Author Topic: Jersey Girl in VA  (Read 421 times)

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Offline TakeTheCannoli

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Jersey Girl in VA
« on: January 08, 2012, 03:13:58 PM »

Iím Christine from Central Virginia.  Found this site a little while back and since I keep visiting it for more and more info, I figured Iíd go ahead and register.

Honestly, I havenít really been serious about making pizza until about a year ago when I received a pizza stone as a gift.  After having some success with bread, I thought Iíd give pizza a shot and Iíve been slightly obsessed ever since.  Having grown up in northern New Jersey, Iím most familiar with (and shamelessly biased in favor of) NY style pizza.  I may never achieve the perfection that was a Vinnieís (Bloomfield, NJ) pie circa 1978, but Iím having a lot of fun trying. 

So far, I have no keen insights to offer.  It seems like many folks here are really into the science behind the pie while Iím very much a throw-it-all-together-and-see-what-happens kind of gal.  (Iím trying to pay closer attention to techniques, though, and Iíve already seen a significant improvement in my crust just from the cold-fermentation approach.)  But if I have any ďdough epiphaniesĒ Iíll be sure to post Ďem.   :)


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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2012, 09:25:20 PM »
Hello, Christine, and welcome to the forum.

I, too, grew up with a pizzeria in Northern NJ (Morristown) that put out a product of such a caliber that it can't be found today, not even in NJ or NY, so I completely understand where you're coming from.  We have a few members here who have personally witnessed the glory of pre-mid 80's NY area pizza.

It took decades to achieve, but I was able to successfully recreate the pizza of my youth, so I'm optimistic that you, too, can recreate yours.  With the resources of this forum, you can achieve, in months, what it took me decades to do.

I should tell you, though, that some science was/is involved. The most important aspect of recreating truly great NY style pizza is achieving the necessary heat transfer for shorter bake times.  You'll never match Vinnie's quality with a bake time longer than 6 minutes.  In that sense, you can't just throw any old baking stone into an oven and see what comes out. You need the right stone for your particular oven type in order to match a pizzeria's bake time, and, in turn, match their results.

Offline TakeTheCannoli

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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2012, 06:20:19 PM »

Thanks for the words of encouragement.  It would be fantastic if I could recreate a Vinnie's pie -- or even get in the same ballpark.  Luckily, I have plenty of people ready, willing, and able to taste-test all of my experiments.

And I hear ya on the science.  Although my throw-it-all-together approach has yielded some pretty decent pies, it's very obvious that I'll need to get serious if I want to take it to the next level.  I'll be making pizza pretty much every week from now until Easter when my parents will be visiting -- and I hope to have made some improvements by then.  (My dad is particularly interested in my pizza quest.)

Right now, my biggest problem is lack of browning.  My crust has a wonderful taste and is light but chewy.  But it's much too pale.  Any suggestions on where to start?


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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2012, 03:04:25 AM »
Easter, huh?  With a little motivation, I think that's definitely feasible.

I googled Vinnies and noticed that they still exist.  As with most great places in the area, though, I'm sure they're a pale imitation of what they once were. Does this photo resemble the pizza that you remember?

Tell me a little bit about your oven. Gas or electric? If gas, does it have a separate compartment for the broiler? Peak temp on the oven dial?

Science-y alert ;) Are you weighing your flour and water?  If you're not, it's time to get your hands on a digital scale and start weighing.  It's really the only way to ensure consistent results.

Could you post your current recipe?  Even if it is by volume, I'd still like to see where you're at.

This isn't absolutely critical, but do you have a digital camera and are you willing to post photos?  Photos go a long way in helping us help you.

Lastly, what flour are you using?  Do you belong to either Sam's or Costco?

Offline TakeTheCannoli

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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2012, 06:49:53 PM »
Yup, Vinnieís Pizza is still there and the pizza does, indeed, look like the ones I remember.  On my next trip to NJ, Iím really hoping to hit the old neighborhood so we can stop by and see if it still tastes the same.

Okay, you had questions and I have answers:

My oven is electric and it can hit 550 given enough time.  (It has a cold spot in the front left and a hot spot in the back right, though.)

Yes, I weigh my water and flour.  (I work part-time in a local bakery so Iím actually used to doing things properly Ė at least when I make cakes and beigli.  ;) )

My current recipe is from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats.

22.5 oz. bread flour
1 Ĺ Tbsp sugar
.35 oz. kosher salt
2 tsp instant yeast
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
15 oz. warm water

Now, Kenji got me started making dough in my food processor but I would actually rather not keep doing that.  (My food processor is very small and Iím seriously concerned that the dough is going to burn it out.)  Now that I have my Kitchen Aid, Iíd rather use that from here on out.

I donít have a digital camera of my own but Iím sure my hubby will let me use his Ė since itís in the name of science.  And pizza.

My flour is usually KASL but this last time I was out so I used whatever bread flour I had on hand, not sure which brand.  I donít belong to Samís or Costco but I can get access to either, if needed.


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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2012, 05:50:25 PM »
That's great, Christine. Your oven specs look very promising (they're the same as mine).

Are you working with a pizza stone presently?  Are you launching from a peel?

I ran Kenji's numbers through the forum's dough calculator

and this is what I got

Flour (100%):
Water (66.6%):
IDY (.95%):
Salt (1.55%):
Oil (6.33%):
Sugar (2.85%):
Total (178.28%):
Single Ball:
639.64 g  |  22.56 oz | 1.41 lbs
426 g  |  15.03 oz | 0.94 lbs
6.08 g | 0.21 oz | 0.01 lbs | 2.02 tsp | 0.67 tbsp
9.91 g | 0.35 oz | 0.02 lbs | 2.07 tsp | 0.69 tbsp
40.49 g | 1.43 oz | 0.09 lbs | 9 tsp | 3 tbsp
18.23 g | 0.64 oz | 0.04 lbs | 4.57 tsp | 1.52 tbsp
1140.35 g | 40.22 oz | 2.51 lbs | TF = 0.0871
380.12 g | 13.41 oz | 0.84 lbs

Long story short, this isn't really NY style pizza.  The high quantity of oil and sugar make it more of an American style pie- which is usually quite popular with people that grew up with pizza hut and dominos, but doesn't cut the mustard for those of us that grew up with places like Vinnies.

The one advantage of an American style pizza is that it tolerates long bakes well, and, with your average home baker's oven setup/retail baking stone that can't do fast bakes, the style is compatible.

With your particular oven setup, you basically have two options for a Vinnie style bake time. 1/2" steel plate sized as large as your oven can accommodate (ideally 18 x 18 x 1/2) or silicon carbide.  Steel plate takes a little effort to find- basically you look up metal in the phone book and one of the places you find should carry plate.  Steel plate is also a bit heavy. Your oven shelf will support it just fine, but moving it in and out to bake other things can be a bit of a chore.  Silicon carbide is much lighter/much more mobile, and it's available online, but, by the time you factor in shipping, it isn't cheap- most likely in the $150 realm.  The other advantage steel plate has over silicon carbide is that it has a much larger history of use.  The people that have used silicon carbide have gotten tremendous results, but the number of those people has been small. I've crunched the numbers, though, and on paper, Silicon carbide should be the perfect stone for NY style in a home oven. $150 may seem like a lot, but, if you're thinking about it, you're reproducing the effects of a multi-thousand dollar oven for only $150.

As far as stones that will give you Vinnie's quality results without oven mods or tricks, these are it.

Your weekly pizza forays- is this a Friday thing? If you're making pizza for this Friday, then for now, I'd stick to Kenji's recipe.  Are you following his recipe and pre-heating the oven to 500? If you are, go to 550- that will give you some more browning.  If the top isn't getting browning, then turn the broiler on for a bit during the bake.

Once you have the right stone for NY style, I'll have a recipe for you that's more NYish/Vinnie-ish.

Offline TakeTheCannoli

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Re: Jersey Girl in VA
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2012, 06:12:30 PM »
Yup, I always bake on my pizza stone and use a wooden peel.

As for Kenji's recipe, I do like the overall flavor and texture that I get from it.  I've tried adjusting it a bit (usually decreasing the sugar and oil, actually) with some success, too.  This last time I think I ended up with dough that was too wet, though.  (Didn't write down my adjustments, sorry. :( )  I actually bake at 525 (still a little leery of 550 in my oven -- it's old and perhaps not the safest) but don't use the broiler because my cheese ends up so browned just from the baking.

Not sure about the steel plate or the silicon carbide.  Between storage and cost, this sort of thing might be beyond my means right now.  Have you any suggestions for working without them?

Now, I will soon have access to an honest-to-goodness pizza oven.  My friend (who owns the bakery where I work part-time) bought one for a song and is just working out where to set it up.  Now, this won't help me with my all of my weekly pizza baking (unless I feel like running over there to cook dinner) but it will be interesting to try a few recipes in that bad boy.   ;)