Author Topic: Fantastic crust!  (Read 2652 times)

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Offline zandonatti

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Fantastic crust!
« on: September 23, 2007, 10:24:48 AM »
I was in Naples in July, and had some fantastic pizza, including the best crust I've ever had at Da Michele.

But, is it just me, or does anyone else crave a pizza that has a fantastic crust AND some of that fantastic crust taste in the center of the pizza?  This is not a Naples issue; as far as I can tell it's true everywhere.

I'm not talking about uniform thickness throughout, like deep-dish pizza.  I just want something other than the thin, wet slice of dough beneath the topping(s).

I know that if I make a dough and cook it at 900 degrees without any toppings, it will be thick in the middle.  But it seems like as soon as I put on a topping with any sort of moisture, the dough collapses under the weight of the moisture.   I thought that maybe cooking it at very high temps (I've gone beyond 1,000 degrees, which is where my temp gun stops) would make a difference, but no.  All I'm looking for is about 1/8 inch of thickness--just something/anything more than the collapsed wet noodle-shape I'm getting.

Am wondering two things:

1)  anyone else feel this way
2)  anyone tried to do anything about it, such as cook the dough just enough to get a rise out of it, then dress it, then finish the cooking?   Or cooking the dough alone until done, then dressing it and holding it up to the top of the wood oven for a few seconds?

Or is it I just have too much time on my hands   :)


Online Pete-zza

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Re: Fantastic crust!
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2007, 12:32:39 PM »
Z,

The problem you describe is universal and not limited to Naples. Pizza operators contend with this problem all the time, especially when they use wet/moist toppings such as vegetables and particularly in large quantity. Since pizzas bake from the outside to the center, the larger and thicker the pizza the greater the likelihood of the center of the pizza being underbaked. If a lot of veggies are used, there is a high likelihood of getting what is affectionately called “swamp pizza”. Commercial air impingement ovens with circulating air tend to reduce the swamp pizza effect by more rapidly evaporating the water on the top of the pizza. Baking the pizzas at lower oven temperatures for longer times will also allow more of the water on the pizza to evaporate. Some pizza operators make a point of not putting anything at the center of the pizzas and hope that things don’t run “downhill” during the bake and leave a puddle in the middle. Some will also put a light coating of oil on the dough before dressing to reduce migration of water into the dough. Sometimes these methods works, but not always.

I suspect that in your case, with your very high oven temperatures, you are using very short bake times. If so, the outsides of your pizzas may be baking up fine but there may not be enough heat at the center of the pizzas to evaporate enough of the water on top of the pizza. I am not familiar with the operation of high-temperature wood-fired ovens, but there may not be enough air circulation to produce the desired drying effect. It is possible to pre-bake a crust and dress and finish the baking, as you postulated. This is an approach that is frequently used, especially in a typical home oven environment, to make cracker-crust pizzas. Some of our members also use that approach for NY and other styles. But, I can’t recall reading that approach as applied to Neapolitan style pizzas baked in very-high temperature wood-fired ovens. I read often about wet Neapolitan pizzas, so it must be a common problem. Most often, it is the buffalo mozzarella cheese (or other moist fresh cheese) and/or the San Marzano tomatoes that get the blame. Using a lower bake temperature and a longer bake time may help solve the dampness problem but it may alter the character of the pizza itself in a way that you lose some of the Neapolitan pizza attributes.

You might get a kick out of reading a PMQ article about an individual, Preston Williams, who came up with a solution to the type of problem you have raised, but in a somewhat different context (pan pizza). The article is at http://www.pmq.com/mag/2005may-june/article.php?story=holey, and describes the patented method used by Mr. Williams to get a pizza to bake more uniformly and completely. Parts of his patent can be found at http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5514402.html.

Hopefully, a member who has solved the problem you have raised will come to your rescue.

Peter
« Last Edit: September 23, 2007, 02:11:47 PM by Pete-zza »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Fantastic crust!
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2007, 02:02:41 PM »
I definitely experienced this problem. After seeing photos by marco of slices with voids from edge to center, I knew it was something I could fix. Although the voids on my pies near the center are not as large as those at the edges, I am satisfied with my results.

A couple of things I found in my case:

1. When shaping the dough, the center tends to get the most pressure which can drive out the little voids that will become larger when the pie is baked. I now take care to handle the dough as gently possible. In particular, I use more of a stretching motion rather than pressing, especially in the center.

2. I noticed the first pies I baked from a batch had fewer voids than the last ones. I am now using a longer proofing phase at a higher temp to make sure none of the balls are underproofed.

Hope this helps a little.

Bill/SFNM

Offline fabio

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Re: Fantastic crust!
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2007, 04:41:57 PM »
I second Bills points, and would like to point out a couple more things:

1) Neapolitan pizza is usually a little floppy (you can't just pick up a slice, you usually need to eat it with a fork and knife); but that's because of the delicateness (if that's a word) of the dough.

2) Fewer ingredients. Many people make the mistake of putting too much tomato or mozzarella on their pizze, tomato being the biggest culprit. Try putting half the tomato you usually do and check your results.

3) Less hydrated ingredients. Some experts in neapolitan pizza drain their mozzarella for up to 8 hours before using it on pizza. You might also want to follow Jeff Varassano's technique for preparing the tomato; you take out a lot of the water that way. An additional benefit is that you get more concentrated tomato flavor.

I hope that helps. Let us know what you find as you experiment.

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Fantastic crust!
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2007, 10:06:54 AM »

I know that if I make a dough and cook it at 900 degrees without any toppings, it will be thick in the middle.  But it seems like as soon as I put on a topping with any sort of moisture, the dough collapses under the weight of the moisture. 


By the way. An untopped pie will rise in the middle, but only after the edges have puffed up. Check out this video I took (very low quality, but you'll see what I mean). The large air bubble in the center seems to be formed to some extent by the force of the rising edge.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=dbS9RC8_Ebg

Bill/SFNM

Offline MTPIZZA

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Re: Fantastic crust!
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2007, 09:01:19 AM »
Instant Pita Bread...anyone have some cus-cus...