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In a Raynham kitchen, a slice of obsession

Chewy crusts set the base

By Andrea Pyenson
Globe Correspondent / September 15, 2010

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RAYNHAM — “It’s all about the dough,’’ says Scott Riebling, a music producer and passionate pizza maker who has been refining his recipe for nearly 20 years. He prefers a soft, Neapolitan-style crust that is slightly crispy on the outside and chewy inside, with a puffy edge. “And it’s gotta have some char,’’ he says.

Riebling started making pizza when he moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music and couldn’t find any that matched what he grew up eating in Pittsburgh. He makes it about three times a week. “I’m always tweaking,’’ he says. “It’s a great hobby, and your friends will love you.’’

The night before one of his pizza parties, a tradition that began in his Berklee days, Riebling made 20 balls of dough.

Thick or thin? No-knead dough makes a pizza with crispy crust. Page 18

They are now piled in plastic containers on the floor between the spacious kitchen and living room. Squeeze bottles of pesto cream and spicy buffalo sauce, homemade tomato sauce, and fresh basil sit on the granite-topped island. He has been growing basil from seeds he brought back from Naples four years ago.

“If you get the dough right, you don’t need to put a lot on pizza,’’ says the pizza man. He blends Caputo pastry flour from Italy, which he buys at John Accardi & Sons in Medford, with American flour. There is more Italian flour in the mix, but “I like the flavor American gives.’’ He also uses just “a pinch of’’ yeast and lets the dough rise for at least 24 hours. Riebling bakes his pizza at very high temperatures for a short time. “The key is high heat combined with delicate mixing combined with long, slow fermentation.’’

Among serious pizza makers, questions of oven and temperature generate much discussion. When Riebling and his wife, Kim, moved to their house a year ago, he says, “the oven was totally different and my recipe didn’t work.’’ It took him a while to get it right.

Riebling’s pizza incorporates influences from favorites he ate throughout the United States while touring with his former band, Letters to Cleo; a couple of trips to Naples; and the website www.pizzamaking.com. “Lots of famous guys come on [the site],’’ he says. “We bond together as pizza dorks.’’

For his tomato sauce, he uses canned, usually Italian, tomatoes, but shifts brands from year to year because crops change. He buys many ingredients in the North End, but may drive to New York for supplies. For his highest-temperature pizza, he prefers imported buffalo mozzarella. When he caters parties for friends in their homes, he cooks at lower temperatures and uses commercial mozzarella, which contains less liquid.

Most of the 20 party guests are in the music business. One friend arrives with lobster from his own traps, already cooked. This will be paired with buffalo sauce for buffalo-lobster pizza. Truffle salt, brought from Italy by another friend not present, is combined with chanterelle and crimini mushrooms for a white pizza drizzled with truffle oil. Pizza Margherita — tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil — is on the menu, along with pies made of sausage, creamy pesto, and caramelized onion.

He cooks each round for five to eight minutes. When he removes one, he slides it off the wooden peel onto a cooling rack, so the bottom crisps a bit, then quickly transfers it to a cookie sheet. He makes about 20. They disappear as they are sliced. “I literally can’t eat pizza anywhere else, and pizza is my favorite, favorite food,’’ says Meredith Byam Miller.

“The better the dough the more you can eat,’’ says Brian Sullivan, enjoying his third (fifth?) slice. Riebling maintains that the slow fermentation makes his dough lighter and easier on the stomach.

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But take that last delicious bite of crunchy, chewy crust, and all you’re thinking about is your next slice.

Andrea Pyenson can be reached at apyenson@gmail.com.