I've been reading these forums for years. I think it's about time I join!
My name is Matt. I am a chemical engineer by day, but pizza making has been a hobby of mine for a few years. I live in the Midland, Michigan area, but I originally am from the Pittsburgh PA area (I know Penn Mac very well - been there many times). Half of my heritage is German/Polish and the other half is Italian. My uncles on the Italian side owned and operated pizza shops in the Pittsburgh area from the time I was born until I was about 21. I grew up around it, but should have paid better attention to the process!! I just loved eating it!
I've had all sorts of pizzas in my life (from NY street pizza to New Haven pizza, VPN, etc etc) and their style was truly unique - but I would most closely describe it as mostly NY style street pizza (although on their menu they called it Neapolitan). They also made an amazing Sicilian style that I very much miss. Anyway, that is what got me started in this hobby. The desire to be reunited with the flavors of my Uncles pizza shops. Others may prefer other styles of pizza, but this is 'in my blood' - from the earliest age - that's what I knew pizza to be. Unfortunately my Uncles since moved on to other careers (they burned out from running Pizza shops) and I don't get to see them very often. I've tried and tried to clone this style of pizza, but haven't quite been able to (as I said, I wish I would have paid better attention in my youth). The quest continues. But, I'm pretty pleased with what I've done so far (I'll post pics sometime). I hosted my whole work group and many friends for pizza parties, and they all say it's the best pizza they've had, so I must be doing something right.
When I started this journey back in 2008, I came across Jeff Varasano's recipe and that taught me some essentials that enabled me to formulate dough that can cook directly on a stone at high heat, as well as many other things. This, combined with the info I got from my Uncles provided a good starting place. I knew that they used high gluten flour, cake yeast, Escalon Bonta sauce, and Grande cheese. I learned from Jeff the benefits of using a culture, as well as good quality tomatoes instead of a prepared sauce, and fresh mozz. Anyway, I've tried a little bit of everything, and have yet to really find what I'm looking for (queue U2 song). One critical thing I found on these forums was the Little Black Egg. I've made my own version of that, and have been using it will some success. I remain frustrated by the shortcomings on cooking the top of the pizza though, and don't wish to play around with our home oven to get high heat, so I feel a little stuck in that department.
Things I hope to learn next:
- Solving the mystery of how my Uncles dough ended up with the texture and flavor it had. I'm suspecting the dough workflow, kneading technique is the main thing, but also questioning the flour they used (they used Pillsbury high gluten - Balancer I suspect, but not sure). Their pizza crust was exactly how you want NY style to be - nice crunch on the outside, cornice with good spring, soft and chewy in the middle. Mine ends up being more effort to chew than it should be. So I'm suspecting over-kneading, but I need to make sure the dough is kneaded enough to be extensible and not tear, and generally handle well.
- Looking for ideas on my next oven! I'm ready to move on from the LBE, but don't have much $$ to spend on it right now
- I'm using 6-in-1 and generally pretty happy, but I would love to find a similar product that uses DOP Ground San Marzano and is a mostly deseeded. I've used whole peeled DOP San Marzanos, but I abhor the tedious the deseeding process.
- I'm totally dissatisfied with Grande cheese. I think it's gone downhill (so has Escalon IMO) I just don't know why everyone likes it. It has no flavor. I actually enjoy the kind of cheese you get on Aldi's take and bake more. LoL. (depends on what I'm in the mood for). My favorite cheese on my pizzas so far has been the BelGioioso fresh mozzarella from the grocery store. So I'm intereseted in trying other fresh mozz's as well as better alternatives to dry aged mozz (than Grande)
- Last thing and I'll end this tome. Sausage! Where in the world can a guy get that thinly sliced- almost shaved sausage that has so much flavor. My uncles used it and my local favorite shop here uses it. I'm tired of Jimmy Dean crumbles.
On a personal note, I'm in my early thirties and married to a wonderful woman with a boy and a girl.
Looking forward to getting to know you all and learning from you. Honestly the amount of knowledge on this forum is jaw-dropping and a little bit overwhelming at times. I have to walk away because I start to get brain-pain. :-)