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DanCole42


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If there was ever a flavor of the month, it’s pizza. A search on DR.com produces mentions of Iggie's Pizza, Mount Vernon, McLean Pizza, Just off Old Dominion Drive, Bebo Trattoria, American Flatbread, Two Amy’s, and Comet among others.

But with comments such as best pizza ever and probably the best thing I've ever put in my mouth we surely have another contender in the pizza debate.

DanCole42 has been perfecting the art of home pizza making for the past several months. In this month's blog, he has agreed to document his experiences… from doughs to yeasts to grilling to pizza stones/tiles to freezing… making pizza pies at home. For five days this week, Dan will share with us how to make great pizza at home interspersed with info on pizza's history, pizza around the world, etc, all melded together with his special brand of humor.

So… let's get this blog on a CRUST!

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[To get the dough rolling:] Have you experimented with various types of flour – whole wheat or type "0" or type "00"? How does it affect the texture/cooking of the finished product? What, if any, modifications need to be made?

Following this question, what brand of flour do you use? What is your typical schedule for the dough? Overnight fridge rest?

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Entry #1: The Fall of the Tocharian Empire

Thank you, Legant, for the introduction. I will admit that I lack the proper equipment, expertise, training, and experience to write a PROPER blog about pizza, but none of the rest of you are writing one, so deal.

I'm going to lightly touch on the history of pizza (why should I just rehash what you can lookup yourself on Wikipedia?), but most of this blog will focus on my own personal experience cooking, eating, and gaining weight from pizza.

And we're off!

Pizza. Depending on who you ask, the word comes from the Old High German "pizzo" (meaning mouthful), the Latin "pinsa" (meaning to pound or crush, i.e. flatten), the Italian "pizzicare" (meaning to pluck, as in from the oven), the Latin "picea" (meaning the blackening of bread in the oven), or the word "pita." Linguistics is a hobby of mine, you see, but I've always subscribed to the school of thought that says that our word "pizza" comes from that East Tocharian word "päs.s.iñ," which means, "that which is delivered in boxes of boarded cards and whose crust tastes much like its packaging."

For you see, even the ancient Tocharians (specifically the Arsi and Turfanians) had to put up with substandard, home-delivered pizza (which incidentally came from actual pizza huts). More often than not, what you get from Pizza Yurt, Dominican's, and Papa Jane's* comes from low quality ingredients, poor preparation, mismanaged heating, and the same minds that brought you Franzia and McDonald's. As human beings, you deserve better.

Some trace the disappearance of the Tocharian civilization around the 10th Century AD to an over-reliance on home delivery. Do you want YOUR civilization to fall? I'm here to prevent that. I am here to ensure that you don't have to eat päs.s.iñ ever again! I'm like some kind of hero - keeping your civilization back from the brink of destruction. I'm like a little Julius Caesar! Hmm... "Little Caesar's"... that would make a good name for a pizza parlor...

This blog will explore the origins of pizza** and how to break out of the cardboard box at home.

*Trying to avoid a lawsuit here, people.

**Unlike what I said about the Tocharians, these explorations will not be entirely fictional***.

***Okay, so what I said wasn't ENTIRELY fictional. The Tocharians DID disappear around the 10th Century, but it had little or nothing to do with pizza.****

****Okay. It had NOTHING to do with pizza.

Ahem.

Pizza in its most basic form is simply flattened bread with stuff on it. As such, it's really impossible to trace the modern pizza to one particular origin (all you Neapolitans, calm down - I'll get to you guys in a minute). Wikipedia's article on the History of Pizza has some excellent examples of ancient "pizzas."

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This is an actual photograph of a caveman making a pizza over open flame. My time-traveling camera didn't make me any money, though, as Kodak said the shots looked too "cartoony."

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This was taken in Pompeii. Look familiar?

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...and the final evolution. My behemoth. More on ovens later...

Then along came Naples. Sometime in the 18th century someone said, "Hey! These tomatoes aren't poisonous! Let's eat them instead of trying to kill the poor with them." And modern pizza was born, remarkably, mere miles from where the above picture was taken.

There are so many variations of pizza around the world - flammkuchen, Chicago deep dish, Chinese green onion, California, curried mutton (for some reason). The list is as long as there are cuisines in the world. Not everything that's like a pizza is thought of as a pizza (like flammkuchen). So what IS a pizza? As with all things food related, it's all about personal preference. For example, I don't consider Chicago deep dish to be pizza at all - pizza should be tossed and baked on a hot stone. What you're eating over there at Pizzeria Uno is bread with tomato and cheese on top. I'm looking at you, table 35. Obviously a native Chicagoan... err... Chicagite? Umm. Chicago-ian? Obviously someone from Chicago would disagree with me.

I know I sound like a broken record, but everything you need to know about the history of pizza around the world and in the United States is here, and I KNOW that no one just wants me to rehash or cut and paste.

Tomorrow I'm going to tackle the focus of this blog... making good pizza with bad equipment (i.e. at home). Many of you will disagree with many things I'm going to say blog about ingredients, preparation, and topping selection. Like I said before, pizza is all about Personal Preference, or "PP." So if you don't like what I'm saying, just flush your PP right down the terlet.

NEXT UP!

Some philosophy.

Some actual cooking.

No obscure Indo-European civilizations!

Photographs of actual pizza!

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Following this question, what brand of flour do you use? What is your typical schedule for the dough? Overnight fridge rest?
I'll be answering yours and legant's questions in detail tomorrow, actually. :blink:

In a nutshell...

Whole wheat flour... eh. Makes the crust too heavy. I have some semolina in the pantry I've been dying to try. I've tried using "white" whole wheat flour, which is supposed to be more like "regular" flour, but I've found that this refers more to the flavor than the finished texture.

I use regular King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, to which I add a few tablespoons of wheat gluten. Bread flour made specifically for bread machines has a higher gluten content (generally), but my Wegman's doesn't have them.

I'll get into my schedule (which involves proofing yeast, an overnight cold ferment, and at least one glass of wine) tomorrow!

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I've tried using "white" whole wheat flour, which is supposed to be more like "regular" flour, but I've found that this refers more to the flavor than the finished texture.

White whole wheat is just about the same as the regular. Here is the info from KA,

Milled from white whole wheat, rather than red, unbleached King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour has all the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat, with milder flavor and lighter color.
I use regular King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, to which I add a few tablespoons of wheat gluten. Bread flour made specifically for bread machines has a higher gluten content (generally), but my Wegman's doesn't have them.

You really need to add more gluten than what is already present in KAUBF?

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White whole wheat is just about the same as the regular. Here is the info from KA,

You really need to add more gluten than what is already present in KAUBF?

Right, but in my experience while the white whole TASTES more like regular, it doesn't really BEHAVE like it (oh, behave!).

As to adding more gluten... what? It's not like I'm allergic (I'd kill myself if I had a gluten allergy, or at the very least suffer through the pain of eating gluten products). Too much gluten is a problem with cakes, biscuits, and some breads. Yes, waaaaaaaaaay too much gluten can make the pizza tough, chewy, and hard to work with, but I'm only adding a few tablespoons.

Basically, I would rather err on the side of too much gluten than too little. Adding the gluten is basically an insurance policy. I had some tearing problems on my thinner crusts without it.

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Entry #2: The Oozing Dough Blob Versus the One Armed Hookbot

Pizza can be (and, for thousands of years, was) made with just your bare hands on a heat source. Eight million skin grafts later, here we are living in a culinary paradise where the home cook has access to tools beyond even what was around a decade ago (running water? Holy crap).

Let's review what you'll need to become the next Pizza McGee.

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A sink. Even if you're not big on cleanliness (I'm looking at you, Mr. Doesn't Wash His Hands Even After Missing the Urinal... Badly), having running water means you don't have to wait until the next rain to make pizza. Filtered is best, as the chlorine, fluoride, and LSD the government puts in the water is as harmful to yeast as it is beneficial to off flavors.

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A refrigerator. Keeps food fresh, and is also important for the cold ferment (more on that next entry). Having a stainless steel one is a good idea, as this lets you pretend you're in some kind of futuristic wonder kitchen.

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A dishwasher. Save your significant other the back breaking task of cleaning up after your first disastrous pizza experiment.

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A nice place to enjoy your pizza. The flea and gonorrhea -infested couch upon which you ate pizza in college, while certain to bring back memories (and itching), should probably be replaced.

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Candles create a fine ambiance and can teleport you to a mystical realm of pizza and wax.

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A pizza cutter and a dough scraper. The dough scraper is a huge help when cleaning up big messes of flour and when dividing your dough evenly. The pizza cutter... Do I really have to explain what it's for?

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A pizza peel. I don't know why it's called a "peel." If you're peeling anything out of the oven, it means you did something horribly, horribly wrong. In any case, a peel is essential for placing your pies directly on the surface of the pizza stone. The Cookie Monster cookie jar is entirely optional. Curious George fridge magnets are required.

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Your hands, or the hands of a robot helper.

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A robot helper. Sure you could mix and knead by hand, but having a robot do it for you is faster, easier, and just as effective. I use a paddle attachment to first mix the dough, then the dough hook attachment to actually knead it. Spraying both attachments with cooking spray (or olive oil) helps prevent the dough from crawling up and inspiring you to produce the B-movie, "The Oozing Dough Blob Versus the One Armed Hookbot").

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Let's just move on from this one.

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Entry #2: The Oozing Dough Blob Versus the One Armed Hookbot

Part 2: Because It Won't Let Me Post All My Images at Once

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A rolling pin. This is not for rolling the dough out - ROLLING DOUGH KILLS PIZZA. Your dough should never... as in, not EVER... be touched by a rolling pin of any sort. No, the rolling pin is just to beat the crap out of anyone that tries to steal your delicious pizza.

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Someone to enjoy your pizza and blow smoke away from the smoke detectors when you accidentally drop half a pizza's worth of toppings onto the bottom of the oven.

Let's see... What am I forgetting? Ah yes. Something to actually COOK the pizza. Let's spend a little more time on this. Italian DOC regulations stipulate that, in order for it to be traditional Neapolitan pizza, the pizza must be cooked at a temperature of 905 degrees. Why is this so important? Well, if you're running a commercial pizzeria, cooking a pizza in 60-90 seconds instead of ten minutes really helps step up production. From a culinary point of view, though, cooking the pizza in such high heat creates a crust that is crisp but not dry, and toppings that are caramelized without having the rest of the pie burnt to black.

It's not just about getting your oven hot, though. It's HOW the pizza is heated. Heat can be imparted to food three ways:

Conduction. When you touch a hot stove and burn your hand (moron), that's conduction. The bottom of the pizza that lays flat on the cooking surface is cooked via conduction.

Convection. This is similar to conduction, but instead of the heat being transferred through a solid, it's transferred through a fluid. The air circulating through your oven cooks pizza via convection.

Radiation. This is the only form of heat transfer that can occur in a vacuum (not that you'll be cooking your pizza in outer space, although that would be awesome). Glowing red coals on a grill heat via this method. The reason domed brick oven pizzas work so well is that the walls of the oven are beaming black body radiation* at the food from all angles (among other reasons).

*A black body is any object that absorbs all electromagnetic radiation that falls into it - nothing is passed through and nothing is reflected. Radiation absorbed is then radiated out as heat. For example, a brick.

How is this important for pizza? If you're not bored and have not stopped reading yet, I'm glad you asked. Let's assume that your pizza is just being heated by conduction - you have a hot pizza stone, but you've left your oven open too long and all the hot air has escaped. Not enough convection occurs and you end up with a charred bottom and an undercooked top. Conversely, if you just cook the pizza in a baking sheet without a pizza stone, you end up with floppy pizza because the underside is not sufficiently heated.

Wood-fired brick ovens work so well because, not only are they able to attain high heat (the magic 905 degree mark), but the stone floors provide conduction, the domed shape ensures the air is always hot for convection, and the bricks lining the inside radiate heat evenly onto the pizza.

It's time you accepted something. Unless you build yourself a brick oven or tamper* heavily and dangerously with your regular oven, you will never get it up to 905 degrees. My oven comes with a thermostat adjustment feature that lets me adjust the oven temperature's reading +/- 35 degrees. I have it adjusted so that 550 (which is as high as my oven will go) is really 585. That said, you can still get great pizza by ensuring you're heating it evenly using all three methods of heat transfer.

*Possible hacks include manually miscalibrating the thermostat, or rigging the oven to not require a lock during the cleaning cycle so it just stays on. Make sure your insurance and will are in order. Also, all of these methods have a very low W.A.F.**

**W.A.F. = Wife Approval Factor.

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This is my oven with full pizza gear.

Conduction. A pizza stone is a MUST. They absorb heat and hold it. This means you'll get a well-cooked crust that can support the weight of the pizza. The big downside is that they're overpriced. You can go to the hardware store and try to find yourself some UNglazed quarry tiles, but the ones I've found aren't as large or thick as an actual pizza stone.

Radiation. Smaller unglazed quarry tiles have their uses. You can see I've lined the bottom and top of my oven with two layers of them. These will absorb heat and radiate it back into the oven. You'll notice I have fewer tiles on the top and have spaced them - this is to improve airflow.

Convection. When you open your oven door, you will lose heat. Yes, even if you do it really, really fast. Having your oven densely packed with hot stones and tiles will help it heat back up quickly.

Having your oven crammed full of rock also has a downside - it takes over an hour for the oven to really preheat. The job isn't done yet, though. Using an infrared thermometer, you can see that the temperature of the tiles and pizza stones trails the oven temperature by about 150-200 degrees. That's because the oven's thermostat measures the air temperature, not the temperature of your cooking surfaces. Because you want your radiation and conduction sources as hot as possible, you'll want to give the oven at least another hour before tossing your pizzas in.

With my thermostat adjustment and my rocky improvements, I can get portions of my regular electric home oven up to 750 degrees. Still over 150 short of where I want to be, but my HOA doesn't allow large brick wood-burning structures of any kind in anyone's backyard (there was an incident that involved some... unpleasanthood).

Oh - and your kitchen will get hot, so drink lots of fluids.

That should do it for equipment. You'll need something to serve the pizza on, of course (although usually my guests just pick slices off the counter as I cut them - damn vultures - that's where the rolling pin is handy).

Tomorrow we talk about d'oh.

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A pizza peel. I don't know why it's called a "peel." If you're peeling anything out of the oven, it means you did something horribly, horribly wrong.

"Peel" in the sense of baker's peel, and "peel" in the sense of skin (noun) or removing skin (verb) are two entirely separate words. The former is from Old French pele, from Latin pala, spade or peel (the baker's tool). The latter is ultimately from Latin verb pilare, to deprive of hair, from Latin pilus, hair.

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"Peel" in the sense of baker's peel, and "peel" in the sense of skin (noun) or removing skin (verb) are two entirely separate words. The former is from Old French pele, from Latin pala, spade or peel (the baker's tool). The latter is ultimately from Latin verb pilare, to deprive of hair, from Latin pilus, hair.
Show off.

:blink:

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This is an electric stove??!!

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This is my oven with full pizza gear.

I can't tell from the pictures, but are the unglazed quarry tiles sitting directly on the electric coils? Or, are they placed on a rack immediately above the coils?

How many tiles do you have? It looks like 12 on the bottom; four on the top. How did you work out this formula?

What about rack placement? Are the rack positions accurate in the photo?

What modifications, if any, would you make for a gas oven? Can the necessary high temperature be achieved more quickly in a gas stove?

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This is an electric stove??!! I can't tell from the pictures, but are the unglazed quarry tiles sitting directly on the electric coils? Or, are they placed on a rack immediately above the coils?

How many tiles do you have? It looks like 12 on the bottom; four on the top. How did you work out this formula?

What about rack placement? Are the rack positions accurate in the photo?

What modifications, if any, would you make for a gas oven? Can the necessary high temperature be achieved more quickly in a gas stove?

Yes, that is an LG electric range. The coils are mounted in the rear of the oven, so my oven floor is just a flat, metal surface. I would not recommend placing the tiles in contact with the electric coils - I can't think of a specific reason why, it just doesn't seem like a very good idea to me. :blink: If your coils ARE on the floor of your oven, I would recommend just placing the tiles on a rack directly above it, but leave plenty of room for air circulation since you don't want to block your heat source.

The bottom is two layers of tiles laid out 2x3 (so yes, 12 in total) and the top is laid out 2x2 (so 8 in total). As to the formula, 2x3 was simply all that would fit on the floor of the oven, and 2x2 is all that would fit on the top (the slots where the racks go prohibit me from doing 2x3 on the top).

As to rack placement, basically: place the bottom tiles as low as they can go, place the top tiles as high as they can go, and my two pizza stones are distributed so I have plenty of room between to load and extract the pies.

You can probably see the arrangement better in this photo:

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The same rules apply for a gas oven, just take great care in not obstructing the heat source. As to achieving high temps more quickly with a gas stove - well, preheat times vary greatly between various models. Regardless of how quickly your oven preheats, the stones are still going to lag 100-200 degrees behind the air in the oven.

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Entry #3: Nostalgia Wax

I was out late last night at improv practice, so I was not home in time to make dough. Yeah, that's right. 9-5 job, extracurriculars, and I STILL have time to make pizza.

That means, unfortunately, that there was no dough photo shoot. You could say that my supermodel did not dough up on time. That it was a no dough. That my career is doughing nowhere. That... Okay, that's enough. Dough more. Oops.

In lieu of my promised post, I'd like to bore you with some stories of my personal experiences with pizza (cue collective groan).

Like most Americans, I was eating pizza, if not IN the womb, then definitely on the way out. Therefore, I'm too young to remember my first pizza. I do, however, remember being a wee lad of somewhere between five and seven and eating my first Vermont flatbread. This was way back when they were still the Flatbread Kitchen at the Tucker Hill Lodge. I had been skiing since I was three, and every year my family and I made the long drive from the suburbs of Philadelphia up to Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont. Now at nearly 28 I stand in awe that my parents survived nine hours up a mountain pass with two young (and likely misanthropically behaved) children in the car. Lucky for them we had a small portable television.

I was just a kid, and kids have little room in their palates for anything more complicated than a plain cheeseburger or a pepperoni pizza. I, however, DEVOURED every flatbread put in front of me. The New Vermont Sausage has remained virtually unchanged since it changed my life in the mid 80s. It seems a fitting destiny that one of my favorite childhood culinary destinations decided to open one of their first restaurants outside of Vermont a few minutes from where I've chosen to make my adulthood home.

Everyone in my family cooks, and growing up my dad was big into duplicating his favorite restaurant experiences in the home - flatbread was no exception. I remember his first efforts with a pizza stone - they must have been poorly made in those days, because more than a few cracked in the heat to which he subjected them (more still fell off the railing of our deck during his grilled pizza experiments).

My own desire to make pizza laid dormant for a number of years. One day, in the winter of 2002, I looked outside the window of my Courtland Towers apartment and saw that it was snowing. The weatherguessers were predicting a hefty snowfall with near blizzard conditions in some areas. I thought back to the winters in Vermont with a strong sense of nostalgia - I was graduating college, and the certainty and comfort of youth seemed a long way off.

So I set out to make blizzard pizza.

It was already too dangerous to drive, and I doubted that the stores would be open, but I walked the mile or so to Whole Foods. Apparently, a lot of people stockpile useless crap in blizzards because, in addition to bottled water and batteries, they were also out of yeast. I said screw it and hopped in my car for the three mile drive to "Hairy Teets" (Harris Teeter), which blessedly DID have yeast. Also a plus was that I didn't kill anyone driving in the snow.

I had some rudimentary understanding of what I'd needed - so I also picked up a single pizza stone (which I still use) and a pizza peel (which I also still use), and set out to make my first homemade pizza. I have never seen a smoke detector go off so many times in a ten minute span. It was epic. We had all our windows and doors open, the fans going... everything. I spilled everything I could into the inside of my oven. No one who knew me would have been surprised if I had the fire marshal's cell number.

The heat in the oven was too low, and I kept letting what little heat there was OUT whenever I tried to adjust my disasters. The pizzas were burned, the dough was amateur and flavorless, but we were in college! It was LIGHT YEARS ahead of anything we could have had delivered. As long as it didn't taste like the vomit* of someone who puked because he accidentally ate skunk poop, we were happy.

For many, many attempts afterward the smoke alarm STILL went off. Heat STILL went out of my oven because I wasn't skilled enough with the peel and ended up just sliding the dough on and topping the pies right on the stone.

Blizzard pizza was a success and became a tradition - whenever it snowed, I made pizza. This translated to any sort of severe weather event: heavy rain, Hurricane Isabel, partly cloudy skies, light drizzle, etc.

Now I make it whenever the mood strikes. Because the actual pies only take two or three minutes to cook, they're great for feeding large groups of people. Pizza just makes people feel close and warm. They also take a surprisingly little amount of work (the pizzas, not the people): all told it probably takes me about an hour or two of actual time in the kitchen (spread over 2-3 days) to make six pies.

Pizza for me will always represent childlike wonder, warmth, coziness, comfort, friends, family, and contentment. There's a feeling of hearthiness you get with pizza. You can get it with bread, too, but bread doesn't come with sausage.

*Interestingly, one of the primary flavor compounds in parmesan cheese is butyric acid, which also contributes to the odor and flavor of vomit. The circle of life.

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Entry #4: Doughing in the Wind

As I write this, billions of Saccharomyces cerevisiae are farting inside my refrigerator. That's because I, like many of my Homo sapien brethren, enjoy the way the excrement of certain fungi (and yeast ARE fungi, not bacteria or animals) taste. Sure, making flatulence jokes is not the best way to start a food blog, but look at it this way: at least I didn't go the Monistat route.

Most doughs are incredibly simple in their ingredients.

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My food philosophy is, the fewer ingredients go into something, the higher quality those ingredients need to be. For the most important ingredient, love, I've used ground up pig heart (not shown).

I use only King Arthur, unbleached bread flour. Why bread? The higher protein content yields more gluten, which is that magical strand common to all pizza doughs. Without it, you couldn't toss the pizza into the air, you couldn't get the pizza to hold the ingredients, and you couldn't make some creepy Silence of the Lambs mask by molding it over your face. To up the gluten content even higher, I add a few tablespoons of pure, uncut, freebased street gluten. Why King Arthur? He defeated the Saxons, that's why.

I use Morton's Salt, Domino Sugar, and Fleischmann's yeast. Let's face it: NaCl is salt, C12H22O11 is sugar, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae is yeast. For our purposes, no fancy label or high price tag is going to change that.

For as long as I can remember, I've used skim milk as my liquid component, not water. For this time around, I've decided to use the more "proper" liquid: water. I used filtered; the chlorine, chemicals, and LSD that the government puts in tap water can kill the yeast and also make the yeast feel like they're flying over a purple field of tulips, neither of which helps your pizza.

Already, though, I regret my choice. Even before making the pizza, I can see that milk yields better results: a better yeast bloom, more gluten development, and deeper flavor. Ah well. In retrospect, when I'm demoing my pizza to a very discerning, foodie-based public I probably should have just stuck to my guns. Please don't judge me... your honor.

I always bloom my yeast (mainly because I can't find Instant Yeast in my grocery store). Never, EVER use rapid rise. You WANT the dough to rise slowly so it develops flavor! Shame shame SHAME on you for rushing perfection. You're what's wrong with America!

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Here's a pot of yeast in full bloom (it's like springtime!). Like I said, the water hampered my efforts. To bloom, I heat the liquid to slightly hotter than I'd take a shower in, add some EVOO and the sugar, stir to dissolve, then stir in the yeast. Here's a tip: it might look like it's fun to taste. It isn't.

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I stir up the flour, salt, and gluten using the paddle attachment of my mixer, then add in the liquid right from the pot, stirring until well mixed.

After that, it's time for the dough hook. It's almost impossible to overknead pizza dough, so I let it run for 15-20 minutes, then do about 5 minutes of handkneading, just because I like the feel of the dough. Here's another tip: spray your mixer attachments, lest the Oozing Dough Blob get you and your children.

My dough is very sticky because of the high water content, but after plenty of kneading it firms up and is easy to handle.

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This is KIND of what you want to see: a baker's window. Stretch a small piece of dough, and if light shines through without the dough tearing, it's your window to weight gain! Actually, it just means you have good gluten development. It was hard to get a picture because usually I'd use two hands to illustrate the "membrane" that forms. It should actually look more membrany, with visible strands, but you really can't see that in this picture. Plus it was a mediocre window to begin with - CURSE YOU WATER!!!

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After kneading, coat the dough in some EVOO to keep it from sticking, toss it in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then throw it in the refrigerator overnight*.

*It's heavy. Do not actually throw it.

What's wrong? What, you expected me to do an initial rise and then punch it down? I'm a lover, not a fighter. I'm going to slow down the yeast's metabolism so that they don't fart as much, but their farts will yield much more flavor development. Overnight, in my fridge, they will ferment the dough and yield positively delightful flavors.

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This is why I do things like drink yeast bloom and write fart jokes. Plus the backwash really opens up the wine's bouquet.

Tomorrow, we'll see what happens when I take the dough out of the fridge the next day. Looks like I might have to do more than five blog entries.

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Entry #5: Appease a Peace a Piece a Pizza

Now it's time to bring it all together.

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Take the dough out of the fridge - it will have risen slightly (like a very lazy zombie).

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Start the dough on its path to destiny by dividing it up into equal portions. I like to fold the dough balls in on themselves so they form nice tight spheres (just listen to Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back" for an idea of what I mean). About one cup of flour yields one 12" pie (so for this batch I've used six cups). It's very important to cover your balls [snicker snicker] with either plastic wrap or a wet dish towel. Otherwise your dough will end up with a weird dry film that feels like elephant skin. The goal here is for the dough to relax and come to room temperature. That's why we divided it up into six pieces - small dough balls will heat faster than large ones. I actually like putting the dough directly on top of my oven where it's about 20 degrees warmer in order to accelerate the process.

By now you should have preheated your oven.

Once the dough is room temperature and is soft and pliable (see "Baby Got Back"), it's time to shape it into a pizza. Under no circumstances should you roll, press, or otherwise mash down on the dough. You want the dough to stretch, not be flattened, otherwise you end up with dense plywood instead of pizza.

This is a good time to talk about what I look for in a pizza crust. Like I said in my first entry, this is all about personal preference - I don’t consider deep dish to be pizza, although many do. The perfect pizza crust should be cracker crisp on the outside with a pleasing carmelization, but moist and flavorful on the inside. It should be very thin under the toppings, but strong enough to support them without folding. The underside should have a pleasant, almost ashy woodiness. The rims should have enough volume to soak up the detritus left over on your plate after you finish the rest of the pizza, and should have enough flavor for you to want to eat them on your own. Toppings should come to about an inch of the rims. Some people dock* their dough to eliminate air bubbles. I and countless children consider popping said bubbles on a finished pizza to be one of the greatest joys in life, so I do not dock. Sound good?

*Dock as in to poke little holes in the dough to prevent steam from escaping, not dock as in tie up a boat.

As to how to stretch your dough, there are a couple of ways. Lightly pinch an end and let gravity work. Rotate the dough back and forth between your hands. Stretch the dough like you're stretching Silly Putty. Or, rest the dough on your knuckles, let it drop down, then with a spinning motion toss it into the air like you've seen done countless times on TV. It's hard to illustrate what I mean without showing you... do we have a photo?

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Not exactly what I had in mind, but yes - this method will work, too.

Places Not to Toss a Pizza:

-Under a ceiling fan

-Under a tree

-Near large flocks of birds

-While driving

-In outer space (awesome!)

-Any time after the pizza already has toppings on it

If the pizza is being difficult, give it another rest under your wet dish towel* for ten minutes or so.

*This same wet dish towel is also the perfect tool for cleaning up spilt flour.

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THIS is what you want to see. Absolutely beautiful. It's like something out of Alien.

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Spread a layer of corn meal on your pizza peel, and lay your pizza on it. The corn meal is to prevent the dough from sticking so it slides nicely into the oven. Why corn meal? Unlike flour, it won't burn when it's in direct contact with the pizza stone. Brush the crust (especially the rim) with EVOO. And yes, this is the face pizza.

I need to say a few things about toppings. Dough is a labor of love. Good dough can save bad toppings, but not the other way around. Dough should be the same every time - perfect. Toppings are your chance to get creative. Think of marble. It's spent millions of years being delicately sculpted by the Earth, and it's been made beautiful. Toppings are your chance to take that marble and go Michaelangelo on its ass.

There are traditionalists who say that the only acceptable pizza toppings are tomato, cheese, and basil (or some imaginatatively limited variation thereof). Food tradiations have their place in preserving heritage, but we should not be limited by them. Some people say that toppings should be ridiculously LIGHT, going out of their way to talk about how you should not heap toppings on your pizza. They have a good point - your toppings should not have a greater volume than your crust - but it's okay to load up a LITTLE.

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As you can see in the picture above of all the ingedients, mise en place* is very important when topping a pizza. When a single pie cooks in three minutes, you need to have the next one ready to go.

*Mise en place is a fancy French word that means HAVE EVERYTHING READY AND IN PLACE BEFOREHAND, DUMMY.

Topping selection is a lot of fun. Sometimes I like to express different cuisines - taco pizza, Italian pizza, flammkuchen (i.e. German pizza). Other times I like to take favorite dishes or sauces and build a pizza around them (pizza with Italian sausage in spicy vodka cream sauce). Still other times I'll see some kind of unique ingredient at the supermarket and build a pizza around that, playing with the various flavors and identifying other ingredients that will pair well with them (I saw some artichoke pesto at Wegman's - I'm gonna use that as my base and top it with prosciutto and parmasan).

There are some general guidelines I use for topping selection, although they are just GUIDELINES, not rules (like the Pirate Code). But first, a little cooking philosophy. I divide cooking into two types:

Type I (In Your Mouth)

Type II (In the Pot)

Type I cooking involves combining fresh ingredients in such a way that you are meant to appreciate the flavors of each one separately, forming a pleasing synthesis inside your mouth. A good example is the classic hamburger: you're meant to taste the tomato, lettuce, pickles, and meat individually at first.

Type II cooking involves taking multiple ingredients and creating unique flavors and synergies into one item. A good example is chili: you take many disparate ingredients and bring them together. You're not meant to taste and appreciate a single one, but rather the NEW flavor created by the whole.

Toppings are generally going to be of the Type I variety. You want to taste and appreciate each ingredient on the pizza. There are certain exceptions, of course. Tomato sauce would technically be a Type II ingredient, but it's functioning as a Type I in that it's meant to elevate and expand on a single ingredient (tomato). Just think of it this way - a chili pizza probably wouldn't be very good; all the flavors and texture in the dough would be masked. But think of how many variations there are of the cheeseburger pizza!

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Remember when I said that toppings should be kinda light? This is waaaaaaaaaaaay too much tomato sauce. It came out of the bottle a little faster than I'd anticipated. Oops. And yes, that IS storebought tomato sauce in the photo above. So sue me, or take it up with Paul Newman.

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I did the best I could to remove the excess without tearing the dough - this is still a little much. You want your pizza to have the flavor of tomatoes, not to be a large, flat cup of tomato juice.

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After about three minutes in the oven... Mmmmmmmm... Pizza.

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Entry #5: Appease a Peace a Piece a Pizza

Part 2: Because It Won't Let Me Post All My Images at Once

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This one actually could have used another 30-45 seconds in the oven, but Grey's Anatomy was on. I know it sucks this season, but I have to find out what happens with Izzie* and George!

*Katherine Heigl - one of the few things more delicious than homemade pizza.

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Pizza focaccia with roasted garlic and herbs.

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This one was in the oven the perfect amount of time.

Here's my usual pizza baking schedule, assuming it's during the week.

Tuesday -

7PM - Go to store. Buy ingredients. Eat cookies.

Wednesday -

7:30PM - Open wine, let breathe.

8PM - Mix ingredients, proof yeast for five-ten minutes. Drink wine.

8:10PM - Combine wet and dry, then knead the dough. Drink more wine.

8:30PM - Continue kneading by hand. Ferment in fridge overnight. Finish wine.

Thursday -

6:30PM - Preheat oven. Remove dough from fridge, portion out, and rest under wet towel. Open wine, let breathe.

7:30PM - Prep toppings. Drink wine.

8:00PM - Stretch the dough. Give it a rest. Drink wine.

8:30PM - Cook each pie for three to four minutes if eating immediately, or one to two minutes if freezing. Drink wine.

9PM - Enjoy or freeze. Watch Grey's Anatomy. Finish wine. Cry.

Friday -

6:30PM - Preheat oven. Remove frozen pies from freezer. Open wine, skip breathing - you want booze NOW, damnit. Drink wine.

7:30PM - Prep topping. Drink wine.

8:00PM - Cook each pie for one to two minutes. Enjoy. Finish wine. Pass out.

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Perfectly-sized Ziploced pizzas awaiting the freezer.

And that's it!

I hope you've enjoyed this foray into the world of homemade pizza. As evident from the number of times I set off the smoke detector, this is something you will only get better at with practice, but I do encourage you to put in the time: it's fun and rewarding, and it brings out the best in me.

Mmmmmmmmm... delicious face pizza....

Questions (about the pizza, not my sanity)?

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Oh, and a word on wine. It's hard to argue with the classics, and nothing says "pizza" like "chianti." I also like a good ruche. I find that it's the CRUST that they pair well with, so as long as you're not using toppings that completely overpower the flavor of your hard-worked dough (and why would you be?), sticking to the basics works well. One thing I've never gotten behind with pizza is tart toppings, like the pineapple on Hawai'ian pizza. In my opinion it just doesn't sit well with a nice, charred crust. If you DO insist on pineapple or orange or some other such nonsense, then you'll definitely want to switch up your wine.

Of course, my all time favorite red is Barbaresco, so when I feel like forking over the dough (pun intended) I'm happy to enjoy it with my pies.

One thing I've found that goes really well with pizza is MILK. Skim, preferably. Not sure why. Maybe it does a good job of cutting the acidity?

Speaking of acidity, pizza + wine = heartburn.

Of course, pizza comes from Italy. You could always try pairing your pies with what the Italians do: beer.

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Oh, and a word on wine. It's hard to argue with the classics, and nothing says "pizza" like "chianti." I also like a good ruche. I find that it's the CRUST that they pair well with, so as long as you're not using toppings that completely overpower the flavor of your hard-worked dough (and why would you be?), sticking to the basics works well. One thing I've never gotten behind with pizza is tart toppings, like the pineapple on Hawai'ian pizza. In my opinion it just doesn't sit well with a nice, charred crust. If you DO insist on pineapple or orange or some other such nonsense, then you'll definitely want to switch up your wine.

Of course, my all time favorite red is Barbaresco, so when I feel like forking over the dough (pun intended) I'm happy to enjoy it with my pies.

One thing I've found that goes really well with pizza is MILK. Skim, preferably. Not sure why. Maybe it does a good job of cutting the acidity?

Speaking of acidity, pizza + wine = heartburn.

Of course, pizza comes from Italy. You could always try pairing your pies with what the Italians do: beer.

Try some of the Grotta del Sole Gragnano. I think it is the perfect pizza wine. I like mine chilled. It is available for around $10-12 retail and 2 Amy's has it on their menu for $23 a bottle.

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Some things I forgot to mention.

Post-Cooking Toppings

Throw out your oregano, garlic powder, and pepper flakes. The only acceptable things to put on a pizza at the table are freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and maybe some cracked black pepper.

Some Pizzas I Have Made

Cheese & tomato sauce (i.e. "plain")

Big chunks of Italian sausage with ricotta, tomato sauce, and cheese

Thick sliced pepperoni

Grilled sausage and shrimp in spicy vodka and tomato cream sauce

Fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato, and basil (basil added with a minute to go to prevent burning)

Shiitake mushrooms, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and goat cheese

Six-mushroom saute in butter with balsamic and red wine reductions (the sauces went against my Type I rule, but it was awesome)

Sweet apple slices with blue cheese and agave syrup

Chicken pesto

Taco pizza - flank steak with lime juice, tequila, onion and blistered serranos, salsa, sour cream, guac (a little heavy, but I had to try)

Mayo, bacon, aged cheddar, hour-long sweated onions with nutmeg, mustard seed and sage (sort of a flammkuchen)

Roasted garlic and herbs

Artichoke pesto with prosciutto and Parmesan

Cinnamon dessert pizza with buttercream frosting (this was actually the creation of some female guests)

Etc.

The first two have probably been repeated the most (by popular demand).

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Try some of the Grotta del Sole Gragnano. I think it is the perfect pizza wine. I like mine chilled. It is available for around $10-12 retail and 2 Amy's has it on their menu for $23 a bottle.

I know Calvert Woodley has it. BTW, it has a good amount of fizz to it.

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One thing I've found that goes really well with pizza is MILK.
You know, even when i have plenty of real beer and wine on hand, I will always reach for the root beer. You know that scene in Ratatouille when the critic eats the dish and flashes back to his childhood memory? For me that is pizza and root beer at (ahem) pizza hut when I was a kid. We almost never ate out growing up but once every month or so my brother and I would fill up our Book-It pins and get to go collect our free personal pan pizza. We would always share one of those red translucent plastic cups full of root beer. Nowadays if there is no root beer around I will settle for a ginger ale. The strange thing is that under no other circumstance do I really drink soda anymore, just with pizza (well some OCCASSIONAL tonic water and club soda primarily on Friday and Saturday nights...)
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For me that is pizza and root beer at (ahem) pizza hut when I was a kid.
In high school on certain days our schedules worked out so we had an hour for lunch starting at 12:55. Pizza Hut stopped seating for their all you can scarf lunch buffet at 1. My car was the car that made the Pizza Hut run in less than 12 parsecs.

By law, any time you went back to the buffet you had to use a new plate, so we'd always end up with massive towers of used plates on our table. On the occasions where we made it to the Hut in time, we would always try and top our previous tower record.

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Could you post your dough recipe?
I guess that would be helpful...

Dan’s Pizza Dough

2 cups bread flour

1 tbl wheat gluten

2 tsp salt

3/4 cup skim milk

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 package yeast

1 tbl sugar

Corn meal

Heat milk and olive oil in sauce pan to just hotter than you’d take a shower in. Mix in sugar and yeast.

Let mixture sit for five minutes or until yeast has started to foam.

In bowl, combine flour, gluten, and salt. Add yeast mixture and stir until the dough forms a ball.

Knead well by hand (30-60 mins) or using a dough hook (15-25 mins).

Roll the dough into a tight ball and coat with a little olive oil. Put the dough ball into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to maximum temperature (500-550 degrees) with your pizza stones inside.

Cut the dough into pizza portions and roll into tight balls; rest for 30-60 minutes.

Toss and twist the dough to spread it out, and then let rest for 30 minutes.

Cover your pizza peal with cornmeal to prevent the pie from sticking.

Brush the rims with olive oil, add your favorite toppings, and bake for 3-4 minutes.

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Regarding Sweeteners

Before I realized how important technique and experience was to ANY recipe, I felt this great need to make my dough recipe "my own" by making it unique. I did this by mixing up the yeast food - instead of sugar I would sometimes use mixtures of honey, molasses, and maple syrup. I can't say there was ever anything WRONG with that, but I've found the results much more pleasing when I use plain sugar.

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Fizz like carbonation or fizz like a fizzy mouthfeel?
Somewhere in between (?). It's noticably fizzy, but just barely off-dry. 2 Amys serves it from a juice glass, which seems right. It's actually a really pretty wine. Aglianico, Piedirosso, and one other variety which escapes my mind at the moment.

And, like all fizzy stuff, be gentle with it in the hours before uncorking. I'd put it in the fridge about 45-60 minutes before you serve it...a little chill makes it more stable when opening and is probably the best temperature for it.

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Fun blog, Dan. I have to admit, I hadn't thought of the "more tiles on the top rack" method.

Does your oven have a convection setting? I baked off some lovely pies last night (only 550 degrees, only 1 layer of stones underneath the pie, alas) with the convection setting on, leading to much better top-browning than normal.

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Fun blog, Dan. I have to admit, I hadn't thought of the "more tiles on the top rack" method.

Does your oven have a convection setting? I baked off some lovely pies last night (only 550 degrees, only 1 layer of stones underneath the pie, alas) with the convection setting on, leading to much better top-browning than normal.

It does have a convection setting, but it limits it to 400 degrees for some reason :blink:
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On the left is a pie with tomato sauce, tons of Italian sausage*, moz, and WHOLE MILK ricotta**. On the right is a pie with half artichoke pesto, prosciutto***, and Parmesan, and the other half plain.

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*I take the sausage out of its casing, then partially cook it through in a frying pan while breaking it up into small pieces. This ensures that every bite you take has sausage in it.

**I find that anything less than whole milk ricotta will get watery and make your pizza soggy.

***I crisped the prosciutto up beforehand for extra texture.

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Here's a better look at the artichoke/plain.

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You will notice that the pizza does not bend, even loaded with toppings!

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Wow, I really need to work on my lighting.

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Dan, made pizzas last night using my brand new mixer. Best batch I have ever made. I added a littttle more liquid than your recipe. Maybe just an eigth a cup more. It doesn't ball up as well in the mixer so it will probably take some hand kneading after the 20-25 in the mixer. I tried skim last night thanks to your idea and purists be damned, I am never going back to crappy water. I feel that even after filtering the water or using bottled I got a much better proof out of the yeast. No empirical data to back that up, just a feeling. I also like to sprinkle a little sea salt around the outer crust instead of OO. Just personal preference.

WE made a traditional basil/san marzano/fresh mozz pizza, a shredded chicken, mozz, roasted peppers and basil pizza and one just for me, shredded chicken, grilled red onions, turkey bacon, mozz, and litttttle bit of BBQ sauce garnished with chives. DAMN. Thanks for the help. I had your blog open and was continuously running back and forth to the computer from the kitchen. I had to manipulate the scroll wheel with my forearm because my hands were always coverd in flour, OO etc.

Quick edit: I also used stones on top and bottom. Several pizza days ago, like Icarus before, I got carried away with the exhilarating feeling that can only come from soaring up into the sky (or at least causing pizza dough to fly through the air) and ended up stretching my dough out to probably about the thickness of a post it note. After about 3 minutes in the oven I heard a loud snap and my heart began plumeting toward the proverbial ocean as I realized my pizza dough couldn't stand up to the heat and had leaked all types of liquid onto my stone causing it to crack. This is just a long, dumb way of saying I have two halves of a pizza stone (separated by about 2 inches) on a rack about 7-10 inches over the one I now do my baking on. Works great at keeping the top doneness in line with the bottom. Before I used two I would sometimes get overly done crust without sufficient browning on the top, even when I put it all the way at the top of the oven. What I used to do sometimes is heat my oven with the stone on the 2nd to top rack and after a few minutes in the oven switch it over to broil mode for the last 3-4.

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Dan, made pizzas last night using my brand new mixer. Best batch I have ever made. I added a littttle more liquid than your recipe. Maybe just an eigth a cup more. It doesn't ball up as well in the mixer so it will probably take some hand kneading after the 20-25 in the mixer. I tried skim last night thanks to your idea and purists be damned, I am never going back to crappy water. I feel that even after filtering the water or using bottled I got a much better proof out of the yeast. No empirical data to back that up, just a feeling. I also like to sprinkle a little sea salt around the outer crust instead of OO. Just personal preference.

WE made a traditional basil/san marzano/fresh mozz pizza, a shredded chicken, mozz, roasted peppers and basil pizza and one just for me, shredded chicken, grilled red onions, turkey bacon, mozz, and litttttle bit of BBQ sauce garnished with chives. DAMN. Thanks for the help. I had your blog open and was continuously running back and forth to the computer from the kitchen. I had to manipulate the scroll wheel with my forearm because my hands were always coverd in flour, OO etc.

Quick edit: I also used stones on top and bottom. Several pizza days ago, like Icarus before, I got carried away with the exhilarating feeling that can only come from soaring up into the sky (or at least causing pizza dough to fly through the air) and ended up stretching my dough out to probably about the thickness of a post it note. After about 3 minutes in the oven I heard a loud snap and my heart began plumeting toward the proverbial ocean as I realized my pizza dough couldn't stand up to the heat and had leaked all types of liquid onto my stone causing it to crack. This is just a long, dumb way of saying I have two halves of a pizza stone (separated by about 2 inches) on a rack about 7-10 inches over the one I now do my baking on. Works great at keeping the top doneness in line with the bottom. Before I used two I would sometimes get overly done crust without sufficient browning on the top, even when I put it all the way at the top of the oven. What I used to do sometimes is heat my oven with the stone on the 2nd to top rack and after a few minutes in the oven switch it over to broil mode for the last 3-4.

That's great! I'm glad I could help. That's an excellent use for damaged pizza stones. :blink:

Here's a question... did you heat the oven with the pizza stones INSIDE or did you put the stones in after the oven was already hot? I'm sure it was the former, but that's one thing I forgot to mention: NEVER EVER EVER put a cold pizza stone inside a hot oven!!!

Which mixer did you end up getting? 5 quart?

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That's great! I'm glad I could help. That's an excellent use for damaged pizza stones. :blink:

Here's a question... did you heat the oven with the pizza stones INSIDE or did you put the stones in after the oven was already hot? I'm sure it was the former, but that's one thing I forgot to mention: NEVER EVER EVER put a cold pizza stone inside a hot oven!!!

Which mixer did you end up getting? 5 quart?

Yes. I got the 5 quart 476 watt. 149 on amazon and I got free 1 day shipping with my Prime membership. Not bad. It was so nice to not have noodle hands for the rest of the night. I have had it out of the box for less than 48 hours and made pizzas, noodles for chicken soup and 2 loaves of honey wheat bread with it already. The pizza stone was in there from the get go. It just was trying to absorb too much cool liquid once the levee broke. Works nicely as a top piece though! (see fall food string for picures)

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1) Get together some porcini mushrooms, bacon, parmesan, balsamic reduction, truffle oil, porcini-infused EVOO, and the reduced water left over from rehydrating the porcinis.

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2) Brush a pizza with the porcini water reduction, then brush the rim with the porcini oil. Top with the mushrooms and bacon.

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3) Cook fully, then top with parmesan shavings, truffle oil, and balsamic reduction.

4) Die.

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