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 great homemade pizza. I did a little research 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 praises from The Washington Post and The Washington Business Journal as well as Zaget's Guide. As a graduate of Madeleine Kamman's Classical and Modern French Cooking School in Glen, NH, Ruth has been a chef demonstrator for The Smithsonian Institution as well as a guest chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
Chef Gresser has put together a series of cooking videos on making pizza that I will be posting on my web site. 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 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 a lot of great information in it for anyone who enjoys making pizza at home.
I can't tell you the reasons 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 from there to the variations due to the different ingredients used, the rising times and temperatures, and the cooking methods used.
I believe that the dough should be soft, supple and well hydrated. This kind of dough requires less movement to stretch and results in a nice oven spring and an open structure in the crust. Because the dough is easy to work, you can stretch the dough using either a rolling pin, or 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 loose 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, and the pizzas take about 5 minutes to cook.
The higher the temperature, the less time the top of the pizza will take to cook. This obviously means that the crust needs to be completely cooked that same time frame. We keep our temperature on the lower side because the pizza we make is not too thin in the center and has a corona that is bready in style of crumb and texture. By cooking it at a relatively lower temperature, the crust is given time to cook thoroughly without scorching excessively.
As I said earlier the conversation continues from here. I would suggest you focus on these three areas first and develop a pizza that you find appealing. If you still think that your pizza can use improvement, start experimenting with different flours, leavens and risings.
Hope this is helpful and I look forward to hearing back regarding your results.
Have fun and Eat Your Pizza,
A friend sent me this link because I too have a wood fired pizza oven in my home in PA. It's funny because I went to Pizza Paradiso about 10 years ago, and have always felt that Ruth and Pizza Paradiso were the inspiration for my oven! How serendipitous that this link was sent to me! Loved her comments and totally agree with everything. For maximum "spring", the dough should be well risen and well hydrated. Continued successes!
JAMES F KNASH
I USE A CHALPHON BLACK PAN, COOK IN A 450 + PREHEATED OVEN FOR 11 MINUTES. COMES OUT PERFECT. IT'S THE PAN . BLACK SOAKS UP THE HEAT. I MAKE THE DOUGH IN THE FOOD PROCESSOR. STRETCH OUT BY HAND AND ROLL TO SIZE.
A homemade pizza does not take much longer than simply ordering over the phone and waiting for the food to arrive.