Pizza Obsessives: David M. Cavanagh (aka 'dmcavanagh')

Pizza Obsessives

Slice interviews with folks who are mad about pizza.

20100427-dmcavanagh.jpgName: David M. Cavanagh
Location: Voorheesville, New York (suburb of Albany)

You're all over the comments here on Slice and in SE Talk, talking about making pizza at home. What recipes do you use? What types of pizzas do you make?

I make a thin, light pizza, a bit thinner than New York–style and a bit crisper. I have pretty much gone to sourdough crust exclusively, so any recipe I include can only be made with a sourdough starter. My starter has the consistency of a loose batter, so it is easy to work with. This won't be for everyone, but it's worth the effort.

Ah. I sense you're about to share the recipe, David. I'm going to politely divert you for now and come back to it at the end of this Q&A. First, we'd like to know .... did you trick out your oven at all? What's your rig like?

I have a Williams-Somona pizza stone, which I always preheat to 500°F for at least an hour before cooking. I will sometimes use a pizza screen, especially on my 18-inch pies.

How do your family and friends react?

My kids are pizza lovers; daughter Michelle is a white pizza lover, and my son, A. J., likes a plain cheese or an occasional buffalo chicken pizza with pepper jack cheese. Sometimes when friends come over I'll change it up and make calzones.

What type of pizza do you prefer?

I like a thin, crispy crust and traditional sauce and mozzarella finished with fresh basil as soon as it comes out of the oven. If I want a change of pace I'll usually go with smoked mozz (I smoke my own), roasted red peppers and sweet sausage or sopressata.

The Pizza Cognition Theory states that "the first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes ... becomes, for him, pizza." Do you remember your first slice? Where was it from, is the place still around, and if so, does it hold up? On that note, has your taste in pizza evolved over time?

The first pizza I can remember was New York–style from a place called Molly's in downtown Albany. It's long gone, but I still consider it the best pizza I ever ate.
What's your favorite topping or topping combination?

Favorite is probably just simple sauce, mozz and fresh basil. Roasted red peppers and sausage would be next favorite. I don't stray far from these.

Where do you go for pizza in your area? ... That is, if you go out for it at all.

Most of my pizza-eating is done at home, but if I go out, I like the Orchard Tavern in Albany, New York (68 N. Manning Boulevard, Albany NY 12206; map). They make a small square bready pizza, completely unlike my own, so it's a nice change of pace.

What's most important to you: crust, sauce, or cheese?

Crust is the foundation. If the crust isn't good, the pizza won't be good.

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

Well, you already know how I feel about "char," so the only other thing I'll say is that people should get over the hang-up about making their own dough. It's easy—flour, water, salt, and yeast. Learn what to do with them and anyone can make a great dough and enjoy pizza at home whenever the mood strikes.

What one thing should NEVER go on a pizza?

A salad. @dhorst, are you listening? :-)

Weirdest pizza you've ever eaten?

I don't eat weird pizzas, so I really can't think of one.

What's the farthest you've traveled for pizza?

Well, whenever I'm in NYC, I eat pizza, so I guess I'll say 150 miles because that's the distance to NYC.

Now is the time I get lazy and ask you to self-interrogate. So, if you have anything else you'd like to include, feel free to make up a question or questions to ask yourself. Or just riff ...

A note about starting a sourdough culture: Look up Debra Wink's "pineapple solution." [I'll look it up for the folks playing along at home: The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1 —The Mgmt.] All you need to know to easily start your own sourdough. I promise it's simple. Two great pizza resources are Peter Reinhart's books American Pie and The Bread Baker's Appretice and Jeff Varasano's NYC pizza dough recipe.

Thanks for being such a good sport, David. It's been fun. Now, what about that recipe you were going to give us?

dmcavanagh's Sourdough Pizza Dough Recipe

- makes dough for 2 extra-large, thin-crust pizzas -

  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) sourdough starter
  • 1 1/4 cup (285 grams) cool water (I use bottled spring water of tap water which has been filtered in a Brita pitcher)
  • 4 cups (480 grams) flour (bread or high gluten such as KA Sir Lancelot)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (12 grams) sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast (optional but very helpfull)

1. Bring all of ingredients together to form a rough dough, cover and let rest for 20 minutes.

2. Knead well. I use a KA mixer with dough hook and knead for 8-10 minutes. Be sure that the dough is being worked around the bowl, not stuck to hook. Dough should be soft and slightly sticky, but not wet.

3. Divide into 2 equal balls (app. 460 grams @)

4. Place in lightly oiled plastic containers, cover and leave at room temp for 30 minutes

5. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 to 4 days. Take out about 2 hours before you plan to make pizza.

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