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Roman Wood-Fired Oven

The Stamp Family Roman-style wood-fired oven

In my everlasting quest to make the perfect pizza, it’s always been about the dough.  I’ve made hundreds of pies, each time striving for the balance of good structure, depth of flavor, and workability.  The outcomes have ranged from revelatory to disastrous, but I’m assured—save a few singed eyebrows and flour-coated jeans—that no one has been harmed by the experimentation.  From cracker-thin, high-gluten crusts with a gratifying crunch to pillowy, pliable pies that rise and fall with the heat, the permutations of just a few simple ingredients are seemingly endless.

One thing is certain: the perfect pizza contains some combination of flour, water, yeast, and salt.  The fermentation of carbohydrates in flour is the primary means of flavor development in good dough.  Over time, enzymes help break down the flour’s starches, making simple sugars accessible to the yeast, which then converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  While the CO2 provides leavening and structure, the alcohol—though most of it bakes off in the oven—provides flavor and aroma.  The more gradual the process of fermentation, the more slowly and completely the flour will release its natural sugars, which leads to a more flavorful and golden, caramelized crust.

High-quality flour is of the utmost importance.  Just as a cheesemaker seeks out milk with the greatest flavor potential, a pizza chef should select a flour or blend of flours, offering the promise of excellent flavor, structure, and workability.  Minimally processed flours that have not been bleached or bromated (a chemical treatment for preservation) will yield a more flavorful dough and will contain more natural yeasts and microbes. High-protein flour, also known as high-gluten flour, will help produce stiffer doughs while soft, low-protein flours will add suppleness and stretch-ability.

Personally, I like to make pizza that falls somewhere between the categories of Napoletana and Americana-style.  For me that means a thin crust pizza that is chewy, with an open structure and a blistered exterior.  I use a combination of Mulino Marino Tipo 00 Flour—a low-protein, cylinder milled flour that is fine and soft—and Buratto Flour—a higher gluten stone-ground flour, which contains some residual fiber and germ from the wheat.  A 50/50 split, as recommended by Fausto Marino, helps keeps the dough airy, soft and pliable while providing the structure and depth of a coarser, higher protein flour.  Although it may be against the DOC (Denominazione D’Origine Controllata) regulations for true Pizza Napoletana, I add a substantial amount of olive oil to my dough to add richness and to make the dough less sticky and more workable.  I am a great proponent of delayed-fermentation, the process by which cold temperatures will slow the process of CO2 production and lead to more complexity of flavor.  In a procedure similar to that of Pain å l’Ancienne—a  rustic, chewy peasant’s bread with a focaccia-like structure—I use ice-cold ingredients and immediately put the formed dough into refrigeration for a fermentation of 24 hours or up to four days.

Three Types of Pizza

Three buffalo mozzarella topped pizzas — Magherita (with tomato and basil), Veggie (with zucchini, beer braised chard, and caper berries), and Meat and Potatoes (with Surryano ham, potatoes, caramelized onions, and pickled jalapeño pepper)

I’ve adapted the following recipe from Peter Reinhart, a longtime instructor at Johnson and Wales University and author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  The exact proportions of flour, water, and oil can and should be adjusted based on ambient temperature, humidity, mood, etc.:

Yields 6 12” Pizzas

2 ½ cups 00 Flour
2 ½ cups Buratto Flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1/3 cup olive oil (optional)
Up to 2 cups ice water (about 40ºF) as needed
Cornmeal for dusting

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl or a stand mixer. Slowly incorporate the cold water and oil with a metal spoon (if mixing by hand) or a dough hook.  Mix the dough at medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes until you’ve created a smooth dough that will clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom.  Add more flour or water as needed to achieve a springy dough that is sticky to the touch.

2. Transfer the dough to a generously floured surface and divide (using a moistened dough scraper or a knife) into six pieces, or more if you would like to make personal-sized pizzas. With floured hands, gently roll each piece into a ball between your hands, tucking your fingers under the ball to create surface tension, and place on a sheet pan with parchment and flour, with ample room to grow. Sprinkle the dough with flour and loosely cover with plastic.  These doughs can rest overnight or up to three days, and can be frozen at anytime for future use.

3. On the day you would like to bake the pizza, remove the balls of dough 2 hours prior to firing. When you take the doughs from the refrigerator, delicately padding them out into discs around 5 inches in diameter and sprinkling them with flour and a few drops of oil.  Cover loosely with plastic.

4. Preheat your oven (conventional or otherwise) to the highest temperature your appliance allows (generally 500ºF-550ºF, or 700ºF-800ºF in a wood/coal-burning oven). Preheat your baking stone at this time.

5. When dough has sufficiently relaxed (if too resilient and unworkable, let sit longer), gently stretch the dough to desired thinness using heavily floured hands. A rolling pin will collapse the structure and destroy many of the CO2 bubbles in the dough, so take care to stretch with your hands, but never to the point where the dough is transparent.  Transfer the stretched, untopped dough to a pizza peel or the back of a sheet pan generously dusted with semolina/cornmeal.  Top conservatively and always season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

6. Cook your pizza to desired doneness on a brick shelf, pizza stone, or simply on the back of a sheet pan staying reticent of the extremely high temperatures. Rotate your pizza halfway, and look for a finished pizza to be charred on the edges with deep caramel color.  Let cool (or not) and enjoy.

 

Rory Stamp is a classroom instructor, Wine Buyer, and cheese monger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

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Crystallized Honey

Far from it! In fact, honeys that crystallize more easily tend to be the least processed.

Some people (like me) enjoy the texture of crystallized honey – it melts more slowly in the mouth and its more solid structure can make it easier to pair with cheese. I especially like crystallized, creamier honeys, like Lo Brusc Montagne or Ames Farms Buckwheat. In my experience, the crystals in these honeys are small and give their naturally creamy texture a little more body, perfect when spread on toast or just by the spoonful.

Of course, the truth is that not everyone wants sugar crystals in their honey, and the good news is that honey crystallization is easy to reverse. If you want to return your honey to a more liquid state, simply put the jar in a pot, filling the pot with water until it comes about half to three-quarters of the way up the side of the jar. Simmer for a few minutes, and you’ll notice that the crystals start to disappear, and the honey will return to its original, liquid state. (more…)

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El Maestro Sierra Amontillado SherrySherry (“Xerez” in Spanish) is made in the region of the same name on the southern tip of Spain near Gibraltar. There, Palomino grapes are grown on chalky soils called albariza. The grapes are fermented into dry wines, then fortified and placed into large, 500L oak barrels. Some of these barrels develop a thick layer of yeast called flor (literally “flower”).

Flor is naturally occurring, unpredictable, and can’t be induced or controlled once it occurs! When it does form, the wine ages underneath without oxidizing, resulting in what is known as a fino Sherry. If the flor forms, but then dies off or doesn’t develop, the wine, if deemed rich and robust enough, is fortified a bit more and then allowed to slowly oxidize and become an amontillado. If a flor does not form at all, the wine will be fortified further and will be aged in wooden barrels to become a richer and darker oloroso Sherry. In the case of amontillado and oloroso styles of Sherry, exposure to oxygen turns the wine a coppery color, and encourages the development of toasty, nutty aromas. Yum. (more…)

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Three cocoas: Dutch-processed (L), Valrhona natural (R) and Les Confitures à l'Ancienne drinking cocoa (bottom)

Three cocoas: Dutch-processed (L), Valrhona natural (R) and Les Confitures à l’Ancienne drinking cocoa (bottom)

At this time of year, customers often pop into the shop looking for cocoa – whether for baking a dense chocolate torte or for a warming cup of hot cocoa after hours of shoveling. There are a few different type of cocoa available and we thought it would be helpful to shed a bit of light on the differences.

What is cocoa?
Cocoa is the result of processing raw cacao seeds into what is called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Cocoa mass is made up of roughly equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butter. When you buy a chocolate bar it often has a percentage figure on it. If, for example, the label indicates 75%, that means the bar is made up of 75% cocoa mass and unless other ingredients are mixed in, 25% sugar. If  you’ve ever had a taste of 100% cocoa mass, you know how important the sugar is to counterbalance the natural acidity and tannic quality of the pure cocoa. In some cases, a bit of extra cocoa butter may be added to give the chocolate a smoother textural dimension – a greater melt-in-your-mouth quality. (more…)

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Azeitao

Azeitão – coagulated with the cardoon thistle

If, as Clifton Fadiman once said, “cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality”, then rennet could be considered the springboard of cheesemaking. Stripped down to its most basic processes, the first steps of cheesemaking involve taking warm milk, adding a starter culture (to convert the lactose in the milk to lactic acid) and adding rennet. The lactic acid begins coagulating the milk in a slow process that yields a delicate curd and some cheeses are still made using this method as the sole form of coagulation. Most cheeses, however, also employ rennet to separate the curds from the whey, speeding up the process and leading to a firmer, more elastic curd. (more…)

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Seedlings - Red Fire Farm

Seedlings at Red Fire Farm

At Formaggio Kitchen, serious consideration is given to the impact of the land or terroir on each bottle of wine, wheel of cheese and bar of chocolate — for familiarity with soil and its composition yields a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Earth and our food. Many of our biodynamic and natural wine producers emphasize the importance of soil composition as it relates to the health of the vineyard as well as to the expression of the wine. I Clivi winemakers, Ferdinando Zanusso and Mario Zanusso, produce, “as ‘transparent’ a wine as possible, in which soil, climate and tradition may come fully through and be perceived without interferences.” (more…)

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Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

For a lover of words, leafing through an heirloom seed catalog is almost as delicious as eating the fruits and vegetables pictured on each page. The poetry of heirloom seeds is unabashed, starting with names such as Amish Deer Tongue lettuce, Moon and Stars watermelon, Rouge Vif d’Etamps squash, Yellow Dent corn and a personal favorite, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter tomatoes. Nomenclature aside, heirloom crops possess a long, distinguished past. (more…)

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