Author Topic: Is leoparding a cue for quality?  (Read 2784 times)

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Offline TXCraig1

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Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« on: April 29, 2013, 02:26:19 PM »
The following was posted in the Millar Stainless Steel Pizza Oven thread: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,18587.msg251119.html#msg251119
So as not to risk hijacking that thread, I’m starting a new thread on this topic which as pointed out, has not had much discussion.

I don't recall any other member on this forum expressing something I feel very strongly about after extensive testing: forget about leoparding. It is just a cosmetic artifact of the fermentation time/temp and heat. Depending on which sourdough culture I use and how I ferment it and how I bake it, I can easily produce a pizza with very little leoparding that has much better flavor and texture than one with picture-perfect leoparding.  More often than not, pizzas I bake that have pretty leopard spots are over-baked. I understand that visuals are an important part of food enjoyment, but IMHO, leoparding as a cue for quality is just an illusion.


I respectfully disagree with two main points above. First is with the statement “leoparding as a cue for quality is just an illusion.” Is leoparding a definitive, stand alone indicator? No. Is it the be-all-end-all of a Neapolitan pizza? No. Can it be a cue for quality however? Absolutely it can. The quantity, size, distribution, and appearance spots or lack thereof, particularly when taken in consideration with other factors but even on their own, can give you information on how the dough was mixed, gluten development/breakdown, over/under fermentation, handling during assembly, baking, etc. There are correlations that can be drawn between the appearance of spots and certain quality attributes. Just because the correlations are not perfect does not mean that they are not meaningful or otherwise unimportant for consideration. That quality is subjective may complicate matters as different people may see different correlations, however this does not change the underlying premise that correlations exist.

I also disagree with the “cosmetic artifact” characterization. Leoparding may be cosmetic, but I don’t see it as an artifact. If it’s an artifact, it’s an artifact of process and formula, of fermentation time/temp and heat as noted above. Rather, I believe it should be viewed as a cosmetic feature. The use of the word “artifact” tends to imply an error in perception – the idea that leoparding implies quality is false; that it is simply an artifact of seeing so many pictures of NP with leoparding. While this may be the basis for the perception, that doesn’t in and of itself necessitate that such a perception should be summarily discarded. If anything, it would appear to support the belief. I would also remind that a lack of leoparding is just as much a cosmetic feature or artifact as is leoparding.

As noted in the original comment above, visuals are important. Like smell, the visual aspects play a role not only in taste but also in the total sensory experience. You can’t distill the total quality of a pizza down to simply flavor and texture as almost seems to be suggested above. If leoparding is not a feature that a particular pizzaiolo desires to maximize the enjoyment, then his pies should not have leoparding, but that is a decision that should be made as part of a larger set of decisions intended to achieve balance not because of a belief that leoparding is unimportant.

To me, perfect NP is like a ballerina: strength balanced by grace. The result is delicate beauty.  I believe leoparding is in critical element in my NP. It adds greatly to my total enjoyment and appreciation of the pie, and it is something I work to create in my pizza – not for the sake of leoparding but rather for the sake of balance. It’s not simply cosmetic. You can’t just burn leoparding onto your pizza and expect it to be good. With respect to the comment, “More often than not, pizzas I bake that have pretty leopard spots are over-baked.” Perhaps this is because leoparding is not an element that is set out to be achieved, and when it is, there has been movement away from the intended balance that began as the ingredients were measured? Every decision and action taken from the first measurement of the flour and water limits or changes what can be done farther into the process while still achieving balance.  I don’t believe it is fair to link over-baking and leoparding as the connection was probably established by other choices before baking began, and if not before baking, by the choice of oven or oven temperature.

My dough formula, workflow, and baking technique are purposefully designed to produce leoparding without over-baking. Visual impact balanced by tenderness and silk-like texture that melts in your mouth. Caramelized flavors balanced by fresh flavors from the toppings. Like a ballerina, strength balanced by grace. Perhaps this is why Pizza Lolita is perfect with sautéed mushrooms and my mushroom pie is perfect with raw?

One other thing to consider that I don’t think is often discussed. When we talk about balance, it doesn't always mean balance in every bite. With respect to balance in the toppings, it often does (but not always), but it also means the cornice balances the interior of the pie. IMO, this is one of the most important aspects of a Margherita. Balance exists on many levels but it ultimately it means the total experience. Again, it’s like ballet. Ballet’s very history illustrates the concept of balance on many levels. The first ballets were woven into opera to allow a moment of relief from the dramatic intensity.
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Offline bakeshack

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2013, 04:59:30 PM »

I know that this could be a very controversial subject but I have to say that if you are trying to achieve a true Neapolitan pizza in your home or pizzeria, you should know that leoparding is one of the most important visual cues in this style of pizza (and, IMHO, this style only).  Leoparding has no place in other styles of pizza because only a true Neapolitan pizza can achieve this "artifact" with the perfect balance of heat, fire, and a fully mature dough.  Neapolitan pizza has an extremely long tradition behind it and I feel that we should also take some responsibility to keep the tradition going even if it is too damn hard to do just because the end product is so good and worth it.  This is the reason why I get really pissed when people advertise their product as a Neapolitan pizza when their product is clearly not and the customers get misinformed.  The owner could care less that he is bastardizing someone else's culture and tradition.

I have observed that a lot of people get obsessed with leoparding and rightly so because only a few can truly achieve it.  We are not talking about the large burnt bubbles all around the crust but the small protruding blisters which tells us that the dough was made properly and was baked at the proper time and the oven had just the right amount of fire and heat inside resulting in the most flavorful, tender, soft, melt in your mouth pizza described by Craig in his post in 60 secs or less.  Some people may or may not like this style of pizza but for those who like it, you know that you need the leoparding to come out for you to be satisfied with your work.  If it's not there, some may try to force it by putting it really close to the fire or letting it stay longer hoping that the leopard spots will finally appear resulting in a burnt or over baked pizza.   In my experience, the spotting will appear within 5-10 secs inside the oven and get even as you rotate the pizza inside.  I may not achieve it all the time but I certainly strive for it with every NP pizza I make because when it get it right, it's pretty hard to beat.


Marlon






Offline Jackie Tran

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2013, 06:22:47 PM »
Well said Craig.  I agree that leoparding can be a cue for quality, that it does correlate with the preparation and condition of the dough, and that leoparding can serve a purpose in the aesthetics and flavor of NP.  But is it an absolute requirement to produce the very best possible NP pizza?  Should all NP strive for leoparding?
« Last Edit: April 29, 2013, 07:37:04 PM by Jackie Tran »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2013, 07:56:52 PM »
Thanks, Craig for starting this thread. I have a feeling it will be a great one. Since my brash statement was the impetus for this thread, let me put it in some context, otherwise any more brash claims I may make might be misinterpreted.


I've been enjoying Neapolitan pizza since my first one in 1967. No other food for me packs the sensory and emotional impact like this kind of pizza.  Like the other hardcore enthusiasts here, I began a quest to reproduce it. Long story -> short: I stumbled across a crust that I liked even more than the incredible ones I have enjoyed in Naples. As I have stated repeatedly, I make no claims about authenticity; it is my style. I am world's leading authority on it. You may not like it. I love it. Same for you and the pizzas you love.


Longer story-> shorter. After countless experiments, the critical factor for me between the perfect pizza and lesser ones was never the degree of leoparding. The critical factor for me clearly became hitting that tiny window between underbaked and overbaked which may be only a few seconds. Once I began ignoring surface cues and paying attention to other things like how quickly the crust begins to puff after hitting the deck and how rapidly it puffs, I was much better at hitting my ideal. My best crusts have relatively small leopard spots. Sure, I can tweak fermentation regimens to produce more conventional spotting. But those crusts often fail to hit the mark. This could very probably be a limitation of my skills and my oven. One thing I am not able to do in my relatively small WFO is to moderate baking speed by moving the pizza away from the fire. I only have a few inches of play at most.


This is a very important discussion, IMO. But if it is about leoparding in the context of parochial Neapolitan pizza, I'll have to bow out. But I'd be happy to learn from you all how I can retain my sort-of-Neapolitan ideal and add some additional visual appeal.


So back at you at you all: have you ever have done a blind taste comparing two bites from the same pizza - one with little or no leoparding and one with lots?




Offline Tscarborough

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2013, 07:59:22 PM »
I don't think it is required on the crust for Neapolitan, but a sure fire sign of a hot oven is the leoparding on the bottom of the crust.  It definitely is a sign of a specific state of fermentation and oven temperature on the crust though, but I am sure you could make a tasteless crust with wonderful leaparding too.

Mal

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2013, 08:04:18 PM »
I have TRIED when tasting Neapolitan pizza to discern a link between the "leopard spots" and quality of the pizza but so far it has stumped me. That said, and to echo previous comments I definitely think there are degrees of "spotting". Big ass black bubbles just taste plain burnt to me.

For the aspiring home pizza maker (such as myself!) I suspect leopard spots are more of a milestone than an indicator of quality. It's like a sign that you're starting to get into the right ballpark of fermentation and/or heat.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2013, 08:21:15 PM by Mal »

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2013, 10:54:52 PM »

This is a very important discussion, IMO. But if it is about leoparding in the context of parochial Neapolitan pizza, I'll have to bow out.

I’m not looking to have you thrown out of the NP club. Where I took exception to your original quote was not in the context of your style on which I recognize you as the world's leading authority. I will never challenge you on your style.

Where I took exception was in the seemingly blanket statements “forget about leoparding” and “leoparding as a cue for quality is just an illusion.” I can tell you with certainty that neither is correct in my style on which I am the world’s leading authority.

As I noted, quality is subjective and that makes a big and complex subject a whole lot bigger and more complex, but perhaps it is as simple as I just enjoy more char than you do. It will be interesting to see how this topic develops.

Quote
So back at you at you all: have you ever have done a blind taste comparing two bites from the same pizza - one with little or no leoparding and one with lots?

No, my pies are typically evenly baked all the way around.  ;)
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Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2013, 11:19:10 PM »
I have TRIED when tasting Neapolitan pizza to discern a link between the "leopard spots" and quality of the pizza but so far it has stumped me. That said, and to echo previous comments I definitely think there are degrees of "spotting". Big ass black bubbles just taste plain burnt to me.

For the aspiring home pizza maker (such as myself!) I suspect leopard spots are more of a milestone than an indicator of quality. It's like a sign that you're starting to get into the right ballpark of fermentation and/or heat.

How do you on one hand say that you don't see a connection between leoparding and quality and on the other say leoparding indicates you're getting your fermentation and/or heat right?

Please don't misunderstand what I wrote in my original post. I'm not saying that leopard spots = quality, full stop or that you must have spots. I'm saying I believe there is a place for spots, and that the nature of the spots can indicate things about the quality. There is a lot more to it than big black bubbles tasting burned. For example, there are big black bubbles that explode out of the rim, big black bubbles that sink back into the rim leaving little craters, and big black bubbles that act like little bubbles in that they don't explode out or collapse in on themselves. They all may taste burned - but they can tell you a lot more than that if you listen, and that's just a few of the many different types of spots with each potentially having something different to tell us.

I'm also saying that leoparding is important part of the overall quality of pies I enjoy, but again - all spots are not equal. For me, it's not simply about having spots. It's about having everything come together such that the taste, texture, and appearance are all where you want them.

Pizza is not bread.

Mal

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2013, 11:24:16 PM »
Quote
The quantity, size, distribution, and appearance spots or lack thereof, particularly when taken in consideration with other factors but even on their own, can give you information on how the dough was mixed, gluten development/breakdown, over/under fermentation, handling during assembly, baking, etc.

Can you elaborate on this, Craig?  In your experience, what are the specific correlations between spot quantity/size/distribution and the dough mixing/gluten development/fermentation/handling? I have seen various theories put forth on this forum but most seem to offer a "one to several" correlation between a spotting pattern and potential causes.

Mal

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2013, 11:28:36 PM »
How do you on one hand say that you don't see a connection between leoparding and quality and on the other say leoparding indicates you're getting your fermentation and/or heat right?

Quite simple. In TASTING, I have not discerned a connection between leopard spot density/size and quality (other than degrees of "burnt" flavor). However since these are usually other peoples' pizzas I am not privy to their fermentation or heat specifications.
I am aware however in my own experiments that fermentation and heat have bearing on leopard spots. I just can't make the final connection in my own experience with the quality of the finished pizza.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2013, 11:33:34 PM by Mal »


Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2013, 11:34:41 PM »
Can you elaborate on this, Craig?  In your experience, what are the specific correlations between spot quantity/size/distribution and the dough mixing/gluten development/fermentation/handling? I have seen various theories put forth on this forum but most seem to offer a "one to several" correlation between a spotting pattern and potential causes.

Yes, but I'll need some time to find pictures and put it together in a thoughtful way. Keep in mind that it's simply going to be my theories (not hard science) which you may or may not find more compelling than other theories you've seen. There are so many variables in NP, I don't think it should be a surprise to find some "one to several" correlations nor do I think such relationships weaken the argument for a leoparding-quality relationship if the presence of multiple variables presents a plausible explanation.
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Offline Tscarborough

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2013, 11:38:36 PM »
Quantitatively, small evenly dispersed bubbles in a dough would indicate that the dough has reached a state of gluten development and fermentation such that the skin is able to both contain and restrain the CO2 to a size that we associate with leoparding, while not not blowing out into big blackened blisters, although some of those are inevitable. 

It is a fine line, and one that can be done in many ways, and alone, does not indicate a digestible and flavorful dough. 

Edit-In addition, a digestible and flavorful dough can be cooked at high temp and NOT exhibit leoparding.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2013, 11:41:27 PM by Tscarborough »

Offline TXCraig1

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2013, 11:49:30 PM »
Quite simple. In TASTING, I have not discerned a connection between leopard spot density/size and quality (other than degrees of "burnt" flavor). However since these are usually other peoples' pizzas I am not privy to their fermentation or heat specifications.
I am aware however in my own experiments that fermentation and heat have bearing on leopard spots. I just can't make the final connection in my own experience with the quality of the finished pizza.

I guess I misunderstood what you meant. When you write leoparding is "like a sign that you're starting to get into the right ballpark of fermentation and/or heat," it sounds like you are connecting leoparding and quality. And if you can't taste a difference, how do you know leoparding indicates that you are going in the right direction? If anything it sounds like it should be a sign telling you to turn back or risk burnt flavor.
Pizza is not bread.

Offline Tscarborough

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2013, 11:52:03 PM »
This is what I am talking about.  I have never had a Neapolitan pizza worth a crap where the bottom did not look like this, no matter what the upper crust looked like.

Mal

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2013, 11:57:34 PM »
If anything it sounds like it should be a sign telling you to turn back or risk burnt flavor.

Bingo. For me it's learning something new. Finding the limits of where to push things and maybe learning where to dial things back. I'm still in the early days of making the connections and clearly not able to make the subtle discernments that your analytical process provides but its early days for me! :P Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this.

Offline f.montoya

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #15 on: April 30, 2013, 09:55:54 AM »
I think the the distinction has to be made whether one's goal is authenticity to the art of NP, or to another, such as a specific flavor, texture or pizza eating experience.

In my case, I fell in love with the taste, smell and visual beauty of NP, even after spending a few decades as an avid NY Style lover(which I still do love and crave from time to time).  Neapolitan pizza, in my opinion, needs to first visually exhibit the "characteristics" of a Neapolitan pizza, before I can even consider it as such. Tender, flexible crust, that is NP, can only be attained with the right amount of fermentation, the right amount of gluten development, the right amount of heat, the right kind of heat(wood fire), for the right amount of bake time, by a person with the right amount of skill willing to give the right amount of attention to detail to each and every pie. To me, a pie with that trademark leoparding, such as Tscarborough's photo above, is strong evidence that all of that was involved.

EDIT: I'm hungry! I can't wait til Friday. Got a pizza party coming that afternoon. Seeing all these pics, I'm itching to to stretch some dough!! :chef:
« Last Edit: April 30, 2013, 09:59:12 AM by f.montoya »

Offline Tscarborough

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #16 on: April 30, 2013, 10:56:48 AM »
(That is not my pizza, it is from Craig's thread)

Offline f.montoya

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #17 on: April 30, 2013, 11:29:48 AM »
(That is not my pizza, it is from Craig's thread)


Doesn't surprise me. In most recent post here, I mention TXCraig1 as a mentor example of NP that I truly appreciate. But your selection of images illustrates my heart-felt thoughts completely.  ;)

Offline bakeshack

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #18 on: April 30, 2013, 12:11:12 PM »
I have to add that, IMHO, the appearance of small, blistery, protruding spots around the crust as well as the bottom, in my experience, is 100% sign to me that everything "lined" up for this pie and that I was able to achieve what I set out to do from the time I started mixing the dough up to the time I placed it inside the oven.  For me, it is definitely an indicator of quality for the pizza I make. 

I have made pizzas with the same dough formula and workflow but without the pronounced leoparding due to a variety of reasons (i.e. not enough heat or fire inside the oven, dough was not mature enough, poor stretching, etc.) and I can immediately tell that I missed the mark and the pizza will not be as good.  I don't even have to taste it.  Just by touching the crust and feeling how it springs back tells me a lot about the quality of the pizza.  The pizza with the proper leoparding just feels different.  Some may or may not believe this but you will know once you achieve it. 


Offline FuocoPizza

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Re: Is leoparding a cue for quality?
« Reply #19 on: May 04, 2013, 04:40:17 AM »
Most pizzaioli will tell you its just the result of cold dough.