Mueller Pizza Lab
Gus's experiments in making pizza with very hot ovens.
February 9, 2015

Daniel Raffel has a nice series of pics and videos taken at Una Pizza Napoletana, showing famous pizza guy Anthony Mangieri making a pie.

Of interest to me, these were taken using Anthony's old SF oven. Which looks a lot nicer than the one replaced it with this past summer (IMHO). I wonder what he did with it?

February 9, 2015

J. Kenji López-Alt: In Defense of St. Louis-Style Pizza:

"Then we get to the St. Louis-style pizza made popular by their local chain, Imo's , which seems to buck both of these statements. Of the myriad styles of pizza we've got in this country, it's got to be the most maligned.* Its thin, unleavened cracker crust bears no resemblance to the real dough that great pizza is built on. It gets loaded high with toppings that span all the way from edge to edge. It's so unbalanced that it has to be cut into squares just to be able to support its own weight. And let's not get started on that Provel cheese—if it can even be called cheese, am I right?"

Every time I'm back in St. Louis (my home town), I'll have pizza at a couple of places. My favorite is always Cecil Whittaker’s, because the crust seems better and you can choose to substitute real cheese for Provel. Which I always do. And the prices are good.

Imo's is OK. It's not great. Some people think so (because of local pride I guess) but I generally disagree with them.

I can live with Imo's, but… it's all the other places that try and copy Imo's. Your local bar, the various pizza places from south county and over into Illinois. It's an affliction. It needs to stop. Let Imo's be Imo's, and everyone else can learn how to make real pizza. Stop with your mish-mash of Provel and your cheap ass "crust". Learn to make dough, and sell it at a fair price.

Except Cecil Whittaker’s. Because it's really the good version of Imo's.

August 16, 2014

I've been working on my GF thin crust. 69% hydration + Bob's Red Mill GF Pizza Flour + tiny bit o' yeast + 2 days. Other tricks are involved of course, and this was cooked in Rocket #02.

June 29, 2014

A few months ago we bought a new house and I had to leave Dante, my wood fired oven, behind. It was too big and heavy, and moving it would probably destroy it. Sad times.

However, when we moved it was decided that this would be a great opportunity to get another WFO. But that's been put off for a while until we get some major yard work done. No problem of course, I still have Marvin and that will hold me over until then. I've even modified him a bit by lowering the ceiling, and I'm getting 45 second bakes occasionally. There's just one problem… it's been super windy at the new place, which can suck all the heat right out of an oven.

sigh

So I decided it was time to try an idea that I've had in the back of my mind for a couple of years (inspired by the folks on the PM forums and Wild Rise). How hard would it be to make a little electric neapolitan oven, and could it actually bake to my satisfaction?

A: Not very hard, and hell yes.

These are all 45-50 second bakes, and the floor of the oven temps at 1k°. The pizza is amazing- they are the very best I've ever made. I can even get a little bit of that smokey flavor by putting a small piece of apple wood in the oven.

Say hello to Rocket.
Say hello to Rocket.

I've mentioned my new oven (which I've named Rocket) to a few friends, and even posted about it on the PM forums (though I've made many modifications since then). I've also promised a post on how I made it (which you are currently reading). However, I've decided that giving detailed instructions on how to make your own Rocket is a bad idea for the following reason:

PLAYING AROUND WITH ELECTRICITY IS DANGEROUS AND CAN POTENTIALLY KILL YOU OR YOUR LOVED ONES. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO THIS AT HOME, BECAUSE YOU WILL LIKELY BURN IT DOWN

I'm serious. If you screw up, you could die.

So what I'm going to do to keep my promise, is provide a parts list and a couple of pictures. And if you can't look at these images and instantly realize what's going on, you shouldn't even attempt to try this under any circumstances.

Parts:
2 Weber Smokey Joes
1 13" cordierite pizza stone
1 1/2" ceramic insulation blanket
2 1100-watt burners
1 High temperature wire
1 Bag of porcelain wire nuts
A little bit of stainless steel wire to secure the burners to the lid, stainless steel bolts, nuts, and screws to connect the lids together, various tools, metal piercing drill bits, and a lack of common sense.

Note - there is a layer of ceramic insulation sandwiched between the two lids.
Note - there is a layer of ceramic insulation sandwiched between the two lids.

Once more, this is very dangerous (and should only be done by a professional electrician (who probably wouldn't even make it on principle)).

I'm also trying to come up with more ways to make this safer - I've played with a couple of voltage regulators with varying success, and I'm also tempted to add another layer of insulation. Adding a contraption like the folks at Wild Rise did to raise and lower the lid would be a good idea as well. If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

January 12, 2014

Let's say you made enough dough for six pizzas, but only used three of them. What do you do with the rest?

What I usually do is take the dough and re-ball them so they are tight for a third raise, and then I place then them back in my proofing box.

dough that's not actually re-balled yet.
dough that's not actually re-balled yet.

Another 12 to 24 hours later and you'll find that the dough has raised again and looks and smells pretty awesome.

At this point, you can make more pizza. Duh.

mmm more pizza
mmm more pizza

Or you could do what I did today, and make bread.

pizza bread
pizza bread

The process is simple. Heat up the oven as hot as you can get it[^1] for at least a half hour, plop your dough down on a dough mat and use a pizza cutter to slice it up into strips, and then throw those guys on your pizza stones. Then wait till the top is nice and brown. That's what I did with the larger loafs in the back.

However, the shorter guys in the front I cooked differently- I actually fried those in a small pot filled with 1/4" of olive oil. You get that as hot as you can (but not so hot that the oil is burning), and then drop in one small strip of dough. If it's nice and hot, it will balloon up right away. You can then swish the pan around so olive oil gets all over the dough and once the bottom of the bread starts to brown, you'll flip it over (don't use your fingers obviously) and let the other side puff up and brown and then you pull it out and place it on a paper towl.

The result is a nice super puffy piece of bread that tastes like some of the best pizza crust you've ever had. You can even put a tiny bit of agave nectar on it to sweeten it up even more. It's pretty amazing, though I'm certain it'll kill you in large quantities.

[^1]: As hot as you can get your oven without any hacks that is. 550° is what my oven was set at.

May 25, 2013

When I was at Una Pizza Napolentana last year, my friend Chris Liscio and I were watching Anthony (the pizzaiolo) make the pizzas and Chris mentioned something to me that I had noticed as well but couldn't quite figure out. I don't remember Chris's exact words, but it was along the lines of:

"He's not putting any semolina on his peel. How is he getting away with that? The pizzas are just sliding right off into the oven with no problem!?"

I just shrugged and figured Anthony had some magic touch that you get after making thousands of pizzas over many years.

...

Fast forward to present day.

...

Recently I've grown tired of cleaning the little buckets that I raise my dough in. If you make 16 pizzas that's 16 little buckets with 16 tiny dabs of olive oil in them that I have to clean up. I know the pros don't do this- they use proofing boxes where they'll sprinkle a little bit of flour in and then place 6-8 dough balls in there with a simple lid on top (for a reference, fast forward to about 2:16 in Pure & Simple).

I'd much rather just clean one larger container without any olive oil. So I bought a proofing box with lid, and stuck 6 dough balls in there.

When it was time to bake the pies I took off the lid and reached for the first dough ball and noticed something new— the skin of the dough had dried a bit. Not too much to make me worried, but it was certainly different. Previously when I used a bucket with a tight lid on it (and a single dough ball in it) no moisture would escape and the skin of the ball was even all around. And because it was even there was no side that I would have considered a top or bottom to the pizza. And since it had the same texture on both sides after shaping (it was slightly clingy) I'd throw some semolina flour on my peel to make it slide off nice and easy.

But now I had something new to play with. I had one side of the dough that was less clingy than the other and this side was obviously going to be the bottom. So I made my pie and put very very little semolina flour on my peel. The pizza slid right off. I made another pie and used just a tiny bit less semolina on the peel. This pizza also slid off without any problems. And then finally I used no semolina for the next one. It of course slid right off.

So I think that's the secret I was missing. If you raise the dough in an environment where the skin of the dough can dry out a bit (but not too much!), you won't need semolina flour on your peel.

Now here's some pics:

Dough in a box.
Dough in a box.
Pizza in a box.  Delivery for a neighbor.
Pizza in a box. Delivery for a neighbor.
Undercarriage of a pizza.  The drier skin didn't make a difference as far as the bottom goes.
Undercarriage of a pizza. The drier skin didn't make a difference as far as the bottom goes.
Top of the same pizza.  Notice how the texture on the left is different and drier looking than the right.  This was because that side had a bit more flour on it when shaping.  The More You Know™
Top of the same pizza. Notice how the texture on the left is different and drier looking than the right. This was because that side had a bit more flour on it when shaping. The More You Know™
May 13, 2013

I know this post might seem a bit neurotic, or crazy, or just kind of "really Gus, water?", but stay with me here.

A few months back when I was playing with a starter, I found out that the water in our pipes had enough chlorine in them to seriously effect the the starter I was trying to get going. I then began using bottled water, and then eventually water taken from a local aquifer* (I really don't want to be buying bottled water). Eventually I gave up on the starter, but I had still had a bunch of the aquifer water siting on my counter so I thought… well, maybe it'll have a positive effect on the yeast for my pizza dough. It worked well enough for the starter, right?

So I tried it out, not really thinking it would make much of a difference. But when I took the first bites from the pies came out- whoa. I could tell right away that it made a significant difference in the quality of my dough. Subsequent pizzas all had the same characteristics, and now I always use the non-chlorinated water for my pies.

I'm not ever sure how to describe the difference - it just tasted better to my palate. Am I crazy? Will the average person not even notice? Probably. But it might be worth trying this out with your pizzas if you're uncertain about the quality of your tap water.

Next up - old vs. new yeast. Just as soon as the new yeast shows up…

* Here's a short and amusing article about the aquifer I get the water from in the Seattle Times. The locals don't want too many folks to find out about it, lest the lines get too long.

March 7, 2013

I saw the following video on posted on the pizza making forums. It's a guy mixing a metric ton of dough, raising it, and ultimately baking it.

I find it completely mesmerizing: Bakery Work (YouTube link).

December 29, 2012

I've never really sat down and committed to paper to a way to make dough. This is partially because I'm always changing it up quite a bit, and also because I'm kind of lazy. Lately I've been sticking to the same flour and process and I seem to be overcoming my laziness today, so now is as good a time as ever.

It should be no surprise that the flour I've settled on is Caputo Pizzeria Flour. You can order it online, find it in some grocery stores, and sometimes even in neapolitan pizza restraunts. Big John's PFI in Seattle has it in bulk for a buck a pound, and also in 55lb bags.

When measuring ingredients, I do things a little backwards- I always start with water and base the amount of flour to put in off that. I generally use about 110g of water per pizza, which is about a half a cup.

To start off I put a mixer bowl on top of my digital scale, reset it to zero, and put in 1.5 cups of water which usually comes out to around 330 grams. I then multiply that number by 2.55 and in this case I'll get 841.5. I always round down to the nearest ten so in this case it'll be 840. 840 grams is now the target weight of our all ingredients together, including the water that's already in the bowl.

Next, I'll add 1/4 teaspoon of instant dry yeast (IDY) for each half cup of water. So in this case It'll be 3/4 teaspoon, maybe a little less just depending on the weather or solar flares. Add the yeast and use a whisk to mix things up.

Now I'll put in a little bit of flour (1/8 cup maybe?), and whisk things up again. This is so it's not a pure water + yeast only mix for the next step- which is salt. I'll add 1% of the target weight in salt, which in this case will be 8 grams. Whisk that guy up as well. And I'll probably whisk in a little bit more flour until it starts to stick to the whisk. Once the flour starts to clump on the whisk, it can be a pain to clean. (I'm lazy- remember?)

And finally I'll pour in the rest of the flour until the digital scale reaches 840 grams.

I'll then attach the bowl to the mixer (which is a KitchenAid in my case), attach a dough hook, and let it mix till there's an even texture along all sides of the dough ball. If there's any of the mix sticking to the sides, I make sure it's incorporated into the larger ball.

Then after that is done I put a cover on the bowl and stash it away somewhere overnight. Generally I'll let the dough raise in a 60-70 degree temperature range. I make sure to let it raise at least 12 hours if not a full 24. Letting all the dough to be used raise together like this is called "bulk raising". This is one of the big secrets in making good dough. So don't tell anyone.

The next day, about 4-6 hours before I'm going bake the pizzas I'll split the big dough ball up into even parts (3 in this case), knead it a bit, and spray a little bit of trader joe's olive oil spray into the bottom of some translucent cambro buckets and plop the final dough balls in there. I'll put the lid on, and then in 4ish hours time, we're ready to ready to go. You can also keep the dough in the buckets for another 24-36 hours if you have a quick change of plans. If you're going to go longer than that, I'd put the dough in the fridge and maybe even re-knead it again before using it (again, 4-6 hours ahead of bake time).

This is of course only one way to make dough. There's no perfect way, and when you make pizza long enough you'll eventually find a different process that works even better for you. I'm willing to bet within a year I'll be doing things slightly differently.

Some notes:

November 15, 2012

Slice interviewed me a little while back, and I neglected to link to it: Pizza Obsessives: August "Gus" Mueller