Remembering Thierry Rautureau

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our friend Chef Thierry Rautureau. Here are a few words from our founder Nathan Myhrvold:

Thierry was a friend and a mentor. He taught me many important things about being a chef. I loved going to Rover’s. I went there frequently as a customer and also worked there as a stagier in the kitchen prior to going to culinary school in France. I worked there one night a week when I could get there from Microsoft. The school that I wanted to go to required real work experience in a French kitchen for their advanced professional course, and Thierry taught me very well.

At one point in the course, we had to bone a duck to make a very classic French dish, which was something I did a lot a Rover’s so I started working away. The chef instructor, who was very intimidating, came up behind me to observe my work and finally said: “You there. Where did you learn to do this? You know a duck like a Frenchman.” And I only know a duck like a Frenchman because of Thierry.

Thierry was a fantastic mentor. Traditional French chefs are famous for being loud and angry if you screw up. Thierry didn’t run that kind of kitchen. His kitchen was calm and generally quiet, even when he was disappointed if something didn’t work out right. There was no screaming. He had great stories of a famous three-star French chef whom he’d worked for earlier in his career. This chef would jump up on top of the stove, while it was on, and kick the pots and pans off when he was upset. There was none of that from Thierry. He’d experienced it in his apprenticeship, and he wasn’t going to pass that along.

Thierry liked to say that Rover’s was Northwest cuisine with a French accent—I always teased him that it was more like modern French cuisine, with Northwest ingredients. He did a tremendous job and he really broadened what fine dining in Seattle meant. Prior to Thierry coming, fine dining here probably meant eating at a steakhouse with a menu that hadn’t changed in 30 years. He brought a command of techniques that was worthy of any kitchen in France which he married with the incredible ingredients and the general sensibility people have about food in the Northwest. It was a tremendous combination.

We once got into a discussion about a conversation he had with a chef from France who was making fun of American food. Thierry got upset and he said, “Look, all of my ingredients here are better than the ingredients that I had in France for the dishes I actually cook.” He hugely defended this area. At one point I joked, “Well there are two things you’d have if you were in France—we don’t have Michelin stars here and the clientele to support it.”

This was early in his career at Rover’s. The local restaurant landscape is different now, but initially, Seattle was the sort of city where people would only go to a fine dining restaurant once or twice a year to celebrate a special occasion. It wasn’t something that you would do repeatedly. Thierry would tell me early on that he had more regulars from New York than from Seattle. The New Yorkers would be people who are attorneys or investment bankers or consultants working for Microsoft or Amazon or some other local company. And every time they would come to town they’d eat a meal at Rover’s as opposed to people he would only see twice a year.

Over time that changed. I think that’s really important because without having a clientele there’s a limit to what you can do as a chef. Thierry was the guy who really loved the quality of what he did. He was financially successful, but if he had been after the maximum profit margin, he wouldn’t have used as much fog gras, caviar, spot prawns, and other expensive ingredients that he used. He wanted to have the best and be generous with what he actually served.

Apprenticing at Rover’s started a long culinary journey that culminated in me writing the Modernist Cuisine cookbooks. After the first book came out, my team and I started doing dinners with long tasting menus for chefs and food writers who would come to our lab from around the country and the world. It was a tremendous honor when we got to cook for Thierry. He liked our food, which probably meant much more to me than many of the other food critics or folks who passed through; it was one of the proudest moments of my culinary career.

Thierry played a very important role in my life. I didn’t become a line cook and I didn’t open my own restaurant either. I was so into food and cooking that people would say, “Well, why don’t you have your own restaurant?” Partly, I’d seen how hard Thierry worked. I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to make a culinary contribution, but it was material in me then to start Modernist Cuisine. It really changed my life and the impact that I would have in the world.

Food Photography to Whet your Appetite: A Look Inside our New Coffee Table Book

Photograph of Food & Drink: Modernist Cuisine Photography coffee table book

To celebrate the release of Food & Drink: Modernist Cuisine Photography, which is available now, we’re giving you a look at some of the iconic images from our new coffee table book. Food & Drink commemorates the last decade of Modernist Cuisine food photography. Nathan and the team have taken thousands and thousands of photos in that time. We spent over a year combing through our archives, selecting more than 200 of our favorite images for this new photography collection.

The 216-page Food & Drink examines its subject matters through six different lenses—photography speed, photography scale, cutaway photography, portraiture, still-life photography, and playing with food—to illustrate how Nathan and the team play with different technology, equipment, styles, and perspectives to capture foods and drinks in a new light. Here’s some of the gorgeous food photography that you’ll discover inside.

The Speed of The Photography

Human eyes only work so quickly, which means there are lots of beautiful and important things we just can’t see. Our reflexes often aren’t fast enough to capture a fleeting moment of action, like a champaign splash. The miracle is when you capture the movement and speed of the subject in a particular moment; it is both remarkably beautiful and can be quite unexpected.

In other cases, a phenomenon that appears instantaneous to the naked eye actually contains complexities that are only revealed when the motion is slowed to a hundredth or thousandth of its normal pace. Our studio includes a DSLR camera and a specialized, high-speed video camera, as well as custom-built robot-assisted cameras and specialized flashes, to capture moments such as these.

Cutaway photograph of creamer being poured into a coffee cup of espresso.

MORNING CLOUDS

A perfectly brewed cup of coffee with cream is a thing of beauty in and of itself. In this cutaway view, you see the pattern made as the cream, which is lighter than the coffee but also colder, plunges to the bottom of the cup and forms billowing clouds that rise to the surface. To capture this image, Nathan built a robot that used a break-beam sensor to trigger the pitcher to pour the cream, allowing it to behave in a surprisingly repeatable way.

Photograph of a champagne splashing out of a bottle.

RELEASE

This image of sabered champagne was created with the help of a specially designed robot. The “saber bot” moves its metal arm toward the neck of the wine bottle with incredible force—enough to snap the neck of the bottle and let the champagne spray out. In conjunction with the robot, Nathan used a high-speed camera, allowing him to capture the cork’s flight pattern as it departs the bottle.

Two glasses of red wine dancing around each other.

INTERTWINED

The drama and elegance of the wine as it spills creates a bewitching illusion, as if the wineglasses were waltzing around the room. When the glasses bump, there’s a natural delay because of inertia, and it makes the liquid wrap around itself in the photo. Captured in an infinitesimal fraction of a second, this shot was taken with the help of a custom-built wine-catapulting robot, which launched one glass of wine after another. The arrangement of the wine wrapping around the intertwined glasses is not an editing trick—this is the exact pattern that formed when the glasses collided. Nathan usually takes hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of photos to get “the shot,” but this stunning display of wine in motion was the very first photo he took that day.

The Scale of the Photography

The scale of photography can extend from large-scale aerial photography all the way down to the microscopic. It can make us look at things differently depending on how big they are and what other clues are given to estimate size. For example, if we have a very deep depth of field in a photo and are using stacking techniques, then we can make tiny mustard seeds seem like they are boulders.

In our quest to learn more about the many facets of food, we document what we see, and sometimes we try to show it in a way that many people might not have seen it before, such as the aerial shots of wheat fields, which Nathan had to hang out of an airplane to capture.

On the other end of the spectrum are photos that show you an object on a much more intimate scale. Our perspective of food tends to be limited to the scale at which our eyes work—most people don’t examine their food up close. Seeing food magnified by photomicrography, macro, and super-macro photography lets us experience it in a new way.

Aerial view of green wheat fields in The Palouse region of Washington State.

GREEN WAVES OF GRAIN

At the edge of eastern Washington, far from the coast, a vast green sea tumbles over the land, turning mighty tractors into tiny skiffs. With a little imagination, one can almost envision the dusty kraken that lies beneath. The Palouse is a loess formation, which is a geologist’s term for a rich deposit of topsoil that once formed giant dunes created by the wind. Nathan took a ride in a small plane to get this bird’s-eye view of these grainfields.

Close-up view of gold, purple, and black mustard seeds.

MUSTARD SEEDS

Up close and magnified, ordinary mustard seeds become magical. It’s easy to see why an archaic name for these delicate, dimpled orbs was “eye of newt.” Mustard gets its sharp flavor from compounds called glucosinolates, which are produced by certain plants as a natural pesticide. While toxic to many insects, these pungent chemicals have made mustard, the earliest known spice, incredibly popular for nearly 6,000 years.

Vitamin C as seen through a microscope.

VITAMIN SEA

It may look like an ocean on a distant planet, but this otherworldly sea could actually fit on the head of a pin. This microscopic view of vitamin C, which is also called ascorbic acid, was photographed with a custom microscope. Nathan used polarized light to illuminate the unique patterns of crystals that form when powdered ascorbic acid is dissolved in water and then dried.

A Change of Perspective

Creating compelling visual imagery is a huge part of what we do at Modernist Cuisine because we believe the way information is presented is just as important as the quality of the information itself. Many of our photos carry a pedagogical burden. We use concepts like levitating photos, which show a breakdown of a dish’s components, to convey technical and scientific concepts in a way that’s accessible. These photos allow you to see at a glance what goes into a dish, whether it’s a cheeseburger or a pizza.

We also take and annotate cutaway photographs to explain the scientific principles and equipment at work when you cook or bake. Other cutaways show food in a way that you might not have considered before. Although we had to figure out quite a few tricks to bisect complex gear such as ovens and blenders, hold food in place, and show liquids sliced through the middle, the results were worth the effort.

Our research kitchen and photo studio happen to be under the same roof as a state-of-the-art machine shop staffed by talented machinists and instrument makers. We relied on them to figure out how to fully disassemble complex cooking tools, cut them in half, and then—here’s the real challenge—put them back together, in some cases in working order.

Levitating photographs of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cheeseburger, which allows you to see every component that's layered on the sandwich and burger.

PEANUT BUTTER, JELLY, AND MAGIC; THE ALL-AMERICAN

It turns out you don’t need magic or zero gravity to levitate food. All it takes is a camera and a little ingenuity. This image is one of our most iconic from Modernist Cuisine; it developed a signature style of photography found in each of our books. The results are both functional—each special layer is highlighted simultaneously—and engaging as they reveal two all-American classics from new and enchanting points of view.

Cutaway view of a red KitchenAid mixer with whipped cream in the bowl.

HALF AND HALF

In order to achieve this photo, the highly skilled machinists in Nathan’s machine shop completely disassembled a KitchenAid stand mixer and cut it in half piece by piece before painstakingly putting it back together. Nathan uses cutaways like this to show how common kitchen tools work. By offering a unique view, he is constantly challenging the way people see food.

Close-up view of the foam of a yellow pilsner.

HEAD AND SHOULDERS

When you open a bottle of beer or draw it from the tap of a keg, it goes from a cold, high-pressure environment to a warmer environment at a much lower pressure. The change in pressure and temperature causes much of the carbon dioxide to bubble out of solution, creating a galaxy of bubbles expanding toward the top of the beer.

Playing with Your Food

A sense of wonder and curiosity about food permeates the photography in all of our books. It only made sense that our food photography should be forward-looking and, in some cases, playful. Sometimes this means making a condiment cannon to shoot ketchup onto french fries or fencing with a pair of stale baguettes. Other photos are homages to artists who liked to play with food.

These types of creative photos are meant to break the mold of typical food photography. And they are often the result of much collaboration and a lot of trial and error before getting the shot that we want.

It seems natural to play with your food when it’s so familiar—we’re used to looking at it so why not experiment and have some fun? Part of the process of creating these photographs is to be playful and try things that don’t always work. And, even when they do, they might make a hell of a mess.

Dali-inspired scene with Neapolitan pizzas draped over a tree, with Mount Vesuvius in the background.

DALÍ DEDICATION

The iconic soft Neapolitan pizzas that Nathan had in Italy inspired him to re-create the “soft watches” in Dalí’s classic painting The Persistence of Memory. Dalí often featured landscapes from his home in Catalonia, Spain, but he incorporated Mount Vesuvius in the background as a nod to Naples, the birthplace of pizza.

Pop art photograph of red ketchup exploding onto french fries

DON’T WHACK THE BOTTLE

Ketchup is a non-Newtonian fluid—a liquid that, when at rest, acts like a solid, meaning it stubbornly stays in the bottle even if you turn it upside down. While annoying when eating a burger, it’s a fascinating food to photograph. You could get the ketchup flowing by giving the embossed “57” on a Heinz ketchup bottle a few vigorous whacks . . . or if you’re Nathan, you could build a “condiment cannon” that uses high-powered compressed air to blast the ketchup onto french fries to take pictures like this.

Andy Warhol-inspired pop art photograph of Campell's tomato soup splashing into more soup below.

ANDY’S PLUNGE

Pop art burst on the scene in the 1960s, driven by the creative efforts of Andy Warhol and others. His 1962 series featuring Campbell’s soup epitomized the art of a generation and provided inspiration for this shot.

Still-Life Photography

Often food photography is meant to evoke a memory or feeling. But other types of food photography document something akin to a still life. Still-life images often depict a scene with food—these can be as simple as fruit in a bowl or as elaborate as a feast with pheasants and vegetables meant to represent the autumnal harvest. Some still-life images can give you a sense of what a food looked like in the past.

A lot of our photos focus on the food itself and have little adornment in the scene. That said, we also enjoy creating photos that are closer to the classic still life that tells a story.

Portrait of shrimp cocktail on a fork on black.

SHRIMP

Nathan didn’t have to find the biggest shrimp at the market to create this crustacean lover’s dream. In addition to playing with lighting and perspective, he used a photography technique called focus stacking, which involved taking 365 images, to help capture the incredible details of this larger-than-life, perfectly poached shrimp.

Photograph of Neapolitan pizza ingredients, arranged as a man, inspired by the paintings of Acrimbaldo.

NEAPOLITAN MAN

Neapolitan Man was inspired by the works of Italian painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo, a 16th-century court portraitist. His playful portraits were most famously made with fruits and vegetables. Pizza, as we know it today, had not been invented at that time. But Nathan created an homage to what Guiseppe might have made if he’d been lucky enough to have pizza, using ingredients like Caputo 00 flour, fior di latte mozzarella, and dried Calabrian chilies.

Rye bread that has been shaped to look like a brick in a wall.

BRICK-LIKE BREAD

In Modernist Bread, we had a category of breads that we dubbed “brick-like breads,” which are mostly made up of grains, seeds, nuts, or dried fruits all bound by a very wet and loose dough. We were celebrating the rich density of these unique breads, which are made in a way that’s quite different from other breads; they are almost akin to a grain pâté.

Food Portraits

The photos found in this chapter are about looking at food as the thing itself. We know, calling it portraiture anthropomorphizes the food, but there’s something to that. It forces you to look at an individual piece of food in all its uniqueness. By reducing the scene to focus only on that food in some interesting way, you emphasize it; you see it as something unique and interesting that demands your attention.

We chose to shoot the majority of our food portraits on stark backgrounds of black or white, which serves an aesthetic purpose because it elevates the drama inherent in the food itself. For example, our photo called Real Tomatoes Have Curves focuses on the tomato; it’s almost as though it’s looking right at you. The images in this chapter are not trying to evoke some set piece in a kitchen. They are portraits of a piece of food. It’s worshipping that thing as an object, as a thing unto itself.

Portrait of green cabbage on black

SHROUD

Shrouded in its outer leaves, ordinary red cabbage transforms into something extraordinary. In the field, red cabbage is blanketed with a cloudy layer of wild yeast (the same is true of grapes). When cabbage arrives at grocery stores, the outer leaves are typically discarded, which is why consumers ordinarily don’t see the yeast. Nathan found this cabbage at the farmers’ market and instantly called it the most charismatic cabbage he had ever seen.

Portrait of red heirloom tomato

REAL TOMATOES HAVE CURVES

The tomato is not a vegetable but a fruit—a berry, to be exact. Although thousands of varieties exist today, the first tomatoes grew wild in western South America and Mesoamerica. Tiny and yellow, the fruits bore little resemblance to this curvaceous heirloom tomato. Spanish conquistadors introduced tomatoes to Europe in the mid-1500s, but three centuries elapsed before they were fully embraced.

Close-up view of blueberries

BLUES

From this ant’s-eye view, you can see a world in captivating detail, including the powdery wild yeast that coats the blueberry. A modified Cambo camera built with custom software precisely calculates and focuses each part of the image with a technique called focus stacking.

We can’t wait for you to dig into Food & Drink. It’s a book that we hope you’ll cherish for years to come. Order your copy from the Modernist Cuisine Shop today.

The Logistics of Making Pizza for a Party

The best way to eat pizza is with others, which is one of the reasons pizza parties are universally beloved. Making pizza for a crowd, however, can present some logistical challenges, especially if you are only able to make one pizza at a time. These tips and tricks (the results of our team’s extensive experiments), along with a bit of planning, will help you to keep the pizzas coming and ultimately keep the crowd happy.

Choosing the Right Pizza Style

Serving at a party comes with some risks, depending on the type of pizza that you choose to serve. It can be a very fun occasion, but the key is to plan it correctly and choose the right pizzas. Your guests want to see you (presumably!), so it’s not ideal to be stuck in the kitchen the whole time. If you have an outdoor wood-fired or propane-fueled oven, you can bake pizzas while your guests hang out around you or even help. Indoors, the spaces are tighter, the ovens are generally smaller, and you can bake only so many pizzas at a time.

If you go with a Neapolitan or artisan pizza, you’ll be able to serve only one guest at a time, you’ll need a special oven to do the job right, and it’ll require someone with a high level of expertise to make the pizza. And this assumes that you are making the pizzas a la minute in front of the guests because these styles of pizzas won’t hold for longer than a few minutes. You could opt to make larger New York pizzas that will feed multiple people and reheat well (this is, after all, the business model for countless slice shops across the United States). But we don’t think that it’s the absolute best solution.

Our recommended solution is to choose to make pizzas that reheat very well and can be made well in advance: Detroit-Style Pizza, New York Square Pizza, or Al Taglio Pizza. You can make the pizza crusts ahead of time, cool them down, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them for up to 6 months. In the case of catering, you can bake them offsite, freeze them (if you’d like), and transport them to the event. You don’t even need to defrost them. You can reheat whole pans or slices. You can slice ahead of time too.

Consider having a toppings station as well. Your guests can either tell the event staff what they want on their pizzas or, if you are entertaining at home, they can build their own pizzas using the naked prebaked pizzas. This will let you spend less time alone in the kitchen and more time with your guests.

Prebaking Pizza

The term “parbaking” is used a lot in the baking industry. It’s a process that involves baking bread until it’s about 90% done, allowing it to cool, then finishing the baking later. The initial baking period is enough to deactivate the yeasts and enzymes and set the structure of the crust and crumb (so the loaf can maintain its shape as it cools), but not enough to fully brown the crust.

But what about parbaking pizza? Does it deliver the same glorious results that you get when you bake your pizza normally? In some cases, it does work well. For example, if you are selling frozen pizza or if you are a caterer and you have an off-site event, you can parbake your pizzas two-thirds to three-quarters of the way, freeze them, and then finish baking them later. We also found that parbaking works well for thin-crust pizzas and medium-crust pizzas (especially if you’re freezing them).

We decided to test another technique that lets you do part of the work in advance: prebaking. In prebaking, the pizza is cooked all the way through and can be reheated later. If you’re in the pizza business—or if you’re throwing a pizza party at home—the ability to prebake can help organize the workflow because you do most of the baking ahead of time.

Prebaking is part of the standard process when you’re making a New York square pizza. This pizza is baked and cooled, then sauced and topped later if you are using it as the foundation of a pizza. Prebaking is how we make the pizza gourmet style. Al taglio pizzas are also prebaked, sometimes with sauce and sometimes just the dough alone. Then they’re cooled, and additional toppings can be added later and the pizza can be heated again in the oven. The same can be done for Detroit-style pizzas.

We wondered if prebaking could streamline the process for other kinds of pizza, too. The answer is yes—for some styles of pizza. You may, however, prebake thin-crust and medium-crust pizzas for the purpose of freezing. In those cases, the pizzas are prebaked with sauce and cooled. We recommend adding cheese just before baking. (Adding the cheese before baking on a prebaked pizza will influence the cheese’s complex melt rheology and textural attributes.) When you’re ready to eat, you don’t even need to defrost; you can bake it straight from its frozen form.

For a few pizza styles, we found another big benefit of prebaking: it helps eliminate the gel layer, a pale, gooey layer of underbaked dough. We found that by prebaking the dough alone, the gel layer can be eliminated. Sauce, cheese, and toppings are added later, then the pizza is reheated.

Reheating Pizza

All styles of pizza go through a short, intense, high-temperature bake (some higher than others). As such, the pizza changes dramatically both during and after baking. When it comes to reheating pizza, the main objective in general is to reheat the base, sauce, cheese, and toppings without letting anything burn or dry out like a crouton. Some staling may have occurred, as often happens when baked dough is refrigerated, but fortunately, reheating the pizza to the correct temperature (between 79.5°C and 85°C /175°F and 185°F) will make the staling less noticeable.

One of the most common ways to reheat pizza is in the microwave, but we don’t recommend it because your pizza will reheat unevenly and become gummy and unpalatable. For the thicker-crust pizzas that we recommend for a crowd, reheat them in an oven but be careful because the exposed crust may dry out and become too crunchy. To avoid this, don’t reheat the pizzas longer than recommended, reheat slices side by side so the exposed crust is protected, and cradle the pizza in aluminum foil to protect the exposed crust while keeping the surface exposed to the hot air. The cradle should cover up only the exposed crust areas and not the surface or the rim crust that is not exposed. Doing so prevents the crust from drying out; the only caveat is that reheating will take a few minutes longer (about 1–3 minutes).

Make sure to preheat your oven fully. A baking steel and stone can be used interchangeably for reheating. A baking steel will take slightly longer to preheat, which gives the stone a small advantage for reheating. In order to heat a baking steel or stone in a home oven, it is best to use the broiler to heat it up fast. Once the broiler has heated the baking steel or stone, switch the oven to regular heat (205–260°C / 400–500°F) to reheat the pizza. While a baking steel is better for baking pizzas than a baking stone, for reheating purposes they work very much the same.

How to Make Pizza for a Crowd

  1. Once the pizzas have been baked and cooled, cut them into portions using a serrated knife.

2. Place the sliced pizzas back in their baking pans, cover, and set aside until you’re ready to reheat.

3. About 1 h before you’re ready to serve the pizzas, place one or ideally two baking stones or baking steels stacked in the oven. Preheat the oven to 230°C / 450°F.

4. To reheat the pizzas, uncover them and simply slide the pans onto the hot baking steels or baking stones. They’ll take 5–7 min to reheat and recrisp the bottom.

5. For Detroit-style pizza, apply the hot tomato sauce over each hot slice, plus any other post-bake toppings. For al taglio pizza, apply any heat-sensitive toppings, like arugula, blue cheese, or tapenade, after baking.

6. Transfer to a serving platter.

The Essential Modernist Pizza Gear Guide

Whether you’re gearing up to make pizza or have someone special in your life that is, we’re here to help. We’ve put together this handy guide to essential pizza-making tools and equipment to help you stock up. This list features some of our favorite basic items that you’ll find in any well-stocked pizzeria as well as gear that you’ll want to build out your home setup. Many of these tools are inexpensive, but there are also a few splurges on the list, which we think are wise investments.

Digital Scale

We recommend this emphatically: use a scale not measuring spoons. Measuring ingredients by weight, rather than volume, will make a huge difference in your results. For general use, the scale should measure single-gram increments. Additionally, it’s useful to have a precision scale for weighing small quantities, such as the 0.06 g of yeast called for in one of our preferments. You’ll find plenty of low-cost choices on the market that meet these requirements.

Start your search with:

Baker’s Kitchen Scale (8,000 g capacity) by My Weigh

Digital Gram Pocket Scale by Weigh Gram

 

Thermometer

A digital probe version is best. Home pizza makers will also want an oven thermometer. You can also get a combination timer / probe thermometer and take care of two helpful tools in one.

Start your search with:

Thermapen One by Thermoworks

 

Timers

In addition to telling you when to remove your pizza from the oven, digital timers will help you keep track of dough as it ferments and proofs, especially when you’re managing several doughs and kitchen tasks at a time. Timers should be easy to use, with loud alarms that can be heard across a noisy kitchen or from another room. Have several basic timers on hand for juggling tasks.

Start your search with:

Extra Big and Loud Timer by ThermoWorks

 

Plastic Tubs

Storage is an important consideration, and clear plastic tubs are the storage bins of choice. Up for almost any stowage task, these bins come in a range of sizes; they make it easy to keep an eye on the contents inside; and they stack much like nesting dolls when they aren’t being used. Long rectangular storage boxes can be used to hold fermenting dough, while preferments, ingredients, and old dough are often stored in square versions. Tall tubs make great vessels when weighing large quantities of water—some can even transform into water bath containers when cooking sous vide. Make sure the bins have airtight lids. We use the Cambro brand, which is so prevalent in professional kitchens that “Cambro” has become almost a generic term for tubs.

Start your search with:

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (17.98 L / 4.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (33.12 L / 8.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Square Plastic Food Container (in assorted sizes) by Cambro

 

Electric Mixer

We use an electric mixer for all of the pizza doughs in Modernist Pizza. You can certainly mix by hand, but this requires more time and physical effort. We highly recommend electric mixers since most of the doughs require mixing to full gluten development. . A stand mixer can be a big investment, so look for models that have a strong motor, which is important for making drier doughs, and a broad range of speed settings, from very slow to very fast.

Start your search with:

The Bakery Chef by Breville

 

Bench Knife

Use a sharp metal version for cleanly cutting dough, lifting sticky dough, and scraping dough residue off the worktable. Plastic ones are acceptable but are generally thicker, which can sometimes be a drawback. There’s a narrow bench knife we like specifically for pizza because it’s also perfect for when we need to lift a ball of dough after fermenting. This bench knife does a much better job than the wider ones. This tool is so practical that some pizzerias use it to cut garlic.

Start your search with:

Metal Dough Scraper by San Francisco Baking Institute

Round Plastic Bowl Scraper by San Francisco Baking Institute

Square Plastic Bowl Scraper by San Francisco Baking Institute

 

Pizza Peels

Metal peels are more suitable than wooden ones for flatbreads and pizzas because they’re thinner and can easily slide under the crusts. Perforated metal peels have the advantage that any excess flour used for dusting the dough will fall through. (Baking excess flour onto a pizza dough is undesirable because it can burn.)

Start your search with:

Perforated Pizza Peel by Homefavor

Aluminum Pizza Peel by American Metalcraft

 

Pizza Screens

Although not as commonly used as peels in pizzerias, pizza screens consist of a fine wire mesh surrounded by a metal ring. They come in a number of different diameters, from 20 cm / 8 in to 60 cm / 24 in. Depending on your perspective, using a screen is either a godsend or it’s cheating. Screens are useful if you don’t have experience making pizza, because you can consistently shape a round pizza that is the exact size that you need. We find screens useful for certain styles of pizza and types of ovens, including impinger and home ovens.

We always spray the screens with oil just before placing the dough on top, then apply the sauce, cheese, and toppings as needed. The screen makes it easy to move the pizza from worktable to oven. For home pizza makers, it also helps to assemble the pizza on the screen and then place it on a baking steel or stone so that you don’t have to worry about the pizza sticking to a peel when you are loading it into the oven.

Start your search with:

Aluminum Pizza Screen by GI Metal

 

Sheet Pans and Specialized Pizza Pans

For some styles, making something that looks and tastes like the real deal can hinge on the pan. While you could technically bake all the pizzas in this book on an aluminum sheet pan, specialized pans produce markedly better results. Some have reinforced frames that keep them from warping in the oven or cured surfaces to prevent the pizza from sticking. Others are made of thicker, denser metal that produces a crispier base.

Start your search with:

Assorted Pizza Pans by Lloyd Pans

Detroit-Style Pans by Detroit-Style Pizza Company

Al Taglio Pizza Pan by Artisan Pizza Solutions

 

Sauce Spoon / Spoodle

This is used to spoon sauce onto pizza dough and to spread it evenly. Many pizzerias know how many “spoonfuls” is the right amount for each pizza. We like a spoon with a flat base for spreading.

Start your search with:

Tomato Dosing Spoon by GI Metal

 

Food Mill

Making your own basic pizza sauces can be incredibly easy. While you can make them by hand-crushing tomatoes, we also like using a food mill. Tomatoes are passed through the mill to make sauce (try using one with a 8–10 mm / 0.31–0.39 in holes). We recommend one that is not so big that you end up with large tomato chunks in the sauce or so small that the seeds are left behind. Some models have interchangeable grates with different-sized holes that allow for different-textured sauces.

Start your search with:

Food Mill by OXO

 

Pizza Scissors

Some pizzerias use scissors instead of wheel cutters or mezzalunas. Scissors give pizza a clean cut and don’t squash the rim crust that you just worked so hard on. You can buy scissors specially made for cutting pizza, but any pair of heavy-duty, long, sharp scissors will do. Make sure they’re the kind that can be sharpened. Don’t use the hefty kitchen shears that are meant for cutting through chicken joints. For al taglio pizza, there are special scissors in which the bottom blade rests on a plastic base that keeps the scissors flat on the counter while cutting.

Start your search with:

Pizza Scissors by Artisan Pizza Solutions

 

Baking Steel or Baking Stone

A steel or stone will help properly bake pizza in a home oven, combi oven, or convection oven. Baking steels work even better than stones for baking pizza. Thick baking steels hold their preheated temperature better than thin ones, but they also take longer to preheat and to recover from a drop in temperature. Our bottom-line conclusion: a dark (not shiny) steel plate 12 mm / ½ in thick produces the best crust, although it is staggeringly heavy. A steel plate 10 mm / 0.4 in thick also works very well, is a lot more manageable, and preheats faster. For more even heat radiation, you can stack two together, but this is optional.

Start your search with:

Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel by Baking Steel

 

Dough Docking Tool

Docking evenly distributes a pattern of small holes across a dough’s surface and keeps it from puffing up significantly. We use a rolling docker, which is more of a speciality tool, but a fork or the tip of a skewer or knife is a handy alternative.

Start your search with:

Dough Docking Tool by Winco

 

Oven Brush

Use this to sweep debris, such as semolina, out of the oven. Sometimes a pizza bottom will rip, leaving a cheesy, saucy mess on your oven floor. When this happens, you’ll need a metal bristle brush.

Start your search with:

Rotating Head Oven Brush by GI Metal

 

Countertop Pizza Oven

There is a category of ovens that has less to do with specific temperature ranges—specialty ovens. These include countertop ovens that can be used to make pizzas at relatively high temperatures without having to invest in a gas-fired pizza oven or a pizza deck oven. If you are a pizza enthusiast and are looking for value in a home pizza oven, the Breville Crispy Crust Pizza Maker will produce great pizzas for the price. If you are really serious about making pizza at home, we definitely recommend the Smart Oven Pizzaiolo.

Start your search with:

Crispy Crust Pizza Maker by Breville

Smart Oven Pizzaiolo by Breville

 

Portable Outdoor Pizza Oven

These ovens, which include the Gozney Roccbox and Ooni Koda and Karu pizza ovens, are the definition of portable. The Roccbox and certain Ooni ovens like the Karu 16 allow you to burn wood chips or use a propane tank for fuel. We prefer using propane because it produces a more consistent heat and gets hotter quicker than using wood chips.

The disadvantage of using gas rather than wood is that you have to cart around a propane tank if you are using the oven away from your home. Even so, it is one way to get a very good Neapolitan-style pizza at home. The fact that it can only be used outdoors may or may not bother you. These ovens are great for any sort of small-scale outdoor pizza baking, whether on the balcony of your apartment or camping in the wilderness. While you can bake only one pizza at a time, each one takes a mere 60–90 seconds to bake.

Start your search with:

Karu 16 by Ooni

Roccbox by Gozney

Modernist Pizza is on Sale Now

Pizza is one of the most beloved foods in the world—the whole month of October is even dedicated to it in the United States. This National Pizza Month, we couldn’t be more excited to release Modernist Pizza, which is now officially on sale. Some retailers are experiencing fulfillment delays, however orders placed through Modernist Cuisine Shop are shipping now.

Our story of pizza is told across three volumes plus a kitchen manual, comprising 1,708 pages. It is the culmination of exhaustive research, travel, and experiments to collect and advance the world’s knowledge of pizza. In Modernist Pizza, you’ll find 1,016 recipes for both traditional and innovative pizzas across the globe. The recipes, along with the techniques, were developed with both professional and home ovens and equipment in mind.

While conducting research for the book, our pizza travels took us all over the world. Given pizza’s global history, we wanted to communicate our story of pizza to as many people as possible. That’s why we’re thrilled to share that Modernist Pizza will be published in French, German, Italian, and Spanish in May 2022. We’ll announce a preorder date later this year.

We also have a lot of other exciting updates to share with you that coincide with the launch of Modernist Pizza. You can expect more to come from us in the following months, but for now we’re excited to share a new collaboration, photography series, and updates about Modernist Pizza Podcast.

A Pizza + Beer Collaboration with Stoup Brewing

Like us, we know a lot of people obsess over a fantastic pizza and beer pairing. Some foods and drink just go together. There’s pasta and wine, and there’s pizza and beer. We are incredibly excited to have partnered with local Seattle brewery Stoup Brewing to celebrate the launch of Modernist Pizza with a special beer release—the 00 Pilsner. Inspired by the 00 flour prized by pizzaioli, this beer is a dry-hopped Italian pilsner developed to pair well with pizza. The can design is a collaboration between our Modernist Cuisine team as well as the Stoup Brewing team and showcases a levitating photo of Neapolitan pizza from Modernist Pizza.

You can find the beer on tap at Stoup Brewing’s locations in Ballard and Kenmore. The limited-edition four-pack of 00 Pilsner 16-ounce cans sells for $13.99 and can be found at craft beer retailers around Seattle.

Modernist Pizza Podcast is Coming Soon

Shortly after our last book, Modernist Bread, was published in 2017, we launched Modernist BreadCrumbs podcast. We wanted another way for our readers and bread bakers to learn as much as they could about bread making and the science, history, and stories behind it. We’re thrilled to share that once again, we’ll be releasing a podcast to go along with our newest book, Modernist Pizza. We’re excited to be teaming up with Michael Harlan Turkell who produced Modernist BreadCrumbs and who will host Modernist Pizza Podcast. Each episode of Modernist Pizza Podcast will feature in-depth interviews with Nathan, head chef Francisco Migoya, and some of the many people who are working to shape pizza’s future. The first of eight episodes will debut at the end of October with new episodes airing each week.

Modernist Pizza Podcast has some amazing sponsors including Ooni, Miyokos Creamery, King Arthur Baking, Banza, Baking Steel, and Gustiamo. It will be available for listening online and on platforms including Stitcher, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. We’re also excited to partner with artist Jenny Acosta for the show’s artwork.

A New Pizza Photography Series

To coincide with the launch of the book, a collection of 10 pizza-centric photos from Modernist Pizza is now available for purchase at Modernist Cuisine Gallery by Nathan Myhrvold. Each photograph showcases a different aspect related to pizza, whether it’s the location of a top pizza destination featured in our world travel guide, a specific ingredient, or pizza shown in an imaginative setting. The photographs are available from our galleries in Las Vegas, New Orleans, La Jolla, and Seattle, which ship worldwide.

We have more upcoming pizza content and virtual events in the works. If you haven’t already, join our mailing list or follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for more updates. And as always, we encourage you to share photos of your book and all of your pizza-making journeys by tagging your posts with #ModernistPizza.

Modernist Pizza is Coming to Bookstores This October; Preorder Now

Shortly after wrapping up Modernist Bread, we announced that the focus of our next single-subject book was going to be pizza—it was a secret that we didn’t want to sit on for long. Now we’re thrilled to share that Modernist Pizza will land on bookshelves October 5, 2021 and that you can preorder your copy now.

Beginning today, preorders for Modernist Pizza are available directly through the new Modernist Cuisine Shop, online retailers including Amazon.com, Phaidon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Bol.com, and Booktopia.com, and participating independent cookbook stores across the country. The set, which is housed in a red stainless-steel case, will retail for USD$425. It includes three hardcover volumes and a portable, spiral-bound recipe manual that contains all the recipes and reference tables in the book.

We’re excited to release this book at a time when pizza has never been more popular or more important. Modernist Pizza is the culmination of exhaustive research, travel, and experiments to collect and advance the world’s knowledge of pizza. Topping out at 35.5 pounds and over 1,700 pages, it’s safe to say that this is a pizza cookbook supreme. We’ve performed hundreds of experiments, traveled more than 100,000 miles to visit over 250 of the world’s top pizzerias, and consumed countless calories. There are deep dives into pizza’s history, evolution, and many global styles as well as its fundamentals: dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings. And it wouldn’t be a Modernist Cuisine book without plenty of scientific insights, gear guides, innovative techniques, surprising discoveries, and incredible recipes—1,016 to be exact. Here’s a preview of, what we hope will become, an indispensable resource for anyone who loves pizza.

A Taste of What You’ll Find in Modernist Pizza

We’ve loved making this book. First and foremost because pizza is undeniably delicious. Pizza was a compelling topic for us for a number of reasons. It’s multicultural, found in virtually every country around the world, and yet wherever pizza goes, it mutates and evolves into something local. Pizza is simultaneously the evolution of a 19th-century dish from Naples and a window into the culinary creativity of the people who modified the original pizzas into the many local styles we enjoy today.

Pizza may seem simple, but it’s highly technological and scientific. Making pizza is extremely technique-driven, where even the smallest variations in the method can affect the outcome. A tremendous amount of skill is involved, to the point that pizza making can be daunting to both beginners and professionals. On top of that, pizza has historically been a poorly documented cuisine, which is thanks, in part, to its humble origins on the streets of Naples.

As with our other books, we scoured the world to research the key aspects of pizza that we found relevant and interesting, studied until we understood all the techniques, and subjected everything to tests, including the flour brands that pizzaioli prized, the types of water they used (it turns out that this ingredient doesn’t make much of a difference), the brand of tomatoes that were prevalent and how they were grown, as well as the processes by which common pizza ingredients are made.

Our experiments also opened the door to many discoveries that affected how we made the components of pizza, from dough to the sauce and cheese. We were able to develop mixing and proofing techniques that dramatically reduce the time it typically takes to make Neapolitan and high-hydration al taglio pizza dough without compromising the quality. We list recommendations that will allow you to make multiple pizza styles from one dough. No matter how experienced a pizzaiolo is, there likely isn’t a single person who won’t be surprised by some of our findings.

We distilled our findings into three volumes. In the first volume, we share the history of pizza, the world of pizza at large, plus fundamentals to making pizza such as the ingredients that go into the dough and the role of heat in the pizza-making process. The chapters in volume 2 provide a comprehensive look at all the components of pizza—dough, sauce, cheese, and toppings—and present foundational recipes upon which the majority of our pizzas are built. The third and final volume is dedicated to both classic and innovative recipes for every pizza style we cover, including al taglio, Argentinean, bar/tavern, Brazilian thin-crust, deep-dish, Detroit, grandma/New York Square/Sicilian, Neapolitan, New York, New Haven, Old Forge, pizza fritta, and pizza gourmet. Volume 3 is also where you’ll find inventive flavor and topping combinations to help inspire your own pizza exploration.

Guides to Top Pizza Destinations

We’ve included something new in Modernist Pizza that we’ve never done before in any of our other books: we devoted an entire chapter to our pizza travels and created a global travel guide. We wanted to illustrate pizza’s wonderful diversity and show the many ways in which it’s enjoyed across the world. That is why pizza required us to travel even more than our other books did—our team visited over 250 pizzerias to learn local styles from some of the world’s best pizzaioli. The chapter was created to serve as a travelogue of sorts and to help give the full picture of pizza.

When we started visiting pizzerias, we wondered whether the pizzaioli would actually talk to us. It turned out they were incredibly helpful, especially in Italy. They were very candid about sharing their knowledge and techniques and even helped us review parts of the book. We spoke to visionaries such as Tony Gemignani, Enzo Coccia, Franco Pepe, Chris Bianco, Laura Meyer, Carlo Sammarco, Dan Richer, Sarah Minnick, and many more covered in this book, who are tossing pizza into the modern era.

We couldn’t go to every well-reviewed pizzeria everywhere, so think of our guide as a curated selection. It consists of the best pizzerias across Italy and the United States, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo. After Naples, which was a must-see since it’s where pizza was invented, we looked to important first-generation pizza cities like New York. Following that, we checked out travel spots known for a particular style like Chicago or Detroit. We also included other areas like Rome and Portland, to paint a picture of the pizza scenes there.

Countless times during our research, we were asked where the best pizza can be found. (We aren’t shy about suggesting there are several pizzerias in Naples that would immediately deserve one, two, and even three Michelin stars.) Ultimately, we hope that our travel chapter will be a good starting point for mapping out your own pizza journey to help answer that question for yourself.

More Pizza on the Horizon

One of our goals for this book was to make it accessible to many types of pizza makers, from professionals, including chefs and bakers, to beginners at home. That’s why we tested all our recipes in several different ovens and included recommendations in each recipe for which oven will work best. Our chefs developed loads of tips and tricks for making great pizza in a home oven. There really is something in Modernist Pizza for everyone—actually, there is a lot for everyone.

What makes pizza great isn’t any single ingredient. What makes it great is using good ingredients
consistently, plus lots of skill and attention. If you’re a pizza fan, even if you have no intention of making pizza, this book will describe your favorite food in an incredible way. If you hanker to make pizza at home or are even slightly intrigued, we encourage you to take the plunge.

As the on-sale date for the book nears, we’ll be sharing more blog posts and details about what you can expect to find in each of the volumes. If you haven’t already, join our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates.

Black Lives Matter

As you may have realized, we have been offline for over 3 months. Posting tips about bread has not felt right during this time. There are more important things going on in this country. We’ve wrestled with what to do, but ultimately haven’t wanted to distract you from more crucial voices, information, and content.

While our work on Modernist Pizza has continued during this time, our team has also been figuring out how to move forward as our country wakes up to the realities of being Black in the United States. We are outraged by the continued and abhorrent murders of Black Americans by police. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and the fight to dismantle systemic racism.  Moreover, we stand with Black chefs, cooks, bakers, servers, writers, editors, marketers, photographers, and all those working to make the food industry equitable.

We believe in the power of food, science, art, education, and technology. These spaces are important to our team—it’s an understatement to say that we’re passionate about what we do. But it’s also an understatement to say that we lack equity in these spaces on a number of levels.

We are a small yet deeply analytical team, which is why we have taken time to research and think critically about our own privilege and complicity. We do not want to make knee-jerk promises that we can’t keep, especially when it comes to something as important as ending white supremacy. We know that there will be things we get wrong, but we take the responsibility we have to our BIPOC readers, colleagues, and community members seriously.

We value diversity at Modernist Cuisine; different experiences, perspectives, and ideas strengthen teams and foster innovation. Our team of about 25 is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and has women in leadership positions. While our sister company, Intellectual Ventures, has a noted track record of having Black executives in senior roles, the current Modernist Cuisine team does not have any Black employees. We have work to do.

We are also committed to doing a better job of including the expertise, contributions, and stories of Black chefs and bakers in our future projects. In part, the shortcomings in our published books are an unsettling reflection of the lack of diversity in the worlds of fine dining, bread, and pizza. We, and the food industry, must do better and will work to make our books more inclusive moving forward.

Our goal has always been to share knowledge and democratize cooking techniques developed in the world’s best kitchens so that anyone can be a better cook. We need to honor that value in new and impactful ways. Access to education, technology, fresh food, and professional opportunities should not be a privilege. Fair wages, safe workplaces, and respect should not be a privilege. We believe that everyone should be free to follow their passions and do what they love.

We are working on next steps that will include changes within Modernist Cuisine, including the content that you see here, as well as initiatives we can take in our community and food industry to address systemic racism and accelerate the fight for equity. We are currently exploring how we can best partner with local schools and vital organizations that are removing barriers to food justice, equal access to education, and culinary training. In addition, we are expanding our book donation program, especially to libraries and community colleges in BIPOC and underserved communities. We recognize our position in the food world and want to do more with the platform we have. We are committed to holding ourselves accountable as we move forward and hope that you will too.

How to Rescue Overproofed Dough

It happens to the best of us. You wait many hours for your dough to proof so that you can bake it, and then, somehow, you forget about the dough (it’s easy to do, especially when you’re juggling meal prep during the holidays), and it overproofs. You may have even baked the overproofed dough, hoping it would magically return to life; instead, you end up with a pale, low-volume loaf that smells like stale alcohol. Overproofed dough, however, doesn’t have to meet its end in the bottom of a trash can. While working on Modernist Bread we developed a technique for saving overproofed bread.

The ultimate goal of proofing bread is to increase the volume of a shaped piece of dough through the production of carbon dioxide. Most of the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation happens in the final proofing stage. (The largest volume increase comes during baking when the dough nearly doubles in volume in the oven.) To expand, dough must be strong enough to retain the gas that it has produced. Gluten makes the dough elastic enough that it can expand around bubbles without tearing. Proofing, which begins once the dough is shaped and placed in a proofing vessel or on a flat surface, has some effect on flavor and texture, but it is key in determining the shape, volume, crust, and crumb of the bread.

When carbon dioxide exerts more pressure than a fully proofed dough can withstand, the cell membranes tear, releasing the gas and deflating the dough. An overproofed dough won’t expand much during baking, and neither will an underproofed one. Overproofed doughs collapse due to a weakened gluten structure and excessive gas production, while underproofed doughs do not yet have quite enough carbon dioxide production to expand the dough significantly.

Calling proof, knowing when the dough has reached its maximum expansion, is one of the more challenging things bakers have to learn to do. It takes practice and learning from a few mistakes. Conventional wisdom holds that overproofed doughs are irretrievably damaged and should be thrown away. Our experiments found just the opposite. In fact, we were able to resuscitate the same batch of dough up to 10 times before it suffered any serious loss in quality.

Our method for saving overproofed dough works for many kinds of dough, including French lean doughs, high-hydration doughs (you may see a slight decrease in volume as well as in crumb size for these), and country-style doughs. The method also works for farmers’ bread and most rye breads that contain a proportion of bread flour, such as landbrot; brioche and enriched doughs, including sandwich breads; and pizza doughs, though they may have a pale crust once the dough is baked.

Sourdoughs are more problematic; you should attempt to revive a sourdough only if it was made and proofed within a few hours. Sourdoughs that are cold-proofed overnight or longer acidify because of the presence of lactic acid bacteria. This acidification makes the dough very tough; as a result, if you degas and reshape it, the dough is overly tense, and still tough. You’ll end up with a loaf that doesn’t expand or bake well, and that is also misshapen and very sour. While some people (including us) like that biting flavor, others may find it too sour.

Mistakes are inevitable when it comes to proofing bread, but there’s no need to throw out dough if it proofs too long. Below is our step-by-step guide to saving overproofed dough (we call technique dough CPR).

Dough CPR

Step 1: Perform the fingertip test to make sure your dough is overproofed. The test involves gently pressing your finger into the surface of the dough for 2 seconds and then seeing how quickly it springs back. The dent you make will be permanent if the dough is overproofed.

Step 2: Remove the dough from the basket or other vessel in which you’re proofing it.

Step 3: Degas the dough by pressing down firmly on it. The pressure applied is the same as when you shape the dough.

Step 4: Shape the dough, and return it to the basket or other vessel for proofing.

Discover How You Can Contribute to Modernist Pizza

We’ve been hard at work for the last year learning everything we can about the art, science, and history of pizza. Now we want to hear from you. Today we launched an online research contributions portal that we hope will encourage you to join in on our research process. Whether you love diving deep into research as much as you love Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, have decades of pizzaiolo wisdom, or are a bibliophile with a love of old cookbooks, we hope to connect with you. By visiting this new page on our website, you will be able to see some of the current research topics we’re investigating and discover how you can contribute to Modernist Pizza. Your knowledge, research skills, obscure collections—even your old photos—could help us tell the story of pizza and even land you a copy of our upcoming book.

Nathan and the team are excited about connecting with new people who, like us, are passionate and curious about food. “At Modernist Cuisine, we’re known for doing in-depth work. We’ve been working on Modernist Pizza for a year. Now we want to tap the power of the internet to meet people who collectively know something that we don’t about pizza,” Nathan remarked when asked about the new knowledge-sharing portal. “Library research by members of our team has already turned up important information about pizza, but there are many people who speak languages that we don’t or who have incredible first-hand knowledge to share. I think connecting with these people is a cool way to write the history of pizza.”

Before submitting information through our portal, please carefully review the guidelines for each topic. Participants whose submissions are selected may receive copies of the 2019 Modernist Pizza wall calendar, The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, or Modernist Pizza, or even be listed as a contributor in Modernist Pizza to acknowledge your help. Submissions that meet the criteria will be evaluated by our team for quality, uniqueness, historical significance, and editorial interest. It’s possible that some selected submissions for research topics will be posted periodically so that you can see some of the most interesting submissions we’ve received so far. We also welcome questions about each topic in the comments sections.

Click here to visit our research contributions portal. We look forward to hearing from you!

Five Easy Tips For Freezing Your Sourdough Starter

One of the most important discoveries we made while developing and refining the recipes in Modernist Bread is that yeast is among the most resilient life-forms we’ve ever encountered (and we encounter many in our lab, which we share with a bunch of biologists). As it turns out, freezing temperatures do not kill all the yeast and lactic acid bacteria in a preferment. Some die, but most remain dormant while frozen. The key is to know how to “wake it up” properly and to feed it well so it comes back strong and ready to leaven.

There are a lot of great reasons to try freezing your sourdough starter. Using a frozen preferment affords an almost instant starter; even with the added thawing and feeding time required, it provides a significant time savings over starting one from scratch. Having a preferment ready to go is convenient—you can freeze it in portions and just thaw what you need—and frees you from a feeding schedule. There’s no need to worry about entrusting someone with your starter when you go on vacation.

Our experiments demonstrated that a frozen levain will perform well for up to 2 weeks after freezing it. Eventually the ice crystals in the frozen preferment grow big enough to damage the yeasts and bacteria, rendering them useless for leavening. If you have levain that has been frozen for more than 2 weeks, you can still use it in combination with commercial yeast. The less-active levain will still provide your bread with complex flavor, and the yeast makes the dough rise.

Tips for Freezing Levain

Working with frozen levain is simple, although freezing your starter involves more than throwing it in a jar and stashing it in the freezer. Here are a few recommendations to help you get you started.

Tip 1: Freeze your preferment immediately after you make it. Freezing a ripe preferment won’t give the yeast the nutrients it needs because there will be little food left.

Tip 2: Our experiments demonstrated that a frozen levain will perform well for up to 2 weeks after freezing it. If you have levain that has been frozen for more than 2 weeks, you can still use it in combination with commercial yeast for an instant sourdough flavor. We utilize this technique for the Second-Chance Sourdough recipe in Modernist Bread.

Tip 3: Divide the preferment into whatever weight you would typically use for a specific dough. Stiff levain can be portioned directly into zip-top bags. You may want to add 10 g to the amount that you are freezing because ultimately some will stubbornly remain in the bag. Lay the bags flat on a sheet pan to freeze them.

Tip 4: For liquid levain, portion the preferment into an ice cube tray and use an offset spatula to even out the tops of the cubes. We use a piping bag to inject it deeply into the tray as possible, eliminating air pockets. Once it has frozen into cubes, remove them from the tray, and put them in a zip-top plastic bag in the freezer.

Tip 5: When you’re planning to make fresh bread with your levain, just thaw what you need. Take the portion out of the freezer about a day before you need it and let it thaw at room temperature (21 °C / 70 °F). When it’s ready, the bag will inflate as carbon dioxide bubbles form in the preferment. If you froze your starter into cubes, pull out however many cubes you need for your recipe, put them in a bowl, and cover them with plastic wrap. After making our dough, we like cold-proofing our levain in refrigeration for 24-36 hours to help develop the flavor.