I read in the NY Times a couple of days ago, that the famous, and undoubtedly one of the best NYC pizzerias operating today, Totonno’s on Coney Island, got struck by a fire. Unfortunately, I never have had the pleasure of eating in Mrs. Ciminieri's establishment.
But it got me thinking...is it possible to reverse-engineer a crust based on descriptions alone? Especially of a place with that kind of a reputation, being one of the best in the U.S.?
Well, what I did was I looked at a few videos on YouTube, read numerous articles in different websites, but what spilled the most information was from reviewers on Yelp.
The reviews were especially helpful in obtaining a "visual" image of the crust in my head, due to all different types of opinions. What stuck out to me was one guy asking if anyone else noted a hint of garlic in the crust. It goes to show, when I read those reviews, that New Yorkers DO know their pizza, no matter what walk of life they're from. So I read all 63 of them.
A couple of videos on YouTube also mentioned something about the characteristics of the crust..."almost Italian country bread-like", chewy, etc.
So, I looked at some of the pics Yelp reviewers posted and detected a slight semolina trace, as you can see in the pics labeled Totonno's. If you save them and then zoom in, you'll see what I mean. I read all of the Yelp reviews and more...because I think although opinions differ, it's still an amazing source of information if you want to reverse-engineer a specific crust.
With that said, I started my quest on Monday at 3:30 pm, hitting the kitchen with the specific goal in mind to create a Totonno's crust that was described by many online. I finished at 8:30pm.
Here's what happened within those five hours...
First off, I looked at the cross section of one of the pics. The crust struck me as a dense, bread-like type. I then took a closer look at the way the top of the rim and I noticed tiny little, sometimes black, remnants of what seems to be grains of semolina. Very small.
Other reviewers said that the crust was light and very airy, but crunchy at the same time, with a nicely charred edge and bottom, which added to the flavor. One guy was paying a total homage, in a very well-written manner, to Totonno’s and provided a lot of info. It was well written in a way that you can almost picture the crust right in front of you.
Off to the kitchen I went.
I remembered what Peter told me some days ago about achieving a lighter, more airy crust, and it proved to be very helpful. I did, however, make some additional adjustments by increasing the oil value, mostly. And with that “Garlic” reference in mind, I used garlic-infused olive oil. The finished flavor simply blew me away, but I’m sure it could be a little intensified with let’s say a 24 hr cold-rise.
So…452 gr. of warm water went into the mixing bowl, together with 18 gr. of sea salt and 12 gr. of organic sugar. It was completely dissolved with a wire whisk.
The flour was a combination of 50% Giusto’s and 50% of KABF. Sifted together to add a bit more air. 50% went into the salt/sugar water and then the paddle of my KA mixer put it all together at speed 1 at first, since you don’t want to blow out the flour, and then on speed 2 until it reached a smooth, batter-like consistency. I let it rest for about 30 mins after that.
Small bubbles have formed after 30 mins and I sifted in the rest of the flour, added the garlic olive oil and started to combine it all, using the dough hook. I started out on Speed 1 but quickly switched to Speed 2 for 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes I let the dough rest for about 10 mins before proceeding for another 10 minutes of kneading at Speed 2, stopping the mixer twice, turning the dough hook so it engages the dough from a different angle, mixing it more thoroughly. Another rest period of 5 minutes followed. 10 more minutes of mixing at Speed 2 and into the fridge it went for about an hour. I balled it up into a bulk, greased the bowl with a bit of EVOO and cooled it for about an hour before taking 400 gr. and shaping it into a single ball.
400 gr. was too much, though, for a 14” thin crust pie. I let the 400 gr. ball come up to room temp for about 2.5 hrs, covered with a damp tea towel. As you can see in the pics, the crust is a tad too thick, albeit being airy and light. But too thick for my liking. However, the crust was good and one of my test eaters, who’s a pizza fanatic to the core, said the crust was fantastic. But I know myself and there’s always somewhere a little room for improvement. First change will be to use less dough for a 14”. Instead of 400 gr., I’ll use around 325 gr. next time.
When topping the crust, I followed Totonno’s procedure and put the cheese on first and then the sauce. The pie was topped with red bell peppers, which I didn’t pre-cook in order to retain some of the crunch, mild Italian sausage, fresh garlic - chopped, and fresh mushrooms. I drizzled some EVOO on it and a little bit of sea salt before it went into the oven. When it came out, I dusted the pizza with Pecorino Romano and fresh basil.
The stone was preheated on the lowest rack for about 90 mins and the bake time was 8 mins. No use of the broiler this time.
Here’s the entire formula and procedure (taken straight from my notes I scribbled down while in the process):
707 gr. KABF/Giusto’s Flour 100%
452 gr. Water (warm) 64%
18 gr. fine sea salt 2.5%
12 gr. garli-infused olive oil 1.7%
11 gr. organic sugar 1.5%
4 gr. IDY 0.6%
Pour water in mixing bowl. Dissolve salt & sugar in water. Sift in 50% of the flour mix and all the yeast. And mix with paddle until a smooth batter has formed. Rest for 30 mins. Sift in rest of the flour and add the oil. Switch to dough hook and combine everything, 5 mins/Speed 1. Rest for 10 mins. Knead for 10 mins on Speed 2, rest for another 5 mins. Knead again for 10 mins on Speed 2. The dough temp was 80° F. Ball it; let rest for 10 min. Put in fridge for 1 hour. Take out and immediately divide into three 400 gr. balls and let proof (2.5hrs/covered) or put one or two balls back in fridge for next day use.
Below are some pics and some from Totonno’s for comparison.