May 29, 2011
Clarice's Pieces: The Quest for the Great PizzaBy Clarice Feldman
About two years, ago, inspired by the fantastic work of Sullivan Street Bakery's, Jim Lahey, I tried my hand at artisan bread. Oh, to be sure, I tried bread making before but even though I am a rather decent cook and baker, good tasting bread escaped my reach until Jim came along with his brilliant idea of making a wetter dough, using instant yeast, letting it rise for a long time and then baking it in a preheated Dutch oven -- all of which duplicates the effect of baking in steam injected commercial ovens while avoiding the time consuming efforts of first making starters, bigas, poolishes.
The bread was so easy and delicious that I bought his book to learn how to make more breads and pizzas and sandwiches. I highly recommend you work your way through this and try some of the other treats in it -- like the incredible stecca, long olive oil coated Italian loaves studded with garlic or olives or cherry tomatoes .
My husband's co-worker is married to a man who is also obsessive about cooking and when he sought her sympathy over what was going on in our house, she dismissed him with," It could be a lot worse. They could be into cars or drugs." Well, I suppose I should warn you, that once you try the Leahy beads and see how easy it is to make first class artisan loaves, you wouldn't want to stop learning more.
My next foray was into Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, the collaborative work of a Minnesota Doctor (Jeff Hertzberg) and pastry chef (Zoe Francois) which has led to their own website, another book, and a third (on pizza and flatbread)on the way.
They use the little (instant yeast) and long rise that Lahey does, but make the dough in substantial batches, allowing you to pull off small quantities each day for fresh baked breads and rolls and flatbreads, and naan and pizza and you name it. My husband, recalling Al Capp, says it's like having a shmoo in the refrigerator. They bake their bread on hot baking stones, adding water to a baking pan to create the necessary steam. I accidently dribbled some liquid on the glass door -- twice -- cracking it and requiring replacements until I decided to go with the heated Dutch oven idea for baking their breads, too. It works just fine.
While I loved all the breads, I still was not completely happy with the pizza doughs I was creating. They were good -- better than most -- but still not good enough for me to consider the quest a success. And then Pete Reinhart, a master, baker, whose earlier books were inspirational but required the full time dedication I could not afford, adopted the long slow rise method, popularized by Lahey and came up with IT: the neo-Neapolitan pizza dough recipe.
Here it is and I can promise you it is as easy as it is delicious.
It is in his new book Artisan Breads Every Day.
If you try his recipe and like it, you might buy his book because, it, too, is full of other great recipes and ideas.
In any event I felt I now had the recipe, but I didn't have an oven that would exceed 500 degrees and to my mind the best pizza ovens are a least 150-200 hundred degrees hotter than that.
So the search then was for the best outdoor oven that could obtain this heat.
I got Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field which was great fun to read, but wouldn't do for my urban terraced garden unless I was willing to have my fire insurance cancelled. And ready-built wood fired ovens were far too expensive for me to justify -- and still presented a siting problem. If you have a flat lot, and live in a suburban or rural area, you might try it.
Research continued, until I found it -- an Asian style ceramic oven that I could get up to a high heat, could fit on the bit of flat land remaining near the kitchen and while dear, would not break the bank.
What sold me were these videos by Fred Bernardo of Shillington Pennsylvania, a man who clearly loves his work.
We tried it this past weekend and hadn't realized that we had to get the heat up to 650 or 700 degrees before putting in the plate setter and baking stone. It was still fabulous , but I wrote his site and they sent me back these videos and instructions which should carry me over the top.
So there you have it, Neapolitan pizza in your own back yard in minutes.
Oh, and if you think I am obsessive, here's an example of how far some people are willing to go to attain the perfect pizza (some even to the point of dismantling the lock on the self cleaning ovens) -- something I hope you won't resort to.
Whether you are making pizza or not, best wishes for a healthy and happy Memorial Day weekend.