Bake times, Kenji? :)
While flour choice, hydration and gluten development can all impact crispness and char/contrast, the biggest player in both the crispiness and char equations, as I'm sure you're well aware, is bake time.
Break out that stopwatch :)
On another note, I think part of the crackeriness problem that you're witnessing is cultural conditioning. The chains, have, unfortunately, conditioned Americans- especially Americans outside the NY metro area, to prefer crispier, more evenly colored crusts. I'm not necessarily saying that Californians prefer cracker crusts, but, for NY pies to have the right texture, they have to be pretty soft coming out of the oven (and really soft delivered), and then acquire a bit of crispiness on the preheat. In order to appeal to more chainified palettes and get a bit more crispiness on the just out of the oven and delivered pies, Californians make a concession on the slices.
That, imo, is a big part of where the crackeriness is coming from.
Lastly, if anyone is interested in a more in depth look at Avellino and Arinell (and/or reverse engineering an Avellino pie at home), along with a very intimate portrait of a San Franciscan's home pizzamaking journey, this thread, albeit quite long, is a great read:
@Kenji, I know you pride yourself on being scientific and analytical, but I'm not sure that the kind of intellectual approach that you seem to be following will be the key to Slice's success.
Do you really think that Adam built the world's largest pizza related website by hiring consultants, doing 'field research' and performing 'data analysis?' What's next, focus groups? More meetings? You mentioned looking at your competitors. Chow's been hiring consultants, crunching numbers and micromanaging packaging since they were bought out in 2006. Since that time, sure, Chow's gotten a bit more cohesive and polished, but at what cost? Corporatization does not foster passion. From the very beginning, Slice has drawn it's strength from the grassroots, from the individual- incredibly passionate and brilliant individuals who knew their cities like that back of their hands. It had edge. It had vision. It had cred. It had heart. Now... the Chowification hasn't happened overnight, but, with every passing year without Adam at the helm, Slice has slowly lost it's individuality- and these recent changes are the most drastic move yet in this direction.
It's like a restaurant that loses it's best chef and tries to make up for it by hiring a consultant- a consultant who pushes them towards window dressings like a redesign, a grand re-opening, a new marketing plan or new menu items- rather than focusing on what truly matters and seeking out another passionate and brilliant chef to replace the one that was lost. In Kenji and Ed (and other notable contributors), you have Thomas Kellers, but they're only in the (pizza) kitchen once every couple months. The rest of the time, you're serving up canned food (polls being the best example). Or at least you were. Right now, on Slice, you're serving up nothing. You can repackage zero new content (or canned content) a million ways to Sunday, but if you don't have passionate people putting out fantastic articles every day, there's no data analysis on the planet that can achieve the number of daily page hits you were seeing at your prime.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. You need another aspiring Adam (or two). Someone incredibly passionate that will devote their entire life to Slice. No offense, but it wasn't Niki and it isn't Kate. Another Adam is out there, and, while Slice is a shell of what it once was, it still has enough laurels to attract someone with this level of passion. If you wait, though, and keep crunching numbers, sifting through data, and intellectualizing, the window of opportunity will be gone forever and Slice will be stuck in a niche somewhere between ghost-townish Pizza Quest (a highly influential person that's not around much) and bureaucratic Chow. Considering what Slice was and what it has the potential to be, this would be incredibly sad, imo.
Adam, congratulations on the massive success of your mini pop-up.
Regarding your oven, respectfully, I think you're long overdue for a deck. Sure, you can, a la Tin Cup, play golf with a baseball bat (and, believe me, you're hitting way under par), but is it really worth the agita? If you're doing 4 minute bakes, and baking 3 pies at a time, that's a theoretical maximum of 45 pies an hour- with a separate person manning the oven. It's also, even with a 2 person team, a LOT of futzing from an oven tending perspective, and, as you ramp up the volume, a lot more room for baking error, imo.
Decks really were put on the map for this purpose. The list of decks that can achieve your current masterpieces is small, but these decks do exist. It's too bad no one in the area is using a pizzamaster. I get the feeling Nino Coniglio (Williamsburg) wouldn't be too warm to the idea of loaning out his ovens, but I'm certain Wheated's ovens can do this. Wheated IS closed on Mondays... :) Maybe David would let open the doors for you on his day off? Just an idea.
You might as well make the transition sooner rather than later, because the overwhelming demand, as you, I and everyone here knows, is inevitable, and, no matter what you do, you're going to outgrow a WFO eventually. It should be pretty obvious to you that when you open PG Portland, you're not going to be able to allocate much main oven(s) time to these and a crummy little electric countertop will not be up to the task.
@Adam Kuban, the monthly challenges have pretty much ceased, but unofficial challenges popped up from time to time:
And, I say this with the greatest affection- Lou's online persona is definitely a little curmudgeonly. When I first saw a photo of him, I did a double take.
@jim s, thank you for your kind words. As far as PM being a productivity drainer, I couldn't agree more :) I do think, though, depending on the questions one asks, the time invested is proportional to one's improvement in pizza quality.
Don't forget, there's always pizzamaking.com :D On PM, it's pretty much My Pie Everyday :D
@Kenji, the approach that DIYers are using to remove mill scale, a 2 day vinegar soak with an ensuing light scrub, will be equally as effective on rust (mill scale is actually a form of rust).
@Lycopersicon esculentum, when I was speaking of a 'DIY approach,' I was referring to grinding the steel yourself- something no one is going to recommend.
That being said, you've piqued my curiosity. What's your total cost on this?
You DON'T own machining tools, Kenji?! I'm shocked! Who doesn't own machining tools? I keep mine right next to my particle accelerator :)
Seriously, though, I know past Baking Steel pricing conversations might make you feel like you need to have your guard up, but expecting anyone to recommend a DIY approach to this is a little silly. Give us a little credit here :)
@BanannaP, evaporation occurs during baking. The longer the bake, the greater the evaporation, the crispier the crust. Steel shortens bake times and leaves comparably more water in the dough. The pizza will generally come out of the oven crispy and rigid, but, as it cools, the water in the center of the crust will migrate, producing a softer and floppier end result. Compared to longer baked pizza on stones, steel will give you better oven spring, but with a sacrifice in crispiness.
Steel promotes oven spring and, to an extent, inhibits crispiness. For most people that buy steel, the trade off is worth it. Classic NY pizza is puffy and chewy. Crispy is more of an American style trait.
"What do you think precipitated the rush toward mediocrity? Just the ease with which you can make a half-ass product and still have people buy it?"
Yes. Bad pizza, like bad sex, is still pretty good- good enough to, unfortunately, be pretty profitable. How many billions of dollars does Domino's make in a year? If people can devote less mental energy, less critical thought to a product and still make money, they will.
Re; screens on PM. It's pretty much a noob thing. Launching a pizza off a peel can get pretty scary for beginners. As people spend more time on the forum, they are typically weaned off the training wheels.
I should also add that screens are not necessarily horrible in every scenario. In those rare instances where one has a heat balanced oven that can reach 700 or higher (but not too much higher or you run into potential melting), then screens are fine. But that's not your average home baker or your average pizzeria owner.
@scottwiener, thanks! I'm curious, did you ever time a bake at Suprema? The Sicilians and Grandmas on this list are most likely in the 15 minute realm, but I'd be really surprised if any of the slice places were higher than 8. The physics for great oven spring just don't work above 8 minutes.
@jeffsayyes, a lot of people have a hard time getting around the concept of the role heat plays in great pizza. Intense heat/fast bake times are what rapidly expand the gas in the dough, sending it skyward, producing the puffy airy crusts that most people would agree is great pizza. For thin crusts (Sicilian works a little differently due to the typical pan proofing), if you back away from the heat and extend the bake time, you end up with lifeless crusts. It's not a coincidence that the top places on this list all have really fast bakes, nor is it a coincidence that, in all probability, none of the classic slices on this list exceed an 8 minute bake.
I bring all this up because screens are known insulators. Anything you place between the stone and the dough is going to slow down heat transfer. On the tests performed over at pizzamaking, we've seen increases of 2 minutes when making the change to screens. For the typical 550ish (usually run around 500) NY area deck oven, this is the kiss of death for good crumb texture.
@Lex, I was around in the 70s and 80s and I can unequivocally tell you that, in the outer boroughs and NJ, it was as difficult to find a truly mediocre slice as it is to find a truly great slice now. Now, Manhattan, that was different. Joe's was majestic in the 80s, but Manhattan had/has all those horrendous Ray clones. I don't know when the Rays took over, exactly, but they go back pretty far. But Brooklyn, or NE NJ... there's no rose colored glasses or wishful thinking there. It's a night and day difference between then and now.
And, for me, this isn't really a dollar slice issue. This is about all the independents making a massive shift towards slower baked cookie cutter McPizza. The dollar places at least are up front about the commodification. I've never seen an industry racing so hard towards the middle. Pizzeria owners used to know something. Because of the intense competition, they HAD to know something. Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, they were still artisans and possessed the knowledge behind what makes pizza great and what doesn't. Now, the process is entirely brainless. Hobart mixer, Baker's Pride oven, All Trumps flour, Grande cheese, enough yeast to make the dough rise in a few hours, and, voila! McPizza for all.
@Kenji, I haven't timed Patsy's, but, with that coal oven, it's going to be 4 (and possibly even 3). I have timed New Park, Williamsburg, and Best, though and those are all 4. Not only are these 3 Brooklyn spots all 4 minute bakes, but they're indisputably at the top of the list for "great new york pizza."
Also, fwiw, the undercrust char you're recommending that your readers seek out- you don't see that kind of intense contrast above 5 minutes.
"New York pizzas take between 12 and 15 minutes to bake."
"Perhaps we just disagree on what makes "great new york pizza," but the 4 minute pies I was making on the Kettlepizza were definitely not what I'd call a New York pizza"
@Kenji, considering the number of 4 minute pies you've included on this list, do you still stand behind these statements?
"I'm also not a huge fan of the reheat -- at most I ask for it "not too hot," which is terminology I've heard plenty of times. The standard reheat at most places makes it TOO HOT TO EAT."
@Adam, I've never had much success saying "not too hot," as most workers tend to run on autopilot and leave the slice in for the typical napalm amount of time (or remove the slice literally 1 or 2 seconds sooner than normal, thinking that will make a discernible difference). It takes some time to master, and you can't be timid, but I've developed a pretty good feel for when a slice is ready. "That's good on that slice" is what I say. If a place is really busy and the workers are multitasking (which tends to be almost all the time), you really have to be a bit pushy to get their attention and make sure your slice gets pulled before it's too late.
And this isn't just to avoid a burned mouth. An excessive reheat will have a tendency to dry out a slice, so even if you let it cool enough so you can eat it (further drying it as it cools), it won't be as good as a slice that's been reheated the appropriate amount of time.
Ideally, of course, you can get a slice from a pie that's just been out of the oven about 5 minutes (135 deg. is my ideal eating temp ;) ), but that's a bit of a long shot with places that make slice pies in advance.
@fry, when Paulie Gee samples every renowned pizza in your area and gives you the top marks, that's, imo, a recipe for success that you might not want to mess with- especially since the infrequency and limited output of Jeff's mobile operation exposed so few people to this work of art. A brick and mortar gives Jeff the opportunity to put that particular pizza in the mouths of an exponentially greater number of people. If he plays his cards right, Jeff can share the experience that blew Paulie Gee away with hundreds of thousands. To me, that's a worthy goal.
This is more than just an 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it' scenario. His Frankenwebber pie was, if heard Paulie correctly, one of the best pizzas on the planet. You don't mess with that.
From the photos I've seen, I was pretty sure Jeff was breaking the 2 minute bake barrier with his Frankenwebber. While the Pizzamaster and the Cuppone are two of the most powerful electric deck ovens on the market, I'm not sure they can reliably hit less than 2 minutes in a high volume scenario.
Not that Jeff can't make great pizza that's baked a bit longer- it would be nice to see him doing high volume Frankenwebber-ish pies, though, since that's what he's renowned for.
Predictability is all good and nice, but, considering the type of pizzas that put Jeff on the map, I'm really surprised he didn't go with wood.
@Scagnetti, in NY, the traditional white pizza is minced garlic, ricotta and mozzarella. They either use a brand of ricotta that spreads when it's heated, or they add some liquid (cream, usually) to help it spread. That's how NY pizzerias do it. It's not a huge crowd pleaser, and it tends to sit in the case, but many places offer it as an option.
Once you leave traditional NY style, though, white pizza can mean just about anything. Alfredo, white sauce/bechamel, cream, motz only, no dairy/oil&herbs- you name it. It really just depends on personal preference.
While I think there is a historical precedent for expansion weakening/diluting brands, in this particular case, due to the immensely talented partners Paulie has assembled- with each bringing their own creative genius- creativity that seems to be not only allowed, but encouraged, this can only strengthen the Paulie Gee brand- and the brands of the individual players, even further.
This is a win for Paulie, Kelly, Adam and Lou, and a win for the cities blessed with these new ventures. Congratulations all.
11USCCH7, your actions have gone way beyond 'criticism of my words.'
When I was a very small child, around 4 years old, I used to be really mean to my cat. I didn't cause it physical harm, but I used to harass it for hours on end. For about a few months this went on, until the cat was hit by a car and died. To this day, I have tremendous regrets over the way I treated it. Lack of empathy, though, is fairly typical for very young children. Frequently, one's moral compass is developed later in life. Your moral compass, though, is broken. I don't complete understand how one goes about acquiring empathy when one lacks it, but, if you can't, you're going to have a problem- if not with me, then with someone else.
Do not think for a second that your online actions are untraceable. To the motivated investigator, all of the actions of your various aliases on multiple websites can be traced back to you. With the tiniest amount of digging/IP address tracking, everything you've done points back to you. The 'attack' accounts (such as this one), the attempts to damaged my business, the invasion of my privacy, the threats against my family- everything points back to you.
The evidence is all there. All I have to do is make a few calls. But I don't want to do that. I'm not that important. THIS is not that important. I don't want to potentially ruin your life because you couldn't constructively deal with your hatred of some loudmouth online.
I'll be the first to tell you that I'm a narcissist. I have issues with self esteem. The countless online hours that I devote to helping others and the adulation that I receive from it is not a permanent solution, but, rather, a temporary relief. I am not blind to my shortcomings- nor am I blind to my virtues. But my narcissism doesn't break any laws. Your cyberharassment, though, does.
@wakenbake, while I appreciate your exceedingly kind words, please, don't feed the troll. 11USCCH7 is a small, pitiful sub human who resents those with knowledge to share because he has absolutely nothing to offer himself. Since he's unable to contribute anything of value, all he can do is try to take pot shots at those that can. I would feel sorry for him if he wasn't such a psychopath. Ignore him and hopefully he'll crawl under the rock he came from.
@11USCCH7, a typical facet of the bullying dynamic is that the bully usually wants to be friends with the bullied. There's almost always a love/hate component. For a while there, I thought we could work this out and bury the hatchet, but you've crossed too many lines. You have a problem. Get help (seriously). Age tends to promote a certain amount of empathy, so, perhaps, as you mature, you'll grow out of this, but, right now, you are headed down the wrong road. As of this moment, there are no laws in the U.S. regarding this type of harassment, but there are in the U.K. I've tried to be a nice guy about this, but if you continue in this manner, I will bring the authorities into it. Consider yourself warned.
Paulie Gees would have given you a combination of authenticity and fun, along with a glimpse inside a world class pizzeria run by an obsessive. I've seen videos of Pizza a Casa, and while the atmosphere is very fun and festive, it's geared more towards the home baker with no real inclination towards truly great pies. Pizza a Casa is more along the lines of a paint your own pottery place, where Paulie would be like getting a glimpse of an actual master potter at work.
It won't be hugely festive, but Giulio Adriani (Forcella) has a school where he teaches aspiring pizzeria owners how to make Neapolitan pizza. Good teachers, as their pizzerias get more successful, have a tendency to get very busy and farm out their training to underlings- underlings that don't always have the same teaching skills. So far, this isn't Giulio. You show up and he's there. I don't know if Giulio does a one day class, but, if he does, I promise you that it won't be basic and your friend will come out of the experience having learned something. If he only does multi day classes, I still think it's a highly worthy investment.
Also, in interests of full disclosure, I train aspiring NY style pizzeria owners via webcam. My training, though, is geared towards the hyper-obsessive, and, while I can promise your friend the best pizza they've ever eaten, it's a lot of hard work getting there, including quite a few hours sourcing hard to find baking materials and ingredients. For the non-obsessive, time with me would probably be one of the worst gifts ever :) For what it's worth, though, I am very competitively priced- not as cheap as a frozen pizza ;), but considerably less costly than any option discussed so far. But, as I said, to get the most of my training, you basically have to be borderline mental- pizza on the brain, 24/7, 365 days a year.
It all breaks down to how much of a foodie/how obsessive/potentially obsessive your friend is. Painting pottery is one thing, but actually being a potter involves a pretty steep learning curve.
Btw, Scott's Pizza Tours are fun and would make a good gift. I believe the bus tour is a bit flexible with it's destinations. I'm not sure he does night tours, but maybe you could get him to swing by Paulies? It wouldn't quite be the 'Paulie Gee Experience,' but it would still be pretty fun.
Adam, I am by no means a bar style expert, but I do know a thing or two about cheese. You're not going to find a lot of cheddar on any style of pizza in the NY area. If you go far South enough on the boardwalk or you go southeast to Trenton, sure, but Star Tavern or Colony, I doubt it. Personally, my money is less on cheddar and more on finding the right motz. Pockmarks are a classic trait of quality motz (and brown specs a classic trait of defective cheese).
Certainly, play around with cheddar, but, if the sharp taste feels the slightest bit foreign to you, I highly suggested a commercial motz. Calabro is almost impossible to find outside CT, but that's my favorite so far. F&A is good and should be available to you locally. Saputo isn't bad either.
Grande will give you pockmarks, but it won't be very flavorful.
I use 'how it's made' as a natural sleeping aid. Between the repetitive machinery and pulsing techno, I'm usually out like a light before the 1/2 hour is up. I prefer the female (Canadian) announcer, though.
If you prove, in the first segment of a video, that you know how to hold pizza so it doesn't droop, you can't pretend to have issues eating droopy pizza later in that same video.
I like Marc Malnati and think he's a great ambassador for Chicago, and I also understand the tongue in cheek nature of the video, but, in order to be funny, humor has to be rooted in some truth, and pretending not to know how to hold a slice when you were just filmed adeptly holding one is pretty silly.
@Kenji, you're always welcome for pizza (seriously), but, while the Blackstone has been proven to be effective at making pizza ranging from good to great, legendary is still an unobtained goal. We've got a friendly little challenge going on at PM- a Craig quality pie on the BS in 18 months. I think there's about 12 months left for that. We'll see :)
I am pretty proud of my NY pies on steel, though. If you ever find yourself in my area (Morristown), drop me a line. Adam's got my contact details.
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