Maybe Pizza?
Gus's experiments in making pizza with very hot ovens. And pizza reviews, why not?
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.
April 12, 2015

Father and 3 year old daughter enter kitchen, stage right.

Father: What do you want for dinner tonight?

Daughter gives a slight pause before answering.

Daughter: Maybe pizza?

So the kid really likes pizza. That's no surprise, since pizza is amazing, and … well, she is my daughter. She's said "Maybe pizza?" enough times that myself and Kirstin thought it was pretty funny, and I even thought it'd be a good domain name.

I've been wondering what to do with this site for a while since I haven't been doing much experimentation lately, and I've really settled down into a couple of pretty good pizza routines. I feel like I've got both neo and ny / CoMo style down exactly to how I like it, though I do still change things up now and again (more on that later! I really need to tell you about some absolutely amazing flour I've discovered).

Reviews?

Kirstin suggested I start doing pizza reviews. And I thought that was a great idea. It would be something different for this site, yet pretty much on topic. Though I'd need a new name, because "Mueller Pizza Lab" doesn't really fit into that. And so maybepizza.com was purchased. The old posts are still here of course, and there will be more of the usual posts- I'll just be adding reviews in the future.

I've also come up with what I think will be an interesting way to score pizzas. Two categories for my reviews: "pizza", and "neapolitan pizza". I'm a big fan of both, but I don't think it's really fare to lump neo pizza ratings in with your regular, standard pizza. I imagine the majority of pizza places will be judged on the regular scale, and if a pizza restaurant claims to serve neapolitan pizza… well, I'm going to assume they really mean it and it will be judged as such. I will be harsh, since I'm such a fan of neo pizza.

On Scoring

Since pizza is so subjective, the Maybe Pizza Grading Scale ("mp scale" for short) is going to be a little different. At first I thought I'd do a 0-10 star scale, which is what folks are probably used to. Then I remembered I'm a graphics programmer and it'd be way better to do something on a scale of 0-255 because computer bits! And then I realized that's actually pretty low fidelity for an image channel, and maybe I should go wide gamut and use 16 bits, and then I realized you skate to where the puck is going to be so f-it, let's do a single 32 bit channel represented by a float for grading.

So a score on the mp scale is going to be represented between -1.0 to +3.0. Maybe I'll even put this all in a little database so it'll do nice sorting and create a histogram and you can scale up those values evenly if you really think it should be a 0-10 star scale, etc.

Of course, I'll need a baseline / standard for scoring pizza. So I've decided the gold standard with a score of 1.0 for normal pizza is Shakespeare's Pizza, on a good day in 1998. I have very fond memories of their pizza, and while it could be hit and miss, when it was a hit it was amazing.

And the standard for neo pizza at a score of 1.0 is Del Popolo, which makes the best neapolitan pizza I've ever had.

"But wait" you say, "I thought you said the ratings went up to 3.0?!". Yes. I did say that. While those two places are my gold standards, I can't believe that they are the best pizza places in the world. But they are my favorites, so they get to set the standard.

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).