0 Cart
Added to Cart
    You have items in your cart
    You have 1 item in your cart
    Total
    Check Out Continue Shopping

    Poco Pizza Blog

    Cooking Our Pizzas

    Cooking Our Pizzas

    Cooking Poco Pizzas

    After starting this business, I learned one thing really quickly...

    No two ovens are alike.

    Moreover, I don't think any two of you have ever cooked a pizza the same way. There are apparently a million ways to bake a frozen pizza, and you've all developed your own style. But you were taught by 'Big Pizza'. The mass-produced frozen pizza producers, who I still have a fond place for in my heart after I've had a couple beers, have spent decades training you how to make their pizzas. Directly on the oven rack, middle of the oven, and you're in front of the television munching away in under 15 minutes. This kind of ingenuity makes you downright proud to be an American. 

    But let's cut right to it. Those frozen pizza crusts were developed in a laboratory. Read the ingredients list. It's incredible. They were engineered to be so crisp you could soak them in water and they'd still have a decent crunch to them. And if you're ok with eating the chemical compounds that make that possible, then I'm ok with it, too. I still grab a Jack's Pizza from the store once in a while, because it's the same as how I love truly authentic Mexican food, but sometimes I just really want Taco Bell. 

    My pizzas are different. Here's how:

    Pizza Weight

    My pizzas are all 12 inches, and weigh roughly 2lbs, give or take a few ounces. I did have a 4lb Meatball Pizza once because I got seriously carried away. The average frozen pizza sold in the United States is around 1lb. They're also mostly an 11" pizza, and I have no idea why people aren't up in arms over this travesty. I could go lighter on the toppings, but I'm making pizzas with the best, home-grown ingredients I can, so my pride tends to give me a heavy hand with the toppings. 

    Thin Crusts

    My thin crust is custom made for us by Baker's Quality Pizza Crusts in Waukesha, WI. It's a clean label with no weird stuff. Just good, wholesome food. There are no odd chemical crisping agents or stuff you can't pronounce. Sometimes when I overload these, the crust doesn't crisp up as much. I could go lighter on the toppings but most customers have commented that they like the size.

    Wood Fired Crusts

    My wood fired Italian crusts are hand made in Modena, Italy. They are wonderfully inconsistent--each one is like a snow flake. They each have different bursts and bubbles, shapes, and thicknesses. Made with just 5 ingredients: Flour, Water, Oil, Salt, and Yeast. They are wood fired in an large oak oven and are a genuine taste of the best of Italy. This is the only non-local item on my menu, but it's truly the best. These crusts aren't made to be crispy. They are made to be soft and eaten with a fork as they do in Italy, though most of you have learned you can crisp them up more on your own if that's your preference.

    COOKING TIPS

    • For those of you who just skimmed the upper paragraphs and started reading here, go back and read that stuff. I'm on to you.

    • Cook the pizza in a pizza oven or preferably on a Pizzazz Pizza Oven. I only use the Pizzazz, because you can choose to crisp up the crust more, or cook the toppings more. I am a pizza peeker, so with opening the door ever 5 minutes it's like my pizzas never get done in the oven. And on the Pizzazz you can pull a chair up and watch the whole time! They take a little longer, but you just can't go wrong. It works for so much more than pizza. And for those of you who "Don't need one more thing cluttering up the kitchen"... I'm rolling my eyes at you. Box up the blender, waffle iron, food processor and anything else you use maybe once a year, and replace them with this magical machine you will use every week. I'm not being payed by the Pizzazz people. I just love this pizza oven so much.

    • If cooking in an oven, make sure 425º is really 425º in your oven. If you've never calibrated your oven since installing it, do it. Test it at a 200º, 350º, and 500º. I've noticed a lot of folks have a stable 350º oven but it doesn't actually get hot enough in the upper ranges.

    • Cook the pizzas on the lower rack, closer to the heat source. This will crisp up the crust and let the cheese brown last. As mentioned above, the pizzas are a bit overloaded. So setting the pizza directly on a simple sheet of foil will prevent that awful 'drip-sizzle' thing we hate hearing coming from our ovens.

    • Always cook the Wood Fired Italian Crust pizzas directly on a sheet of foil. As mentioned above, they are hand made, artisanal crusts. You've lived a life with beautifully consistent food products. Which is great. But the magic in these is that they're hand made. Some can have paper thin spots in the middle. I typically feed those that are too thin to my pigs, but some sneak through. So a sheet of foil, lower rack.

    • If you are an oven peeker, go ahead and add 5-10 minutes to your cook time from the beginning. Once a door is open, you've stopped the cooking process and it can take a couple minutes for your oven to bounce back. Even if your oven temp comes back in a minute, the cooking process takes longer to pick up where it left off. I'm also guilty of this in the worst way. I get so excited watching stuff cook.

    • If you're cooking a couple at one time, put them both on their own sheet of foil. One pizza on the upper rack, one on the lower. When the top pizza looks done, swap places with the bottom pizza so that the crust can finish cooking. I get it. The commercial, mass produced pizzas don't require this kind of care. So it is an extra step, but it's necessary.

    • Don't cook the pizzas on a pan. The pans take longer to heat up than a sheet of foil. A frozen pizza on a cool pan can cause my more substantial pizzas to stick, it also creates this steaming thing for the first couple minutes which makes crust crispness impossible. The foil is a better heat conductor.

    • If using a pizza stone, make sure it's very well preheated, and a very well seasoned stone. There is nothing worse than a new, clean pizza stone. Your stone with a lot of use should be essentially non-stick. With a lot of items having been cooked on and baked off over the years. 
    Hopefully this helps those of you who have asked if there's a better way to cook my pizzas. I want you to love Poco Pizza, and I will always do whatever it takes to make sure you can taste and appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into crafting each one. If you ever have a problem not mentioned here, please send me an email to shawn@pocopizza.com.

       

      Pizza Sauce and Sugar

      Pizza Sauce and Sugar

      You know that delicious garlic butter goo that you get with a Papa Johns' pizza??

      Here. Watch this lovely review from a man who is clearly my British brother to refresh your memory about how damn delicious this "butter" sauce is...

      So did you know it's not butter? It's actually just little homemade blend of soybean oil, water, salt, vegetable mono & diglycerides, garlic flavor, natural flavor, soy lecithin, lactic acid, sodium benozate, calcium disodium EDTA, citric acid, beta carotene, and a dash of vitamin A palmitate. 

      If you're like me, when you're stuffing it down your gullet you just don't care.

      That sh*t is delicious and my body craves it to the point that I was told once that while under the influence of a beer I drank two of these cups. I'm not proud.

      Most of the food we LOVE these days isn't actually food. And it sure as hell isn't made in a kitchen. It's designed in a lab by scientists, not cooks, with one goal. To make our bodies feel like this while we're eating it: 

      Even though an hour later, you, your grumbly tummy, and your toilet know that you were fooled. It's like the food scientists planned exactly how much time you need to get home to your bathroom.

       

      Every day we're tricked into falling in love with the foods that hurt our bodies. I still fall for it. I'm writing this while sipping on a Diet Pepsi and eating Ruffles. The addictions these folks have been able to create around food are hurting us and our kids, and they're harder to quit than smoking. Trust me.

      Which brings me to my point!

      Pizza Sauce and Sugar

      You may recall that when I was working on my line of frozen pizzas I taste tested over 200 pizzas in about 60 days. I need a gym so bad it's not funny.

      I wanted my pizza to be as local and as natural as possible. But I also wanted to limit or eliminate all the unnecessary crap so many other companies add to their food. After all, I'm a cook who works in the garden, not a scientist who works in a lab.

      It starts with the best tomato

      I wanted to develop a pizza sauce that fit into our 'Poco' brand. I didn't want to mess with the tomato flavor. I wanted it to taste like the crushed tomatoes from Italy.

      I couldn't cook it down into the paste we're used to here in Wisconsin. And I couldn't add a bunch of sugar to make our bodies crave it like they do everywhere else. 

      What I ended up with was a pure tomato flavor that respects the fruit itself. It won't be everyone's cup of tea. Like I said, that sugar addiction is one hell of a beast to kick...

      Our tomatoes are picked only when they're fully ripe, because they have the highest concentration of natural sugars then. Just as important, we only use tomatoes with the peel still on.

      Why? Because I want fresh tomato flavor even in the dead of winter. That fresh flavor, in all tomatoes, is concentrated most heavily in that soft, super-thin layer just beneath the skin, called the "tomato velvet." When a tomato is peeled that flavor is peeled away, too, and what's left is something that needs sugar to make it taste good again.

      Peeled Tomato

      When we make tomato juice here on the farm, our pigs get the leftover skins from many bushels of home-grown tomatoes. They fight each other for them because I've learned over the years that pigs know what's good.

      Our Sauce Is Simple

      We use whole crushed tomatoes, we add a little garlic, a little salt, and oregano. And that's it. We don't want it to be a secret. We don't cook it down into a paste. WE DON'T ADD SUGAR. If you feel like you're missing something when you taste it, you're missing sugar. 

      But if you want something that is pure, and clean, and wholesome, then we've got just the thing!

       

       

       

      Why Italian Pizza Crust Tastes So Damn Good

      Why Italian Pizza Crust Tastes So Damn Good

      First, let me say one thing...

      Wisconsin cheese is better than Italian cheese.

      You heard me.

      And I can say with confidence that my garden-fresh toppings, my meats (mmm sausage), and my tomatoes are as good or better than any I had in Italy. But for all that is holy in this world, I had a heck of a time finding an Italian-style crust made in the U.S. that could compete with Italy. Which you heard about here.

       I wanted to know why.

      Flour Power

      It all comes down to the ingredients; specifically flour.

      The composition of wheat grown in Italy is different from much of the wheat grown in the U.S. because their soil is different. The mountainous limestone regions have fostered a more alkaline soil for the soft wheat varieties. The U.S. tends to grow a hard red wheat with a higher protein content, while Italy grows the soft wheat types. But not all Italian flours are low in protein.

      In Italy, flour is graded by how finely it’s ground and how much of the wheat bran and germ have been removed. “00” is the most finely ground and refined. It’s a velvety powder with varying levels of protein, but generally it’s middle of the road around 12.5% protein.

      The refinement of soft wheat 00 flour removes trace shards of the wheat bran. In pizza dough, bran in flour can tear the strands of gluten which destroys elasticity. And in the pizza world we require elasticity like a pregnant woman shopping for maternity pants.

      In Wisconsin, and most of the US, we grade our flours on protein content. More protein = more gluten. Bread flour has around 15-16% protein, and cake flour has about 8%.

      Germany and France grade their flour by ash content. This has no relevance here, but if you’re actually reading this you’re probably the type of person who’d find that interesting.

      Why Italian Pizza Crust Tastes So Damn Good

      The superfine texture of 00 flour, combined with the mid-level protein content, creates the ideal environment for a pizza crust that is toothsome, crisp, tender, and able to produce the bubbles and delicious blisters common with wood-fired pizza

      Because of the extreme fineness of the Italian 00 flour, it doesn’t require as much water to begin kneading. And because of the decent amount of protein it doesn’t take long to create the gluten structure required for that characteristic Italian crust.

      You need a decent amount of protein so that when kneaded, the proteins bind to one another making this interconnected web of gluten. A little salt, oil, and yeast work with this web to create a flavor and aroma that we just can’t beat.

      Some small millers throughout the U.S. are attempting to produce their own ultra-fine pizza flours. Eventually someone here will figure it out. What a wonderful day that will be.

      - Shawn

      My hunt for the perfect pizza crust

      My hunt for the perfect pizza crust

      I’m so full right now

      In the past 60 days I’ve had to taste test over 200 pizzas to get my recipes right (there are worse jobs). I discovered it’s true what they say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s good. But I wanted mine to be great, and to follow a few rules, so it took some time. My crusts and toppings have to be as local as possible, and more than anything, this little project has to be about connecting real food, grown by real people, with customers who want something better.

      My first problem was the crust. I hated every one I tried. The bar is set pretty low when it comes to thin pizza crust. They were either too doughy, or so thin they’d get soggy, and they all came in one flavor. Cardboard.

      Finally I found an ultra thin crust made by Quaker Bakery in Appleton. It was crisp but held up to my heavy toppings. It didn’t get soggy while I was making my pizzas, and it tasted rich, satisfying, and buttery when baked. Winner winner!

      However, I still wanted to find a crust that had only 5 ingredients and tasted like the pizza in Italy.

       My First Pizza in ItalyI had every intention of taking a picture of my first pizza in Italy. I don't know what happened. It was all a blur. I did better the rest of the trip...

      Santa Margherita Italy PizzaParma Italy Pizza

      Pizza in Italy vs Pizza in the US

      Italians do things differently when it comes to their most famous export. Less is more. Poco preparation. The crust is king. It is given the most care, and generally cooked in a blazing wood-fired oven. Italian pizzas have very little cheese compared to those stateside, the sauce is usually just crushed tomatoes. The real key, though, is that the toppings aren't fussed with; left alone to co-star with that crust. 

      Don’t get me wrong, when I’ve been drinking I want foods that are designed in laboratories to trick me into eating every crumb. Doritos, Mountain Dew, Tombstone, Jacks, Bagel Bites, Totino’s Pizza Rolls! I love it all. But I eat pizza sober, too. And I'm an adult. So after getting a taste of how unfathomably delicious the real stuff is, I was on the hunt for a local crust with real Italian flavor.

      How most frozen pizzas are made in the U.S. - Start video around 1:35 to get to the good stuff.

      Real Italian Pizza Crust In Wisconsin

      I finally found the perfect Italian crust!

      In Italy. :-|

      It broke my rule. It’s not locally made, and it doesn’t support local farmers the way my other local ingredients do. So to offset this fact, my Italian Crust pizzas are almost exclusively topped with ingredients from our farm, or nearby organic farms.

       Wood Fired Italian Crust Poco PizzaOur Wood-Fired Frozen Pizza Crust. Naked. With all it's beautiful bumps and blisters.

       

      Each of my Italian crusts is hand made in Modena Italy, put in an 800 degree oak-fired stone oven and par baked, then flash frozen and shipped to me. It tastes like Italy. It’s not cheap. But it’s the best there is.

      It’s just 5 ingredients: soft 00 flour, water, olive oil, salt, and yeast. It has the essence and character of every pizza I ate in Italy; irregular bubbles and blisters and charred spots from the oak fire. The essence of the smoke is there in every bite. It’s crisp but tender. I couldn’t be more happy with it. And it’s not doughy, like eating a loaf of bread. It’s still thin and almost the same weight as our die-cut thin crust.

      I ate 200 pizzas to settle on a crust. I hope you’ll give our Italian Crust Frozen Pizzas a try.

      - Shawn
      shawn@pocopizza.com

       

      I put together my findings on Why Italian Pizza Crust Tastes So Damn Good. If you’re into it, feel free to take a look!