Hello and some questions/observations

Started by veloboy, February 06, 2010, 06:48:39 PM

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Hey forum. So after a month or so of "lurking", I mean learning, I wanted to post. After deciding I needed to learn how to make a good pizza, my buddy sent me to Varasano's site, and then somehow I found this place.  Lot's of great stuff with a lot of knowledgeable and passionate people on here.  Ok, so my computer died (I hate pc's!) so I'm using my wife's computer, but she flies out tonight so I'm going to be relegated to my iPhone for my internet use for the next week. Hence, a bunch of stuff in one post.
      I made a couple of pizzas last night, and they were the best that I've made so far. (3rd attempt) The crust was the biggest change in quality. The sauce was awesome, and the toppings are getting closer to the right portions. I was really happy with the results, but it only raised questions. Why was it a lot better? What part of the equation made the difference in the crust? Looking at my other two attempts the only differences were: others were made with Better for Bread flour, both were 58% water, both were 3% salt, and one was 3% oil and one was 2% oil. Which all basically comes down to my lack of understanding of each ingredient and what role it plays. I know I've seen answers to probably every one of my questions on here somewhere, but I only have a short time before this computer goes bye bye. Here is what I did.  Yes, I know. Pictures. I actually took some last week, but they are all on my wife's camera, and that's packed up already.
      This time I used Pete-zza's "New Faithful" recipe that I found. I made two 13" pies. Calculated it on here with a T.F of .10 and a residue loss of 2% (same that I've used on all three attempts)

K.A bread flour: 100% = 454.23g
Water: 60% *heated to about 100' = 272.54g
Salt: (sea salt) 2% = 9.08g
Sugar: 3% = 13.63g
Yeast IDY: 1% = 4.54g
Oil: 3% = 13.63g

     Mixed the salt in to the water to dissolve and mixed the sugar, IDY, and flour together. Dumped the water in to the dry ingredients and stirred for about 30sec and then a 10min autolyse. After 10min, put in the oil (didn't plan to add later, but had forgot to put it in earlier). Stirred for about a min, but wasn't getting anywhere so I went straight to kneading.  Kneaded for about 8-9min until I had a pretty smooth, responsive ball of dough. End temp was 81'. Weighed dough was 758g. Divided in half and put in lightly oiled plastic containers and straight in to the fridge. This was Wed. night. It's also more or less the same "system" I've used for preparing the dough the other two times, although I know I didn't knead the first batch enough.
     Friday, took dough out of the fridge about 30min before I prepped them.  Total fridge time was almost 44hrs. Dough had risen a ton.  Way airy. Basically filled the whole container. Baked on a crisper for 10min at 475'. Bottom and rim were nice and brown. It was awesome.
     Ok, so the here are my questions:
1- Yeast. This was the first time I've used that much.  The other two times I had used .5%, although due to an error in my measuring one of those had ended up being .21%. I still don't have a grasp on it's exact role and why you can change the quantity. I know it gives the rise, but is that the determining factor in how much the rim "puffs" up as well as the rest of the crust?

2-Sugar. This is the first time I've used sugar. It seems I've read that it is used for taste, browning, and to feed the yeast a little? As far as my loving the taste of the crust, could the sugar be the reason? I know a lot of recipes don't call for it, and it's not "allowed" when you are cooking at higher temps. At the sub 500' range, do people like using it? Just trying to figure out sugars exact role.

3- Oil. Like sugar, I know it's not used in higher temp cooking and is up to debate on it's use. I've used 2-3% and I can't tell the difference.  Why use it?

4-The rim of the crust. A good portion was nice and poofy/bubbled up, but not all. I noticed that most of the areas that didn't rise where coated in grease from the toppings. Like I said, still figuring out the portions on that. Is the trick just to make sure you keep the toppings away from the edge? Like an inch or so? How much room do you leave at the edge to let the crust do it's thing?

5- Temperature. Really, I've just sorta guessed on it and got lucky.  How do you decide the temp/time? How do you decide cooking time when you change how you bake the pie? (ie: baking stone, screen, crisper) Is there a formula or is it really just a matter of trial and error and learning your oven and how it does with the different cooking techniques.

6- Hydration Level. Does this affect taste? How exactly is this decided?

Ok, that's it for now.  I'm super excited about all this.  My wife just laugh's at me, but then again she doesn't complain come Friday pizza night. I've got all sorts of goodies showing up this week. A Fibrament baking stone, a peel, a couple of screens, a couple of new scales (mine is 8yrs old and has been abused and is getting pissy), and even a new apron! 
                    Thank you very much,


Here is some info, courtesy of Pete-zza, kindly offered when I asked:
In my experience as a basic rule of thumb, as hydration increases so too must temp and or time, and hydration is more about texture and desired response to heat than taste.  Since heat is our limited factor, finding the hydration and bake time that gives the desired results is one part of the game.
Achieving great oven rise on the crust, like everything else, is a result of many factors.  I don't think just oil or grease on the dough makes much diff since some members here brush oil on the crust before baking and produce fantastic risen pies.  Sauce or toppings is a diff story though and seems like where they end the cornicione begins so when all is right this will determine its size.  Being gentle with the rim when stretching the skin to avoid compressing it is a common recommendation.
For shortish fermentation times small variations in yeast % may not make much noticeable diff.  Where this becomes more critical and precise is with long ferments, like days or weeks.  Choice of yeast and fermentation time/method can effect the naturally produced flavor of the dough, as well as other factors, and is just a huge subject.  Here is the super simplified cliff notes version.  Enzymes break down starch into simple sugars which are utilized by yeast and its competing ever present bacterial partner.  The yeast produces gas = bubbles, the bacteria produces acids = flavors.  In the end, the amounts of gas, acids, and any remaining residual simple sugars = rise, flavor and browning.  Getting all this in balance, using fermentation method & temps & times is the goal.
Many famously highest rated pizzas are baked at wood or coal fired oven temps.  Some effects just cannot be reproduced at lower temps.  So another basic idea is the higher the temp the better although how this might apply in any home situation just depends.  As there are also many famous pies baked at lower temps, and plenty from members, it's all good, just diff.
So in the end, yup, it's trial and error to hit your target with a big assist from this site since everything you do in making the dough effects multiple factors and these factors are interdependent on each other and no two situations are identical. 
Sounds daunting, but also sounds like you are already are making a great pizza.  Why the last one was better to you may not be clear because multiple variables were changed (diff flour, diff hydration %, diff salt %, sugar added).  As Pete-zza wisely suggested to me, experimenting by changing only one variable at a time allows one to experience that effect and learn from the result.  Plus, you then get to eat the experiments!
Good Luck



Congratulations on your pizzas.  It's really fun, isn't it?  Speaking from experience, it's really easy to become obsessed.  Well, Pete-zza is the resident expert on dough, but I'll make an attempt to answer as much as I can.

1. Yeast - You can use less in an attempt to make your dough last long in the fridge.  Less yeast means a slower fermentation and more time for the crust to develop flavor.  Others will have to elaborate because my understanding becomes a bit fuzzy at this point.

2. Sugar - I cook my pizzas at 550F and I use sugar.  It seems to help with the things you mentioned - yeast, color, flavor, browning.

3. Oil - this keeps your dough softer and prevents some of the water from evaporating while the crust is cooking.  If you want a crispier crust, your amount of oil may be the culprit.  I generally use about 1%, but it's all a matter of preference.

4. Crust rim - I usually leave about an inch and a half or two inches with no sauce, cheese, or toppings so that it can rise.  I have a bit of unevenness in rim rise, but it's all puffy enough.

5. Temperature - I think, generally speaking, that hotter is better.  I only use a stone, so I am not sure how this works with "crispers".  It probably depends on the max temperature that it can handle.  As for a stone, the idea is to preheat it long enough (an hour at 550F for me) so that it is as hot as possible, and it has enough thermal mass to cook the pizza quickly and get the proper crust texture.  Those who use methods other than stones can fill in the gaps here.

6. Hydration level - This affects how the dough handles when you're forming skins, and it plays a part in the final texture of the crust.  I'll definitely defer to Pete-zza on the details for this!

If there are any particular aspects upon which you'd like to improve, you should also ask specifically about those things.

Keep up the good work!
"Right here, right now, from the very beginning, there is only one thing. Constantly clear and unexplained, having never been born and having never died, it cannot be named or described." - Zen Master So Sahn



I was just about to post when PizzaHog and Steve973 posted in fairly rapid succession. Rather than reworking my post to reflect PizzaHog's and Steve's observations, even at the risk of overlapping some of their replies, I will leave my post alone and attempt to answer your questions in the order in which you presented them.

1. Yeast. In general, and all else being equal, the longer you want to hold the dough balls in the refrigerator before using, the less yeast you should use, no matter the type of yeast. The New Faithful dough recipe you used calls for 1%. That is a lot of yeast, by any measure, even for a cold fermentation application. That means that at 1% you should expect the dough to rise substantially, even while in the refrigerator. Also, with 3% sugar in the recipe, you should have gotten a lot of fermentation activity over a period of over 44 hours. Using 2% salt rather than 3% salt should also have increased the fermentation rate somewhat but perhaps not enough to give credit to the lower salt levels for the overall results you achieved. If you want to learn more about the effects of salt on dough, whether it is pizza dough or any other type of dough, such as bread dough, see this piece on salt from King Arthur at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/professional/salt.html. There is also a very good article on salt at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,8764.msg75936/topicseen.html#msg75936.

The extent to which the rim and the rest of the pizza will expand during baking is primarily determined by the amount of moisture in the dough (its hydration) and the rate at which that moisture leaves the dough during baking, the extent of yeast activity before the yeast dies during baking (at around 145 degrees F), the degree to which the rim of the dough is unmolested during shaping and whether the dough is cold or warm when ready to use, the mode of baking, that is, whether on a pizza stone, a pizza screen, or a pan/disk of some sort, and the oven temperature. All else being equal, the oven spring is likely to be best using a pizza stone, followed by a pizza screen and a pan/disk.

Overall, I would say that it was perhaps the high levels of yeast and the high levels of fermentation activity and the increased byproducts of fermentation that were primarily responsible for the difference in the New Faithful pizza as compared with your other pizzas. Using KABF instead of Better for Bread flour, using less salt, and using a slightly higher fermentation percent (60% versus 58%) would not, in my opinion, account for the differences.

2. Sugar. Sugar is not an essential pizza dough ingredient. However, when used, as is the case with the New Faithful recipe you used, and depending on the amount used, it can have the multiple purposes you noted. In your case, when you used 3% sugar (sucrose), some of the sugar was converted to simple sugars for the yeast to use as food (yeast cannot use sucrose by itself, it has to be converted to simple sugars), and the remaining sugar, whatever its value, would have been available as residual sugar at the time of baking to contribute to crust coloration and oven spring. You might be able to taste the sugar in the finished crust, but that will depend not only on the amount of sugar that was used in the recipe to start and the residual sugar levels but also on your palate and your personal sensitivity to sugar. In addition to the multiple functions of contributing to taste/flavor, feeding the yeast and contributing to crust coloration, it is important to know that sugar is a hygroscopic substance (that is, it attract moisture from its surroundings). As a result, it will hold some water in the dough. That usually translates into a more tender crust and crumb. You can omit the sugar if you wish, since it is not an essential ingredient as noted above, but you will end up with a less tender crust and crumb and a dryer, more chewy one. Some members omit the sugar just for those reasons. If, in your case, you happen to like a crust that is on the sweet side, then that might contribute to your personal enjoyment of the pizza.

3. Oil. Oil serves several purposes in a pizza dough. It helps coat the gluten strands to improve the handling qualities, rheology (flow characteristics), and extensibility (stretchiness) of the dough, and it also helps provide flavor, which also depends on the type of oil used. However, the oil also serves to reduce the degree to which moisture in the dough leaves the dough during baking. As a result, the oil will help produce a softer crust and crumb. If you want an especially soft and tender crust and crumb, you should use both oil and sugar. That is behind the crusts of the major chains, like Papa John's and Domino's.

4. The rim of the crust. I would say that most pizza operators leave a space of about an inch from the perimeter of the pizza. Some will intentionally spread some shredded or grated cheese on the rim because they like the effect of baked cheese on the rim, but the toppings are kept out of that one-inch zone. There are some pizzas that are essentially rimless and where the cheeses and toppings can go right out the end of the pizza, but that is not the style of pizza that the New Faithful dough recipe is intended to make.

5. Temperature. You have pretty much answered your own question on this one. There are so many different oven designs and oven configurations and so many different baking protocols (e.g., pizza stones, screens, and pans/disks) that is is impossible to generalize on this matter. Also, not all dough formulations can be baked the same way in all ovens or oven configurations. You learn either from analyzing oven thermodynamics or through experience and trial and error.

6. Hydration. Hydration is usually determined by the rated absorption of a flour. For example, for the KABF, it is around 62%. I would imagine that it is the same for the Better for Bread flour. However, many professional pizza operators use around 56-60% hydration. Many artisan pizza makers often use higher hydration levels, maybe up to 65% for the two flours mentioned above. Higher hydration levels will usually produce a more open and airy crust and crumb. It is usually not associated with producing more flavor, but I suppose that someone might like the taste of a more open and airy crust and crumb better than a denser one.

I look forward to seeing the photos once your wife returns with the camera. While we are waiting, can you describe the "awesome" sauce that you made and enjoyed so much?



Thanks for all the answers guys. I love this place. I don't have anybody around here to bounce ideas off, so this forum is my only chance to "speak pizza". I actually searched on here a few hours last night and found some good conversations about hydration levels, yeast and sugar. A lot of them were from 2004-2006 and often didn't end in an answer but more of a desire to keep experimenting. Actually started feeling ill I think from staring at the small screen on my phone for so long but I couldn't stop!  Haha. Yup, totally hooked on this pizza thing.
     I think I am starting to wrap my head around the ingredients and their functions. I've always been the chef but baking wasn't ever my thing so things like yeast were always a mystery to me. I think the yeast I bought when this addiction began was the first I had ever purchased. I am going to keep experimenting and keeping good notes. I'll keep it to one variable change at a time so I can hopefully pin point the "who,what,why" of the pizza. I'm going to make a ball tonight and then one on Wednesday night for Friday so I can compare the differences related to time in the fridge. Probably lower the yeast back to .5% so it doesn't pop out of the container.
     Pete. The sauce recipe is one that somebody posted up in the Round Table pizza clone chat you had started. I just modified it to fit what I had on hand. Also, this was the second time making it so I modified it based on what I thought I might like better. I think it's tasty, but I'm sure I'll continue to dork with it as I learn more about herbs and spices. Here is what I had made for my sauce. In the end I seperate it in to two Pyrex bowls. One goes in the fridge and the other in the freezer. I make it Thursday night for Friday night use. I usually make two pies Friday night. This halfed amount will get me about 4/5 pies. So, I have enough for this and next weeks and after that I just unfreeze the other batch. Four weeks worth of sauce on my current pizza eating plan. ( competitive cyclist so this new hobby isn't going to help my staying skinny and fit. Oh well. )

2- 15oz cans of S&W tomato sauce
1- 6oz can of S&W tomato paste
* had bought these at Costco knowing nothing about the brand. I later saw some really favorable reviews/tests on their products so I guess I got luck.
1 Tbsp basil
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp fennel seed ( I hand grind in to a powder )
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp marjoram *first time using so figured it was a good starting point. Like it a lot. Was not in original.
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
Added filtered water to a desired consistency. Would lift out a spoonful and picture it going on to my prepared skin. Not scientific, but worked for me. Mixed really well with a wisk and then in to the fridge.

Again, a modified version of one already posted. I picked it as my base because the ingredients were ones I was already using to "dr up" my Ragu pizza sauce I was using for my ghetto, store bought, pizza making kits before I decided I needed to graduate to the next level.

Again, thanks for all the help. If anything doesn't make since then I'll blame it on the fact I typed this out on my phone.   



I have read the responses by PizzaHog and Pete-zza, and the home brewer in me has a couple of points:

First, barley contains alpha and beta amylase.  I'm mildly skeptical that much conversion from starch to sugar happens at refrigerator temperatures, since their most active state happens somewhere near 140F.  Also, pH can be a factor, so if the dough is not naturally acidic, this will also inhibit conversion.  What is the pH of typical pizza dough?

Secondly, sucrose is 100% fermentable.  You can add it to 100F water, drop yeast in, and away they go.  When brewers add it to the wort, the temperature of the boil, along with the acidity, will invert the sucrose so that it is split into its constituent monosaccharides.  However, yeast (themselves) can perform this "splitting" by using invertase.
"Right here, right now, from the very beginning, there is only one thing. Constantly clear and unexplained, having never been born and having never died, it cannot be named or described." - Zen Master So Sahn



Since I am not a chemist/food chemist/food scientist, I usually turn to others, including some of our members, who are more knowledgeable than I on this subject. But, from what I have read, while the enzymes do not perform as well under refrigeration as at room temperatures, they do still perform at a reduced rate. Marco (pizzanapoletana) discussed this point at Reply 125 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1298.msg13410/topicseen.html#msg13410 and also at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1055.msg9357/topicseen.html#msg9357. Member November weighed in on this topic in the context of the Arrhenius equation as I noted in Reply 3 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=5966.msg51186#msg51186. From the chart referenced at http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/biology/enztech/temperature.html, the peak enzyme activity is indeed 140 degrees F (60 degrees C).

At a practical, production level standpoint, Tom Lehmann usually recommends that one add sugar to a dough that is to be cold fermented for more than two days. In this vein, I usually turn to the PMQ Think Tank thread, at http://thinktank.pmq.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=4669&start=0, with specific reference to Tom's posts on the first page of that thread starting at http://thinktank.pmq.com/threads/suger-in-dough.4669/#post-26890.

I believe you are correct that pH and residual sugar levels are involved during the fermentation/maturation process. In his book, The Taste of Bread, Professor Raymond Calvel discusses this relationship, for both commercially leavened and naturally leavened doughs, on pages 56 and 57. There is also a chart shown at Figure 6-2 at page 56 that shows the pH of two sample of commercially leavened doughs at two different temperatures dropping over a period of 24 hours from a pH of 5.70 to 5.10 in one case (at 5 degrees C) and to 4.70 in the second case (at 29.5 degrees C). I recently commented further on this subject at Reply 136 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=5851.msg86732#msg86732. See, also, an earlier discussion on dough pH at Reply 5 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=853.msg7771#msg7771.


EDIT (7/30/14): For a Wayback Machine version of the above inoperative lsbu.ac.uk link, see http://web.archive.org/web/20120102225753/http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/biology/enztech/temperature.html



Thanks for the good information.  I imagine that the enzymes have to work at "room temperature" since the seed needs the sugars to germinate and grow, but I figured it must be super slow at refrigerator temperatures.  When I mash barley for the starch-to-sugar conversion, this happens in approximately an hour's time at (or near) the peak temperature.  Even though that's a really short time, that's why I was uncertain.  Multiple days at the lower temperature makes some sense, though.

Have you ever tried home brewing?  You are extremely thorough and technical, and I think you would become a fantastic all-grain brewer, if you aren't already.
"Right here, right now, from the very beginning, there is only one thing. Constantly clear and unexplained, having never been born and having never died, it cannot be named or described." - Zen Master So Sahn


Quote from: Steve973 on February 09, 2010, 03:31:10 PM
Have you ever tried home brewing?  You are extremely thorough and technical, and I think you would become a fantastic all-grain brewer, if you aren't already.


When I was a kid, even when I wasn't old enough to legally buy beer (I believe the statute of limitations has passed :-D), my brothers and I made our own home brew. But, as I grew older, I became more attached to wine, and that attachment persists to this day.



Me too on the attachment to wine. I wish I liked beer more than wine - I'd have a lot more money for other things - could probably afford a WFO...

"We make great pizza, with sourdough when we can, baker's yeast when we must, but always great pizza."  
Craig's Neapolitan Garage