From time to time, fellow member pftaylor has asked me to consider using a starter with the Lehmann NY style dough to see if it will improve the flavor of the finished crust, as it has apparently been done with his crust based on the Raquel recipe. Also, recently, fellow member PizzaSuperFreak has been bemoaning the lack of flavor in the Lehmann crust even though he seems otherwise to be pleased with it. I have also wondered aloud on more than one occasion on this forum whether the use of a starter might be beneficial to a Lehmann NY style dough, especially a non-retarded version, even though Tom Lehmann has not ever suggested doing same with his recipe, to the best of my knowledge. So, starting late last night, I decided to put the matter to the test.
For purposes of the experiment, I decided to make a room-temperature dough with a long overnight and daytime rise for a 13-inch “test” pizza. Using the mathematical approaches I have described several times before, I calculated that I would need a dough ball of between 13-14 oz., including the starter. The recipe and ingredients and amounts I settled upon were as follows:
Flour (KASL high-gluten flour), 8.10 oz. (about 1 3/4 c. plus 5 t.)
Water (temp. adjusted to achieve a finished dough temp. of around 80 degrees F), 5.05 oz. (about 5/8 c.)
Salt, 0.12 oz. (5/8 t.)
Olive oil, 0.08 oz. (1/2 t.)
IDY, 0.004 oz. (a pinch between the thumb and forefinger)
Starter (natural Caputo 00 starter), 0.75 oz. (about 1 1/2 T.)
TF = 0.105
A few things will be noted from the formulation stated above. One is the extremely small amount of IDY, and second is the use of the Caputo 00 natural starter. The Caputo 00 starter was selected only because that is the only starter that I have actively working at the moment. However, I’m fairly confident that other starters will work also. The small amount of yeast was to be sure that the dough would ferment in the event the Caputo 00 starter, which had only been refreshed for a short while, failed to contribute any significant leavening power to the dough. I also wanted to test whether the commercial yeast would in any way negate the flavor-enhancing effects of the natural starter, which has been my experience when using both (as witnessed by my experiments at the Caputo 00 thread, at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,986.0.html
). Since 0.004 oz. of IDY represents 1/25 of a teaspoon, which is not measurable with anything at my disposal, I simply took a very small pinch between my thumb and forefinger. To be sure that such a small amount of yeast would not get trapped in a small corner of the dough, I combined it with the flour and whisked and stirred it thoroughly into the flour until it was uniformly dispersed.
The dough itself was prepared in a fairly standard manner. The salt was dissolved in the water, the flour/IDY mixture was gradually added along with the starter and mixed at “Stir”speed for about 2 minutes, the olive oil was added and kneaded into the dough for about another 2 minutes, the dough was then kneaded at the number 2 setting for about another 2 minutes, and the finished dough was kneaded by hand for about another 30 seconds to form a nice, smooth round ball. At the end of this process, the dough was very soft and smooth. It weighed a bit over 14 oz. and had a finished dough temperature of 80.7 degrees F. I placed the dough, without oiling it, into a plastic storage bag, and placed the bag on my kitchen countertop late last night. Very quickly, I noticed that the dough was starting to spread. By morning, it was like a pancake.
The first two photos below show (maybe not too clearly) how the dough had spread. These photos are noteworthy in their own respect, since they shows a novel technique I used to manage the dough while it sat on my countertop. To contain the dough, I put it into a large freezer storage bag equipped with a slider used to close the storage bag. I moved the slider to almost its fully closed position and poked a straw into the bag just in front of the slider. As I blew into the straw to inflate the bag, I moved the slider to its fully closed position just as I pulled the straw out. This created a balloon-like proofing bag for the dough, and made it unnecessary to oil it to keep a crust from forming. I could also see at all times what was happening to the dough. The bag I used is a Hefty One-Zip bag. One of the nice features of this storage bag is that it is inexpensive. It can also be washed and reused, and can be used for retarded doughs also, if so desired.
After an initial rise of 12 hours, I examined the dough and saw that it was very soft and moist. It also had the characteristic odor of sourdough. I removed the dough from the bag and reballed it, using just a very small amount of bench flour to be able to work with it. It was clearly still elastic at this point, so I returned it to the storage bag and placed it back on my kitchen countertop. It remained there for about another 6 hours, during which time it rose by about double and clearly exhibited a bubbling activity. Since the dough was still soft and moist, I used a small amount of bench flour to dust the dough ball so that I could stretch it out to around 13 inches. It was very extensible, maybe even a little too extensible. But I was able to easily shape it into a 13-inch skin. After I had dressed the pizza (see the third photo), it was baked directly on a pizza stone that had been preheated for about an hour at around 500-550 degrees F. The pizza was baked for about 5 minutes on the stone, whereupon it was placed for about a minute or two under the broiler, which I had turned on after about 4 minutes into the baking process. The final two photos show the finished pizza and a typical slice.
The pizza was quite good. The crust was fairly consistent with the NY style of crust in that it was chewy in the center part and open and airy at the rim, as I expected it might be from using a high hydration percent (around 63%). The crust also had more flavor than a typical Lehmann crust although it was not as intense and potent as the crusts I made recently using the Caputo 00 flour and the natural Caputo 00 starter. The crust also didn’t brown as much as the typical Lehmann crust, which suggests that the overall 18-hour fermentation/ripening period may have been too long. One thing I tried that improved the taste and crust coloration of the pizza was to return it to the oven about 10 minutes after it was finished baking. This was a tip offered up recently by quido (John) and it worked quite well in that it made the crust and the rim crunchier, as I prefer it. The oven was off when I did this but there was sufficient remnant heat in the stone to brown up the crust fairly quickly. In this respect, it is like the technique used by Friz when he removes the entire stone from the oven with the baked pizza still on it.
But what is most important is what I learned from the experiment. I learned that it possible to make a room-temperature Lehmann NY style dough and enhance its flavor profile by using a starter. But I also think that there is more work to be done to improve the crust even further. A few possibilities for improving the crust come to mind. First is to use the same recipe but reduce the overall fermentation/ripening time. Second, is to use only a starter, without any commercial yeast, mainly to see if the flavor profile is improved, as was the case when I made the Caputo crusts using only the Caputo natural 00 starter. On this score, I invite pftaylor to do the same with his Raquel dough to see if the flavor is enhanced. Who knows? Maybe he will end up with Raquel on Steroids. Third is to consider Cheesy’s suggestion as reported in another thread to lower the hydration a bit, which can be easily accomplished by simply using a bit less water. At this point, I’m inclined to go with only the natural starter (i.e., no commercial yeast) and a reduced hydration level.
C'mon, Igor, back to the laboratory while it's still dark.