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Author Topic: All Things Even?... (How variables effect other varibles in recipe fine tuning)  (Read 1922 times)

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Offline JeffGoggin

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Hello.  Hello.

(pardon if it takes me a bit to get to the actual question)

     Oh boy do I have a doozie.  I have been trying to fine tune my dough recipe (for my humble little pizzeria) for quite a long time now.  In the last year I have learned so much about flour, bread, gluten, baking, hydration etc. than I ever dreamed could exist. 

     ...and yet I went on reading.  I would Google one variable such as cold or room temperature fermention.  This search would lead to a blog.  A blog to a forum.  A link to another forum.  Repeat.  2...  3...  4... hours later my "best yet" recipe with a single question mark (with what I thought would, at worst, end in trying both scenarios-cold vs. room temp fermentation- and just seeing for myself which worked best for me) ending up coming out with no straight answer.  Instead of a definate answer (which I'm beginning to understand doesn't exist in pizza dough) I ended up with dozens and dozens more questions, recipes, ideas, and techniques i simply must try.

     This was well over a year ago.

     I keep a log/journal and am on the 37th incarnation (including the smallest recipe adjustment) of our "best yet" dough.  The problem I'm noticing is that my technique (limiting things to one variable, test, choose the best, and cross it off the list) may be flawed. 

     I feel like old variables can be effected by changing another variable and thus makes it eligible for testing again.  For instance if I test 6 flours (all other things being equal) and choose the best performer.  But then if the next thing i try is experimenting with higher and lower hydration... I've found at a different hydration, the flours may need be re-tested as they may/will act differently with different hydration. 

     My question is this (and keep in mind I am shooting for the best I can achieve... our dough is not too shabby at this point :p)...


                     "IS THERE A PREFERABLE ORDER TO ELIMINATING VARIABLES IN A PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE?"

     Most important variables IMO include (but are not limited to)

-yeast or natural starter
-liquid or sponge starter
-preferment or not to preferment
-cold preferment or room temperature preferment
-bulk rise or portioned rise
-room temperature or cold rise/ 2nd rise
-hydration %
-flour type/ protein %
-and of course all the variables associated with the above (mainly times and temperatures)

     Any input at all would be most helpful (even if it just leads to more mad dough science for me :))

Jeff PG


Offline Bill/SFNM

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Great questions that have been torturing my own feeble mind. All of these variables are interdependent and in non-linear and unintuitive ways. A ordered list of the importance of all of the factors may be impossible to prepare. The approach of changing one factor at a time is perhaps the most direct way of learning how it contributes to the overall picture. But simple conclusions are elusive. Just when you thought you had nailed down the "best" flour and the "optimum" hydration level, you discover that an extra few minutes of kneading or a few degrees higher fermentation or another hour of proofing or a few more seconds in the oven leads you to conclude that a different hydration level might be better. And more salt wouldn't hurt.

One of the hardest parts of tweaking a factor is to be able to definitively state that the results you are observing are due to that specific tweak. So many times I have been overjoyed that a certain change resulted in a better pie only to discover the results were not repeatable. Now I usually repeat a tweak at least three times before I draw any conclusions. Little things you don't notice can make a big difference. A baker friend of mine told me about her struggle with a bread recipe - one day it was perfect, the next it wasn't close even though she was sure she was changing nothing. The next day it was perfect again. She eventually discovered while the dough was autolyzing, if she went to the cooler and handled cold items for any length of time, the bread came out perfect - she kneads this particular dough by hand. The temperature of her hands at the start of kneading was the mystery factor. 

« Last Edit: February 23, 2010, 03:41:46 PM by Bill/SFNM »

Offline pizzaboyfan

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Here's another one to consider.
Depending on the time of year and conditions, the amount of chlorine and chloramines in the tap water will vary .

Offline JeffGoggin

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Thanks for the quick reply and also WOW.

     I didnt want to further confuse the issue with the facts (that I know far too well) that even when I am SURE I have replicated a recipe exactly the results/ final product can be so different. (as you mention with your baker friend)

     I know I will eventually have to find some happy medium since I do need at least some consistency.  I also know even the most commercial, most "dumbed down", largest batch, recipes have variances...  I don't want to have a soulless product and will continue make modifications as best I can.  I am certainly more a fan of the art of dough rather than the business of it- yet believe a beautifully crafted pie will take care of business.  I am also willing to to all the POSSIBLE work to achieve the elusive perfect crust.  I say "possible" only because I can't take EVERY effort... for example I wouldn't be able to afford ripping out our WFO and building a new one a la UPN and I DO go home eventually... so I must make resting/fermenting/proofing times fall between these open hours.

     It would certainly be easiest to make a batch with ADY, portion it, and throw it in the cooler and take it out the next day before needed.  This actually isn't even the worst process, in fact it can make quite a good pie...

...but...

... I wonder if it'd be even better if i "just"...

...substituted a preferment instead of the ADY...?
...upped the hydration 3%?
...did a double rise before I toss it in the cooler?
...substituted a portion of Caputo for the KA?

oh boy... here we go...

(ps.  My perfect dough would be with a preferment and bench risen make pizza until we run out of dough.  The problem with that is A. business is still very inconsistant and  B. we have two busy times (lunch and dinner) which further complicates things in that the same batch of dough would'nt meet both those needs)

back to the lab

Jeff PG

Offline ThunderStik

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Variables, variables and variables.

Not that I am an expert or anything of the sort. But what I have figured out is there are far too many ways to skin this cat. There are few hard and without question facts.

The really hard thing to get your head around is that multiple things can produce the same/similar results pending the rest of the ingredients and method.

I finally quit worrying so much about what I cant control and focused more on what I wanted.

If you have a clear vision of what you want then there can be an end result. Otherwise you can just be poking blindly in the dark. In a biz arena I would think you would have in your head a flavor/taste profile and work towards that. Once you figure out how to produce that then you figure out how to produce it easy, fast and repeatable and most importantly affordable.


Unfortunately IMO the best pies in the world are being made in somebodies kitchen somewhere or in a persons backyard WFO and none of us will ever get to try it. We as pie folks on this forum have the luxury of time, effort, ingredients and technique with our SINGULAR main goal of making the absolute best pies we can, period!

Damn the time involved, damn the cost, forget the fact that it may take us 14 days and we may have to hand feed the starter/cultures ourselves as we cant trust anybody else to do it. All this for that end result of the best pie we can make ...to OUR taste.


While I have no experience in the biz, and I'm not saying its not possible but when you mix trying to make money or make a living at doing it things will have to be compromised somewhere as the end goals are not the same. Time schedules, employees, overhead, supply chains etc... they have to figure into the equation.

I would bet half of us here would have no chance of making a living  by making our pies as they would probably cost an arm and a leg and we would have to call YOU and tell you when its done as opposed to it being on the customers schedule.  :-D

So I think the biggest most important variable is knowing what you want, the rest is just figuring out how to get there in an affordable/business feasible way.
I KNOW MORE ABOUT PIZZA THAN ANYBODY!!!!!!!

(in my house)

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Offline ThunderStik

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JeffGoggin

       Sorry, your last post went up before mine.
I KNOW MORE ABOUT PIZZA THAN ANYBODY!!!!!!!

(in my house)

Offline JeffGoggin

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ThunderStik

     Thanks for the reply.  I noticed I somehow reverse replied to your post before you put it up hahaha.

     Also my place is quite small and humble.  I am lucky enough to be able aim for the same goal in the finished product as the enthusiasts in this forum and still make a living (at least that was my idea and goal ).  I opened a coffee shop quite a few years back that pays the bills... but my passion is and has always been pizza (my first job was a dish washer in a pizzeria... where I eventually ended up making pies and staying for 5 years before venturing out on my own ).

     I am confident I will eventually find that "best ever" recipe... maybe in 20 or 30 more years I'll get it just right... almost...

Jeff PG

Offline tpassin

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... I keep a log/journal and am on the 37th incarnation (including the smallest recipe adjustment) of our "best yet" dough.  The problem I'm noticing is that my technique (limiting things to one variable, test, choose the best, and cross it off the list) may be flawed.

     I feel like old variables can be effected by changing another variable and thus makes it eligible for testing again.  For instance if I test 6 flours (all other things being equal) and choose the best performer.  But then if the next thing i try is experimenting with higher and lower hydration... I've found at a different hydration, the flours may need be re-tested as they may/will act differently with different hydration.


I'm going to speak as a bread baker here, since I've made a lot more bread than pizzas.  Yes, the variables can interact.  But not all of them do.  Also, almost always a small change in a variable causes only a small change in the results.  It also helps if you can come to understand what is going on, but that's not always possible.

For example, a small amount (a very small amount) reduces the natural degradation of protein over time.  You don't need more (for that purpose).  OTOH, more salt helps toughen the gluten.  Two separate effects  that work in different concentration ranges. 

There are two things to keep in mind.  1) You need a really reliable baseline, one that you can reproduce with good consistency.  This is really important.  If you can't be consistent, you can't tell if something you changed made any difference.  2) There's no such thing as an absolute "optimum", because "optimum" depends on what you want to achieve.  Better to go for "very satisfactory").

Another point is that if you use longer processing times, many variables become less sensitive to accidental changes.  For example, with freeform hearth breads, I've experimented with a day-long refrigerated hold before vs after bulk fermentation.  I could find *no* difference, not in handling, oven spring, crust, or crumb.  One of the posters mentioned a difference with cold hands at the start of kneading.  With long fermentation and hold times, that's not going to matter significantly, because the time factor will trump such changes.  Same for how much you knead.

I'll give you a personal example.  I went through a period where I made (sourdough) bread using a "soaker" - part of the dough would be mixed with no leavening and aged for a day or two, then combined with the starter and the rest of the ingredients.  I got fantastic flavor and mouth feel, but the dough was often on the slack side, and combining the soaker with the other ingredients was harder than I liked.

I did a lot of experiments and found that I only needed 10 hours of aging for the soaker, more didn't make much difference.  I also found that cold aging the final dough improved the flavor even more.

Well, I was happy with the bread, but I decided to see if I could omit the soaker stage, and also get a bit more sour flavor - I didn't want much but I was getting even less.

Now my process is completely different.  I did a lot of experiments of the rate of rise of starters and leavened doughs, and based on the results, evolved a very different method.  Now I use a 14 - 18 hour room temperature fermentation for the starter, and the same for the bulk dough, and I don't need a soaker.  If I age the risen bulk dough in the refrigerator overnight or for a day, the bread is even better.  I now get excellent consistency, great flavor and texture, and consistently good oven rise.  This has become my baseline for experiments.

Sorry to be long-winded, but I'd encourage you to continue experimenting, but maybe to make smaller changes (and make sure you can always continue to make your baseline).  Make each change to the baseline, not cumulatively.   For example, if you change the hydration, and then change the sugar, go back to the original hydration when you test the sugar.  If you like both results, then try to combine them.  If you suspect that one change interacts with another, this approach will give you the best chance of sorting through it all.

The only trouble is that one tends to pick up a lot of weight eating the experiments!  But if you make a good pizza, you probably have a lot of friends to help out ...

Tom


Offline Bill/SFNM

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The more I experiment, the more I come around to the belief that little things can make a very big difference. It seems to me that a given style of pizza, like many things, has a sweet spot in which the ingredients and techniques come together to produce the optimum result. For some things, the sweet spot is large and there may even be multiple sweet spots. For Neapolitan-style pies - which can be very unforgiving, I think the sweet spot is small and that once you approach it, small variances can have large effects.

Of course this is a matter of perception. For something like pizza, it may take of hundreds or thousands of attempts before you can consistently approach or hit the sweet spot. For me, this period was characterized by a major improvement in my skill level, in finding better ingredients, and - most importantly - in the development and evolution of my tastes. The pizzas I loved several years ago are not the ones I love today. After hundreds (thousands?) I can detect more subtle differences in taste, aromas, and textures, that I never could before. A few seconds less in the oven, an hour longer in the proofer, a slightly less active starter, a few degrees higher during fermentation... all these things can make a big difference to me.

I set out 9 years ago to reproduce as best I could the pizzas I have enjoyed in Naples. Along the way, I have come to learn through serendipity that I prefer (love!) pies that have large, puffier edges. They look little like what is served in Naples. Not something I ever anticipated; not something everyone who tries my pies appreciates. So in addition to all of the other good advice in this thread, be prepared to be surprised and flexible in your objectives.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2010, 03:36:42 PM by Bill/SFNM »

Offline JeffGoggin

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     Thanks so much for the input.  It is all very useful.  I know what I'd like to achieve and really there's 2 things... it's A. my ideal (or as close and as consitantly as I can get to it..) pizza.. and B. working that backwards to the best/fastest process... without effecting the quality..

     I'm in a pretty good place now... but then again the weather will change soon and probably send me back to the start... thank goodness for good record keeping!

Jeff PG


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