My Pizza, His Pizza: Brick’s Chef-Owner David Pratt’s pizza outshines my darn-good homemade, but the culinary adventure is part of the fun.
Could I make pizza at home that is as good as Chef David Pratt’s? A new pizza cookbook gave me a glimmer of hope, a volume that promises an easy, no-knead way to make spectacular pizza in a home kitchen.
But after spending time with Pratt at his new pizzeria, Brick, San Clemente, I have a much better understanding of the kind of attention to detail that goes in to producing the perfect pizza pie.
Pratt is a perfectionist, and you may recognize his name; years ago he was chef-co-owner of Mirabeau, a popular restaurant in Monarch Beach.
Nine months before Brick opened, I visited the site to talk about the planned transformation. Stark sheetrock covered walls, a table in the center of what would become the dining room, cradled blueprints.
Have a look at this video to get a closeup before-and-after look at Brick.
Much of our conversation focused on the Lamborghini of wood-burning pizza ovens, the Valoriani; it was on order from Florence, Italy, with a price tag of $15,000. Pratt rhapsodized about the high heat on the oven’s floor, a temperature around 700 degrees that would quickly create pizza crusts with alluring hints of charring.
Sporadic blisters on the surface. Irresistible inner chew.
When I returned a few weeks ago, the restaurant had been open for a month. The welcoming décor showed off walls covered with reclaimed red bricks from Chicago. Pieces of reclaimed amber bottles formed intriguing mosaics on columns and snazzy fixtures made with copper pipes and coke bottles hung over the bar.
Chunks of almond wood in the Valoriani were ablaze, and a skillful pizza chef (called the pizzaiolo) worked his long-handled peel to rotate and shift the artisanal pies to create crusts with character and toppings that were neither watery nor overcooked. As I watched I wondered how many pies met their doom before he learned how to be a pizza-pie acrobat.
(During quiet lunchtimes, children are encouraged to garnish their own pizzas at Brick. Here, Blake Marcisz of San Clemente adorns his pizza.)
Pratt was quick to point out that slow-rise dough made with the finest ingredients is essential. He uses organic, high-gluten flour from Central Milling in Utah to make 20 pounds at a time in his big-boy 30-quart Hobart mixer. He said that he can tell by the sound of the dough gyrating on the dough hook and slapping against the bowl, whether it needs additional water or flour. Weather plays a part here, especially humidity. It’s a skill learned by lots of experience.
A portion of biga (starter dough from a previously-made fully-aged batch) is added to give the new dough additional flavor; then the dough rests for three days.
(The Calabrian Margarita – silver tequila, watermelon, Calabrian-mint syrup – something to sip while your pizza dough ferments.)
Well, no wonder my attempts at pizza making at home have been hit and miss.
Turning to “My Pizza” by Jim Lahey (Clarkson Potter, $27.50), the cookbook that promises whiz-bang homemade pizza, I gave it another shot. According to Lahey, the founder of Sullivan Street Bakery and Co. in New York City, I needed some new equipment. I bought a bigger rectangular pizza stone (14-by-16-by-3/4-inch, $61) and a new peel (a flat shovel-like tool to slide pizza in and out of oven) with an 8-inch handle ($10) at Chefs’ Toys, Fountain Valley. I already had a dandy scale, so weighing the ingredients was easy (the author gives cup and tablespoon measurements, too). I started the journey, knowing that the dough needed to have 18 hours to ferment.
The verdict? My at-home results were very good, much better than those I’ve made using store-bought pizza dough. In a side by side comparison, it could never stand up to Brick. It was tasty and the crust was beautifully chewy. But blisters and charring were lacking. And I still make amoeba-like shapes rather than full-moon wonders.
Let me say this. If and when I make pizza at home, I will use this recipe. But I think I need to wrestle some of that Central Milling flour from Chef Pratt’s talented hands.
Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough
Yield: 4 10-inch pizzas
3 3/4 cups (17 1/2 ounces or 500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons (16 grams) fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups water (350 grams)
Cook’s notes: Don’t freeze the dough, but you can store it in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to three days. I used all-purpose Gold Medal flour, a product that I knew was readily available.
1. In medium bowl (I use the large bowl of my electric mixer because it is deep and has a handle) thoroughly blend flour, yeast and salt. Add water and, with a sturdy wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly (do not overwork it).
2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72 degrees) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.
3. Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them; for each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center; then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom. (The order doesn’t actually matter – what you want is four folds.) Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.
4. If you don’t intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered with a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.
Source: “My Pizza” by Jim Lahey (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)
To make the pizzas: During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven: Arrange rack in upper third of oven and place stone on rack; preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500- to 550-degrees for 1 hour. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on dry, floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10-inch disk.
For pizza stone “baking” in electric oven: When ready to bake, turn the preheated oven to broil. Sprinkle peel lightly with flour. (Author said to also lightly dust the pizza stone with flour at this point, but I found that I ended up with burned flour on the stone, so I don’t follow this direction.) Place dough on peel and top with desired toppings. Using small, quick back and forth motions, slide pizza from peel onto hot pizza stone. Broil pizza, cautiously rotating pizza half way through, until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, 5 to 7 minutes. Using peel, transfer to work surface to slice. Repeat, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 4 to 5 minutes between pizzas. (For gas ovens adjust oven rack 8-inches below broiler element rather than the recommended 4- to 5-inches for electric ovens.)
Lahey’s Margherita Pizza: I love the classic combination of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. Prepare sauce by draining one 28-ounce can of whole peeled plum tomatoes (such as San Marzano – I buy them at Albertson’s). Either break into very small pieces with hands or place in food processor and pulse 2-3 times (do not puree). Stir in 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. For one pizza, you will need about 1/4 cup sauce. Spread sauce on dough, leaving 1-inch rim around edge empty. Top sauce with 6 to 7 ounces fresh mozzarella (pulled into 10 to 12 clumps). Bake as directed and transfer to platter or board.
Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a pinch of sea salt. Add 6 fresh basil leaves.
But just to let you know, the homemade pasta as well as the pizza at Brick is delicious. Have a look at the orecchiette (house-made sausage with mushroom medley, flowering broccoli and Pecorino) and the pappardelle (slow-roasted veal ragu and Parmigiano).