amount for blooming the yeast.  You'll also notice that the original recipe does not call to bloom the yeast at all.  If I were going for a long rise with this one (as you'll see in the next recipe) I might have gone ahead and just weighed it in to my mix without blooming, but I only had a a few hours and wanted to make sure my yeast was kicking... perhaps instant yeast would be an alright substitute for a shorter rise)

If you have a scale, weigh out your flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Otherwise, measure out.  Add olive oil and honey.  Bloom yeast for 5 minutes and once active, add to bowl with 1 1/14 cup water. You can mix the dough in a mixer (if you have one see original recipe) but I worked it by hand using a wooden spoon.  I used the same method for mixing as I did with Reinhart's dough: incorporating all ingredients until I had a rough looking dough, letting it rest for 5 minutes, and mixing by hand for an additional 5. Again, a sticky dough that should be tacky but release from the bowl and your hands.  I then shaped the dough into a ball and let it rise at room temperature under a damp towel for a little more than 2 hours - until doubled.

note: If I had the time, I would have given it a 12 - 24 hour rise in the fridge either here or at the last step, but I was eager to try this dough and knew I could still get good results out of a short rise.

I then punched down the dough, pushing the air out from the center.  I shaped it into a large ball and divided it into 3 equal pieces.  I then shaped each piece into a tight ball, set them seam-side down in a lightly oiled pyrex dish and covered them with a damp towel for another hour or so to rest.

Once the dough is relaxed and you're ready to make your pizza, handle it gently - it does not require much work.  When pushing from the center to form your pie you can feel, hear, and see the air being pushed outwards towards your crust - it's pretty cool and kind of helps you make sense of the crust phenomenon.

Margherita - tomatoes, mozzarella, basil:

Mushroom pie - tomatoes, garlic, taleggio, fontina, mushrooms

Close up of the goodness... peep the crust.

White and green - bechamel, fontina, caramelized onions, verde capra, topped with arugula 

By the last pie, the dough was even more relaxed and in turn required even less tossing. Overall, this was undoubtedly the best dough I'd made so far.  The crust on the first pie felt to be lacking the flavor of the bread flour dough I like so much, but by the third pie you wouldn't be able to tell.  A longer rise in the fridge would definitely benefit this dough.

Note to the buyer: If you're trying to get your hands on some "00" flour to bake some pies, you want the type suitable for pizza, not pastry - pastry flour will be lighter and develop less gluten.  The bags of "00" flour that are pizza-worthy usually depict a pizza on the packaging.  For this recipe, I used most of the contents of a 2.2lb bag of Antimo Caputo "00".  You're likely to find it at The/an Italian market.


When it comes to baking bread, I'm a big fan of the no-knead method.  Still a novice baker, I have followed a few different methods and techniques that involve kneading my dough and so far none produce results as fantastic, consistent, and frankly as easily as the recipes in Jim Lahey's book, "My Bread". When I look back on it now, I was hooked on Lahey's bread before I even baked my first loaf. I remember living in NY and how after a long day at the cheese shop I would sometimes return home with Pugliese and ciabatta loaves from Sullivan St. Bakery - I survived off of these for a good while. 

When the idea for three nights of pizza was coming together in my head (quite quickly at that, I resolved on it in a matter of milli-moments) I knew that I wanted one of the nights to feature a no-knead dough. And so I did a quick search for Co.'s recipe, and there it was - published almost two years ago in New York Magazine, Jim Lahey shares his dough recipe from his highly praised pizzeria, Co.:

3 cups APF or bread flour (I used bread flour)
1/4 tsp instant yeast (I used active dry without blooming)*
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups water (room temp)

*on yeast - Lahey writes, "The long fermentation I propose means that only a tiny amount of yeast is required, since it will have plenty of time to grow and do its job, and I've found that in such small quantities, it doesn't matter much whether you use instant or another type of active dry yeast.  A benefit to using a smaller amount of yeast is that it makes room for naturally occurring flavorful bacteria that are attracted to flour to enter into the equation during the 12 - 18 hour fermentation.  These bacteria attack proteins, which they metabolize into compounds that contribute to the acidic, complex flavors of a well-fermented bread dough." 

In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, and salt.  Add water and stir till blended. Dough will be sticky.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm spot, about 70 degrees, for 12 - 24 hours (I went the full 24 with this one).  

Then, dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, dusting the top of your dough with flour.  With floured hands, lightly pat it down and fold it over onto itself once or twice.   Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.  

[If you want to get an idea of what no-knead dough looks like at this or any stage and how to fold it, etc., peep the famous episode of Mark Bittman's The Minimalist with Jim Lahey here and maybe bake a loaf yourself!]

Cut the dough into three or four pieces depending how thin you want your crust/how small you want your pies.  I went for three. Round out each ball as you would in the previous recipes. Generously sprinkle a clean cotton towel with flour and cover the dough. Let rest for 2 hours.

Now, if you followed the link to the nymag page where the recipe was published, you'll read that they recommend preheating your oven on high broil with your pizza stone on the middle rack, removing the hot stone from the oven, and laying your dough out on top of it.  This to me seems a bit impractical, disadvantageous, dangerous (to you, your counter, and your crust), as well as just flat-out unnecessary. I made these pies the same old way - preheating my oven to 480 with the stone on the very bottom and topping my pies on a well floured/corn-meal-ed peel, ready for a toss into the oven.  I didn't always own a peel (or two) and before I did I would lay my pies on top a large cutting board or the underside of a serving tray - whatever you think would work, give it a try - thick cardboard from a pizza box might even do the trick.  Whatever you use, just make sure your pie will slide off of it with ease - use flour and corn meal!!!


Margherita - tomatoes, mozzarella, basil

Mushrooms and spinach - tomatoes, garlic, oregano, mozzarella, fontina, mushrooms, spinach, parmigiano

White - ricotta, mozzarella, fontina, caramelized onion, mushrooms, parmigiano


I thought I would note that this dough recipe is a bit different from the basic pizza dough recipe featured in his book - with a long rise at a warm temperature and with a fraction of the yeast, this recipe is more closely related to his breads than his pizzas from "My Bread".  Like his breads, this recipe makes for a terrifically light, airy, bread-y and flavorful crust.  

In shaping the pies, this dough was real malleable and produced fine results but it had a lot of elasticity. I found it not wanting to hold its shape as well as the "00" flour but had far more give than Reinhart's neo-Napoletana dough.  It would shrink a bit after each time I'd stretch it - despite all that time out at room temperature, it didn't seem fully relaxed.  Also, when pushing out the dough, the air did not want to go towards the crust - it felt sort of like trying to push out an air pocket behind wallpaper where you just keep pushing it around but never actually get it out.  I wonder if perhaps APF would be better suited to this method, that perhaps the protein in bread flour is just too high? STILL! Because of its flavor, structure, and texture, this dough was our favorite...  But! a really close call between monday and tuesday for sure.  Lahey's is certainly the easiest to make, it's just the waiting that's hard.  

MAN THIS PIZZA QUEST JUST NEVER FREAKIN ENDS!!!!!!! and you know, that's alright.

Next up - semolina, longer rise "00", whole wheat (eh?), blends!, no-knead APF? 

"You don't need a weather man to know which way the dough rises." - Bob Dylan

Monday, January 24, 2011

this chai ova here.

This past summer I got really into making my own chai iced tea, blending spices with assam and other loose varieties.  That is, until I drank a whole pitcher in one day and kind of tweaked.

BUT!  Now that we're in the colder months and depend less on large quantities of ice cold beverages to comfort us, I've found a way to enjoy the warm spice of chai tea once again.  And while a toasty mug might get the job done, a bowl is more fitting for this one.

I'm talking of course about chai oatmeal.

This recipe 'occurred to me' one morning when like many a winter's morning, I had a hankering for oatmeal.  I typically like my oatmeal simple and on the sweeter side - spicing my oats with cinnamon and topping off with maple syrup usually seems like a good idea.  But one morning I thought, why not add some cardamom?  And maybe some nutmeg and coriander would be good too... and the rest just unfolded over the course of a few breakfasts.  I remember thinking, 'man, how come no one's ever done this?'  So I googled 'chai oatmeal' and found a bunch of recipes from other enthusiastic oatmeal tinkerers like myself that have in fact already 'done this'.  One thing that sets my recipe apart however is the inclusion of tea.  I think you could really experiment with tea types to add depth and meatiness to this recipe.

1/2 cup rice milk + 3T or so (you could also use soy milk, almond milk, whole milk, etc)
1/2 cup water
1/4tsp salt
[a pinch of crushed cardamom seeds
a pinch of crushed coriander seeds
a couple dashes of ginger powder or 4 - 8 thin slices fresh
a tiny pinch of nutmeg 
a dash or two of cinnamon
a drop or two of vanilla (if you'd like)
one or two turns on a pepper grinder]*
1tsp light brown sugar
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup raisins
1 bag of black tea or 1 tsp loose tea in an infuser (feel free to experiment - early gray or perhaps even lapsang souchong might be interesting)  

*[all the spices can be adjusted to taste - I mean, 'pinch', 'dash', and 'tiny pinch' aren't real measurements]

Stir all but the last three ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir in oats and raisins; add tea bag and lower heat to a simmer.  Remove tea bag after steeping for 3 - 4 minutes and simmer oats for an additional 1 or 2 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and oats are at desired doneness.  Stir a couple of times, let sit for a minute, and transfer to a bowl. 

You know what happens next.  It's the what do you do if you're into oatmeal in the morning but you don't have the time to make it or if you do, you won't have time to eat it warm... or maybe you just desire a satisfying crunch cradled by cold milk and don't care to keep buying by the box or even by the bulk. 

You make your own granola.  

And the mysteries unravel... 

Here's the original recipe we followed on the first round, straight out the pages of the Candle Cafe Cookbook:

1 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup safflower or coconut oil
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Combine all but last two ingredients.  Spread out on the baking sheet, bake for 20 minutes, until golden, stirring every 5.  Remove from oven and let cool. Transfer to a bowl and stir in raisins and coconut.

Pretty easy.

And as one good idea often inspires another, we go full circle with an adaptation of this granola recipe giving us...

Chai Spiced Granola!

1 1/2 cup oats (blend steel and rolled and whatever other kind of oats you want in the ratio you want)
1 cup nuts (we did pecans that we broke up by hand, whole almonds and whole cashews)
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup quinoa
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup
a little less than 1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
[1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp or a couple dashes of crushed cardamom
a couple dashes crushed coriander
tiny pinch of nutmeg
couple turns on the pepper grinder
a couple dashes of ginger
a couple dashes of cinnamon
pinch of cayenne pepper]*
raisins (just add when ready to eat)

*again, spice to taste

Also, we measured the nuts, seeds, and quinoa really just by tossing them in and seeing what ratio we liked.  You could do the same, or you could go by these estimates - you could always add more syrup to your mix if it ends up looking too dry.


In a large bowl, mix oats, nuts, seeds, and quinoa.  In another bowl, mix liquid ingredients with your salt and spices.  Taste as you go, decreasing or increasing quantities of spices as you'd like them.  Pour liquid spice blend over dry ingredients and mix till wet.  Spread out onto a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 350 for 20 - 25 minutes, until golden, stirring every 5 minutes.  Remove and let cool. Transfer to a bowl and stir in raisins.

Notes on the Chai Granola Recipe
Other dried fruit like apricots or golden raisins would be a welcome alternative/addition to raisins, especially with this recipe.  Also, we used vegetable oil and I think next time I would in fact try to use safflower or coconut oil - the flavor of the veggie oil does come through a little and I think a more neutral oil would definitely be better.  We just used what was on hand.  You could also still include the coconut or even incorporate it during the last five minutes of baking to get it nice and toasty.  Might even try finishing with flake salt while the mix is still warm.  Also, the spices were mellower than I thought they'd be - a heavier hand would be alright with this recipe... still came out pretty good though, gotta say.

As you can see, granola's pretty straight forward and open to interpretation.  It's kind of like the kitchen sink of cereals and most of the ingredients are non-perishable, so a stocked pantry is really your main ingredient.  Also, it will keep for a month or so in an air-tight container - why ever buy cereal again?

double blog post, all the way across your screen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

hey, you guys - you know what i'm in the mood for?

Over the past couple of years I've made lots of different kinds of pizzas.  Dreamt them, shaped them, sauced them, cheesed them, topped them, baked them and ate them gladly.  In this time, between inquisitiveness and practice, my tools and know how have improved to the point where I'm eating some of the tastiest pizzas I've had outside of a pizza or wood burning brick oven.       

Some seemingly minor but truthfully major advances in my technological world include an oven and cookware upgrade.  When we renewed our lease we went from a beat-up can that could hardly reach 375 to a brand new oven that reaches 500 in 15 minutes and counts down along the way.  I also went from a stubborn corner-cut to one of the best gifts of all time - my pizza stone evolved from 6 unglazed quarry tiles that slid around and were difficult to clean to a glazed ceramic stone from Emile Henry that produces fantastic results and is pretty easy to clean.  Without these improvements, home pizzas just wouldn't be the same.

Until about a year ago I was sourcing pre-made dough from just about wherever I could - from pizza shops and specialty markets or acquiring it after a late night of wading through some discarded treasure (or waiting for friends to return from the task).  

The more pizza I made the more I wanted to make my own pizza dough.  Finding the right dough recipe wasn't terribly challenging but required some poking around... As my pies improved, I experienced how a great dough could inspire better sauce and better cheese, overall better pizza.

Here are a couple of recipes I was working with/testing at home:
  • A dough recipe from an issue of Saveur devoted to LA food.  The recipe was adapted from Pizzeria Mozza in LA (Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joseph Bastianich).  I found it was too bready and not quite what I was looking for.  I read online that others who tried the recipe and/or dined at the restaurant felt similarly.
  • Jim Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough - the bread guru's recipe featured on a neat blog I just stumbled on... highlighting the Pizza Patate which is one of my favorites.  Jim Lahey's recipes can bring out the artisan in everyone - they're super accessible and the long rises make for yeasty and rustic crumbs or in this case, crusts.  With this particular recipe what you have is a large spongey dough that is stretched across a sheet pan after rising for about 2 hours with absolutely no kneading.  The dough is flavorful but the bottom isn't as crispy as I'd like (that's why the stone is so handy).
Maybe it's a little corny and has nothing to do with taste, but placing the dough on a sheet pan and tossing it in the oven just doesn't excite me.  I really enjoy the part where you get to slide the pizza off the peel (or whatever you're using) and the satisfaction of hitting the stone, peeling it back real easy, closing the oven and coming back to a golden bubbling crust some minutes later.  And so I kept looking and found a dough that allowed me to do just that and tastes and feels great.

Here's my adaptation of the recipe that's become my standby - sourced from's Pizza Primer - originally from Peter Reinhart's American Pie (why don't I own this?).

Ingredients (Makes 4 10-inch pizzas):
5 cups bread flour (hard, high-protein wheat makes for a stronger dough)
1 Tablespoon honey
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/5 teaspoon active dry yeast*1 3/4 to 2 cups room-temperature water

*if using active dry yeast, bloom in 1/4c warm/hot water (85 - 110 degrees) with 1/4 tsp sugar for 5 minutes or until bubbling/noticeably active - you'll see bubbles and a lighter shade of brown expanding and surfacing - just be patient.  When incorporating into dry mix, subtract 1/4c h2o from the 1 3/4 - 2 c room-temp water called for.  Also a good idea to use 20% more yeast when using active dry, hence 1 and 1/5 tsp.  The original recipe calls for 1 tsp instant yeast which would also be fine to use without blooming.


Measure out first four ingredients into a large mixing bowl, measuring the olive oil prior to the honey in the same spoon for ease of pour.  In a separate smaller bowl, bloom yeast.  Once noticeably active, incorporate yeast and 1 1/2c room-temp h2o into large mixing bowl.  Mix with a wooden spoon until dough forms - you still have the option of adding up to 1/4c more water if you need to but just do so a very little bit at a time as needed - you don't want your dough too wet.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Mix for an additional 5 minutes, adding more water as needed.  The dough will be wetter and tackier than bread dough but should pull away from the sides of the bowl with ease - sticky to the touch but not stuck to your hand.

With floured hands, remove dough from bowl and set on a lightly floured surface. Divide the mass into four equal parts about 10 oz each, using a sharp chef's knife or dough scraper.  Shape each dough as though you were shaping boules (note: dough won't be quite as loose and gassy as the one seen in this video) and set on a lightly oiled pyrex dish.  Lightly oil the top of each dough with your fingertips and tightly cover with plastic wrap.  Now you could either let your dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/2 hours and it would give you fine results (for a shorter rise, instant yeast would probably be best)  or you could give it a slow rise in the fridge for up to 24 hours or so, letting the yeast work nice and slow, developing the flavor of your dough.  If you opt for the slow rise, be sure to pull your dough from the fridge 1 - 2 hours before you make your pizzas to bring it to room temperature, allowing some time to relax and rise a bit more.  This dough apparently also freezes well for up to 3 months.  Just wrap in oiled plastic and thaw out in your fridge when you're ready to use it.

Some notes on making your pie:

Now that you've got your dough, you're ready to make your pizza.  Here's a video tutorial I just found on how to shape the dough by hand.  I usually follow these two steps but then proceed to work the dough over my knuckles until I have a pie between 10 and 12 inches in diameter.  I say just do it whichever way works best for you, keeping your surface and hands lightly floured and laying your pie down on a floured/corn-mealed peel when you're ready to top it (unless you've got a thin peel you can easily slide between the pie and your work surface).  This dough recipe also lends itself well to calzones and pinwheels.

For my sauce I like to use canned whole tomatoes (San Marzanos ideally) that I strain, seed, and then puree using an immersion blender.  I used to just add a little bit of salt to the puree but now I add some olive oil as well which brings out the flavor of the tomatoes. That's it - tomatoes, salt, and oil.

For cheese, fresh Mozzarella is always a good idea.  Claudio's in the Italian Market makes the best in the city.  In addition to Mozz, a little bit of Taleggio and Fontina Val D'Aosta go a long way.  Both are deep in flavor, mushroomy, and a little bit stinky - they melt beautifully and are glorious on just about any kind of pizza.  I like using all three - the sum of the angles of that triangle, too monstrous to contemplate. The mozz and Taleggio can be shredded/portioned by hand, the Fontina grated. I try not to smother my pizza in cheese, to give the sauce some space so that there isn't a layer of cheese covering the pie.

...and remember to lightly pour some olive oil on your pizza before you toss it in the oven.

Here are a few examples of pizzas I made using this dough recipe, each featuring different toppings.


Left: Butternut squash puree for sauce, ricotta, fried eggplant, shallots, sage
Center: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, taleggio, fontina val d'aosta, capers, garlic, artichokes, roasted sweet potato, and Jamon Mangalica
Right: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil

One more thing: Last time I baked some pizzas, I found the bottoms of the first couple were burning before the crust was baking through, so I lowered the temp just 20 degrees, from 500 to 480 - it made a big impact.  I guess just find the temp that works best for you.

And now, an inspirational video about three young mens quest for some real Brooklyn pizza that should help you on your way as you embark on your own personal quest towards making excellent pizza at home.

Sweet dreams.