For a long time now, I've thought it pertinent to become a better cook. If for no other reason than eating is one of a few things I will do the most of in my life. I have an obsession with pizza, and so finally I realized the answer was to start making pizza. I’ve homemade pizza for several years now, but always as sort of an afterthought. First we started getting Trader Joes premade dough, and we’d roll those out and load them up with whatever we felt like. So that was the extent of my experience in Pizza. A happy consumer of pies but a less than thoughtful producer of pies.
When the shelter in place hit in March 2020, Julie bought me a book called Pizza Camp, and I started to dream about Pizza. That is the origin story of this page. As of writing this intro I’ve made three pizzas from scratch that were actually pretty good. But I recognize there is so much to learn and so I set the goal of making 100 pies. Documenting helps keep me accountable, and serves as a place that I can reference later. This is an historical ledger basically of my path to pizza glory!
Current home setup: 14 inch round pizza stone. Bertazzoni Range, 15 inches deep. Mini Cuisinart Food Processor.
It’s hard to believe I’ve made 15 pies in a month. I am super happy about it. When we started the project, I said that by pie 15, I wanted to start making pizzas for friends. That way I don’t have to eat 15 pizzas a month, but also to seek feedback. I feel comfortable doing that, but I recognize there is still so much I will learn as I get further along!
I talked the in-laws into letting me conduct an additional pizza experiment for them. A few weeks back, Julie and I ordered some delivery from the extraordinary Nopalito in San Francisco. Given all the precautions with COVID, they are offering taco kits that you kind of make at home. This really just involves putting the yummy stuff in the oven to warm up and then making your own tacos. But their carnitas is insanely flavorful and delicious, and since then, I’ve been wondering about a carnitas pizza! I thought a nice, charred and crispy carnitas would be a great pizza topping. So we set out to try it here at the in-laws in Gig Harbor.
Greg, my father-in-law, threw a big slab of pork shoulder in one of those slow cookers for like 24 hours. He added some of his own seasonings, and the pork had a lovely spicy heat to it. In the future, I’d like to create a seasoning blend that we can continue to replicate and make an effort to use more local pork. This pork came from Costco (no knock on Costco), as we are trying to use what we have. When the time came, Julie and I shredded up the pork, put it on a baking sheet, and broiled it for 4 minutes before the bake to try and get closer to the crispy texture I wanted. The broil plus the additional time during the bake made this meat feel like the real deal.
For the sauce, I just blended a canned Enchilada sauce I found in the pantry with some green chilis. I added a bit of crushed black pepper as well. As we were shaping the dough, we decided to take the sauce from the slower cooker and add some of that to our pizza sauce base. Good call by Julie, it brought in a bit more heat as well as some smaller pieces of pork!
Per usual, I prepped the dough the day before, though this time with a different flower. I was given some Tony Gemignani's type 00 flour, which I’ve not used to this point ( type 00 that is). It had an entirely different smell and texture. It’s pretty fun to start noticing subtle differences. Remembering this is all still a work in progress, I chose to make two pies from the yield, wondering if I could slightly thicken the crust and produce a somewhat larger pie. I cut the dough into two 438g balls and began shaping them. The first pie was a funny looking thing. I was not all that comfortable working with more dough and ended up producing a pizza that was way too crust heavy. Basically, I did not work enough of the dough out evenly from the center. I did what I’d normally done, but this left so much dough for the crust. The second pie, I had a better understanding of what the dough could do and made a proper pizza pie! This was also the first time my dough had beautiful bubbles, which I was way too excited about. But the bubbles are the real deal folks. Here is what went on each pie:
85g Fresh Mozzarella
58g Shredded Mozzarella (I ran out and just split the portion I had evenly)
We eyeballed the amount of carnitas (basically covered the pie)
We added a bunch of thinly sliced onions (another great call Julie)
When the pies came out, we finished with diced cilantro and a drizzle of Rocca Delle Macìe olive oil (we picked this up on our honeymoon, good stuff).
Julie played Buena Vista Social Club on shuffle, which was entirely appropriate. As I think about it, this was really the first major team effort pie, and I want to make more team pies!
Voila. 15 and 14. You can see how chubby the crust is on 14:
#11 - Sausage, Artichoke Heart, and Garlic Cream
#12 - Asparagus and Garlic Cream
#13 - Sausage and Garlic Cream
This was a super fun bake. Julie and I are currently with her parents at their home in Gig Harbor, Washington. So cooking up here meant using a new oven for the first time since starting this project. I feel like baking on different ovens lends a little more street cred to the project! All three of the pies we made turned out really delicious. The oven up here did not get any hotter than 455, so the bake was right around 15 minutes for all three pizzas. I kept a watchful eye on the development of the crust and was super happy with the bake and the flavor of all three. We did not use the broiler for any of the pies.
When prepping the dough, I forgot to add olive oil. Funny mistake. I added it last, basically incorporating it into the already formed dough ball. It felt silly at the time, but I remembered I’m just out here learning, and it did not pose any problems later when crafting my dough balls. This batch produced three 292g dough balls.
They have a great little local market called Harbor Greens up here. I picked up some fresh mozzarella from producers BelGioioso, some creamy moz from a producer named Peterson Co, ground pork from the meat counter, and fresh garlic and fresh asparagus. All three pies were a bit more moist than previous ones we’ve baked, and it was likely the addition of a creamy moz instead of a low moisture moz. The first pie, #11, was a Sausage and Artichoke heart pizza, which was fabulous but had the most moisture of all three. The Artichokes were Kirkland brand from Costco that I found in the pantry, and were basically marinating in a jar of oil, so that could have been part of it.
First things first, I prepped a fresh garlic cream sauce to use as the base of all three pies. Basically, I peeled and pressed about a head and a half of garlic into 460g of heavy cream, then mixed in a blender. I really liked this sauce on the pies. It provided an excellent base for all three and did not overwhelm with garlic flavor. Next up was the sausage! I’ve never really worked much with raw meat, and I set out to use the sausage recipe from Pizzeria Beddia. That called for combining a number of ingredients to form a light paste, which I then mixed in with the coarse ground raw pork. Those included sea salt, whole black peppercorns, chili flakes, and sugar combined with chopped fresh sage and 3 peeled and crushed garlic cloves. I threw all of that stuff into a ziplock bag and used a rolling pin to incorporate the ingredients. I loved how the seasoning came out, and one of the best parts was the way the sausage cooked on the pizza. The sausage was delicious, but the juices combined with the seasoning oozed onto the pizzas and added super flavorful bites to pies #11 and #13.
Pie #12 was the standout of the evening. An Asparagus pie pulled from Pizza Camp. I started by slicing the heads of fresh asparagus into thin pieces (100g worth). I sprinkled a bit of olive oil on them, though that might have been unnecessary as I finished the pie with an olive oil drizzle. I also finished it with diced chives and a squeeze of lemon, and that proved to help create such a refreshing blend of flavors. This will be a pie we revisit often!
Some measurements. I used 75g of fresh mozzarella and 120g of shredded creamy mozzarella for all three pizzas. I sliced up the artichoke hearts and used 128g for pie #11. I did not weigh the sausage, but we had a lot, which is why I used it twice. To create the sausage, I simply pinched together around 25 small pieces total.
They have a little Alexa powered speaker system in the kitchen here, and I mostly had it shuffling through Vampire Weekend throughout the prep and the bake.
Here are the evenings pies from #13 to #11:
One of my favorite pizzas in the world is a mushroom pie from Longbridge Pizza here in San Francisco. Since this project started, I’ve wanted to make a mushroom pie both as an homage to Longbridge, but also because Julie and I love mushrooms! And so, with some guidance from Joe Beddia, I set out to make a great mushroom pie. First, I prepared a mushroom cream sauce as the base for the pie. This sauce included baking a bunch of white mushrooms (Joe’s recipe calls for button shrooms, but I couldn’t find any) that were tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once those browned nicely (around 25 minutes) I pulled them out and pureed them with diced red onions, rosemary, and some heavy cream. I loved the addition of rosemary.
When it came time for the bake, I had already sauteed shiitake mushrooms as our main topping. I opened up a new block of fresh mozzarella from Wisconsin based producers Crave Brothers, and used whole foods shredded mozzarella as our low moisture cheese. This time out, I weighed all of my portions. It was a gentle, calming exercise, and I plan to do this moving forward. For posterity sake, my measurements were based on the assumption that I would bake a 11 - 13 inch pie. This one was probably closer to 13 inches. The measurements were:
70g of Fresh Mozzarella
125g of Shredded Low Moisture Mozzarella
75g of Sauteed Shitake Mushrooms
The thing I want to pay closer attention to is the volume of cheese. For a pie this size, the volume outlined above felt near perfect. Earlier in the day, I made a trip to a nearby restaurant supply store, which was an oddly enjoyable experience. I found myself wandering around the commercial kitchen section, wondering if we’d have our own shop someday. Anyway, I was not successful based on my list (I wanted pizza boxes as I’d like to serve these pies to people other than myself at some point). I did, however, pick up an oven thermometer. The range we have doesn’t actually have a temperature gauge! It turns out our oven won’t heat higher than 450. That is good knowledge to have, considering I had the dial cranked all the way up to 500. So our bake is roughly 13 minutes at this point. Around 8 minutes at 450 and then I flip to broil for a few minutes. For this pie, I switched the oven to broil a little earlier than pies of the past whilst the crust was still golden and only broiled for about 3 minutes. This produced a phenomenal crust.
All in all, I was deeply satisfied with this pizza. It’s hard to believe it’s number 10 already. Oddly enough, thinking about the pie a day later, we did not have any music playing. Perhaps I was enjoying myself too much to notice!
Here is #10 in all it's glory:
This was our first go with a traditional white flower from North Carolina based producer Anson Mills AND with yeast! Until now, I’ve used baking powder. My brother saved the day and shipped me some yeast from his stockpile, which I gladly introduced in this dough. I made the dough the day prior, which is going to be the new standard moving forward unless otherwise specified. It’s just so much better. We made a pie for lunch and a pie later on for dinner. I wanted to revisit a pepperoni, but this time get the size and shape right. I was aiming for an 11 - 12 inch pie. Our current dough creation process yields three dough balls.
When the pepperoni came out, it felt like we’d made our first real pie. Size, shape, and taste were exactly what we hoped for. I think I’ve consistently said that each pie was the best one to date. I suppose that’s a good thing. Continual improvement! I’m going to try and stop saying that moving forward, but this pepperoni was indeed our best pie - a real pizza.
#9 was a blend of yummy ingredients that we have in the fridge. We used the rest of the pepperonis that I had diced for #8 and added pitted kalamata olives as well as peperoncinis. I don’t see peperoncinis on pizzas much, but I am obsessed with the sweeter flavor and bite of a peperoncini. We always have some in the fridge. #9 was also heavier on the low moisture shredded mozzarella as I ran out of the Belfiore fior di latte. All in all, there were some fantastic bites in #9. Salty from the olive and sweet and tangy from the peperoncinis. I want to continue to use peperoncinis in the future. This was a successful day of baking and a big step in the right direction.
It was Sunday so we had Dave Brubeks essential mix playing throughout the afternoon.
Take a peek at the pies starting with #8, the pepperoni:
I made two pies today and am hooked on the value of a premade dough that sits for at least 24 hours. Julie really encouraged me to get comfortable stretching the dough as much as possible to find the crust we want and build trust in the dough's elasticity. And so we took one dough ball and cut it into two! I ran into a few issues of my own making (struggling with the transition from peel to stone), but pie #6, the pepperoni, was my best yet flavor-wise. It felt special. The crust was just as I’d imagined and an absolutely delicious balance of cheese. I picked up some fior di latte by Berkely based producers Belfiore and a block of low moisture California Gold whole foods mozzarella that I shredded.
At the moment, I don’t not want to deal with raw meat for the pepperonis so I got Vincenza's Uncured Pepperonis and diced them into smaller pieces. I think Vincenza's is a whole foods brand; I can’t find anything about them online. But they are yummy, all pork pepperonis and undoubtedly sufficient for our homemade pies. All in all, I loved #6 though the shape and size left me wanting. My 7th pie was great too, a simple cheese pizza. Again the goal with these two pies was to really stretch the dough. Our oven actually shut off switching from broil bake to bake, and I couldn’t get it to heat back up and so the pie sat on the stone for a long time. It was certainly edible (as most pizza is), but it was not the product I’ve been striving for. You can tell from the photo; the crust was just not cooked as well as if the oven was actually on. I am continuing to learn lessons and improve, which is why we’re doing this!
Once again, I woke up with the song that started the evenings playlist in my head. It felt entirely appropriate at this early stage in my pie-making odyssey: Don’t check the score, Hamilton Leithauser
Here are both pies, pepperoni first because it was better:
I’ve frequented so many pizzerias in my life. I love the feeling of being a regular somewhere (coffee shops, pizzerias). Growing up, my parents always ordered from our local Round Table Pizza. Today a pretty well-known chain, but back in the 90’s, I had no clue it was a ‘chain’. It’s still hands down one of my favorite pizzas. Whether we dined in the restaurant or had delivery, we knew everyone that worked there. That kind of community around food feels right to me.
Our local Round Table was owned by brothers who immigrated from somewhere in the Eastern Block, and the staff was mostly Mexican Americans. That they were from somewhere else never mattered and it should never matter. We were friends. There are things about today's society that bother me, and my main disappointment stems from how we seem to be divided in America. I struggle to understand the fear of immigration and xenophobia rising on the Right. Study just a tiny bit of history, and you recognize that most of the conflicts from past societies are a result of nationalist movements. The bottom line from my perspective is that we are all human beings engaged in similar struggles. I’ve learned that people in the US consume something like 100 acres of pizza per day. All that pizza is undoubtedly made by people from all walks of life, from all over the globe, and pizza came to the US by way of Italian Immigrants. Let’s love and support one another regardless of where we come from.
In the last few years, as my consciousness has evolved, and my empathy deepened, I’ve wondered about the lives of the folks at my favorite pizza spots. Often this thought will bubble up: “Are these people satisfied simply making pizza for a living?” It’s usually both a question fueled by my insecurities around the status we associate with one's job title. And an actual question of whether these people are fulfilled. Likely an unconscious search into whether this kind of work would leave me fulfilled. I better understand that in a shop like Longbridge (my favorite in SF), it’s probably just about the pizza. These people love pizza. I look at this book, Pizza Camp, and I know that Joe Beddia loves pizza. I love pizza. That love sort of feels like enough to be happy.
Okay, off the soapbox and on to the pizza. I am super excited about this pie. This is the first pie for which I premade dough the day before following the guidance laid out in Pizza Camp. I sit here writing this entry as I wait for the oven to heat up, my wife to finish her meetings, and for the dough to rise a bit more. I am using the last of the cheese I bought, so essentially, this is my first attempt at the purest pizza classic. Cheese / Margherita. I didn’t care much for cheese pizza growing up. I liked toppings. Today, as a well-traveled adult with a bit more of an education in pizza, I kind of live for a cheese pie. So here goes my attempt. My fifth pie, topping free save for some fresh mozzarella, shaved provolone, and the whole foods Italian blend cheese. Not the combination I want, but I don’t want to waste ingredients. At this stage, the journey is still more about the crust.
When the pie came out, I was so happy! I was able to work the dough into what I felt was an actual real pizza. It was thin, and the cheese cooked in a way it hasn’t before. I watched it bubble up in the oven with deep satisfaction! The crust also had distinct bubbles, which was genuinely thrilling, and the only thing I’d go back and change is to try and bring the size of the crust down slightly by stretching more.
I actually woke up with this song stuck in my head and used it to kick off the evenings playlist: Redemption Song, Bob Marley
Here is the pie:
This was a fun pie. I felt happy crafting, and settled in slightly more than the last few and just got to work. Julie had a great suggestion that in addition to sharing the pie here, I should share the music or song that inspired the pie crafting. I love music, and when I am working on a pie I usually have something playing. So from here on out I will also share the song that started the evenings playlist so that you get a sense of the vibe that built the pie. I have a vision in the back of my mind that should our own shop eventually come from this 100 pie exercise, music will be a huge component of the shop. Something to set the tone and intention each day. I find music to be inspiring and energizing. It’s a fixture of my daily life.
My aim with this one was to get the crust closer to my vision of a blend of New York & Neapolitan style. Basically a thinner crust. I did not really hit that target, and in this case the pie needed a few more minutes on the stone. The crust came out decent but slightly too soft. I picked up some new canned tomatoes, and putting together the sauce is becoming one of my favorite parts of the process. I chose some canned goodies from local producer, Muir Glen. I believe this was the best job I’ve done with toppings and char, and I liked the sauce, but as mentioned, a bit disappointing on the crust both in terms of cook time and thickness. It was not thin enough.
Song that started the evening: Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes
Here is the pie:
Changed the ingredients a bit as we ran out, but still shopping at Whole Foods. Eventually, I want to focus on more organic ingredients when things start to get back to normal. For this pie, I wanted to make something with broccoli, so I went to whole foods and got fresh broccoli and two new cheeses. Di Stefano Mozzarella which was whole milk and I was basically filtering for whole milk. Then I picked up some provolone. I should have used another mozzarella but didn't. At home I tossed a good amount of thinly sliced yellow onions with olive oil, salt and pepper and then baked them at 475 for 20 minutes. We have a food processor and so I blended the onions into the sauce we made for pie #1 & #2. It was a really nice touch and we used more sauce then we did for the first two pies.
Here is the pie:
I realized that the flour I have from Ibis is a Red Wheat flour. Also we don’t have any yeast at the moment so the crust is nowhere near a finished product. It’s actually good, but it’s crunchy and you can’t fold the pizza without breaking the slice in half. I put an order in for some Pizza flower from Anson Mills in South Carolina. Our pizza stone is 14 inches so I am consistently making smaller pies, like 12 inches. I want bigger ones! So for this attempt we used sliced brussel sprouts and mushrooms. It got a bit more char on it than I probably would want in the future but I enjoyed this one and felt like it was an improvement on the previous pie.
Here is the pie:
A few weeks back I ordered some flour from this rad coffee shop and bakery I visited in Kansas City called Messenger. I was actually on their site to order coffee beans but they were also selling flower from the bakery they partner with called Ibis. Ibis mills their own flour! So we had two three pound bags arrive and I needed something to do with them. Cue the pizza adventure!
Two things happened in this first attempt at homemade pie that changed me forever. For the first time ever I premade sauce. And about 5 minutes into the bake, I switched the oven to broil. We have a pizza stone so the pie continues to cook, but the broil is game changing. I can now get the char that makes it feel like real pizza. Those two tips came from Joe Beddias book, Pizza Camp, which is now my bible.
So I used canned San Marzano tomatoes but they were not entirely crushed. I kinda liked that, having some small sliced tomatoes in the sauce. I crushed a few cloves of garlic and added salt and sugar. Now for the dough. No yeast so I used baking powder. I mixed the Ibis wheat flour with salt, coconut sugar, baking powder, and extra virgin olive oil. I worked the dough for a few minutes and then let it sit for about 15 minutes with a wet towel on top. For toppings, I used whole foods mozzarella (sliced it) and italian blend cheese. Added some sliced pancetta and Jeffs Pepperoncinis. I baked that thing at around 475 for about 15 minutes. As mentioned earlier, roughly 5 minutes in the oven before switching to broil for the remaining ten. It was yummy though the crust was a bit too thick in consistency.
Here is the finished pie: