Tools of the Trade and Dough Tests

So now where were we…?  Oh yes.  The crazed light in my eye of from tasting that Neapolitan marinara pizza.  It’s not quite as crazy as Jack Nicholas’ face from “The Shining”, but I won’t tell you it wasn’t close.

The next day after work, I headed to the library and checked out Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine from the library to read up on his scientific thoughts and tests around Neapolitan pizza.  (Did I mention that I’m a technique geek in the kitchen?  I should probably get that out of the way now…)  His strongest recommendation of recreating a somewhat comparable surface to woodfired ovens was to utilize thick 1/4 inch steel in ovens at the highest heat possible.  I started seeking out my tools…

After calling nine different steel companies to get quotes for a 1/4 inch thick steel to be cut that would fit my oven and receiving quotes between $250 to $400+, I was disappointed.  As much as I wanted the right tools to make the pizza, $250 before shipping costs was just ludicrous amount of money to pay for making pizza at home.  While I had used heating the back of a cast iron skillet and broiler method with some success, it wasn’t efficient in making large quantities of pizza.  I figured it may be time to just purchase or build a woodfired oven for the house, until someone tipped me off to Andrew Lagsdin’s Baking Steel…  I missed the Kickstarter opportunity already, but EyeDoc ordered one up for me for Xmas 2012, and it was a FAR more reasonable price than the custom quotes I had sought out.   On the day it arrived, I eagerly opened up the delivered package and hugged my new toy with the glee of kid who just got his first video game system.  (Hugged carefully mind you, as I didn’t want to drop this heavy piece of steel on my toes).  I began making pizzas for EyeDoc only at first, then expanded to family members throughout the holiday parties, and then began inviting friends over to share my new bundle of joy.  And since then, over 200+ pizza have been churned out from our little home oven.

“So when are you going to open your own restaurant?”  – Aunt

At one of our many holiday parties, in the midst of chopping ingredients and opening dough, my aunt looked at me and asked.  I laughed and told her this was just a hobby, and that I could never leave my day job as a project manager.  After all, I was raised a nice, conservative Chinese boy who didn’t take risks, worked hard at the job to make a healthy salary.  What did I know about opening a business?

But that night, I couldn’t get her question out of my head… my Aunt and Uncle had opened up their own business and were doing well for themselves.  Could I possibly turn the hobby I loved into a business?  The next morning, I made my way to a farmer’s market downtown to pick up some fresh ingredients for another pizza night, and it dawned on me… why not bring pizza to a farmer’s market on the weekends?  This way, I could not only share my love of pizza with more people, but I could continue to work as a project manager during the week!  And thus, an Za Pi was born… why Za Pi?  That will be for next time…

Before we cut out, I wanted to share some interesting information with you.  Per my geek technique ways, I’ve been wanting to figure out what the flavor and texture differences were in different flours, so this weekend served as the perfect opportunity for just that.  So I prepared three doughs with three different flours for a few family members, all Margherita for test purposes… here’s the results:

Dough Tests

The first pizza was a Eagle Whole Grain white flour at 70% hydration.  Nice rise, but never quite firmed up and very “soggy” throughout the crust.

The second pizza was a Gold Medal Better for Bread flour with 70% hydration.  While this felt the wettest out of the three doughs while working with it, it firmed up the best around the crust and was voted best texture by family members.  It had a nice formation around the crust, and gave away to a soft interior.

The third pizza was a Caputo Tipo 00 flour at 65% hydration, the standard that Neapolitan pizza is made by.  While the rise seemed slightly smaller and the crust wasn’t as firmly formed as the KA flour, it easily had the best flavor crust.

And to reward my family for subjecting them to three straight margheritas, I made three others to end the night with lots of full bellies:


Spinach and fresh mozz, topped with prosciutto right as it comes out of the oven.  The fat from the prosciutto slightly melts into the hot pizza, making a tasty flavor.  While normally prosciutto is done with fresh arugula, I’m not a big fan of the bitterness from arugula and decided to try sauteed spinach directly cooked on.  Not bad, but still needs some modification…


Straight up pepperoni with shredded Sargento mozz.  The crispy edges of the pepperoni are the best bites on this pizza.


And one of the family favorites, Funghi Formaggio.  Sauteed baby bellas with fresh mozz, goat cheese, and gorgonzola.  This has far become the favorite pizza of EyeDoc and the rest of her family and requested every time I make pizza.

Until next time!


“A little bit scarily pizza obsessed…”

That’s what my co-worker told me just two days ago.  She joined the company only three weeks ago, and after a few meals and talks together, has branded me as a pizza obsessed man.

She’s right though, and honestly, I can’t help it.  There’s something beautiful about a perfectly made pizza, especially Neapolitan style.  The gorgeous airy rise in the cornicione (fancy terminology for the outside ring of the crust), the slightly charred bottom, the blend of flavors from the topping… It’s food for your soul when it’s done right.

So why the start of this blog?  Let me share with you the beginning of this adventure…

About 5 months ago, my wife (let’s call her EyeDoc for now) just finished her job at a company and moved into opening her own business.  After she got home late with many sentimental goodbyes, we decided celebrate the occasion with a meal out.   (That, and our kitchen was a mess due to a leak from the fridge making the floors wet… but I digress.)  There weren’t many places open still at 8:00 PM in the suburbs of Chicago, but we found one pizza/wine place on Yelp that was still open, fairly new to the area, and had some strong reviews.

We walked in, and noticed that there was a pizza bar, something new to the both of us.  Since we’ve always sat at sushi bars to chat with hosts, why not try the same with pizza?  We ordered up a burrata appetizer and marinara pizza.  And that’s when my obsession began….  I sat at the pizza bar watching as our pizzaolo turn out and open up the fresh dough, layer on the sauce as an artist paints on a canvas, and in less than 90 seconds, pull it this masterpiece out of the oven… the sauce was salty but not overly so, but the crust is really what won me over… good amount of chew on the outside, thrown beautifully thin and crisp in the center.  Great rise on the edge, perfect amounts of light char…  I was hooked.  And from the look in my eyes as I ate the pizza, EyeDoc whispered “Oh no…”  She knew this was going to be the start of one of my obsessive food projects…

While there’s plenty more to catch you up on, we’ve only just met, and I don’t want to scare you off with my obsession!  So how about we continue the story next time?  And I’ll continue to fill you in on my quest/journey to bring Neo-neapolitan pizza to a farmer’s market of Chicago…