So are your pies apparantly!
Your pies posted in that link above(http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,16227.msg158726.html#msg158726) look great, I remember them well. Notwithstanding, the pies you're baking today look even better - and not just a little better - they are probably the best NP on the forum. What are the main changes you've made to your dough, work flow, baking, etc. between then and now? It is just upping the heat and shortening the bake time, or are there other important changes you've made?
Thank you, Craig! I believe the "Best NP" belongs to The Garage, hands down!
I have made quite a few changes on my workflow and not necessarily on the actual formula. I will try to illustrate below:
1) Fermentation management - I really think this plays a huge role in the changes/improvement in my pizza over the past year or so. Before, my dough would get really active before I even get to the balling stage. By the time I make dough balls, the dough is almost nearing maturation, IMO, which hampers my ability to properly stretch the dough ball (if you notice, the older pizza in the link provided is much smaller than what I make now) and produces too much bubbles which just pop during stretching and burn during baking. Now, I have learned to pay close attention to how the dough behaves during the bulk (visually, there is almost no activity but when you touch it, you will know that the yeast is working on the dough) and ball so I can make the necessary adjustment in temperature, etc. Also, better fermentation management allows me to be more relaxed and give the oven enough time to preheat because I know that my dough balls have a much longer window of usability (usually around 8 hrs at least) without noticing any product degradation.
2) Dough-making skills - Going back to the hand kneading process really allowed me to develop the "feel" for the dough which I think is very important. After the kneading process (it usually take me about 8 mins to initially develop a 3.5kg dough plus a 20 min rest before doing 1 stretch and fold), you can really feel the dough has become much lighter and filled with air. If I go back to making dough with a mixer, I think I will be able to do a much better job than before because I would know the different stages to look for just by touching the dough which can help avoid overdevelopment/underdevelopment of the dough, etc. Right now, I am not too concerned with very accurate measurements because I feel confident that I can make the necessary adjustments depending on what the dough needs (lower/higher temp, ball early, etc.)
3) Oven fire management - I have also changed how I build the live fire inside the oven while baking pizza. Before, I would just preheat, move the coals to the side then place 2-3 logs and let it burn. Now, I would preheat the oven (usually about 4 hrs) and let the coals burn down a bit before I move them to the side. Sometimes, there wouldn't be that much coals left. I would put 3 logs (1 log is big) inside the oven to burn and place the big log on the floor and stack the 2 smaller logs across it. The larger log would protect the pizza from too much heat from the side coming from the coals or fire. The fire will come across the dome and give me a perfect balance of top and bottom heat.
Finally, I realized that I was getting caught up too much with the idea of getting short bake times, leoparding, etc. and it seemed like I was forcing it to bake within 60 secs and putting it too close to the fire to get leoparding when you actually end up burning it instead. When I focused on the fundamentals which I listed above, the short bake times and leoparding came naturally, somehow, and the pizza got really, really good. Now, I am much more comfortable making pizza and I am truly enjoying it.