There was a whole nuance of each shops pizza dough being unique to each pizza shop. This has given way over the years to repeatable results regardless of the geography of the pizza shop or its location. This became a more exportable pizza process as a high quality product reproducible at will has a particular intrinsic value.
Over the years some of the older production methods of dough storage and fermentation have been all but lost. The equipment used and knowledge of how and why to do it have long been scraped and abandon. Along with them some of the things that would lend unique flavors to the dough that would be particular to each neighborhood pizza shop.
As pizza became more popular new pizza makers wanted to spread out into the world bringing their warm bubbling cheese and sauce on a fine crust to the creating peace and harmony through out the universe. But alas as all great ideas are leveled a bit by reality, this was no exception. Low and behold we found that when we expanded into new locations, even though we used the exact same mother recipe that we were using at the original location, the dough was never quite the same. Thus the pizza was a little different from place to place. It has its own character. This led to a lot of questions and experimentation. The answer came with time as the new pizza shop aged. After a year or two they had their own unique flavor nuance as they had come into their own. What happened? What had changed over time? Time was .
Time and fermentation were the keys to this mystery! Yup fermentation. Ever hear of it? Of course you have. We all have at one time or another. Infecting dough with live yeast spore is a fermentation process. We call it raising the dough. Using the old style live cake yeast that were available at the time meant that you had to double raise the dough. Yeast often came free back then from large regional or even national beer brewing companies. This is no longer available and is one of the many thing lost to recreating the original old style New York Pizza. First raise was a “quick raise” that came after the dough came out of the mixer. For reference these were mostly 60 quart Hobart mixers and 50 lbs of flour or one bag mix formulas. The dough was placed in a large container in a warm area and allowed to raise letting the yeast to propagate through as much dough as possible.
Then the dough was unceremoniously dumped on a large wooden cutting table to be cut to weight and hand rolled into tight balls. These balls were then placed in wooden trays with room to raise and brushed with olive oil before being placed in the under counter open air dough cooler. This process kills any of the first raise in the dough and set up the condition for the yeast to slowly feed and re-propagate thru the dough ball in a second slow cold rise over the next 12 to 48 hours in the dough cooler. This is the last step in the recipe that actually converts the dough from just great dough into REAL PIZZA DOUGH!
After 12 hours of slow proofing you can use a dough and be sure it will brown and serve up great pizza. The dough has formed a skin on it from the olive oil and some of the natural effects of the dough air drying. After stretching the dough the dry side is presented down on to the pizza board so it came in contact directly with the oven hearth. All of that oil soaked goodness dusted in flour and slide on to a very hot brick toasting it into the perfect pizza crust.
So what the heck does fermentation and time have to do with any of this?, you may be asking by now. Well remember the 60 quart Hobart mixer? Most shops only have a 30 quart dish sink. And excessive washing of a mixing bowl will quickly ware way the tinning and allow the mixing bowl to rust. Therefore one wiped the bowl clean with a piece of the dough from that batch. This will pick up most all of the dough remnants left in the bowl from the mix but leaves a thin coating on the bowls surface. This has all of the components to keep active a strain of yeast until the next day that then CO-mingles in the mix adding its own kind of signature. This again happens in the large container used for the first raise of the dough. Also the old wooden cutting table also introduces some of the house yeast into the second raise process as would the old wooden oil baste dough drawers. Just like old French bakeries the old pizza shops developed their own unique flavor profiles due to the naturally occurring house “yeast” that tempers each kitchen and batch of dough that was made there.
Today we use a fast yeast requiring only one raise, the slow cold proofing part.
Stainless steel mixing bowls that can be washed daily with no harm done. The dough goes from the mixer right on to a clean stainless steel table for cutting and rolling. The dough balls are then dredged in flour and bagged in new food grade plastic bags for storage and cold proofing. No more oil soaked toasted crust. No more are the wooden oil trays that bathed a sweet crust in its protective pool of extra virgin goodness.
The old methods have been abandon over time at the encouragement of many local health departments insistence. Along with them some of the nuance that created some unforgettable pizzas.