Author Topic: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions  (Read 3239 times)

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Offline rende

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Hi all, I wanted to say hi and thanks for the great forum and tips.  I was inspired originally after coming across Jeff  Varasano's page and his excellent tips and instructions for making a great pie and have since taking up the quest on my own to create a great 'poor man's neapolitan'.  I am a college student with a somewhat limited budget, renting an apartment (no oven modifications allowed) and a big appetite for good pizza  ;D

So, I'm experimenting with creating a great pie using an unmodified oven (550 degrees is my max) and working on a limited budget.  I created my first pie this weekend, and it actually came out really great.  I wish I had taken a few pictures after I made it but I was too excited to try it that I forgot :).  I used King Arthur's bread flour and IDY, and followed the bakers % as described on Jeff's webpage with the exception of a starter.  The only difference was I brushed some olive oil on the crust after I topped the pizza to give it a bit of a crisp.  I was happy with the looks of the pie, I of course didnt get the charring that I would have liked, but that was expected.  Working with wet dough will take some getting used to!!

My next step is splurging a bit and ordering one of the good sourdough starters online and I also am going to attempt to make the brick oven in an oven with some cheap stone tiles from Home Depot that I saw mentiond a few times on this forum.  I'm compiling my results and going to stick them all on a webpage for the 'Poor Man's Neapolitan'...

My biggest problem with my pie at this point is the cheese! (Well, my dough needs lots of work, but that I can work on and there is plenty of advice on that out there already) My school is in a somewhat rural area, so no big cities around with Italian districts, great delis etc. that I have access too.   I lived in San Fransciso this summer and I imagine there might be some good cheese floating arond in North Beach or so, but now that I am back at school I'm not sure where to look.

I have 3 supermarkets, all of which I checked and bought the freshest wet mozz I could find, and was sourly disappointed.  There was no Bufala (again, which I excepted) and this stuff I got had no taste whatsoever, the text book definition of bland.  I assume most of the other wet mozz I saw would be the same (each store had some in stock, different brands).   

So, I'm asking for any tips you guys might have, anything specific I could be on the look out for?   I saw a few different brands of dry mozz as well, but not sure if this will be any better.  Anyone have any luck going to an italian place or a deli and asking there?  I have a few of each around, but not of the same breed as say in NYC or so...I wasn't sure how helpful they would be.

I'm going to make another 3 pie dough mix again today and experiment with different cold rise times  (this should be the last batch I make with just IDY before my starter arrives mail order) and would like to have some cheese with taste this time, so any tips would be helpful!

Thanks a bunch!
 :pizza: :pizza:
« Last Edit: November 14, 2006, 03:05:27 PM by rende »


Offline raji

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2006, 05:28:39 PM »
There's a number of places that will ship fresh mozz.  It'll be pricey though.  Might be worth it if you can't get your hands on good mozz where you currently live.

http://www.realmozzarella.com/
http://www.mozzco.com
http://www.mozzny.com

I would suggest going to supermarkets/delis nearby to see if they can special order some for you.  If they can do it, it will be cheaper than ordering online.

Offline fabio

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2006, 05:47:51 PM »
I would just try the different brands you were talking about. The best mozz has a slightly salty and very milky taste to it. Quality and price tend to be very closely correlated in my experience, so if you can find a more expensive one, at least give it a try. Good luck and let us know the web site address!

Offline Lido

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2006, 01:33:54 AM »
I've found the cow's milk "fresh" mozz sold in some supermarkets to be pretty bland.  The buffalo milk mozz is twice the price, but tastes better (could be my imagination of course). In my opinion, it's not really possible to get close enough to Neapolitan style pizza with a conventional oven to make it worth going the distance on the ingredients. I just use deli sliced regular mozzarella, peeled tomatos ground into a sauce, fresh basil and regular AP flour.  The result is great, but closer to NY style than neapolitan.  Whenever I use buffalo mozz and 00 flour, I'm disappointed in the crust so I feel like it was a waste to use the pricey cheese. Now I'm thinking about building or buying a wood burning oven, but the oven pre-heat time has me wondering if it makes sense.
- Lido

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2006, 10:28:21 PM »
I've found that my first try was a bit of beginners luck, has so far been the best pie out of 8 I have attempted since.  One was quite a spectacular failure when the dough was a bit too thin and ripped as I was putting the pizza on the stone, spilling sauce onto the stone which ended up cracking it   :-[...Thanks for the cheese advice, I have been trying the different brands and found one that is decent enough, at least not as bland as the first pie.

So I notice some people mentioning putting the cheese under the sauce.  I have been having a problem  that I must pull the pie out around 4-5 min, by that time my cheese is almost burning, the crust is only beginning to  brown and the center of the pie still seems almost not done.  The sauce and cheese seem to slide right off  the center parts of the pie and the tips of my slices droop even more than would be expected for a NY style pizza.  I wish I had taken better notes, my first pie didn't seem to have this problem, though I did use a different sauce for that pie which was a bit thicker.

So I'm wondering on any tips to keep this from happening?  I will try an experiment putting the cheese under the sauce tomorrow and try using a bit less sauce.  I'm wondering if there are any other methods I might try.  Oh, for my sauce, I am using Tuttorosso peeled plums tomatos.  I don't have a mixer, so what i do is strain them in a collander, then use a bowl which fits tight into the colander to squeeze them through the holes and mix that with the strained juice.  Add a bit of sugar and thats all.  Makes a tasty sauce, but it strikes me as a bit runny when I compare to what I'm used to seeing at professional pizzerias.

Thanks for the cheese advice all, and yeah I don't think I'll shell out for the pricey mozz until I have a decent oven to play around with (but thanks for the links when that time comes around)...Besides it seems like it will take me awhile just to get my basic dough handling techniques down and be able to make reproducible dough.


Online Pete-zza

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2006, 09:43:26 AM »
rende,

I have a few thoughts but before expressing them can you tell us on which oven rack position you are placing the stone?

Peter

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2006, 09:41:46 PM »
My oven has 4 rack positions, and I am placing the stone on the 2nd rack from the bottom.

Online Pete-zza

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2006, 11:15:36 AM »
rende,

Thank you for the additional information.

I think you should be fine with the oven configuration you are currently using. I personally place the stone at the lowest oven rack position because that allows me three higher positions to move the pizza up to in the event the bottom of the pizza starts to turn brown too fast, before the rest of the pizza has finished baking. If you decide to build an “oven within an oven”, you might find it a bit easier to do with the stone (or tiles) at the lowest oven position. This is something I have done on several occasions, as noted in a couple of links below.

What the others have said about cheeses is consistent with my own experience. In general, I have found that whole-milk mozzarella cheeses hold up better to heat and resist premature overbrowning than low-moisture, part-skim milk mozzarella cheeses. For some reason, the least effective mozzarella cheeses for me have been house brand versions of low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheeses. For fresh mozzarella cheeses, I have found the Mozzarella Fresca, Polly-O and BelGioioso brands to work quite well. There are undoubtedly better ones but unfortunately not in my area of Texas, unless I want to pay about $14 a pound for prime fresh mozzarella cheese from the Mozzarella Cheese Company in Dallas. If you are finding that your pizzas are a bit swampy in the middle because the cheeses are too wet, you should try thoroughly drying the cheeses on paper towels before using. In your case, you might also want to use a sauce with less liquid, for example, by using only the tomatoes themselves without the liquid they come with in the can. I would also squeeze out the liquid from the tomatoes themselves to get a dryer finished sauce. If you’d like, you can puree the tomato solids in a food processor or with a stick blender, or possibly by using your current method. You might also try Jeff’s method.

You might also find it useful to put the cheeses on your pizzas cold right out of the refrigerator if you are having problems with premature overbrowning of the cheeses. I used this technique, along with using cold pizza sauce and cold pepperoni slices right out of the refrigerator, to make a Neapolitan style pizza in an oven-within-oven stone/tile configuration I devised for use in my standard unmodified home oven. I also found it helpful to use a thicker dough than normally called for in most Neapolitan style dough recipes. I described these techniques here: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1298.msg23927.html#msg23927. The pizza you should pay particular attention to, along with the related discussion, is Pizza #3 as shown in Reply 253 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1298.msg23931.html#msg23931. In my case, I used 00 flour, but I believe the principles should also work with the flour you are now using.

You might also get some tips from this post on the DiFara reverse engineering thread: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,504.msg28423.html#msg28423 (Reply 130). Many of the principles alluded to above, plus more, are discussed in this post. You will also see another design of a “mini oven”.

As a final thought, you might sometime take a look at this thread at your leisure: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,3673.msg30851.html#msg30851. This thread represents a compilation of what I believe to be some of the best dough formulations I have been involved with for Neapolitan-style pizzas made in a standard unmodified home oven. Most of the recipes involve 00 flour, but you might find ideas and tips to help you in your journey to make a “Poor man’s Neapolitan”.

Peter

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2006, 06:26:51 PM »
Peter,

Thanks so much for very informative reply.  You have given me quite a good start to a number of the areas I was wondering about.  I will be experimenting with the doughs and techniques that you pointed me too and I will keep you updated here!  Thanks again for the great information!  ;D

 :pizza: :pizza:

 

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #9 on: November 27, 2006, 03:51:40 PM »
Well I have tried the recipe for pizza #3, made 3 batches and each pie was better then the last.  No more soggy middles and cheese sliding off.  I tried the new dough, moved my stone to the lowest rack, made a thicker sauce and didnt spread the dough as thin.  All these combined produced the best pizzas I have made.  I can say there is definatly a progression here in the positive direction!  I have two concerns, one about my dough kneeding technique and the other with my dough flavor.

Currently I am hand kneeding, my technique is such...after autolyzing, I mix the remaining flour I have in and mix with a wooden spoon for about 5 to 8 minutes, at this point I can recognize the dough when I think it is ready for hand kneading, it  gets kind of fluffy, and balls up a bit more.  At this point, I flour my bench and dump the dough onto it.  then I press the dough roughly into a disc shape with my palms, peel up the back end and fold it in half towards myself.  Then i repress to roughly the same shape, refold, etc.  I repeat this until it gets sticky enough that I need to reflour the bench.  I do so, and rotate the dough about 20 degrees and repeat for about 15 minutes.  My concern is the dough is absorbing the flour, so I'm losing some hydration from the original recipe.  On the last of the 3 pies I made this past weekend, I filled a half cup with dough and used that to flour the bench, and I ended up using a half of that...so 1/4 cup of flour (using king arthurs bread flour ) was absorbed into my dough.  Should I be leaving about this much out of my original when mixing in the bowl to compensate?  Not sure how the hand kneeders do this, or is it considered part of the kneeding process to add a bit more flour.

The other concern is the taste, I still haven't gotten my starter, so I need to use IDY again this week.   I decided to mix up this weekends batch early.  I'm going to experiment with a longer cold ferment...Currently the longest I have fermented for is about 36 hours with a 1.5 hour rise time.  I'm going to try a 72 hour cold ferment this week.  The reason is, I once made a bad batch (before I learned how to make pizza, I was using one of the run away screaming recipes) and forgot about one ball in the fridge.  After about a week, I pulled it out and it smelled quite good, almost like wine.  I didn't cook the dough, because the pizza I made from it previously was just not any good in terms of dough texture, etc, but the smell was great and I haven't yet gotten anything smelling close to this.  I'm hoping I might get this same smell from my dough and that it will add a bit more taste to it if I go for a longer cold ferment, but I'm worried I might not get the same consistency and texture of my last dough.  Should I add a little less IDY to compensate or will that defeat the purpose of the longer ferment?

Otherwise, my pizzas are starting to take good shape thanks too all the advice on from this forum  ;D.  The pic I took below was the 1st of 3 I made this weekend.  I took it out a bit early because I was concerned of the cheese burning (again...I think i have a cheese burning phobia which I need to get over).  My 3rd pie, I turned a blind eye to the cheese and left it in a bit longer than I normally would have and it turned out the best of all...I wish I had a pic of this one, it looked and tasted the best of all.  I think I am worrying too much about the cheese burning and pulling my pies out a bit earlier.  I will try to leave them in a bit longer this weekend as well.  The last pie the crust started to turn a nice golden, which is closer to what I want than any other pies.  Sorry about the quality of the pic, its a bit low because I used my cell, I'll make sure I have my camera batteries charged for this weekend's batch!

Thanks again!
 
« Last Edit: November 27, 2006, 03:59:25 PM by rende »


Online Pete-zza

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #10 on: November 27, 2006, 10:29:45 PM »
rende,

I personally try to keep the hydration on the high side and to minimize the kneading of the dough. One of the reasons for using autolyse and similar rest periods is to reduce the total knead time. I have discovered that a couple of ways of increasing the hydration of the flour is to sift the flour and to use a mixing implement that agitates the flour and water. With my KitchenAid stand mixer, that implement is a whisk. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can use a sturdy hand operated egg beater or an electric beater. Just place the water in a bowl, add a portion of the flour to the water, and use the beater to thoroughly combine the flour and water. Gradually add more flour. Once you reach the point where the beater can no longer easily mix the flour and water, the dough can then be removed to a lightly floured work surface. I think you will discover that you won't need quite as much bench flour at this point and that the dough will have a fairly high hydration. I would also try to keep the additional hand kneading to a minimum. You want to have a dough that is a bit tacky yet smooth.

You are correct that a longer fermentation time will help produce more flavor in the finished crust. In my experience, the most crust flavor comes from using a combination of a natural starter and room temperature fermentation. If you chose to use cold fermentation, I would extend the fermentation time. If you reduce the amount of the formula yeast and use water on the cool side, you should be able to get three or more days out of the dough.

Peter


Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2006, 07:20:45 PM »
Ok, I made 2 batches of dough tonight, yielding 2 pies each.  I didn't want to wait for my starter so this past week I caught my own.  I know, I know it's a hit or miss thing with probably a 90% chance of catching something not so tasty, but what can I say, I like to take chances :)...and in keeping with the spirit of poor man's neapolitan, this is the cheap way! 

So 1 batch made with the starter I caught last week, my technique was simple, I mixed equal parts flour and water and put the result in a gladware container with the lid ajar.  The next morning the thing was bubbling like crazy, so I added another quarter cup water/flour let sit another day, etc...continued this until the mixture rose almost halfway up the container (about 3-4 days) and on the 5th day it fell and I stuck it in the fridge.  Got a little layer of moisture on top which from my reading is called 'hooch' which I didn't drink  :D

The other batch was using IDY, I followed the recipe for pizza #3 that Peter linked me too in a previous post on this topic.  For the starter batch, I didn't use any IDY and used about half of the poolish that I had made. 

I also broke down and used an electric egg beater, no stand mixer here.  I was attempting to not use any electric devices, since I really don't have many available at this point and I was trying to go as cheap as possible, but I managed to get my hands on an egg beater.  So I spent about 15 minutes mixing with the beater as I gradually added the 25% remaining flour after a 20 minute autolyse, a learned technique that I improved with.  As I got close to adding all the remaining flour, the dough started to climb the beaters if I held them at a diagonal.  I found the best technique was to hold the beater at a diagonal (about 60 degees or so off the bench) and slowly press it directly into the dough as I rotated the bowl with my other hand.  As soon as the dough climbs the beaters above the halfway point, stop rotating the bowl and straighten the beater to a 90 degree angle to the bench and slowly pull it back out of the dough.  This will cause the dough to come off the beater.  Repeated this process for 15 minutes.  It is important not to let the dough climb all the way over the beater, or it will no longer fall off when you pull the beater from the dough and will just fling everywhere.  Learned this one the hard way  :-[

I got the best texture I have so far with this process, I then flourd my bench and dumped it out of the bowl.  It requred a bit of coercion with a wooden spoon, and then spent about 2 minutes hand kneeding, basically pulling the dough until the wet sticky interior was exposed and folding the floured end I was pulling into itself.  Then I split the dough into 2 balls and placed each in an oiled plastic gladware container.

I am pretty excited about these batches, even if the starter batch doesnt turn out I still have 2 pies to look forward to.  Cooking them all this Friday and going to have a taste test.  So I will ferment in the fridge until Friday at around 3:00pm and pull them out and start cooking!  I'm a bit unsure as to how long I will let the dough rise at room temp, it will be a call I make once I see how much the dough has risen in the fridge.

I realize many ppl on here get a bit touchy as to what can be called a neapolitan or not, so I just want to iterate that I know I cannot make a true neapolitan without the high heat.  It's my favorite style and I'm just trying to get as close as I can given my limited resources while still renting an apartment and in college (read no money  ;D ).  At the very least my dough mixing techniques will be refined until I can achieve the high heats needed.

As a side note, I went to my schools' cafeteria today and took note of their pizza oven.  It is only fired to 525!  What a waste! Also they used a press to shape the dough before dressing it  :'(  I never took notice to these things before I started visiting here and cooking my own, though I always did think their pizza was below par.  I am wondering however if someday I might be able to use their oven for a 'class project' and see if I can get them to fire it up for me if I bring my own dough and toppings. 

I'll let you know how the tasting goes on Friday and try and get a some better pics posted.

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2006, 09:19:53 PM »
Well, I think  caught something worth keeping.  My starter imparted a very nice flavor to the dough, a somewhat sour but tasty flavor.  At first I had my doubts, the starter smelled quite strong with a very alcoholic twang to it the first few days after I caught, but it settled down considerably.  The dough I made from it had a very pleasent smell, different from the IDY batch that I made.   I got similar crusts on all the pies, so I only am attaching pictures of the one made with my starter.   Note: While my starter was tastier than the IDY, I did notice increased flavor even in the IDY pie compared  that of the shorter fermented IDY.

For some reason, this dough came out much wetter then the ones I had previously hand kneeded still using the pizza #3 recipe. Both the starter and the IDY were of similar wetness.  So the difference was using an egg beater to mix instead of a spoon and hand kneeding.  You can see how wet the dough is in my pictures.  Even after shaping it still glistens from the wetness.

I removed the dough today for the first time since my last post and let it come to room temperature, sat on my countertop for about 2 hours.  I did notice something a bit strange, I marked the dough line on the outside of the container with a marker on day 2, I was concerned about it rising too much over 72 hours and wanted to monitor the process.  From that day I marked it, I really didnt notice the dough rise at all until I took it out, after which it grew about 20% more in volume while sitting on the countertop. 

I started preheating my oven right about the same time I got the dough out at the max oven setting (dial goes to 550 F).

This was the best tasting crust I have made to date, and was extremely crisp on the outside and airy on the inside.  I think I got much better browning on the crust this time because I forced myself to stick to a 6 minute bake and didn't pull it out early for fear of burning the cheese as I have previously.

Pic 1:  The dough after the 72 hour cold ferment in oiled container (sorry about the red tint)
Pic 2:  The dough on my counter before shaping
Pic 3:  After shaping, transfered to my cardboard peel :)
Pic 4:  After a 6 min bake at my ovens max temp (no thermometer so I can't be 100% sure of the temp, the dial goes up to 550 F)
Pic 5:  Slice cut out

Online Pete-zza

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2006, 09:43:06 PM »
rende,

Congratulations. It looks like all of your improvising paid off. The fact that you did everything the hard way is all the more notable.

Do you recall how much starter you used in relation to the rest of the ingredients?

Peter

Offline rende

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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2006, 10:16:07 PM »
Peter,

Thanks!  ;D  I couldn't have made a good pie like this without your and the other forum member's expert advice.  I wasn't really sure how much starter I should use, I scooped 1/4 cup out of my poolish and added it to the dough/flour mixture I had before the autolyse step.  I wasn't sure the of the appropriate method for convertng a recipe for starter, or the appropriate time to add the starter so I did it this way.


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Re: Poor man's Neapolitan - Beginning results and some cheese questions
« Reply #15 on: December 01, 2006, 11:00:10 PM »
rende,

If you used 1/4 cup of the preferment for two dough balls, you should have been OK. That application would be more in line with bread dough than pizza dough, but I have used similar amounts (around 15-20% by weight of flour) and gotten good results. If you were using the preferment strictly for leavening purposes, the amount would be much less. But that is a lesson for another day.

If you were a purist, you would add the preferment after the autolyse rest period. Generally the concern is that adding the yeast before the autolyse rest period will acidify the dough. That is true if you are using commercial yeast but not a natural preferment. It is now generally believed to be acceptable to add a natural preferment before the autolyse rest period. I believe that even Prof. Calvel, the father of the autolyse process, came to accept that application.

Peter


 

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