Monday, January 06, 2014

Yo, happy new year!

You need hair and eye protection when baking pizza in a cob oven. It makes me look 10x hipper than usual.
For the first time in over a year (and the second time ever), I fired up our pizza oven on Saturday, inspired by a class I took from Kristin Ferguson Smith when we were in Los Angeles last week. I learned so much crust technique in that class I can’t even begin to cover it here. Plus, to paraphrase Aam Gopnik, there’s no bore like a bread bore. (Read his piece if you haven't already; it's wonderful.)   Here’s what I will say: We drove home from L.A. and I went straight to the refrigerator to revive my languishing sourdough starter. I fed it twice a day for three days until it was active and bubbly and then made pizza dough. Kristin’s recipe is similar to the Mozza recipe, but she calls for sourdough starter and has you knead the dough for roughly 8 times as long. Like, up to 45 minutes in the mixer. Does that shock you? It shocked me. But it works. You knead the hell out of that dough and only when it passes the windowpane test can you quit. I have never made better pizza crust. It’s possible I’ve never eaten better pizza crust.  

As for the oven, it performed beautifully. I plastered it a few months ago but ran out of plaster before it was completely covered, so there’s a little patch at the back to tackle soon. Maybe in 2015. The oven’s dimensions are wrong for optimal burning and there are some funky cosmetic details, but I am proud. I am also proud that I didn’t burn the house down while igniting the fire on Saturday without matches or lighter. How did I manage this? I’ll let you use your imagination. What I did was breathtakingly stupid, but I got away with it and will never, ever do it again. 

It was Mark's birthday, so my sister and her family came over to celebrate. Justine and I stood out there in the dusk and talked and made pizzas while our husbands happily watched football upstairs and foolishly complained that they don’t like clams on their pizzas and our four kids decorated Mark’s birthday cake. It was a perfect evening and I don’t say that very often. 
 While I like to think Justine is gazing up at me with the admiration of a younger sister,  there are other possible interpretations.  I bought the goggles for making soap a few years ago, but am never going to make soap and now use them primarily for chopping onions, a useful tip from Smitten Kitchen. For pizza purposes, sun glasses work just as well, but goggles make you look more impressive (or something.) The oven's doorway is too big. I made a mistake in the planning and when I realized what I'd done, it was too late. This tormented me for a while, but now I'm ok with it. Even if it doesn't retain as much heat as it should, the oven works fine. It was a hard project, but ultimately very satisfying. 

Tonight, I will begin cooking five recipes from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, which Mark gave me for Christmas. It’s a new book, both to me and to the world. The parmesan broth is already made. 

16 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you fired up your pizza oven, and that you are happy with the results. Nothing's perfect. I would love to hear what you did that was stupid, but don't tell me. You were honest enough just telling us that much. I have done several things that are that stupid, and fortunately I got away with them as well. (Obviously, since I am still here.) You are a dedicated pizza maker if you spend 45 minutes kneading dough. I love pizza, but I am afraid I don't love it that much. You look like an intrepid food scientist in that get-up!

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  2. I loved Alan Gopnik's article, and especially that line. I'm afraid it's true.

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    1. Now I want to make -- or even just taste -- water buffalo ice cream.

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  3. Your pizza oven looks really, really cool.

    Having been forcibly subjected to some data lately, I submit that a new-car-buying bore can contend with a bread bore.

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    1. Don't you just zone it all out? Wine bores are pretty bad too.

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  4. Stop posting about Justine! It makes me miss her too damn much. :-)

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  5. You started the fire by putting gasoline on it, didn't you? Well, it worked out OK since you still have eyebrows and didn't blow the top of the oven. And the oven looks pretty nice. I'm jealous.

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    1. Nope, no gasoline. But almost as dangerous.

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  6. Coffee bores are up there too, as are money bores.

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  7. Yay! Glad the pizzas came out well! The link to the bread article didn't work, though, so I googled it and then The New Yorker wouldn't let me read past the third paragraph :(
    As for how you lit the fire without matches, did you use a propane torch? So nice meeting you and your family, and it's always fun proselytizing about pizza/pizza ovens.

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    1. I didn't use a butane torch, though I should have because I have one. That would have been much safer.
      Maybe I botched the Adam Gopnik link when I pasted it. Here it is again: http://koshercamembert.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/the-new-yorker-nov-04-2013-gopnik-bread.pdf

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    2. Read it. That was a very good article. Thanks. It kind of brought tears to my eyes, especially the part about how much parents sacrifice for their kids. I contemplate all the dinners/birthday cakes/school lunches/halloween costumes I made my girls, scantily appreciated, and then I remember the craft projects/lessons/conversations/intense interest my mom and dad gave to me. It's a wash.

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  8. I keep checking back to see if anybody has guessed how you lit the oven yet... Did you light something (kindling maybe?) with the stove burner, then run outside and use it to light the pizza oven?

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    1. Yes, Annie, that is what I did, but not with kindling. With a thick stack of newspaper. It was reckless, idiotic, and very dangerous, as was all too obvious by the time I reached the oven.

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  9. I stopped kneading bread/pizza/dough after buying Dan Lepard's books. He just lets the bread rest for intervals and lets it "knead" itself during its naps. His technique works flawlessly for me, and I've never looked back. I made his pizza last week and it was wonderful. The thought of having my noisy KitchenAid on, and babysitting it, for 45 minutes, would drive me to pick up the phone and call my local pizza joint. Of course, I'd never build my own cob oven either. But I do applaud your ambition.

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