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Home Slice: Things I Learned from the Slice Out Hunger Pizza Party
"Any tips, observations, or things you'd change about your recipe, workflow, baking, serving, etc, to pass along after making eight or nine consecutive pies in a home oven for a crowd?" —jimmyg in the comments of "The Slice Out Hunger Pizza Party" post
You betcha, jimmyg. And here they are, after the jump...
First, some background if you missed yesterday's post. As a raffle prize for Scott Wiener's Slice Out Hunger fund-raiser, I volunteered to cater an in-home pizza party for 8. The winners, Monica and Omer, claimed their "prize," and I made pizza for them and 6 of their friends on Saturday night.
Talk to Your 'Clients'
It's funny to me to refer to Monica and Omer as my "clients," but essentially that's what they were. I wanted to make sure their needs were met. So the first thing I did after assessing their kitchen setup was talk about what they wanted to eat and more important, if they had any CANNOT EATS. You don't want to prep stuff that you won't end up using. This is pretty much a no-brainer.
Think of It as a Tasting Flight
You know how with a wine tasting or with a cheese plate, there's an order in which you want to sample the goods? With wines, it's going from the lighter selections to the fuller-bodied, more complex ones. Same with cheeses -- from the mild to the funky.
I'd say the same thing applies with pizza. Start with the basics—marinara pizza or Margherita pies—then build up to your showstoppers.
You don't want to bring out the big guns early and then back down to the basics afterward. You want to create a sense of progression.
At the same time, you don't want to save all the best for last, because you want to create some excitement early. In the future, I'll try to build up a bit with the basics, so folks can taste the crust (after all, I've gone through the trouble of the cold-ferment) and then pepper in the specialty pies throughout the tasting.
Get Your Mise En
The first time I read the phrase mise en place was in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and I have loved the term and its idea ever since. It's basically the notion of arranging all your shit so you can cook in the most efficient manner possible.
I thought Monica and Omer were sort of cute when they showed me their kitchen and made a bunch of noise about being worried it wasn't adequate enough for pizza-making.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. What I stepped into was a DREAM PIZZA KITCHEN. I don't know if they even realized what a great setup they had. It was a long U-shape kitchen whose entire back wall was COUNTER SPACE. I had ample acreage to arrange my toppings and assemble my dough containers back there. To the left of their oven was a nice 2-foot-square countertop that I commandeered for dough-stretching.
Anyway, even with this great space, it was important to arrange things just so. I put my most-used items near the dough-stretching area—the bench flour, bench scraper, shaker of semolina, sauce, and grated grana padano. This was the stuff that went into almost every pizza by default.
From there, I simply had to pivot 180 degrees to grab various toppings—the items that didn't necessarily go on every pizza. (For the fresh and regular mozzarellas and cheddar, I kept them as far from the oven as possible so they didn't get too warm and melty.)
Build Pies Early
One thing I like to do is get pizza out on the table BEFORE guests show up—or right as they're walking in. I think it's nice when attendees arrive to the smell of pizza. Think of how alluring the aroma of a pizzeria is. It's like that trick you see on those stupid home-flipper shows. You know, where the home-seller bakes cookies during an open house. The idea being that one of the most primal senses is the sense of smell.
Plus, some of the worst restaurant/catered-event experiences I've had have been when food lags. You want to give guests something to eat as soon as they arrive.
Luckily, Monica and Omer had taken care of snacks/appetizers, so that wasn't an issue. But still, I didn't want their guests to sit on their hands waiting for the main event.
One in the Oven, One on the Peel
I didn't get this down until the third pie, but you really want to get the first few pizzas out as fast as possible. If you're working with only one stone, as I was, that means you need to build a the next pizza as soon as the previous one goes in the oven.
In my experience, a home-oven pizza can take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes. Throw in an extra minute to do any post-bake toppings and cutting, and you're at 8 to 11 minutes from pie to pie. You want to get that window as narrow as possible.
Pay Attention to Your Guests' Pace
This is DUH for any good restaurant server, but it's important to emphasize. Like I said above, early on the guests are going to be hungry. And if there are 8 of them and you're only doing one pizza every 10 minutes or so, they're going to get a little restless at first. Because, heck, one slice of a smallish 12-inch pizza? What's that? Which all goes to my point above about getting pies out quickly.
But after a few pizzas and some appetizers, they'll start getting full. Then you can slow it down a bit to allow them time to digest and anticipate the next pizza.
It's funny, because when Slice Out Hunger organizer Scott Wiener showed up, we talked about this. He does Scott's Pizza Tours, of course. And we talked about how he has to pay attention to his own tour groups and sort of subtly manage their expectations at the beginning of a tour. You don't want the people gorging right away, because then how are they going to get through the rest of the itinerary?
Doughs Change in a Hot Kitchen
I did a 3-day cold-ferment with my doughs. I took them out of the fridge at 3:15pm for use by 6:15pm. I figured that would give them time to come to room temperature.
And they did. They were easily stretchable. But not as crazy airy and extensible as they got while sitting out for a couple hours in a hot kitchen. See that pizza at the very top? That's one of the last ones of the night. The edges got super puffy. I think in the future, I'd take the doughs out maybe 4 to 5 hours before I needed them.
Anyway, I probably can think of more stuff. And I'll add that in the comments if I do.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask away.