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September 22, 2009 at 5:52 PM

Pizza flour: what to use at home? Depends on who’s baking.

It’s not uncommon for someone to ask me, “How’s John Hinterberger?” — the Seattle Times columnist who reigned as the voice of food and restaurants for 25 years before retiring in 1998. Sometimes I get an e-mail from a reader who’s lost a tattered copy of his recipe for spaghetti with clam sauce, or a call from another who asks about a pizza joint Hint reviewed umpteen years ago (“I can’t remember its name, but it was downtown and run by a guy who . . .”). Today it was an Eater who read my post extolling the virtues of local flour, then posed a question:

“Long ago, there was a John Hinterberger column where he told the story of how he found the best flour to make pizza crust. Unfortunately the smallest unit of flour he could buy was a 50 pound sack. Or maybe it was 100. He only wanted 2 pounds but bought the sack anyhow. So maybe the whole story was him trying to sell the rest of the flour to his co-workers. I searched using `Hinterberger pizza flour’ but didn’t see the story in the search results. Anyone know what flour he was using?”

I do. He was using Power and Mondako brand flours, a trademark now owned by Pendleton Flour Mills.

My predecessor, John Hinterberger, power-lunching at Chinook’s last year.

In a 1988 column on the subject (found in the Times’ in-house archives), Hinterberger, an accomplished home cook and diehard pizza fan, wrote: “Power is a strong, Montana-grown, commercial-grade, hard durum wheat flour. Mondako, made from both Montana and Dakota wheat (hence its name), is somewhat less hard. You will not find them at QFC or Safeway.” Both, he wrote, “are milled by the thousands of pounds every day in Seattle by Fisher Mills down on the Harbor Island waterfront.”

He further explained that while researching ways in which a home baker could make pizza that tasted more like what you’d get at a pizzeria, he got hip to the Fisher product. And hot on the trail of the stuff he went straight to the source. Parking at the mill’s loading ramp, Hint shelled out $8 (!) before driving away with a 32-pound sack of Mondako and 25-pounds of Power. Enough, he calculated, to make 192 large pizzas.

Fisher’s landmark mill is now gone, and when I called Hinterberger today he said he no longer goes to the trouble of making his own pizza dough. “I use Trader Joe’s. It’s $1.69 a pound and it works beautifully.” Who am I to disagree, though I use TJ’s flatbread to make my “homemade pizza” — the perfect after-school snack!

Quick, make me a flatbread-pizza mom, I’m starving!

Hint still dreams of building a proper backyard pizza-oven, something he says he tried 30 years ago to ill effect. “I got the directions from an old Sunset Magazine. It took about five hours to heat the thing up, and about a quarter of a cord of wood to get the thing hot.” He laughed at the memory. “I think I only used it once. I put a pizza in it and it curled up like a spider.”

Hinterberger told me his pizza-making hero was the late Salvatore Consiglio of Sally’s Apizza in New Haven, CT, where the former restaurant critic grew up. “Sally’s crusts were the best I’ve ever eaten,” he says, describing the puff and char that marked crusts pulled from a coal-fired brick oven. So, what kind of flour did Sally use? Hinterberger asked him once and was surprised by his reply: “He simply used Gold Medal.”

My friend David, while not quite as famous as Sally (nor Hinterberger) regularly gets standing ovations from his friends and family for his pizza prowess. For years he used pizza-maven Pamela Sheldon Johns’ Neapolitan recipe, which called for unbleached all-purpose flour (David prefers King Arthur) cut with a cup of pastry- or cake flour. But a few years back he became an Italian-import convert.

Today he swears by Antico Molino Caputo brand tipo 00. Finely milled, “it’s hideously expensive,” he says, but worth it. In years of experimenting he’s tried mixing the Caputo with all-purpose and once prepared three different sets of dough for a private bake-off. The hands-down winner? Those made with 100-percent 00.

You can buy a 2.2 lb bag of Caputo for $5 at Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (that’s what they use to make their Neapolitan pies); Big John’s PFI sells it bulk for a buck a pound (or you can pull up to the loading dock and take home a 55-pound sack for $38.50); and DeLaurenti has 1.5-pound tubs ($3.99) or 2.2 pound packages ($4.99).

David’s egg and arugula pizza. Heaven on a plate!

And I must tell you about my new pal Alan Singer, a Chicago native who, not too long ago, heard my radio sidekick Dick Stein refer to Chicago-style pizza as “an abomination.” I, being married to a Chicagoan, chimed right in on-air, describing the stuff as “a pizza disguised as a quiche.” So offended was Singer, a KPLU “Food for Thought” listener and a father of three, he invited us both to his West Seattle home to show us how very wrong we were.

Alan Singer throws down the gauntlet Sunday — and rolls out some dough.

We watched as he got down and dirty with some Western Family all-purpose flour and not a little olive oil. Then he fitted his dough into one of a collection of heavily patina’d deep-dish pizza pans — something he’s been doing for appreciative audiences for 20 years. Stein, ever the curmudgeon, remained skeptical.

“It’s an abomination, I tell you! An abomination!

But that was before he tasted Alan’s pizza, enfolding three tons of mozzarella, fresh sausage, and peppers Stein had brought from his Tacoma garden.

Now that’s apizza!

My verdict? It was the best quiche — I mean Chicago pizza — I’ve ever eaten. Incredible. Even Stein agreed.

No matter how you slice it, this was a great piece of pie.

So, tell me: Do you make pizza at home? What kind of flour do you use? Got any homemade-pizza tips? Feel free to share them.

Comments | More in Food products and kitchen gear | Topics: Pizza

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