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Checking the oven temperature at my first 'away game' Pizza Night. I brought pizza tools and ingredients to my friend Justin's and made a tasting flight of four pizzas. [Photograph: Justin Baldwin]

It's a shame when you prep a batch of dough, cold-ferment it, and then don't get to use it. Thursday night is by tradition Pizza Night at our house, but we missed it last week, and it was looking like the four dough portions I had sitting in the fridge were facing the heap instead of the heat.

But then Girl Slice had a work thing on Friday so Date Night was canceled, and a friend who lives in the neighborhood texted unexpectedly, wanting to hang out. The stars aligned, and I was on my way to his place with a backpack full of pizza supplies and two bags full of pizza components and prepped ingredients — the itinerant pizzamaker, if you will.

I already knew what I wanted to make, and I also hit upon the notion of doing a "tasting flight" of pizza, going from the "lightest" pizza to the craziest one, much as you'd do at a wine tasting. Come along on this the virtual tasting.

Uncertain Playing Conditions

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Checking and turning the pizza. I was happy to commandeer the stool in my friend Justin's kitchen, using it all Paul Prudhomme-style. [Photograph: Justin Baldwin]

I hate the sports metaphor, but it works here. Cooking pizzas at someone else's place is like being the away team — you're going to have to adapt to someone else's (kitchen) stadium. To reduce variables and increase efficiency as much as possible, before heading over I made up a half batch of Pizza (a Casa) Sausage and quickly sautéed some button mushrooms with garlic and S&P. I already had four doughs left from a batch of seven I'd made earlier in the week. And I had about nine single-pizza portions of pizza sauce in the freezer. So I was in good shape to travel.

The only thing that cause a little concern was my friend Justin's oven. It indicated that it went up to 550°F, but it liked to cycle off well before hitting that mark. A little well-timed use of the broiler helped things out, though.

Recipes and Technique

For all pizzas:

  • Dough: Cook's Illustrated Thin-Crust Pizza, divided into 2 portions, as specified in the recipe
  • Sauce: Kenji Lopez-Alt's New York-style pizza sauce
  • Cheese: No-name pregrated Parmesan from Key Food; Sorrento part-skim mozzarella
  • Cooking method: 13-inch round FibraMent pizza stone placed on top rack, oven cranked to 550°F

Pizza No. 1: Plain

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Sauced and cheesed pretty much all the way out to the rim. [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Not a bad pizza. Pretty good, if I do say so myself. Justin was impressed with it and seemed to think my pizzas had improved since the days when we were roommates in college and I used to make them. (Not to toot my own horn, but they have. I didn't know shit back then.

But as good as the crust was, this was still fairly lackluster on the toppings and sort of boring. I warned Justin not too eat too much of it since we'd have three more pies coming.

What I learned: As exciting as making your own is, a plain pie can be pretty boring if you're not using a great cheese.

Pizza No. 2: Pepperoni and Hot Honey

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I had some leftover Salumeria Biellese pepperoni, which has a greater diameter than most common store-bought pepperoni.

I had about one pizza's worth of Salumeria Biellese pepperoni leftover from making heart-shaped pepperoni.*

And I'd been wanting to do a proper pepperoni and hot honey pizza since getting a bottle of Mike's Hot Honey. My idea of a "proper" hot honey pizza was one where you drizzled on the honey pre-oven. I can't do this at home because the wife does not like spicy stuff. So whenever I've used hot honey at home it has been as an add-on or condiment rather than an integral "topping."

"You know, when I was a kid I used to be all about the pepperoni," Justin said. "That, to me, was pizza. But as an adult, I just don't think it's that great."

Ding! Ding! Ding! Give that man a prize! That's a popular sentiment among many pizza fans (and in fact a lot of serious pizzerias have replaced it with hot soppressata).

If possible, this pizza was more boring than the plain one — if only because it was so in-your-face boring. The hot honey was great, though.

What I learned: The hot honey should go on post-bake. The heat of the oven seemed to destroy a lot of the sweetness of the product but left the spiciness. An extra hit of the stuff as we were eating seemed to do the trick in bringing back a fuller honey flavor.

Pizza No. 3: Sausage Pizza

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I liked the chunk size, but I think I'll put more sausage on next time.

Can I just say that the Pizza a Casa Spicy Salsiccia recipe that Mark Bello (of Pizza a Casa) shared with me is AWESOME?

This was the best pizza of the night, and the sausage is what made it. If I would have made four of these, we probably would have eaten all the pizza in one go. This is just some really amazing sausage.

I've always liked the idea of having a "signature pizza." And lately I've come up with THE BEST NAME for it — the Famous Original A. (Which is what I'd call my pizzeria were I to open one.) This sausage will be one of the components on whatever that pizza eventually is.

Pizza No. 4: 'The Parlor'

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Everything I think of when I think of the term 'pizza parlor.'

I have to admit, I did think this pizza was going to be "The Famous Original A," and I was even calling it that as I was making it and baking it. But then we tasted it.

First, I'll say that this is not a bad pizza by any means. In fact, it's inspired by something I like to call "Pizza Parlor Pizza". Topped with onion, green pepper, mushrooms, and sausage, this is basically the hearty, all-toppings-go pizza you often see in the Midwest (I'm thinking Milwaukee and Chicago) at places like Marco's or Maria's. And it's probably not limited to the Midwest. It's essentially a classic Middle American pie.

I'd been thinking about re-creating one after having had a Marco's take-out pizza in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. I was sure this would become my Famous Original A.

But you know what? That sausage is just too damn good. It outshone every topping on there and was like, "Get these other clowns off the stage so you can admire my performance all the better." (OK, now I'm mixing sports and arts metaphors.)

I'm beginning to think that the Famous Original A may just end up being my favorite toppings combo: (this) sausage and onion.

What I learned: Something I already knew, namely that sometimes too much is too much.

Concluding Thoughts

A lot of people get picky about having their kitchens just so and get flustered when their tools or mise-en-place are out of place. But I found it remarkably easy to make pizza in Justin's kitchen. Granted, I had already done much of the prep work at home, so I was basically only stretching and topping — activities that require only X amount of counter space.

But, I think I learned that if I ever wanted to amateur-cater someone a pizza party, I think I could do it pretty successfully given they had enough counter space. (Most people in the U.S. do; it's only us New Yorkers who have crazy-ass craptastic kitchens.)

This post is already getting long, so tomorrow I'll come atcha with a list of crap I dragged along to Justin's — a bare-bones "away game" kit.

* I actually didn't use Salumeria Biellese pepperoni for the heart-shaped pepperoni post. First, it's not available nationwide, and we try to do things that are replicable by people all over. Second, it has too much fat. The fat is hard to slice through with a cookie cutter and increases the chances that a pepperoni heart will tear.

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