First let me compliment you on your post about Chris Bianco’s place. No post ever made me want to get on a plane and visit a pizza place more than that. Very alliterative!
You raise a lot of questions, so I’ll try to give a bit of background on my goals.
When I first started my pizza quest in 1998 the information available was very limited. There were a few books I read but I quickly realized that they were no help at all. Mostly my quest consisted of seeking out the best places and trying to guess what they did by asking a few questions or looking around at brands, etc. But mostly it was just hard headed trial and error, mostly error. There was progress and there were a few major breakthroughs for me over that time. I took a tour of a local bakery and talked for 30 minutes to the head baker and that really helped me a lot. This was how I learned how to windowpane properly and later I discovered when that was and was not important. I found out about sourdough cultures and read Ed Wood’s book – Ed’s work was very influential, and even though I don’t use a lot of his processes or any of his cultures and even though his customer service has been, to be polite, not that great, I always credit him on my site and refer customers to him. Just over two years ago I started online research and joined a bread-making yahoo group and they turned me on to the DLX. Also, my own experimentation was yielding a lot of progress at that time.
Although I was seeking to reproduce Patsy’s taste, I realized early on that reproducing their methods 100% was impossible. I don’t have a huge Hobart mixer, nor a huge brick oven. Therefore I had concluded that cloning their pie may require multiple changes. But this didn’t mean it wouldn’t be as good. As an experienced home cook, I began to notice that I could exceed all kinds of restaurants in some areas, even if I couldn’t duplicate them in others. With Patsy’s for example, I was pretty sure that they did not do a 3 day rise. But they had the extra flavor of a brick oven, so maybe I could compensate for my lack of a brick oven by improving the fermentation techniques. I was pretty sure they used hi gluten flour because I saw the side of bag there once, but my tests came out best with bread flour. So while I was trying to make the best pie I’d had, and my gold standard was Patsy’s, I was not necessarily locked into the idea that I could only do this by reproducing their methods 100%.
This time was a period of intense experimentation with little guidance. It was during this period that I blew out 3 food processors and one heavy duty mixer. I almost melted my neighbor’s grill and my toaster oven. I also broke my oven lock once (internal damage that needed repair) and shattered the glass twice. I had my kitchen fill with smoke multiple times. I also tested over a dozen brands of tomatoes and almost as many flours - cake, 00, AP, bread from many brands. I was having cheeses mail ordered to me in dry ice boxes at $75 a batch. On trips to NY I got samples of Patsy’s dough twice and Johnny’s dough once and started to culture them. I also experimented with punch downs, multi-stage dough building (like Ed Wood), oil, sugar, vitamin C, NY water, oven broilers, multiple starters, fresh yeast, etc. Many individual steps in the process took months to master and even longer to piece together into a coherent formula that all worked together.
Finally, after over 6 years of experimentation, I developed a formula which I and others felt was right. At this time, I started taking photos and created my website. I posted my formula – stressing the top 3 factors of Heat, Starter & Mixing Technique - up on a bread-making board. The whole formula included at that time:
- 800F temps using the cleaning cycle with foil to protect the glass
- Higher heat from the top using foil
- Natural sourdough culture
- Multi-day cold rise, instead of Ed Wood’s 85F proofing box technique
- KA Bread flour
- No oil
- No sugar
- No additives, such as malt or dough conditioners
- High salt
- Filtered water
- Pre-Mix hydration period
- Wet mix (gradual flour add) using a DLX
- Post-Mix rest period
- Much wetter dough than any recipe I’d seen
- No punch down step – single rise only
- Less than double rise
- Garden grown Basil
- Strained and deseeded Cento Tomatoes (Non-DOP) with romano cheese
After getting threatened with legal action on a bread board because of the cleaning cycle thing, someone on that board suggested pizzamaking.com as a place I might share ideas. I found this site and posted a link to my page with the above formula. Two months later, this thread began.
This was an interesting thread. I was happy to coach and unlike Marco, to share everything I knew with others. I was happy to provide my starter to you and a few others who like me sought to make a Patsy’s style pie. It was a period of intense activity and in just 3 ½ weeks of starting this thread, Pete, you announced that you had made a pie that was to your satisfaction – by then there were over 11 pages here! During this time there was a lot of debate and there were a few conclusions on this thread that I could not agree with. The primary one being the use of Hi Gluten flour, which while it may be part of Patsy’s current recipe, simply did not test best for me. As I said, I had long previously concluded that I may have to vary from the Patsy’s formula in one area, to compensate for differences in another. I was not surprised, though, when Evelyne reported recently that the old timers used 12-12.5 and not 14% flour.
During this period I felt that my dough was more or less complete and this allowed me to move on to the sauce where I developed my tomato-rinsing technique, which I’m sure Patsy’s does not use, but which many now swear by. The thinking behind this technique was to compensate for the acid and tinny taste added by the canning process and return to a fresher tomato taste. I’ve also tried making my own cheese. My cheese supply problem continues to be my biggest drawback and I continue to seek out a better olive oil.
Since joining this board I have altered my formula by using Caputo 00. I now blend in about 25-50% caputo with the KA Bread and I’m still open to the idea that I may either increase or decrease that number based on future tests. I’ve also learned from Marco, that warm rise is possible provided you start with a tiny amount of yeast. However, this requires a lot of dough management and experience and as Marco says “there is no recipe” only a master’s touch. So while I now agree that this is workable, I don’t think that it has tested better than the cold rise and I certainly know that the cold rise is a whole lot easier to do for the home baker and easier to yield consistent results. The formula that I give on my site includes the original cold rise technique.
As far as Patsy’s goes. I don’t agree that Patsy’s is nothing special. There are 60,000 pizza joints in the U.S. and I’ve had most of the best and the single best pie I’ve had was out of Patsy’s oven. In my book, that makes them special, by definition. I have to give credit where credit is due. I would not have my current formula if Patsy had not done what he did as a model. Certainly neither Lombardi’s nor Grimaldi’s nor John’s has kept the flame alive. I credit Patsy’s with doing that. And like with Ed Wood, I always give them credit, even though I may not choose to follow all of their methods. On a good day, I can beat Patsy’s. But I don’t make pies everyday and consistency is difficult. As far as ingredients go, I do not slight Patsy’s for using cheap ingredients. As I have said from the beginning, good ingredients are important, but the primary issue is one of technique. To me, that is my biggest contribution to this board, although I still think that I have not persuaded many. The search for the perfect ingredient or piece of equipment is, for most people, an attempt to shift responsibility from their own lacking technique onto an inanimate object. Obviously, I don’t include you and Chris Bianco in that because you are actually trying to take responsibility for the ingredients and that’s a whole different level. However, the very fact that Patsy’s produces a pie which is acknowledged by many as superlative, using ordinary ingredients, I think bolsters the main point I’ve tried to teach – it’s about technique.
So Pete, my goal is not to reproduce Patsy’s methods 100%. I may not have said it clearly here, but I think I gave up on that goal long before I came on the internet. I was certainly interested in knowing what they did, but I can’t do what they do, so knowing all of that does not dictate my formula. I can make a pie nearly identical to theirs using my formula. Technique variations compensate for ingredient or equipment variations. Technique is they key. I posted up recently, excerpts from my course on mastery. There’s another section of that that maybe I’ll post someday; Individual factors of any skill can be learned, but the ability to improvise – to overcome variations in circumstances, such as having different ingredients or equipment – is the hallmark of mastery, whether it be music, sports or any field. Marco echoes this when he says for the old masters, “there is no recipe”, by which he means that every day is an improvisation because there are too many factors to nail down. I am not a master at pizza making. I have improvised for the Patsy’s recipe, but a true master would have all the variables need to switch from one type to another at any time. That would take a lot more time to master than I have.
My repeated references to Patsy’s on my site are an attempt to give credit where credit is due, to talk about a model from which much can be learned, and to compare my result with their gold standard. I’m equally impressed with Johnny’s in Mt. Vernon, NY, but I don’t talk about them as much because I’ve chosen to focus on one style, out of lack of time to really be a jack of all trades.
Wow, this was too long. Another successful attempt to procrastinate from my day job…