I believe I have identified the reason why you have not been getting good natural flavors in your pizza crusts. It is the dough recipe you have been using. The type of recipe you have been using, with its large amount of yeast and short fermentation time, is known in the pizza trade as an "emergency" (or "short-time" or "short-term") dough recipe. It is not one that a pizza operator would normally use to make regular dough balls for their businesses. Rather, it is one that would be used in the case of an emergency, as where something befalls the regular dough balls that renders them unusable, for example, a power failure or cooler failure. Of all the types of dough recipes I am aware of and have tried, and they are many, I would personally rank emergency dough recipes at the bottom of the list in terms of delivering natural crust flavors. Crust coloration will also be below average. The reason for this is insufficient fermentation of the dough.
Since you have indicated an interest in the New York style, I would like to suggest that you try the following NY style dough recipe that I put together for two 12" pizzas using the expanded dough calculating tool at http://www.pizzamaking.com/expanded_calculator.html.
|Bread Flour (100%):|
Olive Oil (1%):
|364.53 g | 12.86 oz | 0.8 lbs|
215.07 g | 7.59 oz | 0.47 lbs
1.93 g | 0.07 oz | 0 lbs | 0.51 tsp | 0.17 tbsp
6.38 g | 0.23 oz | 0.01 lbs | 1.14 tsp | 0.38 tbsp
3.65 g | 0.13 oz | 0.01 lbs | 0.81 tsp | 0.27 tbsp
591.56 g | 20.87 oz | 1.3 lbs | TF = 0.09225
295.78 g | 10.43 oz | 0.65 lbs
Note: Bowl residue compensation = 2.5%
There are a few things I should mention about the above dough formulation. First, I have specified bread flour. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour and should increase the crust coloration, provide slightly better crust flavor and somewhat increased chewiness, which is a characteristic of the NY style. You can use any bread flour, but my personal preference is the King Arthur bread flour because of its slightly higher protein content than competing brands. The King Arthur bread flour is also fairly easily found in supermarkets and other food stores. All-purpose flour can also be used but it will be a step back from what most pizza operators, especially those in New York City specializing in the NY style, use for the present NY style. In fact, they are more likely to be using high-gluten flour, which adds even more flavor, color and chewiness to the finished crust. You could also use a high-gluten flour but high-gluten flours are very hard to find at retail in supermarkets. Whatever flour I use, my practice is to sift it before using, to improve its hydration. I will leave to you to decide whether you chose to do the same.
Second, if you have a digital scale, you should use it to measure out the flour and water specified in the above table. The rest of the ingredients can be measured out volumetrically (you should round off the numbers to the nearest measuring spoon size). If you do not have a digital scale, you can use the "textbook" method for measuring out the flour. That method is defined at Reply 21 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,6576.msg56397/topicseen.html#msg56397.
Using this method in your case, and assuming the King Arthur brand of bread flour, the amount of flour specified in the above table, 12.86 ounces, translates volumetrically to 2 c. + 1/2 c. + 1/3 c. + 1 T. + 1/2 t. The amount of water in the above table, 7.59 ounces, translates volumetrically into 1/2 c. + 1/3 c. + 1 T. + 5/8 t. The markings of the measuring cup(s) used to measure out the water should be viewed at eye level with the measuring cup(s) on a flat surface. (Note: the foregoing conversions were produced using the Mass-Volume Conversion Calculator at http://foodsim.toastguard.com/.
Third, you will notice that the above table specifies a bowl residue compensation of 2.5%. That figure is to compensate for minor dough losses during the preparation of the dough, for example, due to dough or other ingredients sticking to the mixing bowl, mixing implements, the work surface and even one's fingers. Since it appears that you will be kneading the dough by hand, I selected the value of 2.5%, which is a value I have concluded works best for hand kneaded doughs.
For purposes of preparing the dough, I suggest that you read the following thread as background: http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,2223.0.html.
That is a thread that I frequently recommend to members who wish to make a basic NY style pizza. The main action starts at Reply 8 in that thread, but I suggest that you read the entire thread inasmuch as it offers a lot of useful tips in making a NY style dough. There is even a post, at Reply 65 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,2223.msg63786.html#msg63786,
that specifically addresses hand kneading.
In your case, in addition to hand kneading the dough rather than using a stand mixer as covered in the above background thread, you will be using active dry yeast (ADY), or so I have assumed since you apparently already have a source of that form of dry yeast. In using ADY in the above dough formulation, you should only use a portion of the formula water to rehydrate it. I would use about a quarter of a cup or even less. That water should be heated to about 105 degrees F, and the ADY should be rehydrated in that warm water for about 10 minutes. It can then be added to the rest of the formula water, which should be on the cool side, even at the temperature of water kept in the refrigerator (I usually use refrigerated spring water).
You will note from the abovereferenced background thread that the dough is fermented in the refrigerator for a period of time. It is during this period of refrigeration that the byproducts of fermentation that are responsible for the crust flavors, coloration and aroma are produced. In your case, I would use at least two days but no more than three. When time comes to use the dough, it should be brought out to room temperature and allowed to "proof" or "temper" for about 1-2 hours. You should not re-work or re-knead or re-ball the dough. That will only make the dough elastic and very hard to shape. You should be gentle with the dough and press it down into a flattened disk. I do not recommend using a rolling pin. If, however, you have difficulty hand shaping the dough, you can try rolling it out with a rolling pin to about 2/3 of the final size (about 10" in your case for a 12" pizza) and stretch it out the rest of the way (12") by hand.
For baking a NY style pizza, I personally believe that using a pizza stone is the best method. That is the method used by pizza operators who use stoned deck ovens to bake NY style pizzas. Another choice would be to use a pizza screen. An example of a pizza screen can be seen at http://www.foodservicedirect.com/index.cfm/S/307/N/2755/Beaded-Trim-Aluminum-Pizza-Screens.htm.
The main disadvantage of using a pizza screen is that the bottom crust of the finished pizza will tend to be on the soft side, rather than crispy, which is a main characteristic of a classic NY style pizza. I have several pizza screens of different sizes but if I were to pick only one, it would be the 16" size. With that size, one can make pizzas of just about any size up to 16".
I do not use pans to bake the NY style. It is possible to do so, but the pan should be either a dark, anodized pan that can withstand high oven temperatures (e.g., above 500 degrees F) or a well-seasoned and darkened aluminum or steel pan. The pan perhaps would benefit from being perforated. In using a pan, you may find it useful to let the shaped "skin" proof on the pan for about a half hour to an hour before dressing and baking the pizza. That should help the dough rise again if you used a rolling pin to roll it out. If you wish, you can continue the practice you have been using of pre-baking the skin before dressing it and finishing the bake. In due course, if you like the results you get from using the above, or similar, dough formulation, you can decide whether you would like to use another baking method more like what professional pizza operators use.
For cheeses and sauces, I suggest that you try to use the same kinds of cheeses and sauces that professionals use if your objective is to try to come up with pizzas that are comparable to the "real" NY style as you emphasized in your opening post. For cheeses, I would consider the Grande mozzarella cheeses. They are considered by many to be the "Cadillac" of mozzarella cheeses. They are perhaps the number one brand used by pizza operators who specialize in the NY style. There are some local markets that carry the Grande cheeses but you will have to look to find them. The Grande cheeses, whether low-moisture whole milk, or low-moisture part skim, or a combination of both, and whether in block or dice/shredded form, can be ordered by mail order, but with the caveat that shipping costs can be quite high. One source is PennMac, at http://www.pennmac.com/
(click on the Pizza Makers tab).
For tomatoes, I suggest that you use the fresh-pack tomatoes from either Escalon (e.g., the 6-in-1s) or Stanislaus. These are the two largest producers in the world of fresh-pack tomatoes and are perhaps the top choice of pizza operators who specialize in the NY style. PennMac sells both brands, with several choices. The Escalon 6-in-1s can also be purchased directly from Escalon, at http://www.escalon.net/.
The Stanislaus tomatoes can be found in some stores, but that would be fairly rare. Most NY style pizza sauces tend to be fairly simple in terms of seasoning, so you should keep that in mind in making your purchase selections and in adding herbs and spices and other seasonings to whatever tomato products you decide to use.
I believe I have covered everything to let you get started. If, after reading and digesting everything, you have any questions, please let us know. We have quite a few members who have become experts in the NY style and can offer suggestions on just about any matter relating to that style. You should also feel free to wander around the forum and to check out what the members have been able to do with their pizzas. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and maybe inspired to do better than what you have been doing.