July 17, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Playing with fire at Jillyanna's Woodfired Cooking School

The flour flies and the teachers burn with a passion for cooking over a wood flame at this new culinary school in York County.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer


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Instructor Jill Strauss shovels a Crabby Cheddar pizza into the oven, where the heat registered over 750 degrees, at Jillyanna’s Woodfired Cooking School in Kennebunkport.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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A pizza cooks in an oven at Jillyanna’s.

Additional Photos Below



141 Wildes District Road, Kennebunkport


EMAIL: cook@jillyannas.com

WEB: jillyannas.com


Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Makes 4 7-ounce, thin-crust pizzas

Bake pizzas on preheated baking stone or pizza steel.

It is important to use ice water in the dough to prevent overheating the dough while in the food processor. Semolina flour is ideal for dusting the peel.

3 cups (16½ ounces) bread flour, plus more for work surface

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

11/3 cups ice water (10½ ounces)

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for work surface

1½ teaspoons fine sea salt

In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flour, sugar and yeast until combined, about 2 seconds. With machine running, slowly add water through feed tube; process until dough is just combined and no dry flour remains, about 10 seconds. Let dough stand 10 minutes.

Add oil and salt to dough and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of work bowl, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl and knead briefly on lightly oiled countertop until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape dough into tight ball and place in large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. Remove dough from refrigerator 2-3 hours before using.

One hour before baking pizza, adjust oven rack to second highest position (rack should be about 4 to 5 inches below broiler), set pizza stone or steel on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. To get oven and stone even hotter, turn on overhead broiler 10 minutes before cooking individual pizzas.

Coat 1 ball of dough generously with flour and place on well-floured countertop. Using fingertips, gently flatten into 8-inch disk, leaving 1 inch of outer edge slightly thicker than center. Using hands, gently stretch disk into 10-inch round, working along edges and giving disk quarter turns as you stretch.

Transfer dough to semolina dusted peel and stretch into 12-inch round.


Adapted from Jim Lahey's "My Pizza"

2 cups (486 grams) whole milk

1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter

2¼ tablespoons (18 grams) all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon (2 grams) fine sea salt

3 rasp grates of nutmeg

Pour 1/3 of milk into a saucepan. Cut butter into a few chunks (so they'll melt more easily) and add to the milk. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until butter melts, but without allowing milk to reach a boil.

Meanwhile, put flour in a medium mixing bowl, add remaining milk, and whisk into a slurry.

Once butter has been completely incorporated into hot milk, ladle some of the warm mixture into the cold flour mixture to warm it. Pour contents of the bowl back into saucepan and whisk it in. Stir in the salt.

Over medium-low heat, whisk mixture frequently -- to prevent sticking -- as it cooks and thickens. The bechamel is done at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, when it has reached the consistency of runny sauce or heavy cream. Grate in the nutmeg and allow sauce to cool to room temperature. It will continue to thicken slightly as it cools.

Use bechamel immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Bring it back to room temperature before using.


1 ball of pizza dough, shaped and waiting on a semolina dusted peel

Scant 1/2 cup bechamel sauce

4 ounces fresh Maine crabmeat

¼ cup grated Vermont cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Place pizza stone or steel in a gas oven on a rack about 8 inches from broiler. Preheat oven on bake at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Switch to broil for 10 minutes.

With the dough on the peel, spoon the bechamel sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Evenly distribute the fresh crab over the sauce. Sprinkle generously with grated Vermont cheddar and 1 to 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3½ minutes under gas (will be a little longer if using electric oven) until crust is slightly charred and top is golden brown.

Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter, slice and serve.

Flour goes flying everywhere -- in Jill Strauss' kitchen, on my clothes, into the face of the woman standing next to me.

I am beating my Neapolitan pizza dough into submission, discovering this is a great way to get rid of the stress of the day.

"Neapolitan dough likes to be very gently treated while it's forming," says Strauss, who made the dough in a special mixer that cost as much as my last car repair bill. "And then it wants you to smack it after it's risen. It's very Italian."

I'm at Jillyanna's Woodfired Cooking School to learn about making seafood pizzas. I love the idea of a seafood pizza, but whenever I have a pie with lobster as a topping, I'm always disappointed. I want to experiment, but I'm not sure what sauces to use, and I'm worried about overcooking the seafood.

Jill Strauss, aka "Jillyanna," to the rescue. Strauss and her partner, Valerie Glynn, have just opened a wood-fired cooking school at their home that is, for the summer at least, focusing on pizzas. Friday classes feature seafood ideas, Saturday classes use ingredients from local farms and Sunday classes are all about Italian classics.

On a recent Friday evening (Friday classes run from 4 to 7:30 p.m.) Glynn met me at my car and gave me a quick tour of their garden, just across the yard from their impressive Mugnaini wood-fired oven.

They've planted basil, garlic, peppers, parsley cilantro, rosemary, chives and a host of other fresh herbs and vegetables that will work well as pizza toppings.

"We try to grow a few things that we're going to be using, so we know exactly where they're coming from -- a nice, clean garden," Glynn said.

Glynn offers me a glass of iced tea with mint syrup, and I notice the patio table is set for six to eight, with a cutting board and a mortar and pestle at each place -- we're going to be making our own pesto.

The fire has been going for two hours and the infrared gun shows it has reached 778 degrees inside, perfect for Neapolitan pizza.

Strauss, a 2007 culinary graduate of Johnson & Wales, learned how to make Neapolitan pizza from a fourth-generation pizzaiolo, Enzo Coccia, in Naples. ("He screamed at me in Italian for two weeks, and I didn't speak Italian so that worked out real well.") She also studied Italian cooking with cookbook author Giuliano Hazan in Verona.


What if, like me, you don't have a wood-fired oven at home? In addition to her outdoor oven, Strauss has a Wolf electric oven and a Viking gas oven in her teaching kitchen, and during our class we made pizzas in all three, using different types of dough.

"My goal is to show people how to make the best pizza in their home ovens," she said.

Strauss calls her wood-fired oven, built by two friends who are masons, her "midlife crisis."

"I was watching Jamie Oliver on television, and he had this program where his garden was all around him, and he was cooking with live fire, and for some reason it resonated so strongly," she said. "It was like church. Why something hits you so strongly that you want to change your life over it, I don't know, but that is truly what happened."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Jill Strauss sprinkles Parmesan cheese on the pie, which also is topped with bechamel sauce, crab meat and cheddar.

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The dough for a Neapolitan pizza takes a pounding under the hands of Jillyanna’s instructor Jill Strauss.

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Prepared for the class is a lobster pizza topped with her own lobster cream sauce.

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