45 days to learn how to make perfect pizza
06/04/2014 8:25 PM
I’ve written about my foodie friend Craig Jones in the past. He organized the In-A-Tub outing north of the river that I shared, and he’s the man behind Savory Addictions smoked nuts, a story that I found, and still find, fascinating.
I’ve known a lot of foodies over the years, and this I can say this without equivocation, Jones is a foodies’ foodie.
I’ve never seen anyone create amazing food at home on a nightly basis the way Jones does. How do I know what he creates nightly at home?
Well, I’ve never seen anybody post the number of Facebook pictures of food that Jones does seemingly every day. It’s such a pictorial culinary avalanche from Jones, I sometimes tune out his savory snapshots.
But recently, Jones started something that caught my eye, something so daring, so time-consuming, so crazy that I had to ask him why he was doing it.
He called it “45 days of Pizza.” He was going to make a different pizza every night for 45 straight nights. If creating Savory Addictions wasn’t proof enough, then this certainly was — Craig Jones is nuts.
“I started when I was asked to teach a pizza class at the end of February,” he said. “I employed the ‘total immersion’ technique from Tim Ferriss, author of ‘4 Hour Work Week’ and ‘4 Hour Chef.’
“I wanted to become an ‘expert’ by repetition and by focusing on the important 20 percent of the details that will give you the 80 percent of the results.”
When first asked to do the class, Jones was by no means a pizza expert.
“Now, I believe that I can run with the best of them,” he said. “By doing a little research, you can find out how yeast works, and since I'm making pizza every day, you can test your results easier.”
But, 45 straight days of making pizza? Isn’t that a little overboard? Not for Jones. Not in the least.
“First, I had to start with the crusts,” he siad. “I was amazed at how great the pizza crusts were in New York City during a recent trip there. I was surprised I couldn’t replicate that in Kansas City.”
So, he worked with some recipes and different types of flour to get a crust that would give him a nice crust, but thin — a cold-fermented crust that takes at least 24 hours to make, and lasts up to five days.
Then he had to find a crust that someone could make quickly. After that, he started working with how to make the dough rise.
“One of the biggest breakthroughs is when I went to Alton Brown's show and he told a story about what happened when he forgot to put salt in a bread dough,” Jones said. “Apparently salt impedes the yeast growth, so I started experimenting with the salt levels.”
Jones then had to deal with the flavors. After all, the pizzas had to taste good, not just look good. He found out that the vast majority of the time you build layers of flavor in the crust before you put on any ingredients. So, he brushed his dough with a combination of garlic, rosemary, and Kosher salt, then added some red pepper flakes.
Next came the sauce. Jones says he wanted a basic red sauce that would work with 90 percent of the pizzas. He tried a ton of recipes, but found none that really “popped.”
So, he doctored a basic recipe and found just the right combination of flavors.
The heat was up next.
“I heat the pizza stone up for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, which is very crucial,” Jones said. “After that, the pizzas only take about 8 to 10 minutes to cook on the preheated stone.”
Then, there was an issue I would have never considered, getting the pizza off the pizza peel.
“Everyone tells you to limit the toppings to make it easier, but I hate a skimpy pizza,” he said. “Also, they put tons of flour or corn meal on the pizza peel and to me that’s just gross. So, I started experimenting with parchment paper. I’ll tell you this is by far the easiest way to get the pizza off the peel and on to the stone.”
With that, Jones said he’d found a way that allowed him to load up the pizza with tons of ingredients and make it easier, the perfect pizza storm
He says he didn’t follow any recipes, just made them up as he went along.
“We take a favorite food or dish, deconstruct it, and make it work for a pizza,” Jones said.
So what are the most important tips for those who might attempt their own pizza at home?
or final thoughts for those who might attempt their own pizza at home.
“Number One, use bread flour or Italian '00' flour,” he said. “Number Two, it’s really easier to do than you think. Number Three, plan ahead. Make dough ahead of time so you can be ready to go the night you make the pizza. And, Number Four, practice. Make three or four pizzas to get more comfortable.”
Lastly, I asked Jones if there was a disappointment in the bunch and if he was sick of pizza.
“The pesto pizza did not work out as well as we were hoping Everything else has been great because we are using the ingredients that we love,” he said. “Are we tired of pizza? Hell no. What we do every morning as we commute to work is discuss what pizza we want to make that night.”
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.