Marlon, fantastic job on the pies! Reminds me very much of what I saw in Naples this summer. Can you elaborate on your hand mixing/ kneading technique?
Thanks, Russ! With regards to my hand mixing technique, I should document it next time with pics or video to illustrate better. But here's a basic step by step guide.
1) Put all of the water in the bowl except, maybe, 1/2 to 1 cup (depending on the volume of the dough). Dissolve yeast in the bowl with water.
2) Dissolve the salt in the 1/2 cup water
3) Add about 80% of the flour in the bowl, then, the 1/2 cup salt water and mix. It should be pretty easy to incorporate since this will be fairly wet at this point. I do this to avoid any lumps forming at this stage.
4) Once everything is incorporated, I add the remaining flour in batches (I don't measure the flour being added at this point). I usually just get 1-2 handfuls every time.
5) Turn the dough over onto a countertop (flour side down) and knead. To knead, I make a series of small folds with the dough and pressing the dough out using my knuckles, then fold again, then press again, then add flour as needed. I make sure the the bottom is well floured all the time so the dough won't stick to the countertop. I keep repeating the process until I feel that the dough cannot take anymore flour. It usually takes me about 5 mins to do this. The dough looks shaggy and dry at this point but keep doing the folding process and the dough will come together without any lumps. The dough will clean the countertop and your hands.
6) I continue the folding and pressing of the dough until I get medium gluten development (another 2 mins or so). At this point, the dough should be one cohesive mass, not yet smooth on the top when balled but getting there.
7) I give the dough a 20 min rest on the countertop covered with plastic wrap or damp cloth or the mixing bowl.
After the rest period, the dough becomes relaxed and much smoother and stronger. I perform a series of slap and folds (maybe 4 times) then rest again for about 5 mins. Repeat process then form into a smooth ball.
9) At this point, the dough is ready for bulk fermentation. It should be smooth when balled tightly without any lumps or rough spots.
I highly recommend this technique especially for home use because it helps you develop the "feel" for the dough, which is the most important tool that you can have when managing fermentation.