Author Topic: Glad to be here! Looking forward to being part of this community!  (Read 476 times)

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Offline VivaSirena

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I've been reading these forums for years. I think it's about time I join!

My name is Matt.  I am a chemical engineer by day, but pizza making has been a hobby of mine for a few years.  I live in the Midland, Michigan area, but I originally am from the Pittsburgh PA area (I know Penn Mac very well - been there many times).  Half of my heritage is German/Polish and the other half is Italian. My uncles on the Italian side owned and operated pizza shops in the Pittsburgh area from the time I was born until I was about 21. I grew up around it, but should have paid better attention to the process!! I just loved eating it!  ;D  I've had all sorts of pizzas in my life (from NY street pizza to New Haven pizza, VPN, etc etc) and their style was truly unique - but I would most closely describe it as mostly NY style street pizza (although on their menu they called it Neapolitan). They also made an amazing Sicilian style that I very much miss.  Anyway, that is what got me started in this hobby.  The desire to be reunited with the flavors of my Uncles pizza shops.  Others may prefer other styles of pizza, but this is  'in my blood' - from the earliest age - that's what I knew pizza to be.  Unfortunately my Uncles since moved on to other careers (they burned out from running Pizza shops) and I don't get to see them very often.  I've tried and tried to clone this style of pizza, but haven't quite been able to (as I said, I wish I would have paid better attention in my youth).  The quest continues. But, I'm pretty pleased with what I've done so far (I'll post pics sometime).  I hosted my whole work group and many friends for pizza parties, and they all say it's the best pizza they've had, so I must be doing something right.  ;D.

When I started this journey back in 2008, I came across Jeff Varasano's recipe and that taught me some essentials that enabled me to formulate dough that can cook directly on a stone at high heat, as well as many other things. This, combined with the info I got from my Uncles provided a good starting place. I knew that they used high gluten flour, cake yeast, Escalon Bonta sauce, and Grande cheese.  I learned from Jeff the benefits of using a culture, as well as good quality tomatoes instead of a prepared sauce, and fresh mozz.  Anyway, I've tried a little bit of everything, and have yet to really find what I'm looking for (queue U2 song).  One critical thing I found on these forums was the Little Black Egg.  I've made my own version of that, and have been using it will some success.  I remain frustrated by the shortcomings on cooking the top of the pizza though, and don't wish to play around with our home oven to get high heat, so I feel a little stuck in that department. 
Things I hope to learn next:
- Solving the mystery of how my Uncles dough ended up with the texture and flavor it had.  I'm suspecting the dough workflow, kneading technique is the main thing, but also questioning the flour they used (they used Pillsbury high gluten - Balancer I suspect, but not sure).  Their pizza crust was exactly how you want NY style to be - nice crunch on the outside, cornice with good spring, soft and chewy in the middle.  Mine ends up being more effort to chew than it should be. So I'm suspecting over-kneading, but I need to make sure the dough is kneaded enough to be extensible and not tear, and generally handle well.
-  Looking for ideas on my next oven! I'm ready to move on from the LBE, but don't have much $$ to spend on it right now
-  I'm using 6-in-1 and generally pretty happy, but I would love to find a similar product that uses DOP Ground San Marzano and is a mostly deseeded.  I've used whole peeled DOP San Marzanos, but I abhor the tedious the deseeding process. 
- I'm totally dissatisfied with Grande cheese. I think it's gone downhill (so has Escalon IMO)  I just don't know why everyone likes it. It has no flavor.  I actually enjoy the kind of cheese you get on Aldi's take and bake more. LoL. (depends on what I'm in the mood for). My favorite cheese on my pizzas so far has been the BelGioioso fresh mozzarella from the grocery store.  So I'm intereseted in trying other fresh mozz's as well as better alternatives to dry aged mozz (than Grande)
- Last thing and I'll end this tome.  Sausage! Where in the world can a guy get that thinly sliced- almost shaved sausage that has so much flavor. My uncles used it and my local favorite shop here uses it.  I'm tired of Jimmy Dean crumbles.

On a personal note, I'm in my early thirties and married to a wonderful woman with a boy and a girl.
Looking forward to getting to know you all and learning from you.  Honestly the amount of knowledge on this forum is jaw-dropping and a little bit overwhelming at times.  I have to walk away because I start to get brain-pain. :-) 


Offline scott123

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Re: Glad to be here! Looking forward to being part of this community!
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2013, 06:38:10 AM »
Wow, what a great intro post!  I applaud your passion.

Some the top food service cheeses seem to be stumbling in recent years.  I've heard reports that Grande has been having issues and also Polly-O has had bouts with quality control.  That being said, I think both brands, at their absolutely worst, are more flavorful than BelGioioso fresh mozzarella (imo ;) ).

A huge part of cheese flavor is obtained through proper melting.  You mentioned having top heat issues.  Is your cheese thoroughly bubbling and turning golden tan?

The excess chewiness could be overkneading, or it could be that your Uncle's place came from a time where weaker flours were a bit more prevalent.  13% protein flours can still be labeled 'high gluten' but they tend to be less problematic than 14% Balancer.

Cultures can make great pizza, but, if you're looking to duplicate a NY style pizza from years past, there's almost no chance they were using a starter. Jeff spent countless hours trying to recreate Patsy's starter only to later find out that Patsy's didn't/doesn't use a starter. There's nothing wrong with starters, but if you're looking for a specific texture/taste from years past, I'd nix the starter for now.

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I remain frustrated by the shortcomings on cooking the top of the pizza though, and don't wish to play around with our home oven to get high heat, so I feel a little stuck in that department.

It's really important to keep in mind that Jeff's recipe is from 2007- a time when getting fast bake times meant pretty drastic oven hacks.  We have tools at our disposal now that don't require such drastic measures. Spending some time with the LBE thread might help you (do you have a few hours to spare? :) ) but I wouldn't preclude your home oven for a fast baked NY pie.

Is your oven electric or gas? If gas, is the broiler in the main compartment or in a separate drawer underneath?  What's the peak temp on the dial?

Offline VivaSirena

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Re: Glad to be here! Looking forward to being part of this community!
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2013, 11:04:48 AM »

Thanks for the great reply!

That being said, I think both brands, at their absolutely worst, are more flavorful than BelGioioso fresh mozzarella (imo ;) ).

Believe it or not, I think the best pie I've made was my "white pizza", one where I spread on a layer of Boyajian Garlic Oil http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/boyajian-garlic-oil-127-fl-oz#1046# directly on the skin, and placed torn pieces of the BelGioioso and sprinkle some pizza spices on top.  I think what made it a heavenly experience was the way the fresh mozz melted perfectly over the oil. To your point, I think it was more of a texture thing than a flavor thing! I guess it can only get better with a better fresh mozz. I might have to drive down to the Detroit area and see what I can find.

Is your cheese thoroughly bubbling and turning golden tan?

It is bubbling but limited browning. I'll have to shoot a short video of my whole dough process and while it is cooking.
There's nothing wrong with starters, but if you're looking for a specific texture/taste from years past, I'd nix the starter for now.

Cloning my Uncle's recipe would be one goal, but in the process I found I really like the flavor of the preferment as well.  So I guess I have multiple goals - your point is well taken. As for my Uncles' crust I need to get some cake yeast and try it that way.  I don't know why it should be that different from IDY (if I make the appropriate strength conversions).  I am also going to play around with additions of diastatic malt, non-diastatic malt, and whey type additive.  When I think back on the flavor, the notion of 'malt' rings a bell - I think it had a more malty flavor.  So that might be it.
Is your oven electric or gas? If gas, is the broiler in the main compartment or in a separate drawer underneath? What's the peak temp on the dial?


Our kitchen oven is a dinosaur..I don't even know who made it "P7 Automatic Cleaning" is the only marking on it. It's electric, and the broiler is all in the same compartment. Dial appears to have room for 550 as a hash mark between 500 and Broiler.  I guess I should try it at some point!

Offline scott123

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Re: Glad to be here! Looking forward to being part of this community!
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2013, 06:46:45 AM »
Matt, as a culture, we don't fry cheese much, but if you've ever fried cheese, it's a night and day difference in both flavor and texture to broiled cheese.  That's imo, the power of pizza- it's the only bread that's thin enough to give you that stunning fried cheese effect. As you increase the thickness and move into the Sicilian realm you loose the fried cheese quality.

Anything between the bottom heat source and the cheese will act as an insulator and will slow down the rising heat and mitigate the frying effect.  This is why, for NY style, thinner crusts are better (less dough in the way).  It's also why, when you use less sauce or, in your garlic oil case, no sauce, the frying effect becomes so pronounced.

Beyond bottom heat and lack of insulation playing a role, oil is a massive player in happier melting cheese.  Ideally, you can start off with a cheese with a high fat content (like Grande or Polly-O at the top of their game), but if you're stuck with a lean cheese (almost all supermarket cheeses, fresh or aged), fat can be a big plus.

So, by using garlic oil, you minimized the insulation under the cheese and encouraged frying as well as added oil which makes for happier cheese. Win win. But the BelGioioso, with a typical layer of tomato sauce underneath it and no added fat... not so great. And a good food service aged mozz, with a layer of garlic oil- quite possibly better.

If there's any way your uncle's can be contacted, I think you'd save yourself an unbelievable amount of time if you could speak with them.  Jeff Varasano makes great pizza, but it bears almost no resemblance to what was typically available at your neighborhood pizza ten to thirty years ago.  No sourdough, no fresh mozzarella, fast bakes, but not Varasano-ish fast bakes.  The neighborhood place has always been pretty simple.

Crust can have a malty flavor profile without the addition of malt.  You can get it through fermentation. If your uncles knew how long they fermented the dough for, that would be a huge help.  Added malt is another aspect that would be too complex for your average mom and pop pizzeria.

Do you have an infrared thermometer?  It's time to take some readings of your pre-heated stone to see what temps can be achieved.

Offline VivaSirena

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Re: Glad to be here! Looking forward to being part of this community!
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2013, 08:27:37 PM »
Scott123 - Good points. Thanks.  Yes, I will be talking with my Uncle soon.  I'm going to have him fill in some details. What I do know is that they used ONLY high gluten flour, salt, water and cake yeast. Mixed in a large electric mixer with spiral hook. Dough prep during the day, overnight refrigeration, use the following day. Baker's Pride deck ovens.  I know that typically NY style doughs in deck ovens almost invariably have some oil included, but that was not the case with their recipe.  And the dough was always consistently the best dough. The perfect balance of outside crunch, inner soft chewiness, but not tough at all to eat. Easily foldable with one hand. They evidently struck the right balance in the extensibility department because they were able to toss it plenty.

To answer your question, yes I have an IR gun.  I use it when I cook pizza on my LBE.

Perhaps you could point me in the right direction on the following questions:

1) Concerning my dough workflow (including kneading routine), I have been using the Varasano approach (autolyze, wet knead in my KA c-hook, another rest, reshape, and ball dough), with overnight refrigeration. I do sometime add in the Ischia or Camaldoli culture for extra flavor, but with my one day cold ferment, I can't rely on it for rising the dough, so I add in the IDY. Other times I just use IDY. My dough always comes out very smooth and always great extensibility.  But I'm open to reconsidering what may be the best workflow which is most conducive to creating the NY Street style. Are there pointers you could give, posts from others, or any other resources you would recommend?
 
2) As you alluded to, I want to try using my home oven instead of my LBE, mostly for the better control over top/bottom heat balance.  I would like to see some representative examples of how people have set up their ovens to mimick a high thermal mass oven like an WFO.  I have a heating element on the top, and one on the bottom, all in the same compartment. Broil uses the top heating element. I think 550 is a legitmate SP right before Broil.  Are there pointers you could give, posts from others, or any other resources you would recommend for some configurations, materials, where to get them, etc?

thanks a bunch!!


 

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