Yeast Doesn’t Fly and Your Sourdough Probably Isn’t That Special
When Alexander Roman first experimented with sourdough, he hung a plum, presumably covered with yeast, above his starter. He has used grapes to jumpstart batches at home and has even heard of bakers adding cabbage leaves to their ferments. Now, as head baker of High Street Hospitality in Philadelphia, he doesn’t use any tricks to propagate yeast. “It’s everywhere. In a bakery, no matter what, flour and water turns into starter.”
December 16, 2020
PMQ Pizza Magazine: Tom 'The Dough Doctor' Lehmann Passes Away from COVID-19:
Recalling Tom’s life and unparalleled contributions to the pizza industry, a famous quote by Sir Isaac Newton springs to mind: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Tom was, like Newton, a scientist, with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the chemistry and physics that underly the dough making and baking processes. And in our industry, he was a giant. It’s safe to say that countless pizzeria owners and pizza chefs have gotten far in this business by standing on Tom’s shoulders.
If there was ever a pizza version of "The Wolf" from Pulp Fiction, it was Tom Lehmann. For years Tom was super active and incredibly helpful on the PizzaMaking forums. He even has his own board called "Ask The Dough Doctor".
There's a ton of cargo culting and magical thinking in the online pizza making communities. Tom didn't have any of that. Whenever he brought answers to questions it was always backed by knowledge and experience and science, and most importantly kindness. The type of person Tom Lehmann was is rare, and he'll be missed.
December 15, 2020
My Roccbox Wood Burner 2.0 showed up yesterday, and I just made three pizzas with it today over lunch. I've got some pics up on Instagram if you'd like to see the results.
Here are some quick impressions.
It's way better than the original wood burner that previously came with the Roccbox. The original burner was frustrating to use, even with kiln dried wood, and the hopper would fill up with ash. The 2.0 burner doesn't have this problem at all.
The wood I used was a mix of short cut kiln dried oak, as well as some very seasoned cherry and apple wood (also cut pretty short, about 3"). In the future, I'll be making the cuts for the wood a bit longer. Gozney recommends 5" x 1" x 1".
It took about a half hour to get up to the temps I was after (~800°). The wind was blowing a bit unreasonably at first (so much so that I almost put off doing the first run till tomorrow) and it was a bit smokey, but once the burner got going the smoke leveled off (though it produced more than with the gas attachment).
It uses way more wood than I was expecting. Once it was roaring, I had to feed it about every 4-6 minutes. I had to coordinate prepping my pizza with feeding the fire, so the flames wouldn't die down when I was baking a pizza. Once I figured out the rhythm after the first bake, it was easy to do.
It's hotter in there than I was expecting, and you really have to be on your toes and ready to turn your pizza or you'll burn your crust. By the third pizza however, I had it pretty much figured out.
I got some serious WFO vibes from it that I haven't felt by just using the gas burner. I used to have a wood fired oven, and I didn't realize how much I missed the smell of the cherry and apple wood burning. The wood burner brought all those memories back in a good way.
Is it more convenient than the gas burner? Of course not. The gas burner you turn on, walk away, and come back on 25 minutes. With the wood burner you're going to have to watch the flame and feed it wood as needed.
It's different than the gas burner, and in a good way. I enjoyed cooking with the wood and I'll be using it a bunch more in the future. Plus, it's great to have a backup if I ever run out of gas.
November 10, 2020
Andrew Janjigian (aka @Wordloaf) is spending the month of November writing about pizza. His first post is all about thin crust pizza.
Janjigian is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to all things having to do with bread baking, and his posts on pizzas so far have been crazy informative. This series is a must read if you are into making pizza at all.
October 7, 2020
The Gozney Dome is a new outdoor oven coming in March from the folks who make the Roccbox. $1,299.00 for the wood burning version, $1,499 for wood and gas. The Dome is billed as being good for baking pizza, bread, roasting, slow cooking, etc. It has a digital thermometer, a pretty thick stone floor, and some neat optional accessories like a steam injector, an adjustable door, and a stand.
If this was available back when I was building a wood fired oven, I probably would have purchased it. It's quite a bit cheaper than a traditional wood fired oven, the heat up time is a fraction of what it takes to fully heat a brick oven, and at 128lb you can take it with you should you ever want to move houses.
I've often thought of Gozney as the equivalent of Apple for today's consumer pizza ovens. The Roccbox, while more expensive than most of its competition, is a really good oven and will work for years without any problems (as I've experienced firsthand). Gozney has obviously put a lot of work into this oven, and it shows.
October 4, 2020
Anytime I'm making pizza outside of the kitchen, I've had a 3/4" marble slab that I use to prepare and dress my pizzas on. It's pretty nice, but it's also super heavy. So for a while I've been on the lookout for something to replace it with. And then recently I came across a very large cutting board from Ikea called the LÄMPLIG ($20 USD). So I grabbed one and tried it out.
I'll throw a little bit of flour on the board, shape my pizza and add toppings, then slide my Roccbox peel under the dough and take it the oven. It couldn't be easier. So if you find yourself in a situation where you don't have a smooth flat surface to prepare your pizzas, I can recommend this board or one similar to it.
2) Personally, I think you should always prepare your pizzas on a flat surface that isn't the peel which is taking your pizza to the oven. You avoid issues where your pizza can stick from sitting too long, and it keeps your peel cleaner if you're making multiple pizzas.
Gozney: What is Neapolitan Pizza?
Long before every New York corner had a slice joint, before Wolfgang Puck was topping salmon pizza with caviar in California and before every frozen shopping aisle was stocked with approximately 999 versions of exactly the same thing, there was Neapolitan pizza. If we were to create a family tree of pizza styles there would be a clear and obvious head of the family.
The Godfather, if you will.
May 19, 2020
Here's a couple of lunch pizzas I made today for myself and Madeline. I pushed the Roccbox a bit hotter than usual by throwing in some chips of apple wood and cranking the gas regulator up. The dough turned out nice and soft, you just have to really pay attention so nothing gets burnt.
First up is Jalepeno, absinthe salami from Zoe's, garlic olive oil, and basil. Probably a 60-70 second bake.
And then we have Madeline's favorite which I've been calling "The Madinara": red sauce, garlic olive oil, and kalamata olives. Hold the chease please.
Slow Mo Neapolitan Slap
Here's Adam Atkins of Peddling Pizzas using a technique known as "The Neapolitan Slap" to stretch his pizza dough. I've never been able to get the hang of this particular maneuver.
Knead to Know: Understanding the Power of Flour
John Arena writing in Pizza Today:
Generally speaking Italian flour is classified by how finely it is milled, meaning the degree to which the husk has been removed. A designation such as “00” will not tell you the protein content. This type of flour will feel more powdery regardless of actual grain size because it contains less of the course husk. There are type 00 flours with a wide range of protein levels for different applications. Usually protein content is the first thing that pizza makers look for in selecting a flour. Consider fermentation time when selecting flour. Longer fermentation will usually require higher protein.
Italy's Buffaloes Treated to 'Jazz and Massage'
The half-tonne black water buffaloes spend their days lounging on rubber mattresses, munching on organic hay or looking forward to vaporised showers that form a fine cooling mist from overhead pipes.
When they feel the urge, they saunter into a special pen for automatic milking by a unique machine that knows the exact shape of each udder thanks to a code emitted by the electronic collars the buffaloes wear.
There's just one catch: If you want it, you have to drive to the farm, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Salerno, to buy it, as Palmieri does not bother with distribution – or marketing, for that matter.
Business is brisk anyway, thanks to the dairy's word-of-mouth fame and international reputation among jet-setting buffalo milk aficionados. Around 45,000 customers visited the on-site farm shop in August alone. On a recent visit, dozens of cars were in the parking lot and a group of German tourists were touring the farm.
Neven’s Pizza Dough
My friend Neven Mrgan has put together a great page detailing how he preps and bakes his pizza dough. Highly recommended.
I've also been working on a page detailing my tools and process, hopefully I'll find time to finish it in the next couple of weeks.
Meet the Man Behind the World’s Only Sourdough Library
From Atlas Obscura's description on YouTube:
According to Karl De Smedt, the man behind the world’s only sourdough library, sourdough belongs to the entire world. Burbling away in refrigerators are over 100 sourdough starters from around the globe, all chosen due to their renown, unusual origins, and often, estimated age.
Smedt refreshes the starters with the original flours as well. That's dedication.
April 8, 2020
For a while I've been wanting to build out a little section on this site with info about the Roccbox oven. Tips, tricks, etc. There's no time like the present, I may I present to you: Roccbox Tips, Tricks, Links, and Stuff.
The Roccbox also recently got cheaper for folks in the US! Here's an email I recently received from Gozney:
Last year due to escalating (Trump) tariffs and other factors out of our control we were forced to increase the price of Gozney Roccbox in order to continue to supply the product in North America.
Since then we’ve been working hard with our manufacturing and supply chain partners to reverse this and we’re pleased to announce that we are now able to reduce the price of Gozney Roccbox to $499. We believe everyone should be able to enjoy restaurant quality pizza at home, so we’re delighted to make Roccbox more affordable to more home chefs once again.
You can grab a Roccbox via this Amazon link to help support this site.
March 22, 2020
Andrew Janjigian on Instagram on backing up your starter:
I am super paranoid about losing my sourdough starter, which is why when I refresh mine, I place the previous one in the fridge in case of catastrophe (I also keep a backup backup in my fridge at work, just in case; I told you I am paranoid), then I throw out the previous previous one. I suggest you do the same here, so you can at least go back one generation if need be. (Which is why you'll need two containers to go back and forth from; be sure to clean them thoroughly between uses.)
I follow a similar pattern, except I go a little bit further and keep three backups in the fridge. I also put a little piece of tape on top of the mason jars with the date it was backed up.
Have I ever needed to use a backup? Yes— twice. Sometimes a starter can just go wonky on you.
P.S., you can find those fancy freezer lids on Amazon, but they are a bit pricy right now. You might have better luck in a local grocery store.
March 17, 2020
Here's the longer version of a post I made on Instagram.
Day… 6 of quarantine? The days are blurring together. I've always worked from home, but with Madeline out of school, Kirstin at work, and us basically staying at home otherwise- it's a bit difficult to keep my sanity. We'll make it 6 weeks though. I hope.
Luckily there's still pizza and bread to make.
Bread made today and yesterday.
The bread is because I'm trying to get through some old flour before it goes bad. The pizza is leftover from Sunday night's dinner. I made six dough balls on Saturday, two of which were used for Sunday's dinner. Then I threw the remaining into the fridge to use for lunch today. Since there's only two of us for lunch, that means there were two leftover. I did a little bit of practice shaping (I really want to learn the neapolitan slap technique!) and cooked it without toppings for the worms.
Some of the loaves are probably going to go into the compost as well. Madeline has a raging runny nose right now, and with the general quarantine, I'm not going to be giving out the extras to neighbors. Which is a bummer, but at least the worms will get to enjoy it.
March 16, 2020
It's been a while since I've had notes on this site. I'm feeling the need to write a little now though, since my daughter and I been staying home because of covid-19 outbreak. School is canceled for 6 weeks.
Here's one of the pizzas from last night's dinner. You can find the dough recipe here.
The toppings were Aidells roasted garlic & gruyere cheese, mushrooms, fresh moz, and some spicy olive oil I've put together. Not pictured was a little grana padano I added after it came out of the Roccbox.
The flour was from a brand new bag of Shepherd's Grain HG. I'm guessing the flour was milled more recently, and from a harvest last fall. I used a 68% hydration for the dough, and that seemed like a bit too much. So for the next batch I'll probably drop it down to 66% and see how that goes. Last fall I was using up to 70%. It's amazing how much variation you can get from bag to bag.
We still have four dough balls leftover in the fridge. Madeline and I will most likely have them for lunch tomorrow.
March 15, 2020
Brittany Wood (aka sour_flour, who you should be following on Instagram): Starter vs. Levain
Starter vs. Levain. What’s the difference? Aren’t they both made of flour and water? Today let’s get back to the basics. When I first started baking I’d find starter/levain/poolish/sponge/biga/pasta madre used in different recipes all the same way, some people would call starter, levain while others used levain as a preferment for their sourdough, I was so confused! Well essentially they all mean preferment and are interchangeable in recipes, it all just depends on the baker and their lingo they use and what background they have. In this video I’m explaining what the difference is of starter and levain in MY recipes to make it easily understandable.
I'm still mostly confused anyway. But hey maybe follow her Instagram feed because she makes amazing looking loaves.
Anthony Mangieri on the Grow Wire Podcast
This was a fun listen. Mangieri goes into the history of how he started up Una Pizza Napoletana, the moves, and where he's at today. I also found it interesting that he doesn't stick to a single formula when making dough, instead Mangieri is constantly changing up the flours to see what happens.
Pizza Portafoglio, a fun little YouTube vid showing how pizza was served back in the day.