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pizzafest

Today's post is dedicated to Mrs. Poaches, who really couldn't have been more wrong.

Here's my trophy shot, slices of New York and Chicago on the same plate.

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On the left we have Rocco's, the only NYC pie I could find that ships overnight. They only ship cheese pies, so that's my green pepper and Boar's Head pepperoni. On the right we have Giordano's "Chicago special" stuffed pizza, with mushrooms, green
peppers, onions and pepperoni.

Rocco's was good, not great, and only a fair representative of random pizza in NYC. It certainly has the consistency and proportions down; the slices were foldable and red grease dribbled down my wrist. Heaven. My only knock was with the blandness and general dryness of the crust. This was probably due to half-assed packing. The pie arrives mildly chilled, not frozen, stuffed into a ziplock bag and tossed into an envelope with a cube of dry ice.

Giordano's by contrast, is a slick operation. Their 22 pounds of pies arrived frozen solid, packed in custom styrofoam coolers lined with dry ice. I think it makes a difference. Their flakey, pie-like crusts were pretty much exactly like in Chicago. Why Giordano's thinks 20 minutes at 425 will thaw the center of the pie, I do not know, but an additional 20 minutes with foil covering the crust did the trick.

As for the pies themselves, it was really no contest, but not in the way I expected. I generally prefer NYC thin crust. Chicago stuffed is like an Italian casserole baked in a flaky pie crust, which is like the best idea ever but it's not what I think of as pizza. That said, I can't imagine ordering Rocco's again. If I came upon them in NYC, I would just keep walking and take my chances with the next establishment. Perhaps I'm being unfair; perhaps that goofy ziplock bag sabotaged their crust. But you know what? At $110 for four 12" cheese pizzas, that's hardly my fault.

So, Giordano's is the winner by TKO. C'mon, New York. Get your shit together and ship me a contender.

All suggestions for what to bake with the nut flours are welcome. I gots pecan meal as well as almond, toasted almond, hazelnut and toasted hazelnut flours.

Bring on college games in which I have scant interest!

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I'm sitting in my house awaiting the transcontinental delivery of pizza, surely the best possible use of my time or anyone else's. The pizza is arriving not from New York or Chicago but from my hometown of Columbus. It's a Massey's Pizza, and as such it will be cut like no other. The pieces will be rectangles (see figure C). This is only mildly weird in Columbus, where pieces are almost always cut in tiny squares (B). I was describing this to an appalled Jersey (A) girl, Katrina, and I got to wondering if square pieces are unique to the midwest, Ohio, or even just Columbus. If in your neck of the woods they cut it any way but A, lemme know.

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• • •

The slogan at the end just screams "my hometown" to me. I'm very proud.

brioche tart

Simultaneously watching Ohio State/Minnesota and baking proved to be too much for my snot-addled brain, but I carried on. I need to give my immune system a good sugar shock, after all.

The tart was quite good, not otherworldly, but after spending parts of three days on the damned thing—not to mention doing two dedicated loads in the dishwasher—I'm posting pics. This is the "brioche tart with white secret sauce" from Julia Child's baking cookbook. The tart's garnished with peaches and plums. The pan was an inch in diameter smaller than called for, hence the poof factor.

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howdy, doody

A while back someone gave me a jerky maker. Skeptical, I finally got around to using it. One of its innovations is a hamburger gun—very much like a caulk gun, only it squeezes off a stream of ground beef. The idea is that jerky made from ground beef will be tender. The result? Well. You eat it.

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I'd assumed the hamburger would flatten. I was tragically wrong.

new york pizza, redux

This is a variation on the previous recipe, but with slightly different proportions and a more hydrated, less kneaded (read: foldable!) process. This is what I've been using for two months with great results. I won't go back.

1 c. warm water
1 1/4 t. salt
2 3/4 c. high-gluten (KASL) flour
3/8 t. instant dry yeast
7/8 t. olive oil

The temperature of the water should be such that the finished dough temperature is 80 degrees F. In my kitchen, that means nuking a cup of cold water for one minute.

  1. In mixer bowl, dissolve salt in water, then knead in flour and yeast. Using only the low setting throughout this recipe, knead until flour is all taken up, and then two minutes more (or until ball is smooth and elastic in appearance).
  2. Add olive oil and continue kneading until it too is taken up into the dough, about another two minutes (or until the dough ball is smooth and satiny without any tears on the outside skin of the dough).
  3. Shape the dough by hand into a ball, put it in a mostly-sealed ziplock bag (so as not to develop moisture), and refrigerate immediately.
  4. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Two hours before use, remove the dough from refigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.

Sauce, baking portion of recipe

chicago stuffed pizza

Concerned that all the New York-style pizzas weren't giving me a diverse enough diet, this weekend I branched out into Chicago-style stuffed pizza. I have to say, the first one turned out better than I could have reasonably hoped. The secret, as usual, is using the right equipment—in this case, seasoned steel pans with tinned plating.

chicago style stuffed pizza

I'm in love with this dish. It ain't really pizza, but it has so much promise. You can stuff its perfect, flaky crust with pretty much anything. For my first pie I skipped pizza toppings entirely and stuffed it full of spinach and mozzarella, creating a flavorful and unique Italian dish all its own. I inhaled it.

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pizza 101: new york style

If you're like me, you've been repeatedly burned by promises of "New York style pizza." Expecting a savory pie with a thin, chewy, flexible crust and a poofy edge, you instead get the same limp, tasteless crap, swimming in sauce, that you've been served time and time again.

For years I looked for an authentic slice of New York, and I'm pleased to say I've come very close. Several readers have asked for the recipe, but I've been reluctant to post it because it's a work in progress. With that as a caveat, here's my recipe to date, complete with the time increments, methods, and brands I've always used. Does that stuff make a difference? Who knows? It's just how I've always done it. Hence "to date."

Indispensable components of this recipe are the pizza brick, high-gluten flour, and cold-rising. Without any one of these elements, the recipe will produce crap crust. You west coast people won't know the difference, so knock yourselves out.

Niche stuff you'll need

If you want authentic NYC pizza, there's no getting around buying a pizza stone and peel. If like me you live in the sticks, you might also need to mail-order the high-gluten flour. (Note: it's also used for bagels, which are surprisingly easy to make. If you want to try, get this too.)

Sauce for one pie
Timeline: 24-48 hours to go

3 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 TB onion, finely chopped
1 TB garlic, finely chopped
1 14 oz can of Muir Glen diced tomatoes
1 tsp fennel seed, lightly crushed
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp brown sugar
1/8 cup red wine
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp fresh basil
1 tsp fresh oregano

  1. Puree the can of tomatoes in blender, liquid included.
  2. Heat oil in saucepan and add onion and garlic. Saute at low heat for 3 minutes, until garlic becomes aromatic. Don't brown it.
  3. Add tomato puree and other ingredients.
  4. Simmer slowly on low heat for at least 30 minutes. Do not boil.
  5. To let the flavors meld, refrigerate sauce for at least 24 hours until you're ready to use it.

Dough for one pie
Timeline: 26 hours to go

3½ cups high-gluten flour
1 and 1/8 cups warm water
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp instant yeast
¾ tsp salt

  1. Mix all ingredients in heavy-duty stand mixer. Once dough ball forms, knead at medium speed ("4" on my Kitchen Aid) for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove dough. It should be soft, not sticky to the touch, and unusually light.
  3. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Making the pizza
Timeline: 2 hours to go

Sauce for one pie
Dough for one pie
Corn meal
Grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
Boar's Head pepperoni, sliced
Whatever else you like
Flour

  1. After 24 hours have passed, remove the dough from the bowl and place it on the counter so that it can warm and relax for 1-2 hours.
  2. Place the brick on the medium rack in your oven, pushing it all the way against the back wall (to prevent your pie from sliding off) and removing the top rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees for an hour or more. It takes time for the brick to heat.
  3. Using a little flour to keep it from sticking, roll the dough until it's impossibly thin. Thin, thin, thin. If you're asking "is this thin enough?" it's not thin enough. It should exceed the diameter of the bread peel by several inches.
  4. Set the peel on top of the rolled out dough and, leaving 1.5 inches of overhanging dough, use a paring knife to trace the shape of the board.
  5. Cover the peel generously with corn meal. This is what keeps the dough from sticking.
  6. Taking care not to let the dough shrink and thicken, transfer the dough to the peel. Tuck and pinch the overhang upon itself so that the pie fits the peel perfectly. This thick, pinched edge gives the crust its NYC poofy edge.
  7. Add a thin layer of sauce. This is where most people go wrong—sauce is just supposed to moisten. You should be able to see the beige of the crust through the sauce, still.
  8. Sprinkle a layer of whole moz. You don't need as much as with skim moz. A single layer through which you can still see the sauce is perfect.
  9. Pile on the toppings.
  10. Transferring the pizza from the peel to the stone is a skill that develops over time. Before you try it, jiggle the peel and ensure that the pie is loose and read to slide. With the back edge of the peel touching the back of the oven, tilt the peel and shimmy the pie on to the brick.
  11. After 10-15 minutes, when the bottom of the pie is a deep, golden brown, use the peel to remove it from the brick. Let it cool for a good 15 minutes. I've found that letting it get to room temperature only makes it taste better. Slice into wedges and serve. If you rolled the crust thin enough, a warm piece will droop over your fingertips, just like in Manhattan.

timpano revisited

Esteemed troll Jan (Germany) decided to try to make Timpano himself, and he sent me a note and some photos. The highlights:

  • I would definitely add more "flavor" items next time, i.e. more salami, olives etc. As for lubricant: since we didn't completely trust our bowl (see below), my wife insisted on covering it in tin foil which is a definite solution to all potential stickiness problems.
  • It held together rather nicely at first but I was so in awe that i forgot to take the trophy pics right then. The photos were taken sometime later and some pasta (albeit not much) had spilled out by that time, but most of the loose stuff was actually falling off when trying to lift the tiny 'ladies slices' which immediately lost consistency. So overall I was rather satisfied with the integrity.
  • There is another account of freestyle Timpano-cooking at which tells of rather more severe consistency problems.
  • The really amazing thing about the whole Timpano cooking was the bowl problem. I had kind of ignored it until the evening before when my wife critically eyed the amassed components and asked me which item in our household was supposed to host this (literally) mountain of food. Luckily for us we have a big cellar room where we kind of store everything which had once been useful or pretty to some remote ancestor up the family tree or maybe his neighbor. Some digging behind an old 386 PC suddenly caused a land- (or rather computer magazine-) slide and thus was a mighty 14-15" enamel bowl revealed. It hasenormous jutting handles and had probably seen its main use before washing basins became standard issue in western european bathrooms. And don't you just know it, just after just ~50 years of storing it, its new use as a Timpano baking bowl was revealed. Shows that some things just take their time. Halleluja. Now if some other recipe could put all the other garbage down there to use, that'd be truly awesome.

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timpano redux

New content added below, 9/24

I've had several requests for the timpano recipe. I've been reluctant to share, as I'm still experimenting, so I'll compromise by sharing the original recipe, plus my notes to date:

  • A very prep-friendly dish. Although prep takes hours, it's easy to do it a day ahead of time, then assemble and bake right before guests arrive.
  • Recipe as written doesn't specify bowl size, which is a kinda huge oversight. Ingredient proportions are also suspect. Half the dough you need for 14.5" bowl, yet twice the ziti.
  • I bought my timpano bowls from this vendor. The enormous 14.5" bowl would feed 14 people. The 12" bowl will nicely feed 8. Get the 12. If he doesn't have it listed, just email him.
  • Recipe provides weird dimensions for provolone and salami. Make them 1/4" x 1/4" x 2" strips.
  • Eggs aren't nearly as weird as I thought they'd be.
  • You can't use too much lubricant in the bowl. Mine was like David Carr's hair, and there were no ill effects.
  • Bland as written. Meatballs and ragu are flavorless. Season ragu better; replace meatballs with browned disks of hot Italian sausage. Add zesty foods such as kalamata olives, capers and and priscutto.
  • Ideas for future: artichoke hearts, roasted cloves of garlic.
  • Respect recipe's calls for watery ragu. This dish tends toward serious dryness. Make enough sauce for a marinara on the side.
• • •

This section added 9/24

From esteemed CheckRaise troll Charmell comes this note.

Hey, John. I just woke up and turned on the TV. It just so happens that a show called "NapaStyle" is on. The host has a special guest on to teach him how to make a timpano, of all things. I watched with interest, thinking of your blog and vowing to NEVER make this recipe if I intend to avoid using insulin as a type 2 diabetic.

Anyway, I noted some alternatives to the recipe you provided. The main surprise is that they used a springform pan instead of a bowl. They did insist on lots of butter for a problem-free release after baking.

The shape was a little funny; before cutting, it looked like a giant, overdone cheesecake.

My two cents: I can't imagine timpano without the crispiness and appearance that the enamelware bowl provides. Not to mention that rounding corners with the raw dough (the interior bottom of the springform pan) seems like it would be very, very difficult, if not structurally fragile. That said, if your fear factor is prohibitively high, this seems like a good way of paring down risk.

new york style pizza crust

To those who care, last night I finally achieved an authentic New York style crust. It even passed the acid test; Mark raved "Two wop thumbs up!" High-gluten flour and cold-rising are the keys. As a bonus, East Coast refugees can use the flour to make bagels.

The recipe for one 15" pie:

3½ cups high-gluten flour
1 cup plus 2 TB warm water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  1. In a stand mixer, mix everything but oil on low speed until ingredients come together and form a scrappy dough. Add oil and mix for a few seconds longer until it's incorporated into the dough.
  2. Set mixer to medium speed and knead the dough for a full 15 minutes.
  3. Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
  4. Place dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The dough will rise only slightly, perhaps 30%.
  5. Let warm to room temperature prior to tossing or rolling. The dough will be unusually soft.
  6. If you want the traditional puffy NYC crust, roll half an inch of the edge upon itself and pinch.
  7. I'm not telling you how to make a whole freakin' pizza. Stop reading.

timpano

Tonight I made one of the more unusual dishes I've ever attempted: timpano. I did the recipe straight-up, piling genoa salami, provolone cheese, hard-boiled eggs (yeah, I know), meatballs, pasta, and sauce into a dome crust. This recipe has a rep as a chef-killer, but astoundingly, it came out perfect.

If a bit late. Note the time.


Those are 4-inch tiles you see, there.

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