Posts Tagged ‘jim lahey’

Natural Yeast Pizza Bianca

     This Pizza Bianca is different from the 6-foot monsters made in Rome, Italy but tasty nonetheless. My staff and I ate the rest.

I promised to do a blog post about how to make pizza bianca and, I guess, this should be considered a “blomise.” After an earlier blog post on natural yeast, I’ve had alot of comments about the time it takes to obtain a strong enough levening agent to use in bread or pizza dough so… I’ve decided to combine the two.

 I have found that to raise a hearty strain of wild yeast as fast as possible from the environmnet without other contaminants takes about four to five days. Just use fruit and filtered water and wash your hands before handling either.

Maturation of a natural starter is a wait-and-see effort. But the starter is only the beginning. It can take up to 20 days of feeding for a strong, fragrant and relevant mother to take hold. (why 20 you idiot?? I can do it in…) When you take your time and don’t push things, your  starter will respond better.

 I bake hundreds of breads each week and, like kids at differing stages of development, these large plastic bins with goo made from my starters start to talk to me. Some scream for attention early,(i.e. they need a nice bake in the oven.) Others are more mellow and coast for a long period before displaying the fruity, aggressive gas and enzematic activity associated with a great pre-ferment. I’ve even screamed at my staff, “Who put the fruit juice in with this starter?” and, after finding out that it had naturally evolved into this wonderful floral goo, felt like a dad who watching his kid kick some ass at a wrestling match.

 I use a cold-maturation for my pre-ferments. This enables the yeasts to activate slower and I think, because I am using old grains like spelt, coaxes more flavor out of the whole grains. Thus, when I plan to bake, (which is every day.) I start a by feeding spelt and high protein flours to my pre-ferment that was made with the natural mother (10 pecent starter to 90 percent high gluten flour spelt and water. Then I feed twice a day for a week with the dough near the pizza ovens, (60-75 degrees.) I throw out or recycle 80 percent of the preferment and add another 80 percent flour and water, mixing with my hands. At this temp, the yeast is in it’s perfect environment to eat, eat, eat, then turn to an almost lifeless soup. After the week, I mix one more time and retard the pre ferment in my walk-in for a much needed rest for a few days.

For bake day, I take my pre ferment out for about five hours. My initial mix starts with the “Autolyse” method of mixing just the flour and water in a Stephan VCM (vertical-cutter-mixer… and yes, this is appalling to most “serious” bakers but…the hell with them- you gotta work with what you got!) I wait about 25 minutes to mix the yeast and salt in. This process greatly enhances the gluten net.

 I sometimes use a small amount of diastatic malt from Ohio’s Berry Farms and salt with a hydration of either 40 to 60 pecent depending upon what I am baking.  I also use a Pate’ Fermentee, or old dough to the mix. The little bit of malt helps with the overall taste and resulting crust as my dough retards in a cold environment for 12 to sometimes over 48 hours before baking. After this fast mix for up to three whole minutes, I bench the mix for a rest using the windowpane test

I hope you can learn some stuff from this but, just remember, I am just a pizza guy and baker who has pretty much learned by the seat of my pants, but if you want some books that are great, try Peter Reinharts “The Bread Bakers Apprentice” or “My Bread” by Jim Lahey, or “Tartine Bread.”

Just remember, you learn better from mistakes than from perfection and if you really mess things up, just lie and tell your guests its a “rustic” bread recipe from a lost Celtic tribe off the coast of Idaho. Just don’t blame me, I’m just a goon. Here’s a video of this pizza bianca with a killer topping.


Here is the recipe for the cilantro topping:

These were the Na’an that I attempted. The cilantro topping was great but the dough suc…errrr… didn’t quite meet my expectations.

2 Jalepeno’s

1 red ancho chili

5 cloves garlic

One bunch cilantro

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Place all in a blender, food processor or bowl with an immersion blender and blend together. Hold under refrigeration to let flavors meld for four hours or longer. Place on Pizza Bianca as shown in video

Jim Lahey’s Fabulous Pies at Co. Pane- New York City

“Vive la difference!” Want a breath of fresh pizza air-go to Co. Pane in New York City.

Last weekend, I dragged my wife south along the crowded streets of Manhatten to a destination that I had been waiting to visit for a few years now- Sullivan Street Bakery. We almost walked by the small storefront in Hells Kitchen that, (my baker-hero) Jim Lahey owns and operates and after opening the door we were rewarded with a face-to-face introduction with a beautiful long Pizza Bianca, Jim’s famous Pizza Potate, Pizza Funghi and a very fresh Pizza Pomodoro, not to mention the breads, OHHHHHH the breads!

My wife would have waylaid my idea to come down to Hells Kitchen if I hadn’t mentioned the fact that Jim Lahey is the “inceptor,” or “proprietor”, so to speak, of the “No Knead Bread Recipe.” Now, annoying as it is to me, it must be a thorn in Jims side to have this recipe referred to as “Frank Bruni’s no knead recipe.”  Dianne Rehm (on National Public Radio,) reffered to it this way whilst interviewing the guy who wrote that book about 52 loaves. The guy, who is not a professional baker, pompously blasted Mr. Lahey’s recipe as misguided. My wife did indeed follow Jim’s recipe to the letter and I have since enjoyed some of the best loaves I’ve ever had.

Now, back to Sullivan Street…I am somewhat egotistical about my Pizza Bianca prowess, AND I hate to admit when other bakers/pizza guys make something better than me. So, I’ll say it now, Sullivan Streets pizza bianca was the best I’ve ever tasted AND better than I’ve ever made. My wife fell in love with the potato pie and we wanted to spend the whole day there but move on we did after I bought a t-shirt.

After heading south, we  past a corner restuarant and my wife alerted me to the fact that it was a pizza place. “Oh my god Debra, it’s “Co.”, Jim Lahey’s pizza place.” So, after rolling her eyes and saying, “Here we go again…”,  we went in and had a great pie called the “Popeye” (fresh spinach, pecorino, gruyere, mozzarella, cracked black pepper and some bodacious garlic.) It was cooked to perfection- not the usual “You should only do pizza this way” perfection, but MY perfection- a perfect amalgam of toppings up to the edge of a light, airy and blistered crust. No pretentions, just a fabulous pizza made with the diner in mind, not just the pizza maker.


No, thats not an artsy attempt to show the “Popeye.” Black truffle oil damage, low light and sticky steam from a future blog entry about sorghum has killed my camera. This pizza rocked our world!

I was then lucky enough to get introduced to the staff and the chef at Co Pane. His name was Matthew Aita and he gladly let me film a pie being cooked. Jim must be doing something right because all the guys in his kitchen have been with him for years and hold the same amount of respect I have for this great guy. Most have graduated up from dishwasher to stalwart pizza guys. Matt was obviously dedicated to fulfill Mr. Lahey’s vision of making pizza that he had experienced in Italy and is determined, as he put it, to “Use the pizza as a landscape and use the toppings to dress it with flavor.” One thing struck me as telling about Matt was his admission that great pizza had “Become his obsession.” Now that’s a pizza guy that I like!

Here ya go with a fabulous Boscaiola pie with sausage, red onion, chili, mozzarella and mushroom made by guys who are making thier own rules, thinking outstide the pizza box and turning everyone on to some fabulous pies. Thank you everyone at Co., Matt Aita and Jim Lahey!