Pizza is the most sensuous of foods. I get emails from around the world and one of the most common goes something like this: “Jeff, I had this one perfect pizza at a corner shop in Brooklyn in 1972 and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” I love that!. That’s passion. Do you know how many forgettable meals have come and gone since then. What kind of pizza leaves a 35 year impression? Let me describe it to you. The crust is slightly charred. It has a crisp outer layer, but inside it’s airy and light. The ingredients are not piled high, but instead are perfectly balanced. It’s sweet, salty, full flavored but not greasy. The tomatoes burst with flavor. Each bite makes you hungrier for the next. If this is what you want, you’ve come to the right place.
This pizza is modeled after Patsy’s on 117th street in NYC. I have been working on this for SIX years, but FINALLY I can report that I have achieved my goal. Many people have tried my pie and swear it is not only the best pizza they’ve ever had, but a clone of the original Patsy’s recipe. This margarita pie is incredibly light and perfectly charred. It took just 2 minutes and 10 seconds to bake at 825F.
Reproducing this was no easy feat, but since moving to Atlanta what choice did I have? Dominos? It’s been a bit of an obsession.
I’ve had a lot of failed experiments. However now I can honestly say that the recipe is fully accurate and reproducible.
The final breakthrough came in Jan 2005 when I finally got a handle on the proper mixing equipment and procedure. But do not think that following this will be easy. It’s not. It will still take practice.
Many others have confirmed that by following these steps they too have come to near perfection.
This may be the most detailed, accurate and complete recipe on the net for making a true Pizza Napoletana.
Pizza inspires passion. I’ve gotten about a thousand emails representing every continent. If you’d like to contact me, feel free to write at Jeff@Varasanos.com. It may take a little time for me to respond, but I try to answer all emails personally. I’m going to start a photo gallery, so if you have some success, send me a photo and I’ll add it for others to see!
At the bottom of this page, I have a List of the Best Pizzerias in the World which I’ve also places on this Google Map of The World’s Best Pizzas. In addition I’ve created a second Google Map of Fan Favorites – places that have been recommended by fans of this site. I can’t really vouch for these but if your in the area check them out and let me know your opinion.
This dough was hand kneaded and baked in just 1 minute 40 seconds
I am going to add a lot more instructions and photos over the next couple of months, including specifics on how to culture the dough, so check back here occasionally. I may even do a few seconds of video here and there.
Let me start off by saying a few things. First, this is about a certain style of pizza. This site is about the kind of pizza that you can get at the oldest and best places in the U.S. or in Naples. This is not about Chicago style or California Style or trying to reproduce Papa John’s garlic sauce… This is about making a pie that’s as close to Patsy’s or Luzzo’s or Pepe’s or some of the top Brick Oven places. Not that these pies are all identical – but they share certain basics in common.
Second, I want to say that there is a LOT of misinformation out there. Take a tour of the World’s top pizza places (there’s a list at the bottom of this page).
None of these places publish their recipes. They don’t write books.
You are not going to see any of these places represented at the “U.S. pizza championship” where they compete at dough tossing or who makes the best smoke pork mango pizza.. The real pizza places are not at some trade show out in Vegas where they hawk automatic sauce dispensers and conveyor belt ovens.
But somehow though, all the attendees of these shows declare themselves experts and write books and spread the same false ideas.
There are about a hundred books and internet recipes that claim to give an authentic or secret pizza dough recipe. Oddly, while many claim to be secret or special, they are practically all the same.
Here it is in summary. If you see this recipe, run screaming:
Sprinkle a yeast packet into warm water between 105-115 F and put in a teaspoon of sugar to feed it. Wait for it to foam up or ‘proof’. Add all your flour to a Kitchen Aid heavy duty mixer, then add the yeast and salt. Now mix until it pulls away from the side of the bowl. Coat with oil and leave in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about 1-2 hours. Punch down, spread on a peel with some cornmeal to keep it from sticking and put it on the magical pizza stone that will make this taste just like Sally’s in your 500F oven.
I assure you, this will not make anything like a real pizza. It’s weird – even chefs whose other recipes all come out pretty good, like Emeril, simply pass around more or less this same terrible recipe.
Pizza is a true specialty item and a real art. It takes passion to make it right. I wasn’t a restaurateur when I started out. But I did have a passion for doing this right.
I’m not going to give you the ‘easy home version’. I’m going to give you the version that makes the best pie I know how to make, even if it takes a bit more effort (ok, more than just a bit)
There are a lot of variables for such a simple food. But these 3 FAR outweigh the others:
1. High Heat
2. Kneading Technique
3. The kind of yeast culture or “starter” used along with proper fermentation technique
All other factors pale in comparison to these 3. I know that people fuss over the brand of flour, the kind of sauce, etc. I discuss all of these things, but if you don’t have the 3 fundamentals above handled, you will be limited.
1- It’s all in the crust.
My dough is just water, salt, flour and yeast. I use no dough conditioners, sugars, oils, malts, corn meal, flavorings or anything else. These violate the “Vera Pizza Napoletana” rules and I doubt that Patsy’s or any great brick oven place uses these things.
I’ve only recently begun to measure the actual “baker’s percents” of the ingredients. Use this awesome spreadsheet to help you. The sheet allows you to track your experiments.
Here’s a basic set of ratios.
The truth is that a lot of these recipes look the same and that you can vary these ingredients by several percentage points and it’s not going to make a huge difference.
You really have to learn the technique, which I’m going to explain in as much detail as I can, and then go by feel. Really, I just measure the water and salt and the rest is pretty flexible. The amount of flour is really, “add until it feels right.”
The amount of Sourdough starter can range from 3% to 20% and not affect the end product all that much. Weights are in grams.
I also show this as both “Baker’s Percents” (This has flour as 100% by definition and then all the other ingredients as their proportionate weight against of the flour) and using the Italian method which actually makes more sense to me, of showing the base as 1000 grams of water and all the other ingredients in proportion to that.
Both methods are attempts to make the recipes scalable. Note that the addition of the poolish, which is half water, half flour, actually makes this a bit wetter, around 65% hydration.
Note that this table had an error on it which was corrected on 11/30/06:
|Ingredient||1 Pie||3 Pies||5 Pies||Baker’s %||Grams Per Liter of Water|
|King Arthur Bread flour, or Caputo Pizzeria flour||168.00||510.00||850.00||100.00%||1,527|
|Kosher or Sea Salt||6.00||18.00||30.00||3.50%||55|
|Sourdough yeast culture (as a battery poolish)||15.00||45.00||60.00||9.00%||136|
|Instant Dry yeast – Optional||0.50||1.50||2.50||0.25%||4.50|
If you use Caputo or any 00 flour, you may find that it takes a lot more flour for the given amount of water. Probably a baker’s % of 60% or so. One reason I like to feel the dough rather than strictly measure the percent hydration is that with feel you don’t have to worry about the type of flour so much.
A Caputo and a Bread will feel the same when they are done, even though one might have 60% water and the other 65%. It’s the feel that I shoot for, not the number. I vary wetness based on my heat – higher the oven temp, the wetter I want the dough.
I’ve heard it said that NY has the best pizza because of the water. This is a myth. Get over it. It’s not the water. The water is one of a hundred factors. I filter my whole house with a huge 5 stage system, so I use that. If I didn’t have that I’d spring for a $1 bottle of Dasani. That will do it too.
Salt only the final dough, never your permanent sourdough culture. For that matter, your culture is fed only water (filtered or Dasani) and flour. Never add any other kind of yeast, salt, sugar or anything else to your permanent culture.
I use a sourdough culture that I got from what is probably the best pizza in the USA – Patsy’s Pizza on 117th street in NYC. The place has been there for 80 years. The ‘battery poolish’ is about 50/50 water and flour.
Buy the book “Classic Sourdoughs” by Ed Wood from www.sourdo.com to learn how to use a sourdough starter. The term sourdough does not necessarily mean that this has a San Francisco Sourdough flavor. The term sourdough just means any yeast other than “baker’s yeast” which is what comes in the dry or cake form.
There are 1000’s of types of yeast. But the commercial products are all the same strain (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) regardless of the brand you buy or whether it’s dry or cake form. Commercial or “baker’s yeast” gives a fast, predictable rise, but is lacking in flavor. All other yeasts are called sourdough. San Francisco sourdough is one strain. But there are 1000’s of others. I doesn’t have to taste sour, like San Francisco, to be called sourdough. It’s just a term. You can “create your own” culture by leaving some flour water out on the counter. There are lots of kinds of yeast in the air in your kitchen right now and one of them will set up shop eventually in your flour water and begin growing. What will it taste like? Well, it’s like setting a trap for an animal and waiting for dinner. It could be a pheasant. It could be a rat. You have no way of knowing.
Do yourself a favor and skip this part and just buy or obtain a known high quality starter. www.sourdo.com sells strains from the world’s best bakeries. I’ve seen many bogus things about the use of starters.
A classic is that you can start a wild culture by setting out some flour, water and baker’s yeast and the baker’s yeast will ‘attract’ other yeasts.
This is alchemy.
It’s like saying I put out dandelions and they attracted peaches. It makes no sense. Another myth is that you can get the same flavor out of packaged yeast as you can out of a sourdough culture if you handle it right. This is also alchemy. Can you get parsley to taste like thyme if you handle it right? These are distinct organism, like spices, that all have a different flavor. If you use a starter, and you should, then learn from Ed Wood.
A sourdough starter actually consists of 2 separate organisms which exist in a symbiotic relationship. There is the yeast and the lactobacilli.
Here’s the cliff notes version of what’s happening: All flavor really comes from the lactobacilli, all the puff from yeast. The yeast operate well at high temp. The lactobacilli at any temp. Therefore, to develop highly flavored dough put it in the fridge.
The yeast will be mostly dormant, giving time for the lactobacilli to produce flavor. The flavor takes a day or more. So you have to keep the yeast on ice that long. Then you take it out of the fridge and let the yeast take over and produce gas. The yeast only needs an hour or two to do this part. This can happen very quickly in a warmer.
There is no need for a gradual rise, because at this point the flavor is there. You can smell the alcohol in the dough. The yeast are just adding the bubbles at this point. This technique of refrigeration is called a “cold rise“.
There are warm rise methods that work too, but I have not gotten the best results with them after numerous attempts. In Naples they virtually all use a warm rise, so I don’t doubt the technique can be made to work well. I may revisit this section later.
The lactobacilli and yeast exist in pairs. Not every flavorful lactobacilli has a competent yeast partner. You may find that you’ve got a culture that has a great flavor, but the puff is not there. No problem. Give it a boost with plain old Baker’s yeast, which has little taste but plenty of puff. I use 1/8 teaspoon of instant dry yeast for each batch of 3-5 pies, to give it an extra rise, but 100% of the flavor is from the Patsy’s culture.
There are 2 ways to ferment the dough: you can use a ‘warm rise’ or a ‘cold rise’. The warm rise is harder. You simply leave it out at room temp and wait for it to rise.
This is hard to control because it could take 10 hours or 24 hours. Tiny, tiny variations in room temp and the amount of yeast you started with will make all the difference. And if it’s not risen optimally when you use it, the dough may end up flat and lacking in oven spring.
So timing a pizza party this way is hard.
By far the easier way to ferment the dough is the cold rise. And the results are just as good if not better. I prefer to age my dough at least 2-3 days in the fridge. I’ve aged it up to 6 days with good results.
However, my culture is very mild. With some cultures 24 hours is the right amount of time and 2 days would be too much.. You have to get to know your culture. They are all different.. 24 hours is the minimum with a cold rise. There’s more on this technique down below.
There is a lot of emphasis put on using the right type of flour. Personally, I think this focus is misplaced. Of course, it’s important to use high quality ingredients. But improving your dough making technique is much, much more important than hunting down the exact right type of flour.
The truth is that almost all flours sold are pretty high quality especially compared to what was available 60 years ago when Patsy Lancieri was making amazing pizza. That alone should tell you something.
I currently use either using King Arthur Bread Flour or a blend of this with Caputo Pizzeria flour. I actually think that you can buy any bread flour available at your local supermarket and you’ll be ok.
Let me give you a quick flour primer. You can do a lot more internet research if you want, but here’s the basics. There are two variables I want to focus on, the Percentage of Protein or ‘gluten’ and the type of mill. This chart will give you some typical ranges.
However, there are no governing standards, so some vendors may call their flour High Gluten, for example, even though the product would fit into another category in this chart:
|Name(s)||% Protein||Mill||Vendors / Brands|
|Italian 00||8-11.5||Very Fine||Caputo, San Felice|
|All Purpose (AP)||9-11.5||Standard||Giusto, King Arthur, Gold Medal, White Lily|
|Bread||11.5-13||Standard||Giusto, King Arthur, Gold Medal, White Lily|
|Hi Gluten||13-14.5||Standard||Giusto, King Arthur Sir Lancelot, Gold Medal All Trumps|
Lately I’ve gone back to using King Arthur Bread Flour. I’ve used AP successfully as well. The kneading seems to be more critical. Most pizza places in NYC use Hi Gluten Flour and many internet sources insist that Hi Gluten Flour is necessary to make real NY pizza.
This information sent a lot of people off ordering expensive mail order flours. However, according to pizza guru Evelyn Solomon, the old timers used flour in the 12% range, which would be a bread flour. This confirmed what my own tests had shown me all along. Bread flour from the supermarket is just fine for making pizza.
It has certainly been proven that you don’t need high gluten flour to make highly structured bread. Ed Wood from sourdo.com makes great artisan bread using AP. In Naples they use 00 flour which has less gluten than AP. I’ve had great and horrible pies with all kinds of flours from all kinds of pizzerias.
And I’ve made great and d horrible pies with all kinds of flours myself. Kneading and overall technique is more important than the flour in my opinion.
Since putting up this site I’ve been urged to try other flours. I’ve made pies with at least 20 flours including these:
King Arthur All Purpose (KA AP) – 11.7% Protein
King Arthur Bread (KA Bread) – 12.7% protein
King Arthur Sir Lancelot (KASL) aka Hi Gluten – 14.2% Protein
Gold Medal Bread Flour (formerly labeled Harvest King) – 12.5% protein
Caputo Pizzeria 00 (11.5%, but also a finer mill)
Giusto’s Artisan Unbleached – 11-11.5% protein
White Lily Bread Flour – 12.5 % protein
I can make a nearly identical pie with any of these except for the Italian 00 flour. It’s mostly technique. I’m not saying that the type of flour makes no difference, but I am saying that it’s a small difference and I’ve had great pies from restaurants with varying types of flour. Don’t get too hung up on it. One is not ‘better’ than the other, it depends on the style you want. Currently I use a 50/50 blend of Caputo and KA Bread. Caputo gives bigger bubbles and a lighter spring. But I prefer to mix it with Bread flour to give it more strength. In Naples, the dough is very soft and hard to hold and often eaten with a knife and fork. NY street pizza is easily folded and held. They typically use a strong Hi Gluten Flour. My pies are closer to the Neapolitan, but not quite. You can still hold it, but sometimes it flops a bit at the tip.
The 00 has a finer mill and also it will absorb much less water than the other flours. The 00 flour really is quite different than the others. If you are baking at under 750F, you should really not use 00. It will never brown and you’ll have much more luck with another flour.
The ratio of Flour and water can dramatically change the characteristics of the dough. Having said that though, I don’t measure my “% hydration”. I do it strictly by feel. Lately my dough has been much much wetter than ever before. Wetter dough stretches easier with less pull back. It seems to develop faster in the fridge. And it provides more steam for more puff in the final baked crust. The higher the temperature of the oven, the wetter the dough should be. At super high heats needed to make a pie in 2 minutes or less, you need a lot of moisture to keep it from burning and sticking to the baking surface.
This is one of the most important steps. Follow along carefully. There are 100 recipes on the net that say you dump all the ingredients together, turn the machine on and you will have a great dough. It’s not true. But once you understand these steps your dough will transform into something smooth and amazing.
Kitchen Aid Mixer vs. Electrolux DLX mixer:
I started a little revolution on PizzaMaking.com when I dumped by Kitchen Aid Mixer and bought an Electrolux DLX mixer. The DLX is a MUCH better machine. However, if you follow ALL the techniques here, you can get a good dough out of a Kitchen Aid. The DLX is easier to use. You can make a dozen pies or more in it at a clip, no problem. And you can really just let it do it’s work alone. With the KA you sometimes have to stop it and pull the dough off the hook and continue. So I like the DLX. But I know many of you have already bought Kitchen Aids. As long as you follow the process carefully, you should be OK. The DLX takes a while to get used to, but now I’m really rocking with it. See Dough.htm for early experiments. Join groups.yahoo.com/group/Mixer-Owners for info on the DLX and how to use it. I use a DLX with the Roller and Scrapper attachments. I will put up photos of this process at some point. Some one else has posted a video of a DLX
The Wet-Kneading Technique with Autolyse
I call this process Wet-Kneading. It’s the key to great dough:
Autolyse – Autolyse is a fancy word that just means one simple thing. The flour and water should sit together for at least 20 minutes before kneading begins. It’s a CRITICAL step. Some say that you should mix just the flour and water together, then after 20 minutes add the salt and yeast, then mix. Others say you can add all the ingredients at the beginning. I have found very little difference.
Pour all the ingredients into the mixer, except just use 75% of the flour for now. So all of the water, salt, poolish (Video of Poolish), Instant dry Yeast (if used) and 75% of the flour are put into the mixer. Everything should be room temperature or a bit cooler.
There is no need to dissolve the yeast in warm water or feed it sugar. ‘Proofing’ the yeast was probably required decades ago, but I’ve never had yeast that didn’t activate. The yeast feeds on the flour so you don’t need to put in sugar. The proofing step that you see in many recipes is really an old wives tale at this point.
Mix on lowest speed for 1-2 minutes or until completely blended. At this stage you should have a mix that is drier than a batter, but wetter than a dough. Closer to batter probably.
Cover and Let it rest for 20 minutes. One of the most important things I’ve found is that these rest periods have a huge impact on the final product. I’ve seen so much arguing online about the proper flour for making pizza. “You need super high protein flour to get the right structure for a pizza dough”. People argue endlessly about brands and minor changes in flour blends, types of water, etc. A lot of this is myth and a big waste of time. The autolyse period is FAR more important to creating structured gluten development than is the starting protein percentage. Autolyse and knead properly and AP flour will produce a great pizza with a lot of structure. Do these steps poorly and bread or high gluten flour will not help you at ALL. This step reminds me of mixing pie dough. After you add the water to pie dough, it’s crumbly. But after sitting for 20 minutes, it’s a dough. The water takes time to soak in, and when it does it transforms the pie dough. It’s really a similar thing here with pizza dough
Start Mixing on Low speed for 8 minutes. 5 minutes into it start adding flour gradually.
This part is critical and it’s something that I did not understand at all until relatively recently: Even if the dough is very sticky – that is it does not have enough flour in it to form a ball and it is still halfway between a batter and a dough – it is still working. This is where MOST of the kneading occurs. The gluten IS working at this point even though it’s not a dough yet.
If you are using a KA, and you lift the hook, the dough should fall off by itself. The hook should look like its going through the dough, and not pushing the dough around. It should be that wet until nearly the end.
With the DLX you can play with the scrapper and the roller, pressing them together to allow the dough to extrude through the gaps. This really works the dough. The DLX mechanism is totally different than a regular mixer.
After the first 6-8 minutes increase the speed of the mixer slightly. I never go higher than 1/3 of the dial on my mixer. Keep in mind that in the old days they mixed this by hand (Anthony at Una Pizza Napoletana in NYC still does). You should add most of the remaining flour. But you still want a very wet dough, so don’t go crazy.
At some point during this process the dough should be getting much firmer and should form more of a ball. Mix another minute or so a this stage You may find that the dough is sticking to the roller /hook and not really working too much at this point. This is why it’s so important to do most of the mixing at the earlier, wetter stages. Once the dough is at this point, it is done. My recommendation is this: DON’T BE A SLAVE TO RECIPES AND PERCENTAGES. It’s fine to use the spreadsheet or other measures as a guideline, but you have to judge how much flour goes into the dough by feeling it. Do NOT force more flour into the mix just to reach a number. If the dough feels good and soft and you still have flour you have not put in, don’t sweat it. Leave it out. In the end you need a wet dough. In fact, even the dough has formed more of ball, if you let it sit, it should spread out a little and look a little limp. This is what you want, not a tight ball, but a slack, wet soft dough.
One of the best ways to see how your dough is doing is to sprinkle a little flour on in and just feel it. It should feel baby bottom soft. If you don’t sprinkle flour it will just feel sticky and not look smooth. But sprinkle a tiny bit of flour and now its soft and smooth. This is what you want. This is a much gentler recipe than most and it shows in the final dough.
With Hi Gluten flours a commercial mixer and a dry dough, you will find that the dough is tough to work and consequently both the machine and the dough will get very hot. Commercial bakers compensate by starting with cool water and by measuring the temperature of the dough as they go. The procedures I’m outlining don’t require this. The wet knead technique and the lower protein all but eliminates the friction. You can expect the dough to heat only about 3-4 F while mixing, so it’s not an issue.
Let it rest for 15-20 minutes. If you were to do a window pane test before the rest, you might be disappointed. Afterwards it will test well:
Yes, this dough is so thin, you can read right through it. This is what is meant by “windowpaning”. You never actually stretch it this thin when making a pie. But I just want you to see what is achievable. In fact, you can make an excellent pie without getting it this well kneaded. But you should know how to do this as part of your overall repertoire. This dough would never rip or fight with you when being stretched to perfect pizza size. This dough was made with King Arthur Bread Flour, not high gluten flour. You can achieve this windowpaning even with All Purpose flour. Technique and not the starting protein % is the key.
Much talk on the web says that the dough’s extensibility/elasticity will be affected by how long the dough rises and at what temp and the kind of yeast. In my opinion, these are very, very minor factors. The mixing/kneading process and the hydration are 90% of the battle. After the dough has been kneaded and rested for a few minutes, the deed is done. It’s either going to spread well or it isn’t. You can’t fix it that much at this point by adjusting rise times and temps. If you find that your dough is not extensible enough or rips when you stretch it, odds are HIGH that it has not been autolysed long enough, not kneaded well enough and/or it’s too dry. If you are using a Kitchen Aid Mixer you may notice that the ball sticks to the hook and kind of just spins around and doesn’t seem to be really working. Mixing an extra 20 minutes seems to do nothing because it’s just spinning helplessly on the hook. Ugh. Mix at a wetter more pliable stage and you can fix this problem
Pour out onto a floured surface and portion into balls with a scrapper. I use a digital scale. The dough at this point should be extremely soft and highly elastic. I use 310g per 13″ pie. The more elastic the dough, the less you need.
I store the dough in individual 5 cup Glad plastic containers as you see below. I wipe them with an oiled paper towel – super thin coating. This will help them come out of the container. But I don’t want any oil in the dough. The rules for “Vera Pizza Napoletana” say no oil. I probably have literally one or two drops per ball. Oil the container and not the dough. You only need a drop or two of oil cover a whole container – you can kind of polish it with oil using a paper towel. In contrast, you’d need a teaspoon to oil the dough because you can’t spread it so thin. Also the ball would probably need oil on both sides, which is bad because by oiling the top of the dough (which will end up being the bottom of the pizza), you are going to get oil on your pizza stone which will burn at high temps in an unpleasant way. Since you want to minimize the amount of oil, oil the container. For similar reasons, I don’t use zip loc bags. Use a container.
How wet should the dough be? I think many will be surprised to see just how wet I have my dough. With each of these, you can click the photo to enlarge. I’m showing these because I want you to get a sense of how that dough should look and feel. This high level of hydration is not necessarily best for low temperature ovens. But if you are cooking at 800F (427C), like Patsy’s, this is what you want:
This dough has rested for 20 minutes in my DLX mixer. You can see how wet it is. This is enough for 6 balls of dough.
It almost pours out (with a little push from a spatula). But you can see how easily it stretches and how wet it still is. I don’t know the %hydration of this dough but it is 65% or higher, I’m sure.
This is the unshaped mass. Next I sprinkle a little bit of flour on it and knead it by hand for 30 seconds, just to reshape it.
In just a few seconds it looks totally different. The outside is drier because it has been sprinkled with flour. Inside it is still very wet and as I cut it with a dough scrapper into balls, I have to sprinkle a little more, just to keep it from sticking to my hands.
I cut it and put it into these easy to find Glad containers. They cost about $1 each at the supermarket..
I’ve got like 15 of them. They are perfectly sized for individual dough’s. I strongly prefer these to plastic bags. They are sealable and that keeps in the moisture. They stack easily in the fridge, and the dough comes out easily and without deflating the dough in the process. I spread the container with a drop or two of olive oil.
This is how the final ball looks when it goes into the fridge.
I let them rest another 10 minutes, then put them in the Fridge for 1-6 days. If your dough is very wet it may start out as a nice looking tight ball, but over time in the fridge it looks like it’s sinking into a disk. This may appear worrisome. When you see dough sinking there may be several causes. Dough that is ‘slack’ – overworked and/or old, will sink like this. But if you’ve followed these instructions this is not the reason your dough is sinking. The sinking is caused by the fact that the dough is very wet. Don’t worry about it. It’s probably going to be very good.
This is the dough several days later. It’s been sitting out warming up for about an hour. Notice that it has not risen that much. It does have more volume – probably about 50% more than the dough above. But it’s also changed shape – it’s so wet and soft and when it rises it kind of just spreads out. This is what you want. This dough is ready for baking.
Most recipes say that the dough should double in size. This is WAY too much. In total the dough should expand by about 50% in volume. It would seem like the more yeast bubbles in the dough, the lighter the pizza will be. This is the intuitive guess. But it’s not true. The yeast starts the bubbles, but it’s really steam that blows the bubbles up. If the yeast creates bubbles that are too big, they become weak and simply pop when the steam comes resulting in a flat dense, less springy crust. Think of blowing a bubble with bubble gum. How tight is a 2 inch bubble? It depends: As you start with a small bubble and blow it up to 2 inches it’s strong and tight. But at 4 inches it’s reached it’s peak.. Now if it shrinks back to 2 inches, it’ll be very weak. So a 2 inch bubble is strong on the way up and weak on the way down. You want bubbles on the way up. If the dough is risen high, the bubbles are big and the dough will have a weaker structure and will collapse when heat creates steam. The lightest crust will come from a wet dough (wet = a lot of steam), with a modest amount of rise (bubbles formed, but small and strong). Some people start with a warm rise for 6 hours or so, and then move the dough to the fridge. I’m not a huge fan of this method. Once the bubbles are formed, I don’t want the dough to get cold and have the bubbles shrink. This weakens their structure. What you want is a steady slow rise, with no reversals. Always expanding, just very, very slowly.
My oven takes about 80 minutes to heat up. The dough finishes rising in about the same time. So I take the dough out and start the oven at the same time. 80 minutes might seem like a fast rise, but the real development is done in the fridge. Here is where experience will make a difference – I look at my dough a few hours before bake time and I make an assessment. If the dough has not risen much in the fridge I will take it out earlier than 80 minutes. If it’s risen too much, I leave it in the fridge till a few minutes before bake. It really takes a good eye. You can make a last minute adjustment to speed it up by warming it. Before I turn my bottom oven on the cleaning cycle, I warm up my top oven to about 95F. If I think I need to speed up the dough, I can then place it in the 95F environment for while before baking. It’s a little harder to make an adjustment the other way. If I find that it’s rising too fast and my oven won’t be ready for an hour, I’m kind of out of luck. I could chill it, but it’s going to weaken if I do that. So I try to err on the side where I still have some control.
The softer the dough, the faster the rise. It’s simply easier for small amounts of carbon dioxide to push up on a softer dough. If the dough falls a little after rising, you’ve waited too long and you will find it’s past it’s prime. Ideally you should use it well before it’s at it’s peak. This takes experience. You are better off working with a dough that is under risen, than over risen.
Over risen dough (don’t do this).
When you spread the dough, you will find that it’s not great for spinning over your head. It would have been really great at this when you first did the windowpane test. But now that it has risen it’s soft like butter and just stretches easily. Don’t worry about the spin. If you want to impress everyone with spin, make a drier dough with a hi gluten flour and more salt and let it age for just a few hours and you can spin all you want.
Never use a rolling pin or knead the dough or man handle it. You are just popping the bubbles and will have a flat dough.
Build a little rim for yourself with your fingers,. then spread the dough. Can you see how smooth this dough looks?
Spread the dough on the counter and then move to the peel. Marble is the perfect surface for spreading dough. One goal is to use very little bench flour, especially if you are cooking over 800F. At high temps, the flour will turn bitter, so you are better off shaping on the counter, then moving to the peel, which will result in less bench flour. With a very wet dough this takes some practice. You don’t necessarily have to use a lot of bench flour, but it does have to be even. You don’t want the dough sticking to the peel, of course. I put flour in a bowl and dunk the dough lightly, getting all sides including the edge, then move it to the granite counter. I put just a tiny amount on the peel, which I spread evenly with my hands. When I move from the counter to the peel, most of the flour on the dough shakes off.. Once on the peel, shake it every once in a while to make sure the dough is not stuck. Always shake it just before placing it in the oven, otherwise you may find that it’s stuck to the peel and falling off unevenly onto the stone. At that point you probably can’t recover well and you’ll make a mess. So always shake just beforehand. When I make the pie, I work quickly, so as not to let the moisture in the dough come out through the tiny dry flour coating. Then, and this is important, I shake the peel prior to putting it in the oven, just to make certain it’s loose. In fact, you can shake it at any time during the process. If you are taking too long to put on the toppings or there is some delay, shake again. Make sure it never sticks. Don’t resort to using too much flour or any cornmeal or semolina. It just takes practice to use very little flour, yet still keep it from sticking.
If you’ve made the dough correctly you should be able to spread it with no problem. If it is pulling back on you and trying to shrink, you have not mixed it enough. If you’ve done half the steps above, you should not be experiencing this problem at all though.
You can spread the dough a bit at a time. Do it half way, then wait 10-15 seconds, then spread a little more, then a little more. Be gentle with it.
This pie was very interesting for many reasons. Although I have a lot of practice handling wet dough, this is the first time I’ve tried to hand knead in at least 5 years.
I started in bowl with 75% of the Flour (KA Bread), the salt, water, poolish and a pinch of IDY. I did a 12 minute autolyse, 6 minute hand mix with a spoon, adding flour along the way and 15 minute post mix rest. Then I hand kneaded for 1 minute. Did another 5 minute rest (It didn’t feel smooth, so I wanted to rest it again), then another 30 second hand knead, then shape. I’m guessing it was a 65-66% hydration, same as the dough photos above. I know that is very high for a hand kneaded dough and it takes some practice. But it didn’t stick to my hands at all because I’ve gotten used to how to handle high hydration dough. The trick is to keep the outside dry with just the thinnest coating of flour. Actually, I only keep the side near my hands coated, the other side is wet. Then I pull the dough expanding the dry side and close it in towards the wet side. This is repeated over and over. As the dry side stretches, it gets a little wetter, then your just dip in in flour again and continue. This baked for 1:40. The cheese, unfortunately, was Polly-O dry mozz as I was desperate.
4- The Oven:
I’ve got my oven cranked up to over 800 F. Use this section with caution: i.e. no lawyers please. I’m just telling you here what I did. I’m not telling you what you should do. You are responsible for whatever you choose to do. In Naples, Italy they have been cooking pizza at very high temperatures for a long time. There are some real physics going on here. The tradition is to cook with a brick oven. I don’t have a brick oven. So this is what I do:
On most ovens the electronics won’t let you go above 500F, about 300 degrees short of what is needed. (Try baking cookies at 75 instead of 375 and see how it goes). The heat is needed to quickly char the crust before it has a chance to dry out and turn into a biscuit. At this temp the pizza takes 2 – 3 min to cook (a diff of only 25F can change the cook time by 50%). It is charred, yet soft. At 500F it takes 20 minutes to get only blond in color and any more time in the oven and it will dry out. I’ve cook good pizzas at temps under 725F, but never a great one. The cabinet of most ovens is obviously designed for serious heat because the cleaning cycle will top out at over 975 which is the max reading on my Raytec digital infrared thermometer. The outside of the cabinet doesn’t even get up to 85F when the oven is at 800 inside. So I clipped off the lock using garden shears so I could run it on the cleaning cycle. I pushed a piece of aluminum foil into the door latch (the door light switch) so that electronics don’t think I’ve broken some rule by opening the door when it thinks it’s locked. Brick ovens are domed shaped. Heat rises. There is more heat on top than on the bottom. A brick oven with a floor of 800F might have a ceiling of 1200F or more, just a foot above. This is essential. The top of the pizza is wet and not in direct contact with the stone, so it will cook slower. Therefore, to cook evenly, the top of the oven should be hotter than the stone. To achieve this, I cover the pizza stone top and bottom with loose fitting foil. This keeps it cool as the rest of the oven heats up. When I take a digital read of the stone, I point it at the foil and it actually reads the heat reflected from the top of the oven. When it hits 850, I take the foil off the top with tongs and then read the stone. It’s about 700-725. Now I make my pizza. As I prep, the oven will get up to 800 Floor, 900+ Top. Perfect for pizza. Different ovens have different heat distributions. I experimented extensively with foil to redistribute the heat. I tried using one layer, multiple layers and I adjusted the amount I used on the top and the bottom. I also played with using the shiny side up or down, etc. Eventually, I worked out a simple system for myself. Some have tried to get high heat using a grill. This can produce high heat, but all from the bottom. One could adjust the differential, by playing games with foil. But an oven with heat from above is better.
The exact temp needed depends on the type of flour and the amount of water. The more protein, the quicker it burns. Hi Gluten flour may burn at these temps. In general, I recommend higher gluten flours for lower temp ovens. This will yield a more NYC style pie. For a more Neapolitan pie I recommend lower protein flours and a hotter oven. I use Bread rather than KASL at these high temps. Caputo Pizzeria 00 flour has even less protein than KA bread. See my report below. Also the drier it is the more it burns. So in general, at high temps you need a very wet dough.
I make sure that I cover any oven glass loosely with 2 layers of foil because it will shatter if a drop of sauce gets on it. With the foil it’s fine. I make sure the foil is loose. If it’s fitted to the glass, it will transfer heat too quickly and the glass is still in jeopardy. Another problem is that once the cleaning cycle starts, it just pumps heat into the oven and I can’t reduce the temp. If I get a late start (my guests are late or my dough needs another 30 minutes to rise), I can’t just shut off the oven and then start it up again in 15 minutes. Once I cancel the cleaning cycle, I can’t start it up again until the oven cools below 500F (at least on my Kitchen Aid oven). Therefore I have to wait and cycle back around. It’s like an hour ordeal. But I have worked around these issues and I now have enough experience that I can pretty much control my temperature. I can cool the stone, for example, by placing a metal sheet pan on it for a minute or so. It will absorb a tremendous amount of heat very quickly. I never do this with Teflon which releases unseen toxic chemicals over 600F. I Remove this pan with the peel, rather than with oven mitts to prevent burns. Occasionally I also place something in the door jam, like a meat mallet, for a few minutes to let heat out.
Brick Oven vs. Other Ovens: I have a list of my favorite pizza restaurants at the bottom. All but one of these use coal fired brick ovens. But interestingly, the number 1 place uses a regular old gas fired oven that you see in any pizza store in NYC. This is Johnny’s in Mt. Vernon, NY. Worth a pilgrimage for sure. They also use dry sliced Mozzarella instead of fresh. Go figure. That place is an enigma. They are also very secretive. I can tell you they definitely use a sourdough culture because I obtained it from pizza place across the street (yeasts can take over a neighborhood) but it died out. I’m going to get it again someday.
Mmmmm. You don’t need a brick oven to perfectly char a pizza. This was done in an electric.
Patsy’s is #2 on my list. It used to be #1 but my last 3 trips to were disappointing. There is a new guy working the oven and the pies are coming out like dry crispy flatbreads. It was NOT good. And I saw a review in a magazine that had a photo of a Patsy’s pie and that one also looked dry and crispy and the article even described it that way. Yuck!. The reviewer at SliceNY.com also mentioned that he might downgrade Patsy’s if they slip any more . So this means that Johnny’s, which used to be tied with Patsy’s, now sits alone at the top of my list. I’ve got it as Johnny’s, Patsy’s, Sally’s, Luzzo’s, Una Pizza Napoletana, me, then Sac’s. Frankly, if they don’t shoot the new cook, Patsy’s could drop from my top 5 because right now it’s resting on it’s laurels. Lombardi’s is just OK in my book. Nods for history, but too thick and gummy. Grimaldi’s and John’s are not in my top 10 either. But the original Totonno’s is up there somewhere.
Back to the Brick oven thing. I once bought a Patsy’s dough and rushed it home to my oven in Atlanta and baked it. The dough itself was incredible. It was the most windowpaning, blistering and elastic dough I’ve ever seen, by a wide margin. Very impressive. But when I baked it, it was just ok. It tasted a little flat. It had less of a charred flavor even though it had a charred color. It actually tasted exactly like my own pies tasted at that time. By that was a long time ago. My own latest pies have overcome a lot of this. I’m aging my dough longer than Patsy’s and I think that is making up for some of the difference. My opinion is that the coal and the fire adds about 10-20% but the rest is the heat distribution. If you can get that right in a regular oven, you are going to be thrilled with the results. Johnny’s proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. My latest pies are nearly perfect too. Some of these pies look & tasted just like a Patsy’s pie, I’m not sure you could tell the difference. And believe me, I notice small differences or I wouldn’t have come this far. These latest pies are really, really close. The photos above, as well as those below are good examples. I can’t get advantages of the brick oven, but I make up for it by aging the dough longer and this imparts extra flavor.
Of course, if you do have access to brick oven, especially one that uses coal, by all means use it. But LEARN to use it. I’ve seen too many brick oven places that make terrible pizza. Why? Because they think that having the oven is all they need to do. You still have to have everything else right. And I’ve even seen brick ovens where the heat is not right. I just saw a place with a Brick oven that had it set to 395F. Such a total waste of time. The oven does not work by magically transmitting brick flavor into the dough. It works by generating more heat than a regular oven. At least that’s 90% of it. Yes there is a dryness to the wood burning and a smokiness and these are advantages of a brick oven. But mostly it’s the super high heat that is important. Go the extra mile and get yourself the right digital thermometer and work the oven correctly. This will take a lot of practice. Check out Frankie G’s cool brick oven and video.
My first Brick Oven Experience: I just tried a friend’s brick oven. We had a lot of trouble holding the temp right and most of the pies were cooked at 500-600F. So I’m not done experimenting yet. But I can say this: a 7 minute pie in a brick oven does taste better than a 7 min pie in an electric. So there definitely is something good going on in that oven. It has to do with the dryness of the bake. I will post more on this as I make progress.
Dec 2006: I’ve now made 5 Brick oven batches. I’ll fill in more detail later, but here’s a photo of a 57 second pie. It looks pretty cool, but it was by no means my favorite pie:
5- I use a Raytec digital thermometer.
I notice that every spot in my oven is a different temperature. I’ve learned what’s going on inside. These brands are much cheaper than the Raytec. I haven’t used them, but they look fine to me and are much cheaper, under $60:
6- Dry mozzarella cheese:
This step is totally optional and I don’t do this anymore. Early on I was having problems with my mozzarella cheese breaking down due to the high heat. I was also having problems with the sauce sogging up the dough. So I used dry boars head mozzarella, sliced on a machine under the sauce. This protected the dough. But I’ve since improved both my sauce and wet mozzarella management so I don’t use dry cheese anymore. However, I should note that the only pie that I’ve tasted that might actually be better than Patsy’s is Johnny’s in Mt. Vernon. They use only dry sliced cheese. I’m not sure of the brand, but it is fantastic. Patsy’s does not use this step, nor is it true Neapolitan.
7- Lay fresh basil right on the dry cheese or sauce.
It’s important that the leaves get a bit wet or they’ll just burn. Just tap the tops with the bottom of the sauce spoon to moisten. Basil is great fresh out of an herb garden. I will post more on this someday. Don’t wash your basil. It just kills it.
8 – Sauce:
For years I was so focused on the dough that I let the sauce lapse. I just didn’t do much with it. But now I feel that my dough is consistently great, I have focused more on the sauce and it has really transformed into something wonderful. The key step is something I call ‘Tomato Rinsing”.
But first let’s start with the tomatoes themselves. There is a lot of talk about buying tomatoes grown in the San Marzano Valley which has rich volcanic soil. Others claim the region is now polluted. I don’t know. All I know is what I taste. I’ve not been too impressed with San Marzanos I’ve tried.
Here are my Prep tips:
Always buy Whole Peeled Plum Tomatoes and crush them yourself.
Be careful of marketing tricks like cans that say Italian ‘Style’ instead of Italian. Italian Style means nothing. It’s subjective. If I grew tomatoes in Chernobyl I could still claim they are Italian Style.
Similarly there’s a San Marzano ‘Brand’ which is grown in CA. I hate marketing gimmicks like that. The put the word ‘brand’ so small that you can barely read it.
Shake every can as you buy it. If it sounds watery, it is likely to be more bitter. Try to get cans which sound more viscous. The sound will vary a bit by season. They try to pick and pack in just one season, but still there are seasonal differences even within the same brand.
If you have a local tomato supplier, try those too.
One time I bought a jar of tomatoes at a farmers market – no can. These were hand packed and they had no tin can taste. They were excellent but all the major suppliers use cans. Be on the lookout for jars someday…
If you want to go crazy and make your own, try ‘ugly ripe’ heirloom tomatoes. The taste of these are amazing and I use these when I need whole tomatoes.
When I open a can I taste it. Every can is a little different. About 10% of the cans I just throw out because they are too bitter and I put too much effort in the dough to waste it on a $2 can of bad tomatoes.
DON’T make a sauce. That is, don’t pre-cook the tomatoes. The tomatoes will cook on the pizza. If you cook a sauce first, it will cook again on the psizza, turning it brown and yucky. No need to make a sauce. Look at how overcooked many sauces are. The best places don’t do this. This is actually the one step in this whole process that you can save yourself some time.
I strain the seeds. This is really optional. If you do choose to do it, follow these steps, which seem obvious now, but took me a long time to flesh out:
Pour the can out into a bowl
Cut the green/yellow stem ends off the tomatoes with your hands or a paring knife, then discard.
Squeeze out the seeds into the puree and then Dip the tomato into the puree. You can even cut the tomato open to get out any remaining seeds, by essentially rinsing them with the puree. This will have all the seeds fall into the puree.
Put the flesh back in the can
At the end of this process you have a can of flesh and a bowl of watery puree and seeds. Strain this, pouring the puree back into the can. In the strainer are then 90% of the seeds, all by themselves. Discard the seeds.
Now crush the tomatoes. This is one of those areas where I made a recent change for the better and it’s really helped a lot. I used to crush the tomatoes by hand. But it was always a bit chunky. Now I blend them with an immersion mixer (“boat motor”). I cannot tell you exactly why this has made a huge improvement in the TASTE of the tomatoes, but it has. I’ve done side by side taste tests. The tomatoes should be crushed but not pur ed. Go Easy. I have nothing against using a food processor or mill, but I will say that you should not crush by hand.
Tomato Rinsing: All cans have some bitterness. You need some bitterness and you don’t want to strip all of it out. But if the can is too bitter it’s not good. I have a procedure I call tomato rinsing to remove some of the bitterness. But you have to taste the can and determine for yourself if it needs it. The better brands on my list don’t. Here’s the Tomato Rinsing procedure: Strain the tomatoes in a fine mesh strainer.. If the mesh is fine, the water will be mostly clear with very little tomato escaping. If the water escaping is very red, pour it back on top of the tomatoes and continue straining. Eventually the water will run almost completely clear. Here’s the key. The water that comes out is completely bitter. Taste it. What I do is pour fresh water on top of the strained tomatoes and strain them again. Taste this second batch of water. It’s also bitter but less so. You are removing bitterness and acid without losing a drop of red tomato. Instead you are replacing this bitter water with fresh water. You can repeat this several times if you like, but once or twice is usually fine. The net result is that what is left over, which is all the red tomato solids, is sooooo sweet and yummy.
Here are some other things you can do to remove the bitterness. But don’t go crazy adding tons of spices and things. It’s mostly just tomatoes.
Add some grated Romano cheese directly into the tomatoes. I use Locatelli Romano. Some have criticized this, but I like it.
A bit of sugar will also help 1/4 – 1 teaspoon. Taste and see.
A pinch of salt
A pinch of dried oregano, crushed by hand to release the oils
If you are used to putting garlic in your sauce, try these steps once without it.
Taste and taste
So you are removing and then adding back water. In the end though you should have less water than you started with. The total weight is probably about 1/3 less than you started with. But the exact amount of water you remove depends on the overall temperature of the oven and the temperature differential in the oven.. There is not much time in a hot oven to evaporate the sauce, so the hotter the oven, the drier the sauce must be going in. But if the top differential is high, the sauce will evaporate too quickly and needs to start wetter. You have to test. Surprisingly, if the sauce is too dry, it’s not as sweet. You don’t want it soupy but don’t overstrain either. This will take real practice with your oven. Sometimes after the first pie I add more water to my sauce. Again, this is another area where recent improvements have really transformed the sauce. I think that when the sauce is chunky (hand crushed) it’s harder to get the amount of water right.
Also, while straining, you are letting the crushed tomatoes sit uncovered and this really helps the tin can taste to dissipate. Prep the tomatoes when you make the dough. Even though you are not adding too much to your sauce, the tomatoes do better when the flavors settle in for a day and also the tin can taste dissipates. So prep a day or more in advance. Again, this is another recent change that has helped a lot.
Refrigerate the tomatoes if you are not using them, but let them come to room temp when put on the pie. If the sauce is cold, the top of the dough is much colder than then bottom and you can end up with a thin layer of dough near the sauce that is gummier and less cooked than the rest of the dough.
When you spread the sauce on the pie, put a little less in the center because the liquid tends to pool there.
If you are using a very hot oven like I am, don’t go too close to the edge. Too much sauce near the edge will keep the cornice from developing well. In most of the photos below I put the sauce too close to the edge myself. I will be more conscious of this as I go.
Use about half of the sauce that you think you need. Trust me. Experiment with less and less ingredients on the pizza and you will see a surprising improvement in overall balance.
Using Fresh Tomato
An alternative to canned tomatoes is fresh tomatoes. Even the best cans have a tinny odor, so you’d think that nothing could top fresh tomatoes. But using 100% fresh tomatoes is not necessarily the best thing. If you prepare fresh tomatoes and taste it raw, compared to canned, the fresh will win. But somehow, on the pizza, the canned will win. Partly it’s that the fresh tomato taste is simply different than we are all used to and so it never tastes like your favorite pizza place. I’ve probably not experimented enough to say for sure. As I stated above, I don’t recommend cooking your sauce before making a pizza, because the tomatoes will cook again on the pizza. If you think about it, the canning process itself forces the tomatoes to be heated once before sealing, then if you cook a sauce, that’s heating #2 and then the pie is #3. So I recommend cutting back to 2 times. If you switch to fresh tomatoes though, you are back to just 1 time, on the pie itself. And for a 2 minute pie, that is not very much. So perhaps a solution, if you are using fresh tomatoes, is to cook a sauce. I will experiment a little more and edit this section.
Another possibility is to blend fresh and canned. This has a lot of potential, I think and I will experiment with this more also.
Here’s a method for preparing fresh tomatoes:
Start with great tomatoes. I use “ugly ripe” heirloom tomatoes. These are the best to me. FYI, they are really amazing raw for a caprese salad (tomato, Mozz, basil, oil, balsamic, salt, pepper). Other heirlooms are probably good also, as are fresh picked local tomatoes. After that I’d probably go for plum tomatoes. I’m not a huge fan of the vine-ripe brand. They look great, but the taste is so-so. Regular beefsteak tomatoes are really not worth the effort.
Blanch them. Blanching is a pretty easy technique. You just put the tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds or less, then take it out and put it in ice water for 30 seconds, then you can just peel it by hand.
Cored them with a paring knife and pull out most of the seeds by hand.
Ground them a bit with an immersion mixer
Strained them. They were very, very wet and will lose a lot of weight in water.
Added a tiny amount of sea salt and a few fresh basil leaves from the garden and that’s about it.
Cook them? As I said, this is my next experiment.
After straining I figure that it would take about 3.5 lbs of tomatoes to equal one 35 oz can. Since Ugly Ripes are twice the price of any other tomatoes (they are VERY tasty) – $5.99/lb, this makes it over $20 for a small batch about equal to a $1.89 can. But who’s counting…
9- Grate some Locatelli Romano and/or parmessian cheese right on top of the tomatoes & basil
(do this whether you put some romano into the tomatoes or not). But don’t over do it. Just a TINY little bit. But don’t skip this step. It’s really key to the sauce. Balance, balance, balance.
10- Sprinkle kosher or sea salt
11- Fresh Mozzarella.
I live in Atlanta, and getting good cheese is a real problem. It’s the weakest link in my pie right now. In NYC all the mozzarella is packed in water, but it is still firm. Down here in Atlanta, I can’t find great fresh mozz. It’s either dry cheese or else water logged.
If the cheese is too wet, it will break down on the pizza and even disintegrate into ricotta. Ricotta is made by processing the leftover water used to make mozzarella. If the mozz is not made right, it will actually break down into ricotta before your eyes. Not good. You can see this in some of my photos.
In Naples they use Bufala Mozzarella which is made from water buffalo instead of cows. The problem with using Bufala Mozz here in the US is that it’s mostly imported and usually not that fresh, especially during the summer. If you can find a good supplier, then use it.
Also, note that all fresh dairy products sold in the US are made from pasteurized milk, whereas the European versions are often unpasteurized. If you’ve ever had butter or cheese in Paris, for example, you know that what we get here is bland in comparison. So reproducing what you tasted on your trip to Italy is difficult. There are a few American suppliers of Bufula Mozz which is available at many Whole Foods.
Put only about 8-10 small pieces of cheese on the pie. Better to have a few dollops than an even mix. Trust me on this one too. If you find, as I did, that the cheese will not hold up to the intense heat and breaks down, there are few things you can do to keep the cheese from overheating on the pie prematurely:
Dry the cheese extremely well by wrapping in a paper towel for 1-3 hours. You’d think the wetter it is the better it would hold up to the heat, but its not so.
The water inside boils and degrades the cheese. Sometimes the cheese is so wet I have to change the wrapping several times. This might be avoided by simply draining for a long long time. I think Marco says he drains for 8 hours.
Put the cheese on in cubes rather than slices
Start with cold cheese
Put a tiny drop of sauce on them which has to boil off first, thus keeping the cheese insulated for a bit.
Doing all of these may be overkill. You have to experiment with your cheese.
Many cheeses packed in water are unsalted. If this is so, put in 1/4 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt in the water, preferably at least a day before you use it. Don’t over salt the cheese, as this may cause some inferior cheeses to break down somewhat.
If you can’t find a cheese locally, there are some suppliers that ship fresh mozz..
Making your own cheese
Another alternative is to make your own cheese. I’m no expert on this, so I’m going to refer you to other internet sources. But I’m going to give a super basic primer.
Good sources of info.
Leeners – I would start here.
Cheesemaking.com – this is an easy kit, but missing a few things.
Google other recipes. There’s a lot to learn.
Do not use ultra-pasteurized dairy products. The ultra-pasteurization changes the structure and it won’t curdle any more. Unfortunately, some states are allowing companies to remove the term ‘ultra’ and they are passing off ultra-pasteurized as just pasteurized. So be careful.
Start with unhomogenized milk. You probably have to go to a farmers market or dairy for this. It should be about $6-$8 per gallon, which makes about 1 pound or a little more of cheese. When an animal is milked, it comes out as cream and skim and the process of homogenization blends them together.
It’s like shaking oil and vinegar, but the shake is so fine, it never settles out again. So an alternative to unhomogenized is to use cream and skim together. But most creams have been ultra-pasteurized, so you have to find one that is not.
How many water buffalo do you own? Well if you have them, use them, otherwise, find a cow. Water buffalo milk has more fat, so one experiment worth trying is to add more cream to your cow’s milk.
Acidify the milk. Milk will curdle best at a ph level of about 5.2. From my experience, using a ph test kit or digital ph meter is essential
Citric Acid – the easy way. You measure the acid and blend it in and presto, it’s acidic. But if you measure wrong, you are going to be unhappy with it. Note than many measuring spoon sets are not that accurate. 2 of my 1/2 teaspoons don’t really equal one of my teaspoons, I discovered.
There went 3 hours of my life I’ll never get back. If you put in too much it will curdle but never form a ball and be stretchable. I’ve had the best results (nothing to write home about yet), using only 1.25 teaspoons per gallon of milk, which is much less than most recipes call for.
Use a starter culture, just like you do for the dough. The culture eats the milk and make acid. It takes many hours though. Of course, this is the more authentic and flavorful method, but as with all these steps, more work. There are a lot of different cultures that can be used to vary the taste of cheese.
Some recipes even just say start with buttermilk or yogurt. But for Mozzarella, the most authentic type is called Thermophilic, but even this seems to be a category and there are several varieties sold under that name. Just like with the yeast, there is a dry instant culture you just toss in and a wet, keep-feeding-it-forever variety.
Additives. These are all optional:
Italian Mild Lipase Powder – an enzyme
Other flavoring cultures. These are Lactobacilli that produce flavor but no acid. This mirrors the whole yeast/Lactobacilli combination we talked about with the dough. The yeast and Thermophilic organisms are doing the critical jobs of starting bubbles and changing the acid level. But the optional Lactobacilli are doing the flavoring.
Calcium Chloride – helps to restore the balance between calcium and protein in store bought milk. It may also be needed with fresh milk. I’ve only seen this in the Leeners recipe.
Rennet – Once the milk is acidic and heated to about 88F, you add an enzyme called rennet and it curdles in just a few minutes
Vegetable or animal. Rennet originally came from the lining of an animal’s stomach, but most companies sell vegetable rennet.
Tablet or liquid.
Thermometer. These kits all use a hand held thermometer, but I prefer to use a digital meat thermometer, because you can just dip it over the side and get continuous readings.
pH Test kit or digital meter.
Once you’ve added the rennet, the milk curdles in a few minutes – it separates into chunky curdles and water whey. They you have to cut it to strain the whey out of the curds and then heat it by either microwaving it or pouring hot water (or whey) on it.
I recommend the hot liquid because it gives more of a continuous heat, rather than the microwave method which has you heat it, then work it, then heat it again, etc.
Be careful not to overwork the cheese or take out too much whey. Then you will end up pulling out all the fat and end up with a dry waxy cheese, like a Polly-O consistency. Watch this guy do it. He is starting with store-bought curd. It’s a dark murky video, but worth watching.
12- More salt
13- Olive Oil
This is optional. In Naples they will typically put on a good olive oil. Many oils do not stand up well to these high temperatures. I had one pie at Una Pizza Napoletana in NYC with a very fruity oil from Calabria that was outstanding, even at the high temps. But I don’t have the brand. The one’s I’ve tried I can’t recommend.
From the time the sauce hits the dough, the dough is starting to water log. Water logged dough will not rise. This is actually an area that I still need to work on myself. Look at this picture from last night. The rise on the crust is outstanding. but under the sauce the dough has not risen well. In fact it’s a bit gummy.
The reason is that after I sauced the dough, I took a long time to get it into the oven. Once the sauce touches the dough, the pie should go into the oven seconds later. Have your ingredients laid out so that you can sauce the dough, throw on the other ingredients and get it into the oven immediately.
15- Into the oven for 2-3 minutes.
There is a lot of talk about time and temp. Really, time is a better measure than temp. Ovens vary in temp from spot to spot and even 2 stones that have the same surface temp may have a different depth to that heat and that will really play out and affect the time. Ultimately, time is a better measure. There is a lot of debate online about how long it takes to bake a “true” Neapolitan pie. It started off as 2 minutes, then it went to 90 seconds, then 60, then 45 and recently 30 seconds. Some of this is a “boys and their toys” thing. Instead of arguing about horsepower people are arguing about oven temp.
Chill out. It is true that in Naples, the pies cook very, very fast, usually in under 90 seconds. If your goal is a true reproduction of the Neapolitan style, then you may want to aim for this. But that is not the only style of tasty pizza. A pie that’s cooked in 30 seconds is not necessarily better than one cooked in 150.
The faster it cooks the less crispy and more airy it is. But this is only good to a point. Some dough that are cooked super fast have a burnt bitter outside and are raw inside. It takes a lot of practice to get it all right. Believe me, a 2-3 minute pie is going to be great if you follow these steps.
My best pies were 2:10 – 2:30. Maybe it will get even better as I go down in time, but I’m skeptical of the 30 second pies. Patsy’s makes a GREAT pie in about 4 minutes. Sally’s, makes a great pie in 7. I’ve timed pies at Luzzo’s in NYC at 1:55 and at Una Pizza Napoletana at 2:10.
These are all notch places with great pies and crust. There’s no question that a hot oven is important – you are not going to get a light airy crust with 10 minute pie. But once you are sub-5 minutes, you are easily in the range to make a great tasting pie, provided your dough formulation is correct.
If you are having problems with your pie burning on the bottom in a very hot oven, increase the hydration of the dough. Wetter dough burns less. But also, you may have to adjust the balance of temperature (top vs. bottom) in your oven using aluminum foil. See the section above regarding the oven.
16- Remove from oven with a peel.
When a pie cooks at these high temps, you may find that it is soggier than you are used to. In Naples, the pies are pretty wet and you cut them with a knife and fork and eat them on a plate. There are a few things you can do to lessen the moisture. Use less sauce and drain it well. But also, I put my pies on a rack when they come out so that any steam that is coming out of the bottom can escape.
Just a 2-3 minutes on the screen then onto the metal round where they are cut. Don’t cut too quickly. The flavors need to settle and they will be more distinct with a cooler pie. If you don’t have a rack, you may find it helpful to transfer the pizza back and forth between the peel and the metal round, to allow the steam to escape from the bottom of the pie. Make sure you dry off the metal round between pies so that moisture doesn’t build.
With High temp pies, there is the possibility of it being a little soggy in the middle especially if you are using a lower protein flour, such as a 00 flour. Brick ovens are very good at sucking moisture out of the dough very quickly. The environment is very, very dry. One downside of an electric, even one at 800 F, is that the moisture tends to pool.
One easy solution is to remove the pie from the oven and place it on a perforated metal round such as this one. I place this on my stove top so that the bottom is exposed, allowing moisture to evaporate for about a minute. Then I move to a regular serving round. I’ve seen several ‘modern’ brick ovens that are gas fired. Burning gas creates moisture and ruins much of the effect of the brick oven. Brick ovens should burn wood or coal.
17 -Season with oregano,
red pepper flakes, black pepper and maybe a drop of olive oil (depending on how wet it already is).
18- Cut and serve
Good luck, but be prepared for a lot of trial and error.