We’ve been told that working with dough demands consistency — a precise ratio of yeast, water, flour and salt that rises and bakes at just the right temperature. It’s a science, they say.
But toss that assumption out the window when you visit Lodge Bread, a wild yeast bakery in Culver City, where recipes are loose guidelines rather than rules and a moment of improvisation led to some of the Westside’s most beloved pizzas.
Co-owners Or Amsalam and Alex Phaneuf (also James Beard semifinalists for Outstanding Baker) started Lodge to serve simple, no-fuss food. Looking for a break from the daily routine of bread, Or and Alex turned to weekly pizza nights as a chance to play with seasonal flavors like gooey burrata with charred spigarello (a leafy, broccoli-like green) and chevre with winter squash.
Lodge’s Neapolitan-style pies aren’t your typical crispy-crusted specimens — nor are they giant cheese-smothered slices. The star element is the tender, whole wheat crust, whose origin was a happy accident. After Or messed up the ratios of their pizza dough, which used up the last of the pastry flour, he cobbled together a backup batch with whole grain dough from Lodge’s country loaf. The result: a chewy, slightly-sweet crust with a lot more heft and flavor. Customers loved it, so much so that the pizza claimed a permanent spot on the menu. Here, Or breaks down what makes this dish the one to order at Lodge.
All of Lodge’s doughs begin with a natural starter — what bakers call a “mother” — of flour, water and wild yeast from the environment. The starter requires regular “feedings” of flour and water every few days to keep the yeast alive. Or and Alex have been caring for Lodge’s starter for years, even before the bakery opened. In the early days, they would carry starters from work to home — and even on vacation — to keep them fed. Unlike store-bought yeast, natural yeast imparts a distinct personality depending on its origin. You could call the pizzas true Angelenos.
While Lodge’s original recipe called for white pastry flour, they’ve since switched to the same whole grain flour they use for their breads (specifically, organic Montana Hard Red Wheat). “We don’t shy away from whole wheat bread,” says Or. “We find it’s far tastier and more nutritious. People end up enjoying it a lot more than a cookie cutter white loaf.”
Lodge recently added its own mill room to the bakery, where the team will mill whole wheat berries on site. “Hopefully at least 50 percent of the bread will be fresh milled,” Or says.
“If you ask any Italian, they will tell you that real pizza is supposed to highlight the dough,” Or explains. “Ours almost melts in your mouth.”
To achieve just the right texture, Or mixes a portion of the starter with more flour, water and salt. Each dough starts with a base percentage of water, but each ultimately requires a different amount depending on the day or the flour.
When it comes to ratios, “there’s no set recipe,” Or admits. “You just gotta feel it out. Our bakers adjust and adapt every day. That’s what’s so fun — you’re always doing something new. We’re not just robots banging out a recipe. You can tell when something has been actually made by hand.”
Then comes a key ingredient: time for the dough to rest and rise. As the starter gets incorporated in the dough, it eats away at all the tough gluten bonds and imparts that tangy sourdough flavor. “It goes back to the old way of making dough,” Or says. “That’s why it tastes so good and that’s why your body can break it down so well.”
When it comes to toppings, Or stands by his belief that the dough is the star. “The toppings are supposed to be delicate, not in your face,” he says. His team sources seasonal, local produce from the Santa Monica Farmer’s market. On one recent visit, the menu featured a wild mushroom and taleggio pie and for meat lovers, a spicy ‘Nduja pork sausage pie with kale, fontina and garlic.
“We make simple food where the ingredients stand out. We don’t like to fuss,” Or says. “It just tastes good, and that’s it.”
Don’t expect to eat a slice by hand, though. Pizza at Lodge a gloriously messy affair. “You’re going to have to fork and knife it,” Or warns, unapologetically.
Then comes our favorite part: “You get to use the crust to soak up all the juices after.”