A Professional Chef's Response to My Request For Help With Homemade Pizza
As I mentioned in my Bermuda Pizza blog, I was going to do some more research on making fantastic homemade pizza. So I researched and found Chef Ruth Gresser, owner and chef at Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington, DC.
Chef Gresser is considered by many to be one of the best pizza makers around. She gets high praise from The Washington Post, The Washington Business Journal, and Zaget's Guide. As a Madeleine Kamman's Classical and Modern French Cooking School graduate in Glen, NH, Ruth has been a chef demonstrator for The Smithsonian Institution and a guest chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
Chef Gresser has compiled a series of cooking videos on making pizza that I will post on my website. You can see the first three on making pizza dough by hand and with a mixer here.
When I emailed Ruth about my Bermuda Pizza experience and asked her some general questions about preparing a great pizza, she wrote back and gave me some great advice that I would like to share with you. We also talked about doing a Novice2Pro interview, and I'm hoping as I experiment with making pizza in our wood-burning oven, Ruth can guide me to success.
Chef Gresser's Response
Here is Chef Gresser's response to my email. There is excellent information for anyone who enjoys making pizza at home.
I need to find out why you preferred your friend's pizza over your own; I will give you some general thoughts on pizza making and the wood-burning oven.
I find that the three main factors contributing to the final pizza you make are
- The texture of your dough
- The way the dough is handled and
- The temperature at which the pizza is cooked.
The discussions proceed to the variations due to the different ingredients used, the rising times and temperatures, and the cooking methods used.
The dough should be soft, supple, and well-hydrated. This kind of dough requires less movement to stretch and results in a lovely oven spring and an open structure in the crust. Also, because the dough is easy to work, you can stretch the dough using either a rolling pin, your hands, or a combination of the two.
Dough worked solely by hand will produce a more varied crumb but not necessarily a better crumb. The main thing to remember is that if you use a rolling pin, do not treat the dough aggressively or roughly. If you work the dough too roughly, it will lose more of the structure you have created during the rising than is necessary, and it may not recover in the oven.
Finally, there is a wide temperature range to be discussed, with the minimum temperature needed to make a pizza of the quality I believe you are looking for being 600-650 degrees. The range goes from there to 800 or 900 degrees. We cook our pizza at 650 degrees, which takes about 5 minutes to cook.
The higher the temperature, the less time the top of the pizza will take to cook. This means the crust must be thoroughly cooked in that same time frame. We keep our temperature on the lower side because our pizza is not too thin in the center and has a corona that is bready in the style of crumb and texture. Cooking it at a relatively lower temperature gives the crust time to cook thoroughly without scorching excessively.
As I said earlier, the conversation continues from here. I suggest you first focus on these three areas and develop a pizza that you find appealing. If you still think your pizza can improve, experiment with different flours, leavens, and risings.
I hope this is helpful and look forward to hearing from you about your results.
Have fun and Eat Your Pizza,