Several months ago I auctioned myself off as a prize to benefit my daughter’s school’s PTA. What kind of prize am I, you ask? Well, I guess there are people willing to pay to have me come do an in-home pizza-making workshop/catered pizza party thing. For that, I am grateful.
I finally made good on that prize on Leap Day (which was a Saturday if you’ll recall), hauling my pizza-making rig to Brooklyn to do a quick dough-making session followed by six bar pizzas, five NY-style pies, and one pepperoni-chonked Sicilian.
I don’t really have a ton of pictures from that night (I was too busy blabbing and cooking), but I did have enough leftover dough (six more NY-style balls) and prepped ingredients to do a run of pies on Sunday.
I used a slightly-tweaked formulation of the Essen1/Mike Essen NY-style dough from this Pizzamaking.com thread. I love this dough’s performance, but the one change I made was to back down the hydration to 60% water + 2% oil, for what I call an “effective hydration” of 62%. The 67% hydration is easy enough for me to work with, but it can tend toward the stickier side for beginners, and I wanted something dead-stupid easy for anyone who wanted to help stretch doughs.
My flour choice was a 1:1 blend of King Arthur all-purpose and bread flours. I’ve found that 100% bread flour has been too chewy in the past, but I didn’t want to go to 100% AP either, so I split the difference, and I think things came out nicely.
I did a nearly 72-hour cold fermentation. Let’s say 66- or 67-hour. I started the dough around 10pm on the Wednesday before, refrigerated it immediately out of the mixer, and let it bulk ferment until Friday evening, at which point I balled it and returned it to the fridge to for an ETP (Estimated Time of Pizza) of 6pm Saturday.
For sauce for the event, I used a big #10 can of Fattoria Fresh AKA Jersey Fresh crushed tomatoes, which I partially portioned out into a Cambro 1-quart container for the bar-pizza part of the evening so I could mix in my usual “sauce mojo” (the blend of seasonings that make for that classic “pizza parlor” flavor I think works well for pub pizzas). For the NY-style pizzas and the Sicilian, I just added salt (to taste) to the crushed tomatoes. This is the MO at almost all Neapolitan pizzerias and at the coal-oven places here in NYC. If it works for them, it works for me, and I’ve found Fattoria Fresh/Jersey Fresh to be excellent ever since I glommed on to it through doing my Margot’s Pizza pop-ups at Emily in Brooklyn, which has used it from the start.
Note: if you don’t want to go through the trouble of finding a #10 can of Jersey Fresh (usually at a restaurant supply wholesaler who is also willing to sell to the public), just pick up a can of Sclafani crushed tomatoes from your grocery store, if it carries them. They are both owned by B&G Foods, both have the “Jersey Fresh” mark on the can, and have the some consistency and flavor. For these reasons, I have no doubt that they are essentially the same product.
For my NY-style pizzas, as I said just above, I like to add only salt to the crushed tomatoes. That’s because I’ve moved toward trying to mimic coal-oven-style pizza at home, specifically a Grimaldi’s or Juliana’s–style pie, which employs the “upside down” method — placing sauce on over sliced mozzarella. I love that simplicity of flavor for this genre. Which leads me to…
For these in-home events, I hit upon the idea of bringing a variety of cheese options to demonstrate how shredding, cubing, and slicing—and over/under sauce placement—make for dramatically different outcomes.
- Shredded: For shredded, I like to go with my “New York Blend”: a 1:1 blend of low-moisture whole-milk and part-skim mozzarella that mimics Grande’s East Coast Blend. For this, just use your preferred low-moisture mozzarella brand. Personally, I use Trader Joe’s. It’s reasonably priced (usually $4.99/pound where I live vs. $7-plus/pound for name brands in the grocery store), and to my taste, it’s good quality and melts well. I like nice think shreds and use this potato grater, a trick I picked up from Norma Knepp of Norma’s Pizza.
- Cubed: For cubed, I forgo part-skim altogether (because it’s not really going to be a true blend) and just cube a 16-ounce block of a firmer grocery store mozzarella. Again, I simply use Trader Joe’s.
- Sliced: My go-to sliced mozzarella is Boar’s Head whole-milk mozzarella. If you live where Boar’s Head is sold, your local grocery store will likely carry it in the deli, where you can ask them to slice you a pound or so. The key is finding a whole-milk version. For that, you most likely have to go to the actual deli department and not the refrigerated cheese case, where the packaged, pre-sliced mozzarellas tend to be part-skim—and are often more expensive pound-for-pound. For NY-style pies, I ask them to slice it about as thick as a Kraft American single—which is, I think, the #2 setting on a deli slicer. For Sicilian pies, I ask for a #4 setting, which is thick enough that you can cover a 12-by-18-inch Sicilian with it without having to overlap, provided you break up the slices to fit in the odd narrow spots in places. (Note: I used all the sliced cheese at the event and didn’t take photos of those pies, so I have no examples to show here.)
The event went pretty well. I’ve only done a couple of them before this one, and this was only the second in this format, but what I’ve come to realize is a good run-of-show is to show up, throw my Baking Steel in the oven to preheat, and then do a quick dough-making demo while the steel comes to temp. Then I do a stretching demo and cook the first one or two pizzas. Then when everyone has had some pizza, I take volunteers who want to stretch dough. If no one does (like on Saturday), no big deal—I just make all the pizza myself. (It’s actually faster that way and gets everyone fed as quickly as possible.)
The winning bidder was a woman who surprised her partner with the workshop. He’s a big fan of Margot’s Pizza and has managed to get tickets repeatedly. Because I knew he was a bar pizza aficionado, I led off with five Margot’s-esque* bar pizzas plus one gluten-free bar pizza (for a GF person there).
Then we did some NY-style, which is where we really did the demo on different cheese/sauce configurations. At some point during NY-style, I sauced and topped the par-baked Sicilian I’d brought along (my Sunday Square dough but par-baked per Tony Gemignani’s method from his Pizza Bible cookbook—two Baking Steels at 450ºF, 7 minutes on one, rotate 180º, then 7 minutes on the other steel; remove from oven, let cool, and either top and finish or wrap tightly in plastic for use the next day).
The fruits of overprepping
I way overprepped for this event (better safe than sorry, right?) and so had six NY-style doughs leftover, a BUNCH of cheese, a good amount of sauce, and a nice array of ingredients. So the next day (Sunday, March 1) I made six pies. I wish I had photographed all of them, but with my wife and daughter demanding lunch pronto, I worried about getting the pies out to the table before “letting the camera eat first.” Thus, I only captured the following that Sunday.
Above is the third pizza out of the oven that day. Not pictured are the plain-and-simple lightly sauced “right-side up” pizza that I always make first (for my wife) and the pepperoccoli or broccoli pizza I aways make second (for my daughter, Margot).
As I said on my Instagram post but got pushback on (maybe rightly so), I think there’s a little bit of gray space around what a “supreme” pizza is. For the purposes of my Margot’s Pizza pop-ups, I treat a sausage, green pepper, and onion pie as a supreme (my “Love Supreme” pizza). But a lot of folks said that a supreme, “has dueling meats of pepperoni and sausage,” which, if I’m being honest, feels like the truth.
But to me, the baseline of a supreme flavor profile is the combo of green peppers, onion, and sausage. If you don’t have any one of those, to me it’s no longer supreme.
Out of curiosity, and since it’s been years, I googled around for a picture of the menu at Maria’s Pizza in Milwaukee, which is my touchstone for pizza supremity (in all senses of the word). And a Supreme there is cheese, sausage, mushroom, onions, black olives, and green peppers. Maria’s also has a Special, but, alas, it does not back up my reasoning, as it’s a combo of cheese, sausage, mushroom, and onion.
Perhaps the other oft-seen pizza-menu descriptor, Deluxe, could come into play? Maria’s doesn’t offer a Deluxe, but a quick Google search reveals the same gray space.
I may have to rethink my own designations and pizza names as this situation evolves.
When I worked at Paulie Gee’s original location at 60 Greenpoint, he had a fantastic “secret menu” pizza called the Brian DeParma, which was simply sauce and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s sooo good. I love a good salty aged Italian cheese, so anything with lots of Parm or Romano is right up my alley. Even better? Add sausage. Even, even better? Add sausage and onion. I didn’t stop there, though, and added a little sprinkling of Kublend to the affair to yield what you see above. In the future, I think I’ll resist temptation and omit the Kublend to get that true underlying Brian DeParma flavor.
I will just rewind here to note that whether it’s at an off-site event I’m catering/workshopping or at my own home, I always start with a plain pie. Obviously. It’s the lowest common denominator, the pie that almost anyone can eat. (OK, not gluten-free folks or vegans, though.) After that I make a mushroom pie. It’s generally a safe veggie-topped option. Then I might go for another plain/cheese pizza, but switch it up a bit, à la this next one…
As I mentioned just above, I started the session with a plain pie for my wife. She likes hers with light sauce, though, and “right-side up,” or sauce first, then cheese. I think it’s safe to say this is how most people think a pizza is made. There is, however, the concept of an “upside down” pie, which has cheese applied first—often sliced mozzarella or large hunks of fresh mozz)—followed by sauce. That’s become my preferred style. So I finished the session with one of those. Here, I only had shredded Kublend (as opposed to sliced mozzarella), so I dropped that on first, drizzled some sauce over, and used a large serving spoon to sort of co-mingle the cheese with the sauce. What this ends up doing is protecting the cheese from the heat of the oven. It doesn’t burn, and in fact it melts beautifully and tends to stay nice and stringy, resulting in great “cheese pulls.” BUT, I also love when mozzarella browns a bit, gives off that browned-cheese aroma, and has that sort of chicken-skin crispness to it. So I dropped on some cubed whole-milk mozzarella above the sauce. Then I gave it a spiral of olive oil and launched it into the oven. This one had a bake of about 8.5 minutes, since the Baking Steel I use had lost some of its heat over the course of the session. Post-oven, I scissored plenty of basil on, and then added grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
And on the following Sunday…
Because I still had a bunch of cheese leftover, I repeated the pizza blast again the following Sunday (March 8), this time making dough for only four pies. Again, I let my wife and daughter eat before the camera did, so by the time I could capture photos, I was left with only the last pie of the session, this PINEAPPLE JOBBER:
I know pineapple is pretty divisive. I’ve never hated it, but I’ve definintely developed a deeper appreciation for it thanks to my wife, who once write a defense of the topping on Slice: Pineapple Pizza. I Love It. Get Over It.
It’s one of her favorite toppings, so I’ve taken to making pineapple pizzas for her the last couple months. She doesn’t like anything else on it—no ham, no pepperoni, nada. So to sort of elevate it a bit and give it more visual interest, I’ve taken to roasting the pineapple first. I used to just throw it in the toaster oven and roast till it was charred here and there, but I’ve started branching out and trying different roasted pineapple preparations. I’ve landed on this Martha Stewart recipe most often, though I can’t say that I really taste all that much of a difference—maybe because I sub in a Trader Joe’s Chile-Lime seasoning for actual lime juice, IDK.
Here, I cut up a pineapple to different thicknesses and shapes, to see how it would both roast and work on the pizza. Going forward, I think I’d do this again. I like the visuals of the smaller pieces interspersed with the larger ones, but I’m noting that I need to slice the pineapple thinner. When it’s too thick, it’s unwieldy and tends to slide around in the molten cheese when you try to slice the pie or bite into it while it’s still really hot.
For all the NY-style pizzas, I placed my 16-inch round Baking Steel in the upper third of the oven (both at the off-site pizza thing and at home), preheated it for an hour at temp, and cooked for about 7 minutes for the first 3 or so pizzas, gradually increasing to 8 and 8.5 minutes.
I’ve blabbed at you a lot and realize this might not be the most service-y of posts. For those of you interested—all two of you—I’ll write up my recipes/methods in a future post to come soon. Until then, feel free to reach out to me via DM on Instagram or email.
Hasta la pizza,