The better-than-restaurant-pizza project, part 1


Wood-fired, brick oven Napoletana. Put this in front of the word pizza, and people will pay about $18 for a tiny 12-inch pie made with less than $4 of ingredients. The problem is, in my experience, the success rate for traditional ’za, good enough to bring a tear to any giant Italian grandmother’s eye (I’m Italian, so I can say this), is about 10 percent.

Here’s a challenge: grab a take-and-bake pie from your local grocery store, then spend about $10,000 building a pizza oven in the backyard. Once you get that sucker to 600-900 degrees, slide your pizza skin in, wait about 7 minutes, pull it out and take a bite.

Tastes amazing, right?

No, it tastes like mediocre pizza. You can do better, even though, as we’ve all heard, pizza is like sex — even when it’s bad, it’s, uh, sticky and hot and people can tell it was made in that room long after it’s finished.

I’m pretty sure that’s how that saying goes.

Good pizza is made with good ingredients.

Ovens help, but a perfectly cooked piece of shit is still shit.

So I’ve been trying, over the past few months, to master a pizza that tastes like it was cooked in a Tuscan backyard. And I believe I’ve done it, with no less than the worst oven I have ever had in any home I have ever lived in.

But you have to be patient. There are a lot of components that need to come together in order to execute this. But once you finish, I promise you, it will blow your mind out of your head and into your car, and that little guy will drive all the way to Trinidad and put itself on a waiting list to get a sex change. How can a brain get a sex change? You’re over-thinking this.

So this week, I’m only going to cover the starter for the dough. This is a starter I lifted from Tartine Bread, one of the best books on baking bread I’ve ever come across (Thanks, Mo!). It takes three to five days to develop a starter, but once it’s finished, you’ll have it for life, unless you kill it.

Note: Don’t kill it.

Starter for seriously awesome pizza dough

2 tbsp. wheat flour

2 tbsp. white flour

About ¼ cup water

Additional flour for feeding

In a small jar or Tupperware container, mix flours together, then add enough water to achieve the consistency of pancake batter.

Let the mixture sit for 24 hours with either a tea towel or paper towel over it.

By this time, tiny bubbles should have formed on the sides of the container (if not, let it sit another day), which is a good sign it’s ready to be fed. Before you do that, though, smell it. You’re looking for a sourdough/stinky cheese scent. If you got the bubbles and the stank, then throw away about 80 percent of it. Trust me.

Add another 2 tbsp. each of both white and wheat flour, and an equal amount of water (that’s 4 tbsp. if you’re not counting) to the remaining mixture, stir to combine, and re-cover for another 24 hours.

Continue to discard and feed every 24 hours until the starter has a consistent clock, meaning it bubbles up and fills the container about 5-8 hours after each feeding. This can be achieved in as short as two feedings or as many as six. You’re looking for predictability, and once you have it, you have yourself a starter.

If you begin today, then it will be ready by next week’s installment:

the pizza dough and sauce.


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