Mellow Bakers: Pizza Pizza!

Another month, another group bake. This month the Mellow Bakers are working on pizzas, among other breads. I love pizza, well, I love pizza crust. But it is tough to find one that love. There’s a pizza place that’s been around for ages, Antonio’s Flying Pizza has, quite possibly, the best pizza in Houston. Hand-tossed, with a crisp, thin center and pillowy, chewy edges. They also have an awesome sauce and DO NOT overuse it. OHMY!

Well, thanks to Mr. Hamelman, I’ve found the 2nd best pizza crust. It’s on page 273 of his book Bread. I thought this was a good opportunity to have a few friends over and see what would happen when I tried my hand at pizza-making. Let me tell you, it went VERY well. I’ll walk you through it.

The dough starts off a day in advance with the fermentation of a biga. A biga is a pre-ferment. This produces organic acids which significantly contribute to the structure and development of the dough and, ultimately, the rise and flavor of the bread.

In this case, the biga needs to¬†develop for at least 12 hours, mine went for a little over 16. I have to confess, though, this biga was quite different from the ones I’ve made thus far. It actually freaked me out! First, it was a VERY tough dough, the pre-ferments I’ve done before were anywhere from runny to medium-stiffness. Second, it rose like gangbusters! Within 3 hours it had tripled in size. Previous ferments developed very slowly. To avoid what I thought might’ve ended up being over-development, I put it in the fridge overnight and removed it a couple of hours before I was ready to make the full dough.

Crisis averted, I began working on the final dough about 3-4 hours before my friends were to arrive. Per the formula (that’s what they call bread recipes, how very scientific!), the dough needed to rise for about 2-1/2 hours before baking. Friends were due at 8ish, I began the dough around 3ish.

I opted to half the baker’s recipe, so I ended up with 5lbs of completed dough, which was then divided into 13 balls weighing approximately 6.5 oz each to make small personal pizzas. The collage shows the steps necessary prior to adding toppings and baking.

The oven is preheated to its maximum, 550¬į in mine, with the baking stone/pan left in the oven so it is smoking hot before the pizza goes on. A fellow Mellow Baker indicated they used the back of a cast iron skillet. This was a genius suggestion because we only have a medium sized pizza stone, but I do have large cast iron grill. And that’s what I used to bake these babies. Sprinkled some semolina on the stone and grill, then slid the topped pizzas over top.

They baked for about 10-15 minutes and were perfectly delicious. Check’em out.

Cookingly yours,


Mellow Bakers: Rocking the bagel

I like bagels. I won’t say I love them, because it’s not that intense between us. I don’t eat a lot of bagels because I have a tough time finding bagels that balance chewiness with the necessary crust. But when the Mellow Bakers added bagels to April’s lineup, I knew I was gonna try them.


Yes, I’m behind on this submission. I’ve been busy traveling. The good news is, this is a relaxed baking group, hence the name, Mellow Bakers. I had to order things I’d never heard of such as diastatic malt powder and syrup. I also got some of that¬†coveted high gluten flour because I’m¬†pretending to be serious about this bread making business.

I started the dough yesterday and was immediately struck by¬†the scent of¬†yeast. I’ve decided it is one of my favorite smells now. Slightly sweet, with an underlying pungency. Filled with the promise of glorious bread. Yep, I’m digging the breading.

I followed most of Mr. Hamelman’s¬†instructions for the home batch, but added a bit more salt because I use sea salt¬†instead of the regular stuff and about 1-2 tbsps more water to keep the dough pliable. I also¬†allowed the dough to ferment a bit longer before shaping, an extra hour to be exact.

This is the first time I weighed dough before shaping. Hamelman suggested making each bagel with 4 ozs of dough, but I wanted mine just slightly smaller, so I weighed to 3ozs and ended up with 22 bagels.

When it came time to shape them, I tried both methods: rolling and poking.

Rolling and wrapping:   roll each piece of dough to about 6-8 inches long, then wrap it around the broadest part of your hand slightly overlapping the ends. Roll your hand back and forth on the counter to seal the ends together.

Poking: shape the dough pieces into tight balls, poke a hole in the center with your thumb. From the center gently pull until you have a nice size hole in the center.

Place the finished bagels on a sheet pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with plastic wrap, they’re now ready to be stashed in the fridge overnight or at least for 6 hours.

The next day when you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven. The book suggested taking it to 500¬įF, but I’ve noticed that when I¬†heat the oven that high, it browns my breads too quickly, so I went for 475¬į and¬†placed my baking stone on the first rack.

First step requires the bagels to be boiled. I added malt syrup  to a large stockpan filled with water and brought it to a boil. I used enough syrup to make the water look like strong tea. The idea behind this step is to reactivate the yeast since it has been refrigerated for a while. The other benefit of this step is to gelatinize the starch on the surface so you end up with beautifully chewy bagels.

I had the benefit of reading the comments from other bakers before I began my bagel process, so I learned from some of their challenges and took some precautions or made some changes. The first change was to pull the bagels out of the fridge and allow them to slowly come to room temperature. This wasn’t intentional, but I noticed that the bagels I boiled & baked last were a lot puffier than the first batch. Since I didn’t have a bagel board, I boiled & baked in batches of 5-7 bagels at a time.

Also, instead of leaving them in the water for  45 seconds as suggested in the book, I allowed them to stay in for a few minutes until *I* noticed that they were swelling. Then I removed from the water and placed them in an ice bath as instructed for 3 or 4 minutes. Transfer them to a baking sheet/stone that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.

The first batch I made was plain, no toppings. For the second batch, I followed the same steps: boiling, icing, draining, but before placing them on the stone press one side into a plate of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion flakes, or seeds of your choice, then put them on the stone or sheet pan.

The instructions were to put the¬†seeded side down and then flip the bagels halfway through baking. As a matter of fact, the instructions are to flip them regardless of topping or not. I didn’t like the way the looked after flipping, they seemed flat and distorted. I’m probably doing something wrong, but¬†I liked them best¬†left alone. I baked the topped ones with the topping on top and simply rotated the stone at 5 minute intervals. They baked for a total of 15 minutes or so.

In the end, the bagels were chewy and crusty, just the way I like them. On the last batch, I noticed that while boiling, some of the surface gets very thin–gelatinous and it can burst allowing water to hide inside. In those cases, the center was a bit doughy. I caught on the very last batch and made sure to drain that water out before putting the bagel on the stone.

I’m so glad I tried these. I’m a happy bagel camper and if you’d like to check out the bagels by some of my other mellow cohorts, follow this link to the bagel gallery.

Cookingly yours,