Experimental Emergency Dough Excitement

Ready for the drama? I made a batch of dough last week and gave it the usual 3-day rise, but just a few hours before the baking session began I realized too many people were coming over and I needed (kneaded?) more dough. Not a huge deal, I learned a great recipe for 1-hour dough from Mark Bello at Pizza a Casa, but I wanted to kick up the flavor a bit to better match the depth I was planning on getting from my 3-day batch. Sounds like a potential tragedy, but it was actually the perfect opportunity for me to attempt something crazy.

Regular batch, using Bob’s Red Mill flour and a 3 day rise.

Allow me to explain. A dough develops more flavor with longer fermentation because of bacterial replication. Therefore, dough baked after only a short fermentation will not have as much flavor because of lower bacterial content… unless you add some yourself! I figured I could take a shortcut and add something that derives its flavor from a bacterial culture: yogurt.

Here’s the formula I used:
600g Bob’s Red Mill flour
384g water (100 degrees F)
15g instant dry yeast
25g salt
26g Chobani plain Greek yogurt

Mixed all dry, added wet, mixed and autolyse (just lettin’ it chillax) for 30 minutes. Kneaded for 5 minutes, rested for 5 minutes, kneaded until tight enough to bounce back from a poke. Then split and balled, packed in lightly oiled plastic pint containers for quick room temp rise.

Here’s the result….

Thinly sliced raw potato and red onion with fresh mozzarella.

Caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms atop a bed of mozzarella and scamorza.

Crust flavor wasn’t as tangy and bright as I had hoped for, maybe I need to add more yogurt. But the pies I made with the short dough did bake up nicely. They were more dense and crunchy than those made with the 3-day rise, but certainly tasty enough to eat. One friend suggested I add a small squeeze of citrus to the yogurt for some extra zing. I’ll try that next time I’m in a bind and need more dough last minute.

My standard formula worked out well, I’m pretty happy with it as a go-to recipe when I know I have the luxury of a 3-day rise.

Fresh mozzarella, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes with grated piave cheese.

Here’s the skinny:
600g All Purpose flour
379g warm water
100g Ischia starter
20g salt
1.5g instant dry yeast

Mixed all dry, added wet, mixed and autolyse for 45 minutes. Kneaded for 5, rested for 5, kneaded until tight enough to bounce back from a poke. Then split and balled, packed in lightly oiled plastic pint containers for 3-day cold rise.

Now back to the drama. Some of my pals had to leave early so I ended up with leftover dough after all. No problem, we baked some bread the next morning! All we did was pull it out of the fridge, let it rise on a well-floured peel (covered with a dish towel) and viola!

Weekend Pizza Making

I made a batch of pizza on Friday and it came out great so I thought I’d post some photos and current dough formula for those who are interested in trying it themselves. Here’s the scoop on the dough:

380g warm tap water
595g King Arthur All Purpose flour
20g salt
2g instant dry yeast
100g Ischia starter
splash of olive oil

I started with the water, to which I slowly added the flour as I mixed. About halfway through adding the flour, I tossed in the yeast, salt and oil. When everything was incorporated, I covered the bowl and went out to run some errands. This is the autolyse phase, during which the flour gets hydrated and kneading becomes easier. I usually give about 30 minutes for this but errands took longer than expected so I didn’t get to the kneading phase until 5.75 hours later. By that time, the dough was totally ready to rock! I poured it onto my kneading surface and spent about 5-6 minutes working the batch until it felt done. I just split the mass into four 275g chunks, balled, then stored in oil-lined plastic quart containers in the refrigerator. 

Four days later, I took the dough out of the fridge and gave them about 2 hours to rise (still in their containers). The oven took about 1.5 hours cranked on broil in my basic gas oven (the broiler is on the bottom so I get most of my heat this way). Each pizza spent about 4.5 minutes in the oven before a 180 degree rotation and a final minute to finish. The results were pretty even, although my stretching definitely improved over the course of the night. Here are a couple of the results:

Mozzarella, crushed tomato, basil, sun-dried tomatoes.

Spinach, garlic, mozzarella, crushed tomato, black pepper.

I also conducted a quick, completely non-scientific, experiment using tomatoes left over from the tomato tasting I hosted at the Brooklyn Brainery a couple weeks ago. I tried two different tomatoes, one from Paulie Gee’s secretly sourced stash (Italian) and one from a popular restaurant supplier (California).

Uncrushed Paulie Gee tomatoes (Italian), hand-crushed tomatoes from Stanislaus (CA).

Both were plenty tasty and the pizzas were a bit different so I can’t report any conclusive findings, but the California tomatoes were definitely saltier. As always, use whatever floats your boat.

And finally, for all the pizza nerds who like looking at the details, here are a couple glory shots.

All pies were baked in a quarry tile cave. Check out the video at EconomyBites.

Midday Pizza Making

I had some surplus dough left over so my homeslice Bryan came over and we made a couple pies for lunch. We usually have pizza making sessions at night so this was a nice change of pace. New York was balmy (62 degrees F) so we ate outside!

The dough was a super simple no-frills recipe:

297g flour (King Arthur All Purpose)
196g water (just under room temp)
9g salt (standard Baleine fine sea salt)
3g yeast (regular instant dry yeast)

mixed it, kneaded it, balled it, fridged it overnight, let it rise for 2-3 hours at room temp before baking


My Best Dough Yet

If you asked me about making my own pizza around this time last year, my response would have been something along the lines of “I deal exclusively in O.P.P. or Other People’s Pizza.” To be fair, I knew that pizza making would lead me down a strange and mysterious path that would exponentially grow my pizza obsession, for better or for worse. I had plenty of excuses but the real reason was simple. I was afraid. Dough is so simple to make, yet endlessly challenging because of all the variables associated with its production. But once you get your hands on a good batch of dough, you just never go back.

The point of no return for me came in the form of a pizza making class I took at Pizza a Casa in the Lower East Side. It amazed me by simplifying the entire process into a form that was - both literally and figuratively - digestible. Fast forward ten months and now I’m experimenting with different dough hydration and yeast varieties. I have become exactly what I was afraid of and I couldn’t possibly be any happier.

I’ve made good batches and I’ve made bad batches, constantly in search of the perfect crispy-chewy texture and a salty-smokey flavor. Some batches would have the flavor while others would have the texture. I felt like I didn’t have control of anything and my life was in a tailspin — until my pal Brooks showed up with a batch of dough and an Ischia starter. WHAT THE HECK IS AN ISCHIA STARTER? That’s easy. Yeast is a fungus that floats through the air looking for a nice place to live and sometimes people build little yeast traps and put the little guys to work. The “nice place to live” can be a grape skin or apple peel and the trap is a cup half filled with a mixture of flour and water. Once the yeast start moving into their new watery-floury home, they get “put to work” on the fermentation plantation, where they feed on the natural sugars released by the reaction of water and flour and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol.

See those bubbles in the cup? Those are the product of yeast burps! Anyway, this bubbling goo is your “starter” and the particular one I am using came from an island off the coast of Naples called Ischia. Hence, ISCHIA STARTER. You can make a starter anywhere and name it as you wish. There’s an amazing step-by-step guide to starter cultivation on Slice. DO IT!


So what do these yeasty creeps have to do with pizza? Yeast is necessary for fermentation, which results in the gassy leavening of dough as well as flavor development thanks to bacteria and alcohol. It’s very easy to open a packet of yeast and pour it into your dough, but natural yeast forges an even closer bond between pizzaiolo and pizza. It also gives you a unique flavor that is often more developed than commercial yeast. You use this starter in the same way that you use a packet of yeast, but the measurements are not the same. I experimented with a recipe Brooks gave me and ended up making three batches of dough, each having a different amount of dry yeast. Here’s the winning recipe, which gave us a perfectly airy crust with rick flavor and a good dose of crunch.

595 g flour (I used King Arthur All Purpose)
381 g water (I used cold tap water)
91 g Brooks’s Ischia starter
1.5 g dry yeast
12 g salt

Mix those and let it sit for 40 minutes so the flour can fully hydrate. Then knead the dough for about 4 minutes and let it rest for 5 minutes before one last kneading session of roughly 3 minutes. Separate into four balls and store in sealed containers (just like the first picture above) on the counter for about two hours, then refrigerate until you’re ready to bake.

You can use the dough after letting it sit overnight, but I left mine for just over four full days (about 100 hours). I let it rise at room temperature for about 5 hours prior to baking and they were extremely soft and gooey. My pies didn’t come out all looking picture perfect, but the flavor and texture is by far the best I have ever made. Here are a few selections from last week’s pizza session. I just wish you could bite into your screen.