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All About Pizza


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Thanks for the reply, Bill. Usually, when you can smell or taste the yeast, bakers say there's too much. I suspect that the big oven spring you are getting is coming from your exceptional, very hot oven, along with a dough that's been well developed by a good machine. But I love your commitment to the experiments, and most of all I'd love to taste some of that pizza. Your family and neighbors are lucky!

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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GREAT stuff, Bill!

A few thoughts about the dough, however:

I know that fresh yeast and active dried yeast and instant dried yeast differ as to the number of yeast cells per unit of volume. Maybe it is the case that the fresh yeast has less than the others? I don't know... just speculating. The reason I ask is that your recipe seems to call for an awful lot of yeast -- certainly compared to the recipes I use. In general, I tend to use less yeast rather than more when I make doughs that will rise for a long time (my recipe has the same amount of flour as yours, and I use 1 teaspoon of instant dried yeast). I found it interesting that your recipe calls for so much yeast and a long rise, as I have always operated under the rule of thumb that longer rise = use less yeast. As the yeast works on the dough over a long rise the yeast cells are multiplying, and will tend to reproduce to just the right concentration that the dough needs. At the end of a long fermentation, a dough that was started with very little yeast should end up with the same population of active yeast cells as a dough that started out with a lot of yeast -- the main difference being that the latter will contain a much higher level of dead yeast cells. I feel that starting with very little yeast results in doughs that taste of wheat rather than tasting of yeast (although some people like a "yeasty" flavor -- maybe this is what you are going for?). A longer, slower rise starting with a smaller yeast inoculum also allows the proteolytic enzymes naturally present in the flour a longer period of time to degrade gluten and relax the dough. I also find that long-risen doughs often seem to run out of steam (i.e., fermentation activity) if I start off with a large inoculum, as the large inoculum doughs seem to eat up all the food in a relatively short period of time.

I just thought it was interesting that our dough recipes seem incredibly similar except for the size of the yeast inoculum and the form of the yeast. I like to start with around 1 tsp of instant dried yeast and ferment for at least 12 hours, often 18. In the end I get a very relaxed dough that is still fermenting quite actively. Part of the difference, however, may have to do with the form of yeast we are using. I think (although I am not sure) that fresh yeast is much less concentrated than dried.

Anyway... just my two cents worth of observation.

--

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Sam and Robert: I would tend to think that active dried yeast is, in fact, more concentrated. The stuff that I use in Italy does not give an overly yeasty TASTE, and does not interfere with the wheat flavor. It does give a yeasty aroma during the initial 2-hour rise, but much less as time goes on, so I have to discount the old baker's dictum in this case. I can assure you that there is not too much yeast, nor do I have any sense that my yeast population is growing over time. A second thought is that the compressed yeast in Italy is added by weight, not by tablespoon, so maybe the 4-tablespoon indication in my recipe does not work. (It clearly would be too much active dry yeast, and if I broke up the Italian yeast, it might not yield 4 tablespoons. I have never actually done that.) I also realized that the so-called instant European yeast (the beige granular stuff available in the U.S.) is not likely to work at all in my recipe. It is formulated to be mixed with dry ingredients, and then triggered by the addition of liquid. In theory, it might burn itself out in the poolish phase, or, if not, certainly during the first long rise. I have no reason to believe that the quantity of yeast is the most important component. Now that I am home, I am forced to use active dry yeast, and I will start with the recommended amount for volume of flour used to see if, in fact, my recipe really uses more yeast than seems plausible to you two. For the food porn fans, I will check and see if I have any pictures of the oven/grill, but I am certain that, if I do, there won't be any of the Italian TV women around it!

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I can assure you that there is not too much yeast, nor do I have any sense that my yeast population is growing over time.

The population of yeast in dough does grow over time until there is a growth-inhibiting condition. This is a biological fact. A growth limiting condition can include such things as pH below a certain threshhold, a lack of certain vital nutrients or the lack of sufficient food.

A second thought is that the compressed yeast in Italy is added by weight, not by tablespoon, so maybe the 4-tablespoon indication in my recipe does not work.  (It clearly would be too much active dry yeast, and if I broke up the Italian yeast, it might not yield 4 tablespoons.

This may be a big part of the misunderstanding. According to Peter Reinhart in Crust & Crumb, 1 ounce (~30 grams) of fresh yeast = 1 tablespoon. Further, 1 tablespoon of fresh yeast contains the same number of yeast cells as 1.25 teaspoons of active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of instant yeast. According to your recipe, you are using the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of instant yeast. While this is double what I use, it is still a relatively small inoculum for this much dough. Given that I seem to favor significantly longer fermentations (I really prefer 24 hours), we likely come out just about the same.

--

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I did a little research, too, and come to the same conclusion. One packet of dry active yeast is equal to 1 cube of my Italian fresh yeast. That should be normal fuel for 3-3 1/2 cups of flour. As my recipe calls for 7 cups of flour (and the dough may pick up a little more, either due to excessive moisture/humidity or the rolling process), the proportion is right. I would be interested in trying the 24-hour rise. But at what temperature? If too warm, it must ultimately play out the yeast, which doesn't keep reproducing forever.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I would be interested in trying the 24-hour rise.  But at what temperature?  If too warm, it must ultimately play out the yeast, which doesn't keep reproducing forever.

I do mine at regular NYC room temperature... probably somewhere around 75F.

If you're going to do a long ferment, I would recommend starting with half the yeast or maybe even less. I've not had any problems with the dough losing steam after 24 hours. Although it isn't too terribly active, the dough still rises considerably over the course of a pizza party (I typically make a ton of dough and turn out around 10 large pizze).

--

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For the food porn fans, I will check and see if I have any pictures of the oven/grill, but I am certain that, if I do,  there won't be any of the Italian TV women around it!

For Christ's sake, if this is going to be your crematorium let's see what it looks like!

On the other hand, I've been in the wood-fired masonry heater/oven trade for 25 years, so it would be nice to see a pic or two of what's happening in Italy. If there are Italian TV women around, that's okay - so long as they're not obstructing our view of your oven and grill in all its magnificence.

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This may be a big part of the misunderstanding. According to Peter Reinhart in Crust & Crumb, 1 ounce (~30 grams) of fresh yeast = 1 tablespoon. Further, 1 tablespoon of fresh yeast contains the same number of yeast cells as 1.25 teaspoons of active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of instant yeast.

According to Plyer's Baking Science and Technology, "in practice, 45 parts of active dry yeast replace 100 parts of compressed yeast." As far as equating the number of yeast cells in differing amounts of compressed or active dry yeast, it is worth noting that the strain of yeast used in active dry yeast has less gassing power than that of compressed yeast, as "some gas production power has been sacrificed in the interest of better activity retention on drying." In addition the active dry yeast suffers losses of cells during drying and rehydration, so it would be perhaps better when trying to find equivalencies to think in terms of gassing power, not number of yeast cells.

For what it's worth I tend to use one teaspoon active dry yeast for 1000gr flour and opt for a long fermentation 12-18 hours in general. I can't stress enough that times and techniques in pizza dough making become substantially less critical when you bake in a wood burning oven whose temperature is 800 degrees. You could throw year old matzoh dough in a deck that hot and get oven spring. For pizza the most important ingredient is really the oven.

Regarding dough flavor I agree with the other posters that the goal is wheat flavor not yeast flavor, but in the case of pizza where there are usually several others flavors involved, tomato, olive oil, cheese, basil and the dough burning and browning, the dough flavor is far less critical than it would be in say a baguette.

I also realized that the so-called instant European yeast (the beige granular stuff available in the U.S.) is not likely to work at all in my recipe. It is formulated to be mixed with dry ingredients, and then triggered by the addition of liquid.

I see no reason why instant active yeast wouldn't work

in a poolish, biga or sponge or any pizza dough in general. Provided the rehydration temp of the water or bowl is not too cold, according to Pyler this can be problem, although I've never experienced it. Having worked in a bakery that occasionally would run out of yeast, this stuff can be a lifesaver. Over a wide range of doughs I've never had it "burn itself out" in any unusual way. If I did enough home baking to go through a whole package in a short enough time after opening, I would use this in place of active dry yeast.

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I made thin crust pizza yesterday and it was a total flop. First let me say that I have made pizza dozens of times and became quite good at it, but something happen to the dough. The problem is that the dough did not stretch, it was more flakey like a pastry dough. As I rolled out the pizza it would rip, and as I pick it up to flip over it would rip in about 6 spots. My guess is the yeast did not work right?

The ingredients are the same as I always use...flour, water, packaged yeast, olive oil, and honey. It was very humid out (if that could be a problem). I could tell when rolling the dough that is did not have the normal elasticity, and after it rested a bit after the second rise there were cracks in the top of the ball, rather than a shiny round surface. I would guess that it was definately the yeast, but the yeast seem to foam up like normal, and the dough did rise although in hindsight it did not seem to rise as high as normal.

I appreciate any insights from the pizza gurus.

Ed McAniff

A Taster's Journey

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Had this been your first attempt ever, I would have said too little liquid for the quantity of flour. As that is not the case, yeast would be the only other component that could cause an unusual effect (you can make dough without olive oil or honey, and too much of either would produce the opposite effect), but it sounds like your yeast was OK. Did you use some weird type of flour?

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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I used regular all purpose flour, but that is the same flour I always use...and with good results.

Your comment on the water level is interesting. I mix the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid with a dough hook. The recipe (W. puck) say about 5 minutes on slow....which is the amount of time it normally takes to form a good ball on the hook....BUT, this time it seemed to form a ball in about 2 minutes. I thought that the excessive humidity could be effecting things. So when I was doing the first round of kneeding I added a bit more flour....it did not seem to get too dry, but maybe that was part of the cause.

Ed McAniff

A Taster's Journey

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I had the instant stuff come up lame on me two nights ago. I suppose that it could have been old, but it had a "sell by 8/22/03" date on it, and it looked to have been put up in baggies by the best bakery in Chapel Hill, NC, which is associated with the store where I bought the yeast. Worked great for the poolish and an initial two-hour rise, but delivered nothing in the oven.

By the way, the GFerrari pizza oven works! It is rather temperamental, in that it is calibrated on a 0-3 scale rather than by degrees. It said to bake best on 2 1/2, but that charred the bottom of the crust before the top was perfectly done. The other trick is that the pre-heat light must be on when you are cooking the pizza, or else the top heating element will not be on. Got excellent results at the "2" setting, a normal golden brown, home oven result at "1 1/2". In my opinion, worth having if you are a serious pizza person. At "2 1/2" setting, delivered a fully-cooked pizza in 2 1/2 minutes; at "2", about 3 1/2 minutes; at "1 1/2", about 4 minutes. They also make a double unit that sucks 2,400 watts. The crust is really crisp and somewhat dry on the bottom, and moist, but cooked through, on the top. The stone gives a light charred effect, but you won't mistake it for a wood-fired pizza. The top element is hot enough to produce the blistering effect, but without any char. Makes a nice-looking pizza. Can be used for frozen pizzas and reheating commercial pizzas as well. My only other problem was the sorry quality of toppings in the U.S. I got the very best available-imported buffala and prosciutto, farmer's market veggies, etc., but it was no use. It was still a let-down after fresh buffala and spicy Calabrese sausages in a wood-burning oven! The dough was better, nearly as good as in Italia, as it was made with flour, salt, EVOO and honey from the old country. I missed the fresh yeast, though. As indicated above, the instant yeast was a dud for some reason, and active dry yeast does not seem to develop as much flavor (at least in the 7 hours I had to let it work) as fresh yeast.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Now that sounds right. Extra flour is often required in very high humidity, and you may have overdone it a bit without it showing up until later. The short kneading sounds like part of the problem, too. I use a Kitchenaid and dough hook, too, but for at least 5 minutes. See the "pinch test" in my dough post below. I'll bet your dough hung together, but was too dry to pass the test. It is important to realize that, with pizza dough, you can stop the kneading and adjust the balance of the ingredients at will, and you often need to, when atmospheric conditions impact the dough.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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My impression is that the gluten in your dough did not develop properly, maybe because of the kneading time and humidity together. The humidity alone does not explain your problem; ciabatta dough, a really wet and sticky one, can be stretched a lot without problem and in many pizzerias i know in Italy the dough is kept really tacky and is dusted with flour only when it needs to be shaped. Next time you could try the so called windowpane test: stretch a piece of dough with index and thumb of both hands, trying to get a sort of dough square held between them (grrr... easyer to show than to explain). If the gluten in the dough has properly developed you should be able to stretch it so much that you can almost see through it without it tearing. Maybe, since you use all purpose flour which has less gluten, you will not get to this stage, but you should still be able to notice an improvement in the dough stretchyness by kneading it longer.

Good luck

alberto

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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If you were able to get a ball to form after 2 minutes (one that did not stick to the side of the mixing bowl) you absolutely did not add enough water to the dough.

(I would argue that if you can form a ball after 5 minutes or at all your dough is too firm). Try to learn to judge if you have enough hydration before you switch to the dough hook, when the ingredients have just come together. If you feel the dough is still a little too firm after you've begun kneading, then add some more water in a thin stream on low speed toward the end of the mix.

If you want to learn fairly quickly how to judge for proper hydration here's a good excercise: scale all your ingredients except water. Just fill a pitcher with some water and add a conservative amount at the beginning of the mix and make adjustments based on what you see and feel and how you want the dough. You may have a few bad mixes to start, but you'll quickly learn to depend on your senses and your dough will become more consistent than if you rigidly followed a recipe every time.

Similiarly in the case of your problem dough if you noticed that it's rising slower than usual after a specified time, trust your instincts and let it rise longer. If you normally let the dough rest for 30 minutes after dividing but, the dough feels firm and refuses to stretch let it rest longer.

Next time you could try the so called windowpane test: stretch a piece of dough with index and thumb of both hands, trying to get a sort of dough square held between them (grrr... easyer to show than to explain). If the gluten in the dough has properly developed you should be able to stretch it so much that you can almost see through it without it tearing.

In my experience you can't achieve this level of gluten development with a kitchen aid without overheating your dough or starting with a dough that is too stiff. I find it makes more sense to compensate for the under development of the dough through long fermentations and turns during fermentation.

Maybe, since you use all purpose flour which has less gluten, you will not get to this stage

With a professional mixer you will have no problem getting to this stage with AP flour. Conversely if you knead by hand you'll be hard pressed to develop a dough to this stage made with a high protein flour.

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Two things here:

1. Bill is correct about the long rising. There is a certain amount of gluten development that takes place over time via chemical reactions simply by allowing the wet dough to sit. In addition, the mechanical action of multiple risings encourages further crosslinking and gluten development. I know several people who are able to make quite excellent bread with all the characteristics we would associate with good gluten development using a very long rise and without kneading the dough at all.

2. All this talk about gluten development and pizza dough is mystifying me somewhat. Unless one desires thick, bready pizza crusts I cannot quite see why maximum development of gluten is particularly crucial. Indeed, the whole reason many of us suggest using 00 flour or cutting AP flour with cake flour is precisely to reduce the gluten in the resultant dough. Similarly, one reason for a long fermentation is to relax whatever gluten does form. Doughs that are high in gluten tend to be very springy and resist the baker's attempts to spread them out. The way to compensate for this is to give the dough more hydration (higher gluten flours absorb more water). Even then, a high gluten dough has to be wetter than a low gluten dough to achieve the same amount of pliability. Once you have added enough water to make a higher gluten flour suitably extensible, you end up with a wetter dough that -- in my opinion -- doesn't taste as good as one made with a lower gluten flour.

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I think that Mr. Kinsey is on target. Is it possible that we are weaving in and out of general breadmaking techniques versus pizza dough techniques a bit? I go for the long rise on pizza dough for flavor development and a necessary loss of elasticity (by which I mean the tendency of the dough to spring back, rather than hold its shape, when stretched). Pizza dough is very much an anti-gluten proposition.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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All this talk about gluten development and pizza dough is mystifying me somewhat.  Unless one desires thick, bready pizza crusts I cannot quite see why maximum development of gluten is particularly crucial.  Indeed, the whole reason many of us suggest using 00 flour or cutting AP flour with cake flour is precisely to reduce the gluten in the resultant dough.  Similarly, one reason for a long fermentation is to relax whatever gluten does form.  Doughs that are high in gluten tend to be very springy and resist the baker's attempts to spread them out.

I use high-gluten bread flour, a high water-to-flour-ratio (7/8 cup water to 2 cups flour), and a long fermentation in the refrigerator, and I am able easily to stretch this dough in the air with my fists to a 14-inch-diameter circle before laying it on the peel. All I know, empirically, is that this method gives me great extensibilty resulting in a very thin crust that does not tear in stretching and bakes up very crisp and crackly and blistery and flavorful on a stone at 550 degrees F (the highest my oven reaches).

I think the long, cold fermentation is key. By the time I take the dough out of the fridge, anywhere from one to three days after kneading, it is slumping in the bowl, nearly flat, as limp and docile as one could wish.

Regarding extensibility and your argument that high-gluten flour necessarily yields a springy, thick, puffy crust, please consider this: the ultra-thin phyllo dough is made with none other than high-gluten flour, yet it stretches out easily and phenomenally thin.

It may be that you and I are baking under different conditions and getting different results, but, having tried low-gluten flour with inferior results, I am going to continue using high-gluten flour.

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As I mentioned on the other pizza dough thread, I too have had problems with low gluten flour and pizza crust. The high gluten crust is sometimes too bready for my taste, but I have never had a problem stretching a high gluten dough. The 00 dough just tears when I try to stretch it.

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It seems clear that you can make crust with high gluten flour, and I am not a stickler for tradition, but only low gluten flour is used in Italy. Maybe high gluten flour works better for some of you with a pizza stone and the limitations of a traditional oven. I am a little surprised to hear about the tearing problems using 00 flour, though. It is not a problem that I have ever had with 00, except maybe when trying to create ultra-thin pasta dough (which is egg-based and altogether another creature).

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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