As follow up to my recent post on a San Francisco restaurant in the restaurant portion of our forum, I would like to describe and ultimately replicate the pizza at A16 restaurant. While A16 is a full fledged, high end Italian restaurant in San Francisco, it is their pizza that I experienced and subsequently fell in love with. Beyond the wonderful experience of eating an A16 pizza, I also had an opportunity to study and learn from one of the finest pizzaolo's in America today. Christophe Hille is a world class chef as well as a Neapolitan pizzaolo who is certified by the Italian government. His understanding of pizza and how it is prepared is unparalleled by anyone whom I have ever had the opportunity to meet. I only wish the folks on this forum could have the opportunity that I just had at A16, as the free flow of ideas and questions was very special indeed.
In visiting with Christophe Hille, I learned that pizza has indeed become a culinary art form, albeit a very rare and unique one. Make no mistake, Christophe is the executive chef at A16 and his abilities, knowledge and skills go well beyond pizza making. But also make no mistake, that at his very core, he has an incredible passion for pizza making and pizza making is at the core of what A16 is all about. All of this is proof to the point that has been made on this forum time and time again - great pizza making is all about paying attention to detail, using the highest quality ingredients, and never wavering on producing the highest quality pizza product possible for customers, your family, or for yourself. Christophe Hille and A16 live up to this standard and, as we have discussed, this is very rare in the commercial pizza business today. That also explains the aggressive pricing on a 12 inch pizza at A16, but for folks like us, money is not a problem if it results in the highest quality pizza.
A16 has a great feature known as a 'chefs counter' where you can watch pizzas being made and watch certified pizzaiolo’s perform their craft. In addition, the chef’s counter allows you to interact with the pizzaiolo while he is making pizza, which is an invaluable exercise to say the least.
It’s getting late and I need to get some sleep. Before I do, I will provide some initial feedback on what I know about A16 pizza and then, with everyone’s help, I hope we can set out to successfully re-engineer an A16 pizza for the home pizza maker. While everyone at A16 was extremely helpful and talkative, they stopped short of sharing their exact recipe. This, no doubt, will be the greatest challenge in the re-engineering process. The good news is that they were very open with discussing their ingredients, techniques and procedures. We will need to fill in the blanks regarding the measurements for these ingredients.
Here is what I know about the A16 pizza:
• They use 100% Caputo “00” Flour (Pizzeria variety)
• Other ingredients include ADY, Water, Salt, and Olive Oil
• ADY and water are mixed first, then salt and oil are added and mixed, and then the flour is added gradually to complete the mixing process. It is a short mixing time after the flour is added and there is no autolyse
• After mixing, the dough is given a one hour room temperature rise. It is then pounded down and placed in the refrigerator for a TWO DAY cold rise. One of the pizzaolo’s stated that he thought 3 days works best. He said that I was lucky because, as a lunch customer, I was eating dough that was on its third day of refrigeration.
• The dough is pounded down atleast once during the refrigeration process. Perhaps someone can explain this to me, as most of my doughs do not rise much at all during refrigeration.
• After refrigeration, the dough is allowed to rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours
• At one point one of the pizzaolo’s said that the dough is always “proofed atleast 3 times before using.”
• No preferment is used in the dough
• While the pizzaolo stated that the hydration percentage was not very high, viewing the dough balls he was working with would speak to the opposite. They looked quite wet. He was reluctant to reveal exact hydration percentages during our visit and I didn’t want to be too pushy in this regard.
• Ample amounts of bench flour were used in forming the dough round. This was also probably to counteract the extreme wetness of the dough.
• The dough handled and shaped beautifully
• San Marzano DOP tomatoes were used for the sauce – nothing else (no additives)
• Fresh Mozzarella
• The end product was perfectly puffy and soft, yet crisp and chewy. I won’t bore folks with praise of this pizza, but it was the finest pizza I have eaten anywhere in my life, and that includes all of the great NYC pizzerias.
I will be ordering my Caputo flour tomorrow and can’t wait to get started on this project. I look forward to those who have worked with Caputo flour to participate and provide any insight, advice, or otherwise in this regard. This is so exciting because, for the first time, I feel like I have finally tasted and now know what AUTHENTIC NEAPOLITAN PIZZA is really all about (as opposed to NY style pizza). Perhaps there is somewhat of an American flare to this pizza, but its Neapolitan inspiration is unmistakable and truly delicious.