Pizza. A food that can be oh-so-amazing or can go horribly wrong. Soggy dough, rubbery cheese, dripping in grease; these are just some of the things that can go awry. (Sorry, New Yorkers. Not really...) But with a few tools, some technique and know-how, you can be whipping up pizza that is better than most take-out.
The hardest thing to replicate is the intense, dry heat of a wood-fired oven. A pizza stone will provide a decent facsimile. It will heat up, hold the heat and help pull moisture from the crust while cooking. The main issues with pizza stones are that they only get as hot as your oven, which is about 400 degrees cooler than a wood-fired oven gets. And the other problem is that most pizza stones tend to crack after some usage if you are not careful.
We have solutions to both these problems!
The main reason they crack is that most pizza stones are made of coarse terra cotta, which is great for pulling moisture from the dough, but is also great for absorbing oils. When oil is absorbed into the clay, it expands at a different rate than the clay does during pre-heating, thus creating stress fractures in the stone. After doing this a few times, the stone will crack.
The solution? A better stone. Emile Henry makes our favorite pizza stone because it is glazed, yet still able to pull moisture out of the dough due to the crazing effect. Crazing is name for the small cracks that appear in the glaze. They won't affect the ceramic underneath, but will help increase the amount of moisture the stone can take in. So the more you use it, the better it gets! The 12 and 14 inch round stones even have ridges that lift the pizza up and help create air-flow underneath and more room for moisture to escape. These also have a raised lip on the rear of the stone to prevent overshooting it and causing a pizza disaster! They also come in a rectangular option for you non-conformists/pizza rebels.
As for the temperature issue, take your Emile Henry stone outside and use it in a Big Green Egg. The egg can get up to 900 degrees, and with ceramic walls and directional heat it makes an amazing pizza! If you want to use your Big Green Egg or regular grill for pizzas, we highly recommend the Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas Cookbook.
Now that we have the where and how to cook your pizza figured out, let's talk about the pizza itself.
Since it’s the base the pizza is built on, you should not give the crust short shrift. If the crust has no flavor, the whole pizza will taste flat. (See what we did there?)
Like most simple things, the ingredients are key. David, from our Half Moon Bay store, frequently makes pizza at home. He insists on using Italian Doppio Zero flour in place of the all-purpose flour prescribed in most recipes. Doppio Zero (or “double zero”) flour is very finely milled, and is the flour that by law has to be used in Naples to make pizza dough. This is his favorite recipe for dough, here.
A traditional tomato sauce is a great thing, a nice blend of sweet, acidic and herby flavors to counter the yeastiness of the crust and the mellow cheese. You could make your own, but if you make the dough ahead of time for quick weeknight meals, we suggest having some tasty but shelf stable sauces on hand, such as the Pomi Pizza Sauce. If you want to season it your own way, try the Contadina Passato di Pomodoro which is just tomatoes put through a food mill and a bit looser in texture than the Pomi Pizza Sauce. You can cook it down a little if you want, or leave it as is for a different experience.
Speaking of different experiences, why stop there? Other options that make a great sauce are pesto with goat cheese, mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes; vinaigrettes, like an Italian herb and shallot vinaigrette with cheddar cheese and broccoli florets and even sweeter jams or compotes, especially when paired with sharp cheeses or salty meats.
Don’t go too crazy when adding toppings; just a few good things spread evenly over the pie, but not piled on. Remember, you gotta get this thing in the oven and you don’t want stuff rolling off all over the oven and burning! Leave about a ½” clearance to the edge of the crust.
For grating your cheese we recommend the Cuisipro graters. They have a laser-etched and grooved surface, resulting in very little drag especially when doing semi-soft cheeses like cheddar or mozzarella. Grating block cheese is better for pizza, as the anti-caking agents in pre-shredded cheese packaging can affect the flavor and texture.
When using a pizza stone, you will need a peel to get it onto and off of the hot stone. Our favorite is the Epicurean pizza peel from the same people that make our favorite cutting boards. The thing we love about it is that you can cut on it without gouging it like wooden peels, and when you make a bunch of pizzas for friends and family, you KNOW you’re going to run out of cutting board space!
Once your dough is rolled out, lightly flour the peel and place the dough on it. Give the peel a little shake to make sure the dough slides, loosening it in spots where it doesn’t if needed. Top the pizza as desired. Give the peel another little shake to make sure the pizza still moves now that it is topped. Get the edge of the dough as close to the lip of the peel as possible. Open the (preheated) oven, and place the front of the peel just above the back of the hot stone. Holding the peel at a very slight angle, give it 2 or 3 little shakes to get the edge of the pizza onto the stone. When about a third of the pizza is on the stone, give the peel a good yank to get the rest of the pizza on the stone.
Use the peel during cooking to lift up the crust and check for doneness. When cooked to your liking, use the peel to get the pizza out of the oven. Let it rest for a couple of minutes and then cut. We like the Cuisipro pizza cutter for its ergonomic design, which allows you to get your hand over it giving you more leverage, as well as its easy-to-clean removable wheel. For something a little different, we suggest the Epicurean Pizza Cutter for quick and easy slicing of pizza and quesadillas. A quick rocking motion is all you need….
When you try out a new pizza joint (for those times you don’t make it at home!) try the plain old cheese pizza. That gives you a chance to see what they put into the simple stuff: The crust, the sauce and the quality of the cheese they use. If they don’t get these right, chances are the rest of the pizzas won’t stack up either.
All demos are open to the public and free of charge.
Toque Blanche - Half Moon Bay
Toque Blanche - Santa Cruz
October 29th, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.
October 29th, 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
We just received some great news: The Gourmet Retailer Magazine announced today that it has named Toque Blanche / Chefworks Kitchenware Retailer of the Year and the U.S. Global Innovator Award (gia) winner! This is the biggest award in our industry so we are very excited.
I want to thank you, our loyal customers, for your on-going support and encouragement; without you there is no store. And of course the talented management team and staff at both stores who work so hard every day to make shopping (and cooking) more fun and worthwhile.
This is what they said in their announcement:
The Gourmet Retailer, a co-sponsor of the U.S. gia for independent kitchenware retailers, selected Toque Blanche/Chefworks as the U.S. winner after soliciting and reviewing nominations from the industry.
“The Gourmet Retailer was not only impressed with Charles Nelson and his team’s ability to create a memorable shopping experience with compelling merchandise displays that inform and inspire, but also with the stores’ joint online presence and site’s mobile functionality,” says Anna Wolfe, editor-in-chief of The Gourmet Retailer.
In addition to its stellar stores that are staffed with knowledgeable and enthusiastic employees, Toque Blanche/Chefworks stores are active in their communities and support fundraisers that support public education. Other community outreach includes sponsoring the Half Moon Bay Farmers Market and HEAL, a school gardening program that promotes healthy eating in schools.
While other retailers are looking to establish an online storefront, Toque Blanche has sold online since its inception in 2006. Earlier this year, mytoque.com, which is the site for both stores, was redesigned so that it is easier to view and navigate on mobile devices.
The International Home + Housewares Show (IH+HS) and International Housewares Association (IHA), primary sponsors of gia, will recognize Toque Blanche/Chefworks and housewares retailers from more than 20 countries at the 17th annual gia awards in Chicago on March 18.
Toque Blanche/Chefworks will be profiled in the February/March 2017 issue of The Gourmet Retailer magazine.
Chefworks is now known as Toque Blanche, just like its sister store in Half Moon Bay.
As you may already know, a toque blanche is the white pleated hat that a chef wears. The name was chosen to emphasize that the store exists to serve the needs of cooks—the home chefs as well as the professional ones.
Some background about the stores: Toque Blanche in Half Moon Bay was opened by Charles Nelson in 2006. In 2013, he purchased Chefworks in Santa Cruz from the original owner. Although each store is distinct, they share the same drive to find and stock the best cookware and accessories. And the management and staff at both stores are all enthusiastic home chefs.
We look forward to continuing to serve you under our new name.
The next Toque Blanche Cooking class will be held Thursday, January 26th, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in the beautiful courtyard at La Piazza in Half Moon Bay. Cost is $36 ($60 for two). Bring one child under 16 free! Wine pairing is optional and can be purchased separately. Sign up here
Toque Blanche cooking classes are prepared by Stuart Cristol-Deman with assistance from Toque Blanche staff. Includes a 4-Course meal cooking demonstration and small servings of each course. Wine pairing is optional and can be purchased separately, here.
Have a Question? Call (800) 936-1055 10am - 6pm PST or email us 24 hours a day
Buying local and shopping small are important values to you, our customers. They’re important values for us as buyers, too. Yes, we seek out items from all over the world, but we are very proud to carry many wonderful, locally-made items, too. “Buy local” is most evident in our food section, since there are so many talented people making tasty things with the bounty of produce in Northern California.
Toque Blanche’s Stuart has been working with Albert Katz for almost twenty years. Katz’s award-winning olive oils, vinegars and honeys have been a constant staple at Toque Blanche since it opened. Katz’s Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and Gravenstein Apple Cider Vinegar are still some of our best selling items. Albert’s olive groves and his vinegar house (a converted carriage house!) are located in the Suisun Valley, just northeast of Napa.
For something a little different in the vinegar realm try Kokomo’s Verjus or Sonoma Valley Portworks’ Sonomic “Almost Vinegar.”
Verjus is the juice of green (as in not quite ripe) wine grapes. Not as acidic as vinegar or lemon juice but tarter than wine, Verjus is great in sauces for delicate items such as white fish, or in salads where you want the ingredients to really shine through. Kokomo Verjus is from a winery in the Dry Creek area of Healdsburg.
Sonomic is similar to an aged balsamic, but with the added benefits of being lead-free and a lot less expensive! Made in Petaluma by a company that makes Ports (Which Toque Blanche also carries), Sonomic is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. Thick, sweet and slightly acidic, it’s perfect on a Caprese Salad, drizzled over roasted veggies or a grilled steak topped with blue cheese.
The other half of our Mutual Admiration Society (they LOVE Chamba!), Rancho Gordo Beans are a revelation. With flavor and texture, these heirloom variety beans from Napa and the Sacramento Delta have an almost cult-like following, and many of the Coastside and Peninsula adherents come to us for their fix. Since these are an heirloom agricultural product, sometimes they run out of certain varieties. We just look at this as an excuse to try something new. Our current favorite (with plenty of stock!) is the Domingo Rojo, a red skinned bean that works in almost any application, from the famous Red Beans and Rice to inside a burrito or just on their own. The pot liquor from these beans could be bottled and sold separately!
More fun stuff from Napa! These tasty compotes are made to pair with cheese on a cheese plate, but that doesn’t stop us from cooking with them. An omelet with their Dried Apricot & Shallot Compote and Goat Cheese is a great breakfast!
Hailing from Emeryville, Inna Jam uses only heirloom varieties of fruit grown within one hundred miles of their kitchen to make incredible jams and shrubs, a blend of fruit juice, sugar and vinegar used in cocktails or with sparkling water. Her jams are made with just enough sugar and pectin to hold together, but the true tasted of the fruit is what shines through and the reason this local gem has garnered national attention.
Also from Emeryville, and one of our newest finds, Cornology flavored popcorn is non-GMO and incredibly addictive! The Truffle – Parmesan or the Logeman Dark Caramel are our favorites depending on the day. If you can’t decide between sweet or savory, you can always try the Chicago Mix of Cheddar and Caramel.
If it is heat you’re looking for, look no further than this local hot sauce from the Palo Alto fire station, available in just plain hot, or Habanero. Firefighters are standing by… Plus, all proceeds go to the Palo Alto Firefighters Charitable Fund.
Something not quite so hot, but with a kick, these incredibly balanced mustards from My Kind of Mustard have quickly become a customer and staff favorite. From the sweeter beer or garlic mustards to the just-perfectly-hot-enough 3-peppers mustard, these condiments will elevate your creation whether it’s a simple sandwich or something more elaborate.
Phil Bava pays tribute to his Genovese roots in Escalon by making a fruitier, smoother olive oil than is usually made in California. Bava Olive Oil is great drizzled over fish or of course used in the Genovese classic, pesto.
Working in Belmont and San Francisco respectively, these chocolatiers create amazing confections. They can both be found right by the register. Why? Because we’re evil that way.
Not cloyingly sweet and with great flavor, this local Coastside honey is at home on your granola, yogurt with fruit, toast with ricotta or in your tea. Also available in a very limited dark honey while supplies last, this aptly titled “Dark Side of the Moon” is rich, earthy and treacle like. Avalable at Toque Blanche.
Available in Wildflower, Sage, Orange Blossom, and Meadowfoam. Don't know which you would like best? Try a sampler pack of all four. Carmel Honey company is dedicated to support and education for honeybee and pollination research. No bees, no food! Available at Chefworks.
These exquisite rolling pins are quite the gift for the baker in your life. No, they don’t have handles and they aren’t tapered. This gives you both more surface area to work with and also more control on the pressure used when rolling. Made in Philo, CA.
The perfect pour-over coffee station! Function and fashion plus caffeination equals happy! Made in Half Moon Bay by furniture maker Scott Smith, these ceramic and wood works of art leave you room to see the coffee in the cup and have wells designed to catch any drips when the cup is removed. Uses #2 cone filters.
San Rafael resident Michael Finizio was didn’t like how the old school ravioli pins worked; the filling had to be placed just so and there was very little space in between so they tended to fall apart when cooking. His re-working of the ravioli pin makes it much easier. Lay down the dough, spread the filling ¼ “ thick evenly across then roll the pin across and it squeezes the filling into the pocket and leaves ample room to cut them without worrying about them splitting apart when cooking. Check out the video below or come to the Toque Blanche cooking class on September 29th to see Michael make the ravioli in person!
Is there anything more comforting than crispy, crunchy, lightly toasted bread with a few simple, yet perfect, ingredients between them?
First, a quick language lesson. Panino is Italian for a sandwich, or more literally “little bread.” Panini is the plural. (Don’t get us started on one tamal, two tamales, either!) Panini can be hot or cold. But come on, everybody loves the hot ones! Fuhggetaboutit!
Crafting the perfect sandwich is easy, but takes some careful construction.
The first rule is editing. A panino is not about a ton of things stuffed between bread--just a few simple, well-chosen ones that go together well. A slice of dry, salty Prosciutto with some fresh, creamy mozzarella and a little basil oil; some goat cheese and fig jam; sautéed greens and Gruyere; Sopressata (a wine cured salami) with aged provolone and arugula. (Sometimes the best dish is made not by what is in it, but what is left out.)
Applying heat. Slow, even heat is the key to getting nice toasty bread, thoroughly warmed ingredients and melty cheese. Depending what is in your sandwich, some pressure can be applied, but too much and you have a mess on your hands. Well, actually in the pan or your panini press.
Do you really need a panini press to make a panini? Not really. Any good pan will do. Is it worth getting a panini press? Absolutely! Especially if you make sandwiches a lot. (Sandwiches do make great quick and easy dinners and you can put in them whatever you want--solving the picky eater problem!) A panini press heats quickly, evenly and efficiently, getting both sides at once. Plus, you can use it for grilling veggies to put on your panini as well! One of our favorites is a sandwich of eggplant grilled (on the press) with za’atar and a spread made from walnuts and labneh, a thick yogurt cheese.
We love the Breville Panini Duo because of the articulated top (doesn’t squish the filling out and toasts the top evenly!), it’s easy clean up and the flat bottom plate.
Why Does the Breville Panini Duo Have a Flat Bottom?
This is actually something we questioned when they came in. Grill marks are pretty when presenting your sandwich, but the flat bottom plate does a better job at even cooking, which will ensure your cheese is perfectly melty. This way, you get the best of both worlds.
Consider the bread
There are many great types of breads out there, but not all of them will make great hot panini. Save the country-style crusty breads for your cold sandwiches; when heated those nice crunchy crusts will become shards in your mouth making for an unpleasant experience. The secret to great panini lies in using softer, less crusty breads. But not when it is fresh! Day old bread will actually toast up nicer than fresh bread because the moisture content is lower.
Breville Panini Duo!
We're celebrating sandwiches all month and what better way to make your sandwiches than with this great machine!
Go to our Facebook page for Toque Blanche or Chefworks and tell us about your favorite sandwich for a chance to win one! (Winner chosen at random toward the end of the month for those who commented on the post.)
We'll be making paninis all month! Check out our list of weekly demonstrations here.