Maybe Pizza?
Gus's experiments in making pizza with very hot ovens. And pizza reviews, why not?
November 19, 2016

I bought a Waring WPO500 pizza oven for my birthday. It's a piece of junk, you shouldn't get one.

The elements are so weak that I was never able to get it up to its max temperature. There is no way to adjust the bottom heat temp versus the top, so you end with burnt pizzas on the bottom. And the amount of insulation it comes with is a complete joke.

I wasn't surprised though, I kind of figured this would be the case. My intention when buying this, was to beef up any insulation if it need it, add another element or two, and use my own stones in the oven. And that is exactly what I've done.

Pizza #3
Pizza #3

With my improvements, I'm seeing around a 30 minute warm up time and bakes that are a little less than 2 minutes. This is about double the amount of time it would take to cook my pizzas in Rocket, but they are still coming out great. In fact there's a certain… quality to the pizzas that I'm not quite able to put into words yet, but they seem to be coming out even better than they would in Rocket. I think it might have to do with using a more starter to get the dough going, but there's also a lot more volume in the oven chamber of the Waring oven, which might be contributing to the difference.

I haven't thought of a name yet, as it hasn't quite settled on a personality. But I'll keep on hacking on it, and eventually come up with something.

November 8, 2016

NPR: Discovering The Science Secrets Of Sourdough

"Those first bubbles were almost a revelation. A couple of days before, I had mixed together flour and water into a paste. But now pockets of gas percolated through that seemingly inert glob. It was breathing. It was alive.

"This gloppy mess, exuding a whiff of vinegar, was my nascent sourdough starter. When mature, it would be a pungent brew of yeasts and bacteria, a complex ecosystem that would hopefully yield delicious loaves of sourdough bread.

"As the microbes eat the sugars in the flour, they exhale carbon dioxide, producing the bubbles that turn a flat, dense loaf into something light and fluffy. A starter breathes life into bread. If the loaf is the body, the starter is the soul."

Over the years I've attempted to use starters for my pizza dough, without any success. I could get various starters going but the flavor it invoked just wasn't something I liked.

That changed this past summer, after chatting with some folks at the Del Popolo pizza truck. I asked if they added any yeast to their starter to help things out, and the answer was no. Do they sell it? Again the answer was no. But the guy in the truck offered some more information- the Del Popolo starter was super active, and they fed it 4 times a day.

Four. Times. A. Day.

That's a lot. I knew that frequently feeding your starter would make it less sour, but … four times a day. That's commitment.

So when I returned home from my trip, I made a new starter, and I fed it. A lot. It became super active, and I was soon feeding it 3-4 times a day.

And I knew the temperature it lived in would change which microbes became more active, so bought a little round thermos from a thrift store, a temperature controller, and stuck a seedling heat mat in there.

My starter contraption.
My starter contraption.

Pretty soon I had a starter with really good flavor and very little sour to it. And for the past 6 months or so, I've been using using it in my pizzas.

At first I would just add 1-2% as a flavoring agent in addition to the normal yeast amounts. Then I started ramping up the amount of starter I'd use to 10% and even pushing it up to 20% at times.

I'd try experimenting by not adding any yeast, or maybe just a tiny bit. I'm still learning what the best ratios are, and even what temperature I keep the active starter at. This past weekend had it a 84 degrees, 10% starter, and 1/4 teaspoon of yeast for six dough balls (it turned out pretty awesome).

I have a whole routine I use to store and swap out older starter that goes dormant in the fridge, and what I do to re-train it to get it ready for pizza on the weekend. I'll probably go into detail about that some day in the future, but the takeaway from this post is: if you haven't been happy with starter in the past, maybe try again? And do everything in your power to keep your starter in a stable environment so things like feeding schedules and temperatures don't throw everything off?

It's nice having a new area to explore with my pizza making. And my starter's name? "Magic".

June 10, 2016

For years I've been using a little worksheet I made up in Calca to calculate how many grams of water, flour, and salt I need in my dough. I would frequently change the values for experimentation though, but I wouldn't ever be able to refer back to them. And it was also worthless if I wanted to send a specific recipe to a friend.

So I looked around for a dough calculator, and while I came across some nice ones, they didn't do everything I wanted (like bookmarking). So I of course made my own.

The Maybe Pizza? Dough Calculator, at your service. Works great on iOS as well.

June 10, 2016

If you have the time, and want to dig into some history, check out the A Philosophy of Pizza Napoletanismo thread on the PM forums. Omid is a Neapolitan nut, and has made some great contributions to the thread over the years. It's also neat to see him change his mind about things over the years.

I'm also pretty jealous of his pizza studio.

May 19, 2016

WWDC will soon be here, and you might be thinking to yourself, gee- I wonder if there's any good Neapolitan pizza in San Francisco?

Why yes, there is.

I've not been to very many neo pizza places in SF, but I've been to enough to at least make a small list of recommendations. So here you go:

Zero Zero. Located just a couple of blocks away from the Moscone Center where WWDC is hosted. It's open late, has a nice bar, and the quality of the pizza is pretty consistent.

It's a little pricy and can get crowded, but it's good pie.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. A bit of a hike from WWDC, but if you're a pizza aficionado, you absolutely need to go here. The (PDF) menu is astounding. Ten different styles of pizzas, from Neapolitan to St. Louis to Detroit and even Coal Fired. WTF, how many ovens do they have? Who even does this? THIS IS AMAZING. My brain just about exploded the first time I saw their menu.

Una Pizza Napoletana. Famous for being Una Pizza Napoletana, this restaurant is another must for the pizza aficionado. Actually, I'd say it's more of a pilgrimage (though a short one at a 25 minute walk from Moscone Center). The resident pizzaiolo, Anthony Mangieri, is widely credited for helping start the US Neapolitan craze. Check out their videos page for a taste (and scroll right to start with the last video, working forward after that).

It's a bit pricy, and can be a bit wet. I recommend the Filetti.

Del Popolo. This is currently my favorite Neapolitan pizza in all the universe. And since I've last had it they've opened up a brick store, which means you now have two locations to grab a pie from.

Del Popolo (aka, Jon Darsky) is mostly known because they took a flippen' giant shipping container, stuck it it on a big truck, put a Stefano Ferrara pizza oven in there, and made it look pretty. And that pizza truck usually shows up a block or two away at Mint Plaza during WWDC.

The prices for the pizza truck are very reasonable, and I recommend everything.

I haven't been to the restaurant on Bush Street yet, but my hotel is a few blocks away, so you bet I will. Most likely more than once.

I hope this year to expand my horizons a bit more and try out some new places. Got any recommendations for me? Delfina and PizzaHacker are already on the list.

May 13, 2016

We were talking a bit of Pizza last night at Cyclops, as you do, and the topic of flour was brought up.

If you live in the greater Seattle area, you need to go buy some Shepherd’s Grain High Gluten flour. Cash & Carry has 50lb bags of it, for $21. You can't beat that price, and I've not found a better flour for use in your home oven. It makes great bread too.

We're pretty damn lucky to have this flour, take advantage of it.

February 2, 2016

A good read from King Arthur- Choosing the Best Type (of Yeast) for Any Recipe.

Their pick has been my favorite for years- SAF instant yeast. I buy a 1lb bag of this, and replace it every 6 months. KA has a nice little set which includes the yeast, as well as a container for it (which I also use). Put that in your fridge and you'll be set for a long while.

January 22, 2016

Digital Trends:

"But now you too can own an oven hot enough to make Satan sweat. GE’s elite FirstBuild team just unveiled the Monogram Pizza Oven, which can not only hit the same temperatures as the scorcher your local pizzeria uses, it’s a lot smarter, too.

"This isn’t another one of those backyard, wood-fired pizza ovens that have been gaining popularity over the past few years as home pizza making takes off. The Monogram Pizza Oven installs right in your kitchen and uses a standard 240-volt outlet, with no special venting required, unlike a commercial unit. But you won’t mistake it for an ordinary kitchen oven. The short height and conspicuous lack of a door are a dead giveaway you’re dealing with a culinary dragon."

I don't understand how an oven like this gets made. The reason why traditional wood fired ovens don't have a door is because you need a steady flow of oxygen to feed the fire. You put a door on an electric oven to keep the heat and moisture in.

"The Monogram can blast to 800 degrees within a half hour of preheating, and 14 heating elements in the dome can rocket the top up to a blistering 1,200 degrees. Those conditions, it turns out, are exactly what you need to bake a perfect Neapolitan-style pizza … in two minutes flat."

If you're taking two minutes to bake a Neapolitan pizza in an oven that goes to 1.2k, then something is seriously wrong with your oven. I've baked at 1.2k before, and it's insanely difficult. Your pizza is going to cook in about 45 seconds and unless you have everything dialed you're going to have a pizza that's burnt on the outside with raw dough on the inside.

From another page on Digital Trends where they try out pizzas made in the oven:

"Each slice was crispy on the outside, still chewy inside, with just a hint of crumbly black char around the edges — an effect I’ve never been able to replicate in my home oven."

Neapolitan pizza is supposed to be soft, not crispy. Crispy is what happens when you bake too long and use the wrong flour. Looking at the pizzas made in the GE oven and the burnt edges where there should be leoparding, I'm guessing these were 2-3 minute pies.

Here's what a proper neo pizza should look like:

(Photo from @pizzicletta's Instagram page)

From the previous page:

"But can anything top the satisfaction of making your own pizza at home? Or more importantly, watching your personal chef make it for you?"

At $10,000 USD, I guess this is for people with more money than sense. If you're going to get an electric oven for baking neapolitan at home, you're probably better off getting a Cuppone Tiziano or a Effeuno P134H if you live in Europe (you lucky jerks).

Found via (Pizza Making)[;topicseen].

May 7, 2015

Bloomberg: The King of the Pizza Nerds Is Opening His Own Restaurant

"This week, Kuban told me, he’d sold out of tickets to the pop-up within 60 seconds of sending out an e-mail. When Kuban explains things like this, he manages to be completely un-braggy about it. If you find this hard to believe, keep in mind that he often signs off his e-mails and comments with a cheery 'hasta la pizza!'"

Kuban is a well respected writer (and maker) in the Greater Pizza Community. Best of luck to him.

April 12, 2015

Brooklyn Bros. Pizza (which has a couple of locations but the one I'm talking about today is in Mukilteo) makes a pretty good pizza.

14 inch black olive, half pepperoni and mushroom.  Purchased and consumed April 12th, 2015
14 inch black olive, half pepperoni and mushroom. Purchased and consumed April 12th, 2015

Madeline and myself have been here a number of occasions, and we've always had a good time. The staff is friendly, and I like the general atmosphere of the place. It really reminds me of my favorite pizza place in the world, Shakespeare's Pizza, back in Columbia, MO.

What you see when you enter the front door.
What you see when you enter the front door.

Slices on display for lunch, and where they'll take your order.
Slices on display for lunch, and where they'll take your order.

Brooklyn Bros. has a reputation for being one of the best pizza places in the area. Does it live up to that reputation? I think so. The toppings taste good, as does the sauce, the pie is cooked evenly and correctly, and the dough is decent as well. I usually end up wanting more when I'm done with it, and Madeline has no hesitation digging right in.

There are two things I think they could do better with:

1) The pizzas could use thicker pepperoni. I'm not a fan of the small diameter and thin slices Brooklyn Bros. uses.

2) The crust could be a little better. It's good crust, but it's also a bit too dense, like the dough could use some more time raising.

So this particular pie from Brooklyn Bros.'s score on the mp scale is 0.91. Since this is the first place I'm reviewing, that makes it officially the best pizza I've had around here.

And in truth, it is the best pizza I've had in the area, which is why I'm reviewing it first. I think Brooklyn Bros. is pretty much the gold standard of good pizza for Mukilteo and the surrounding area.

Madeline and her many toys in the background.
Madeline and her many toys in the background.