Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Focaccia Me? Focaccia YOU!

Tonight in a moment of dough surplus and sauce deficiency, my thoughts turned to Focaccia bread.  I had the best access to primo focaccia during my graduate career at the University of Illinois Chicago when I lived at 1932 W. Race in Chicago.  I was in the bowels of a weirdo neighborhood in transition, the aging Italians of Chicago's near-West side secessing to Mexican families that were moving into the neighborhood, before we were squeezed out by the hipsters moved in, regentified the area, jacked up prices and wrecked it.  It used to be dirt cheap to live there.  In the good ol' days I'd hear gunshots at night and high-tail it on my bike through the tragically underprivileged ghettos that sat between my crappy apartment and my lab.

The crown jewel of my neighborhood was at Grand Ave and May.  D'Amato's bakery  was an amazing place.  This bakery was old school.  They made freshly baked bread and other stuff that I couldn't (wouldn't) afford.  However, they made a tomato focaccia.  This one were good.

D'Amato's Bakery on Grand Ave in Chicago- the only bakery in 
the city with two apostrophes.

It was a flat loaf of bread about 10 inches across, riddled with pits and valleys packed full of roasted tomatoes, salt, garlic and Italian seasoning.  The mass was cooked to a golden brown and sold for two bucks. They were amazing.  If I bought one, I'd eat one. The whole thing. Done.

Today it is 15 years later and I'm at my home in Florida after working a string of 20 hour days, not knowing up from down and nursing injuries I've accrued but I don't know where I got them.  My brain is reeling and recollecting ancient stale visions of yesteryear and I got a severe hankerin' for a D'Amato's focaccia.

I got to working.  It is like a chewy pizza dough, only bready, risen and sweet.  How to do it?  I mixed 3 cups of bread flour with 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar.  I blended that together.  I added a cup of water with 3 teaspoons of yeast dissolved within.  I added about 1/4 cup of olive oil, because it is freaky delicious.

I blended the mixture together by hand and let it rise for one hour.  After an hour I kneaded it and cut it into two pieces.  I made it into two 10-inch pieces about 1.5 cm thick.   I put it onto a greased cookie sheet and pushed hard into the surface with my fingers to make numerous indentations as deep as the pan surface.  It continued to rise for 30 minutes.

While rising I cut grape tomatoes in half and sliced an overripe tomato I had in the kitchen.  I sprayed them with olive oil and put them under the broiler until they were smoking.

While that was happening I minced kalamata olives.  I put them in one bowl, the burned tomato in another.  I added parmesian cheese, garlic, salt, olive oil and generous heaps of Italian seasoning, all in proportions that just made sense.  No measuring.

I spread each on the rising dough and popped it into the oven for 30 minutes at 400°F.

To date, my most triumphant night of reverse engineering.

I retrieved golden brown perfection.  Each were topped with fresh rosemary, oregano and basil from the garden (yes, it is December and I have fresh herbs-ha), then dug in.  Each was amazing in its own right.  The tomato one was beautiful and sweet, with herbed roasted tomato on chewy crust.  The olive one was spectacular.

Neither was as good as D'Amato's, but still they were masterpieces.  This was by far the best thing that has come from the Experimental Pizza kitchen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December, and Pizza Blog Neglect

I'm getting good at this pizza thing and my overzealous need to introduce food to my innards overrides my desired to find a camera. I've made 4-5 really solid pies and just didn't bother to photograph them.

One common theme is that I'm having problems with crispy crust.  It is always undercooked where the top is overcooked.  Is this a convection oven problem vs standard oven?  Is it a problem with thinness of the crust?  Can it become so thin that it cannot develop crispiness?  That the next test.

Today's displayed pizza is the third in as many days. The wife is in Chicago and I've been working literally 20 h a day for the last four days. With my schedule in disorder, sleeping, eating and drinking routines are in disarray.

Today is Sunday and I at least had the wherewithal to make a pizza and enjoy a bottle of wine.  Seems strange for 8AM, but when my workday ended at 4 AM, this is probably okay.

Breakfast of Champions...  Or Losers.  Probably Both.

The last dough lot was 3 cups of bread flour, not the whole wheat stuff.  I added a cup of water containing a tablespoon of honey and one tablespoon of yeast. I let this stand for one hour and then split it into 6 sections, two in the fridge, four in the freezer.  The two were consumed in the last 24 hours.

Both were bready and not made as thin as usual.  The wife likes freakishly thin crust that you can read through, so I usually roll/toss a dough to a few microns in thickness. Today I went about 2 mm thick, added onions, garlic and loads of italian seasoning.  11 minutes in the oven at 550° in convection mode and it emerged a work of art.

One thing I learned is that "thin crust" can be thicker at the start, because the crust you can read through cannot become crackery and crispy because it is just too thin.  The thin stuff seems to absorb the moisture from above components and cannot feasibly become crisp. Today's was crispier, not bready, but more in line with where I'm trying to get.

I also sprayed the edge of the crust with olive oil and added garlic salt- making it a bit more garlic bready.  It is my favorite part of the pizza at Blue Highway in Gainesville, FL, so I'm trying to emulate that.

Another set of lessons learned.  It is excellent to extend the fundamentals of hypothesis driven science to cooking.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Eve Pizza Miracle- Cornmeal Test

Today's experiment is with corn meal.  I use liberal doses of cornmeal to let the pizza roll off of the wood pallet and onto the hot stone.  Poor distribution or scant coverage leads to pizza abortion, as it slides off of the pallet in an uneven way.  Sauce and cheese meet stone, pizza sticks and to quote Nigel Tuffnel, "total disaster".

Today I assembled a pizza on the wood palett with and tested cornmeal.  Without cornmeal a well-floured dough will work but it doesn't flow onto the hot stone.  The trick is to add a lot of cornmeal- meaning almost a layer one grain thick.  Realistically, about one third of that.

The dough should be rolled out on the normal surface and then placed on the cornmeal.  Then, at each stage ensure non-adhesion by sliding the pizza back and forth.  I just agitate the pallet. The whole pizza dances on the cornmeal like ball bearings.

As I added sauce, cheese and accouterments I tested the sliding at each step.  The final pie rolled off of the pallet into the oven, allowing me to place it perfectly on the stone.  About half of the cornmeal stuck to the pallet, the rest burned nicely on the stone, and gave a really nice flavor and texture to the pie.

Cornmeal is cheap and makes your life as a pizza chef more simple and dare I say luxurious.

'Dat's the outcome.... superb handling and improved taste due to simple cornmeal. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Experiment #9- On the Grill!

A perplexing problem has been a lack of crispness in the crust, probably because of the whole wheat dough more than any other factor.  That can be tested later. The other variable is heat, not just quantity of heat (my oven gets weird around 500 degrees) but also the quality of heat.  Is the air not circulating and therefore drying the outside of the crust, trapping water within?

I posed this question to the Char Broil Infra Red Commercial Grill, that I can heat to 600°F.

The big problem was that once I got the dough rolled out I didn't have any pizza sauce, so I figured out a quick recipe.

2  8oz cans tomato sauce
1  can tomato paste
1   Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning
1  handful of fresh chopped oregano, basil and rosemary
1 heaping tablespoon of garlic
1 Tbsp. of sugar
1 Tbsp. of paprika

I mixed it together and ladled it onto the waiting crust.  Sliced onions and shredded cheese and onto a preheated pizza stone in the grill at 550°F.

A high-heat solution for a good pizza oven!

It took a little longer, maybe 15 minutes, but it came out pretty good. Rox didn't think the most of the homespun sauce, said that it was a little too tangy.  Next time less Tang.  So much for my Moon Pizza. I guess it needs more sugar to balance the acids. The crust was especially crispy toward the edges, the middle firm but not crunchy.

Overall this experiment concludes with eliminating heat as the variable for uncrispulization. The experiment also suggests that adding something else to the rapid fire insty-sauce could be a good amendment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


September was insane. There was a lot of traveling and no time to make pizza. I ate a lot of it, but just didn't make it.

Today is Sunday and I'm dealing with a cold, so I'll cook and experiment. Today I tried something different- twice the yeast and a different fermentable carbon source- honey. This is an experimental pizza. I don't know if more yeast will be good or bad, so I'll find out. We're not going to let facts, empirical knowledge and previous research cloud these independent findings.

I dissolved a tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons of yeast, and 1/2 tbsp of salt in 1 cup of warm water. I let this stand until it started to bubble- the yeast were getting busy.

I added one cup of whole wheat flour and mixed it completely to make a runny batter. I added 1/3 cup of olive oil. I planned to use all purpose for the rest, but added 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour from a different bag by mistake. I then added two more cups of bleached all purpose flour.

The whole thing took some time to mix completely so I added the flour little by little in a large mixing bowl. The whole doughball was a heavy mass that was not immediately uniform, so I did a lot of hand kneading and brought it to homogeneity.

The doughball sat at room temp for 1 hour. I punched it down and let it sit for two more before processing.

It was cut into four pieces, three frozen. The other two were made into two pizzas, the first was an ultra-thin, cracker crust 12 incher for Roxy, the second a standard cheesy-onion pizza for me.

Roxy likes a well done pizza that is well done.

I cooked them on a pizza stone in a preheated oven at 500 degrees F, with plenty of cornmeal to help it slide in and out of the oven.  The well-done version above was heavily cooked after only 6 minutes.

I put in the second one and it cooked fast as well.  Next time we'll do it at 400 or so.  The top cooked before the crust could completely crackerize.


This was the onion version. Rocked Sadam Hussein's Ass to Russia!

Overall, a 9 out of 10.  Pretty good.  The dough was really yeasty and quite crispy.  The proportions presented above should make 8 thin crust pizzas- if you roll them 0.4 mm thick like I do!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Experimental Pizza #6- Pepper and Eggplant

This one was very good. It was the last of the previous dough wad stretched super thin and covered with that same canned sauce.

This time I heavily seared eggplant and pepper pieces since I have a ton of it from my garden.

I preheated the oven and stone to 500°F for 15 minutes and slid the raw pizza directly onto the stone. It cooked for 10 minutes and probably could have used a few more because the crust was flimsy in the middle.

Next I'm going to try making this with no whole wheat flour. We'll see how that works.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Experimental Pizza #5 - Mr. Warpy

An important lesson. Generously flour your pizza board before sliding a pizza into the oven. This warped masterpiece was made from the last dough wad, a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat flour.

It was again, too soft. Can't get the crispy crust.

Made with green peppers from the garden and canned sauce, DiFretelli? or something like that.