Pizza Blog #4… finding the best mozzarella for your pizza

This will be my 4th post in my pizza series.  If you have missed my prior posts, I hope you will check them out.  Here is what you will find…

Pizza Blog #1: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/11/29/making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • A brief history of pizza
  • My Pizza Sauces recipe
  • Recommendations on my favorite brands of tomato products

Pizza Blog #2: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2018/12/17/pizza-blog-2-making-amazing-pizza-at-home/

  • Italian pizza styles
  • Different kinds flours you can use
  • Dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • My Pizza Dough recipe

 

Pizza Blog #3: 

https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

  • American styles of pizza
  • My Basil Pesto recipe
  • Recipes for three of my favorite pesto pizzas

In this 4th Post we will cover the following…

  • Mozzarella Cheese information and recommendations
  • Other excellent pizza cheeses
  • Provide a few more of my favorite pizza combination recipes

Mozzarella Cheese Styles and Information:

You all know that a great crust, properly baked, and an excellent sauce are key to great pizza. The third key in my opinion is high quality cheese.  And mozzarella is king when it comes to pizza.  The melting characteristics and flavor work perfectly.

There are multiple types of mozzarella. The two most common here in the states are…

  • Fresh Mozzarella which has a shorter aging and is considered a High Moisture Mozzarella. Fresh Mozzarella comes in a cow’s milk version which is made worldwide, or a Mozzarella di Bufala, a very rich and creamy version made from the milk of water buffalo in the region of Campania.  The latter is harder to find and more expensive but if you have never tried it you should.  I have found it at Costco as well as at many specialty cheese counters.
  • Standard Shredding (or pre-shredded) Mozzarella, which is usually labeled Low Moisture Mozzarella. This is a cow’s milk mozzarella and comes in Whole Milk (my preference) or Part-Skim versions.

I love both styles of cheese but have a slight preference for, and primarily rely upon, standard shredding mozzarellas, unless I am making Pizza Margherita, in which case I like to use fresh mozzarella.

In the states, I believe that the best mozzarellas come from Wisconsin.  This is based on my personal blind tasting of multiple cheeses over my decades in the pizza business.  Wisconsin cheeses are the most consistent in flavor and moisture content.  That said, there are excellent cheeses from other regions.

For my catering and classes I still buy the cheese I used at Frankie’s, a Wisconsin mozzarella made by a company called Vantaggio.  Because I buy smaller quantities I generally meet my supplier at one of his accounts and we swap from his black SUV to mine.  It feels like I am doing a drug deal! But whatever it takes to get the best cheese on the market.  Unfortunately this cheese is not available to the public.

My mission… a quest to find the best mozzarella available to youthe everyday pizza aficionado who wants that same amazing quality but is consigned to buy their cheese from a grocery store.

So I tested multiple brands of mozzarella available in grocery stores in the area where I live in Redmond, Washington, which is across the lake from Seattle.

My Mozzarella Recommendations:

First, a couple of disclaimers…

The cheeses I tested were all low moisture, shredding style cheeses.  Someday I will do a test of fresh mozzarellas.

I did not purchase every cheese out there.  I stayed away from the low-price cheeses, or one’s which I felt would be inferior.  And I probably missed a couple of good brands because I did not go to every single store in the area.  Nonetheless, here is what I tested and my results.

I tested five brands of mozzarella.  I have rated them on a 10 point scale (using my Vantaggio as the Gold Standard… a perfect 10).  Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Here are my findings from worst to best:

#5:  Galbani Whole Milk Mozzarella… I had high hopes for this cheese which says on the label “Italy’s Favorite Cheese Brand” (though it also says “Product of USA”).  It was good but not great.  I found it to be a bit lacking in flavor and richness.

 

Score:  7.5    Price:  $5.79 per pound at Fred Meyer though often on sale.

#4:  Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I love Trader Joe’s and most of their products.  This cheese is better than the Galbani but did not quite stack up to the other brands.  The flavor was very good but it lacked a little in creaminess.

Score:  8.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Trader Joe’s

#3:  Tillamook Part-Skim Mozzarella…  the only version I found from Tillamook was a pre-shredded part-skim.  I am a Tillamook fan and found this to be an excellent cheese for the price.  It was rich and creamy with excellent flavor.  It’s only draw back was it got slightly rubbery as it cooled, probably as a result of the lower fat content.

Score:  9.0    Price:  $4.99 per pound at Freddie’s

#2:  Boar’s Head Whole Milk Mozzarella… I have a friend who operates a Boar’s Head distributorship so I really wanted this to win and it almost did.  This is a rich and creamy mozz with excellent flavor.  It was slightly oilier after cooking but otherwise a superb cheese.

Score:  9.5    Price:  $5.99 per pound at Freddie’s

Drum roll please…

#1:  Rumiano Whole Milk Mozzarella…  I had never heard of this cheese which I found at Whole Foods.  It is expensive at $6.99 per pound.  So the Boar’s Head or Tillamook both represent better values in my view.  Nonetheless, if you don’t mind spending the bucks this cheese had the best overall combination of flavor, texture and mouthfeel.  It was creamy, buttery, and had a great flavor though with a slight herbal flavor.

Score:  9.6    Price:  $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods

Other excellent pizza cheeses:

When it comes to cheese on pizza, the sky is the limit.  Do all the experimenting you want.  If it sounds good to you it probably will be.  Listed below are some of my other favorite pizza cheeses.  It is by no means a comprehensive list.

Provolone:  Provolone comes in a an Italian (aged) version, or a Deli version, usually found in a round log at your deli counter.  The latter is slightly softer and more subtle.  Both are excellent for pizza.  Many pizzerias use a blend of mozzarella with some provolone added. It is one of the cheeses used on this Pizza Calabrese (recipe below).

Fontina:  Fontina comes in an Italian version or a Danish version which is the most common.  The Danish version has the red wax on it and works great for pizza.  The Italian version is even better but hard to find and very expensive.  It is one of the cheeses used on our Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza (recipe below).

 

Smoked Mozzarella (and other smoked cheeses):  I like smoked cheeses in certain applications but in moderation.  If used straight I find it overwhelms the pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a Wild Mushroom Pizza on our Autumn menu to which we added a blend of half smoked and half regular mozzarella.  Smoked Provolone or Smoked Gouda can also be excellent.  We added smoked gouda to our BBQ Chicken Pizza.

 

Asiago:  The salty, nutty, tangy flavor of this cheese is especially great with vegetable pizzas. Look for the fresher version (rather than the harder dry-aged version), which melts super well.

Parmesan:  If you are going to use parmesan I recommend using the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano.  It is more expensive but a little goes a long way.  The flavor is superior and these days it is easy to find.  I buy it at Costco.  Because aged parmesan is a drier cheese it is not a good melting cheese.  I recommend mixing a little in with mozzarella.

Pecorino:  There are various Pecorino cheeses which are made from sheep’s milk and come in younger, softer versions which are milder, or harder, aged versions.  The most common is Pecorino Romano.  It is very salty so if using it, balance it with a mellower melting cheese.

Goat Cheese:  Goat cheese is very strong.  I don’t care for it solo on a pizza.  But when used as an addition to some mozzarella it creates magic.  One of my favorite pizzas is our Frankie’s Pesto & Goat Cheese Pizza (shown).  The recipe can be found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

 

 

Ricotta:  Creamy ricotta is very common on calzones (and in lasagna) but can also be excellent on pizza.  If you use it I suggest small spoonfuls atop whatever other cheese you are using such as this Pizza Florentine (recipe below)..

 

Gorgonzola:  Like Goat cheese or Ricotta, I do not recommend this cheese solo.  It should be used in moderation.  Check out my recipe for the Chicken Gorgonzola Pizza also found in my Pizza Blog #3 https://frankieinthekitchen.com/2019/02/08/pizza-blog-3-making-incredible-pizza-at-home/

Manchego:  Manchego, a Spanish cheese, can be delicious on pizza.  At Frankie’s we had a pizza on our Garlic Festival Menu called The Garlic Spaniard.  It was topped with a creamy tomato sauce with a touch of  hot sauce; mozzarella and manchego cheeses, hard Spanish chorizo sausage, Italian sausage, roasted garlic and red onions.

SUMMARY & RECIPES:

So that’s it for cheese suggestions.  Below are a few of my favorite pizza recipes, most of which use combinations of these cheeses.

Buon appetito.  May God richly bless your table with love, laughter, and great food!

Following are recipes for six of the pizzas we served at Frankie’s (2 per page).  If you would prefer the recipes in PDF format, click the links below.

PDF Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

PDF Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

PDF Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza

Frankie’s Special & Gourmet Vegetarian

Pizza Florentine & Pizza Calabrese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion Pizza of Verona & Wild Mushroom-Sausage Pizza

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza Blog #3… Making incredible pizza at home

This is the third post in my pizza series.  If you missed my previous posts, please check them out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, discussed Italian pizza styles, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce and dough recipes, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

Frankie’s Pizza Class

 

Before moving on I wanted to remind you that, for those of you who live in the Seattle-Eastside area, I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  For details on that and/or for catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • American styles of pizza
  • Post my Basil Pesto recipe
  • Provide recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas

American Pizza Styles… A Regional Outlook:

When you discuss styles of pizza you really only hit upon the primary styles.  In reality there are probably thousands of variations.  While the large chains strive for consistency (why be consistently lousy I ask myself?), I would say that no two independent pizzerias are exactly alike.  The variations are endless and can be significant or subtle.  There are so many variables… types of ovens, baking temperatures, the type of flour used, dough recipes and proofing, sauce recipes, types and quantity of cheeses, and how toppings are dealt with.  New Yorkers will even tell you that their water makes their pizza different than all others, including neighboring Jersey.  Let’s start there…

New York Style:  

They say the main difference between New York and New Jersey pizza is the water.  The water in New York makes their crust pliable, so when you fold a slice lengthwise to eat it (a typical New York method), it does not crack.  New Jersey pizza on the other hand has a crisper bottom which will crack when folded.  Otherwise these two pizzas are pretty similar. 

New York pizza is a style originally developed by immigrants from Naples.  It is generously sized, with a thin, pliable crust.  It’s almost always hand-tossed, moderately topped with a southern Italian-style tomato sauce, and liberally covered with cheese.   It shares some qualities with its Neapolitan cousin but is typically a much larger pie.  The reason slices are usually eaten folded in half is its size and flexibility make it otherwise difficult to eat by hand.

This style of pizza dominates the NE states, and you’ll find pizzerias all over the country trying to imitate it.  At Frankie’s our pizzas were similar to this but our crust was a little thicker.  I was always honored when a New Yorker gave us high marks because they always thought there was no match for it.  I once had a New Yorker tell me ours was even better and I almost fell over.

New Haven Style:

Since we started on the east coast we’ll hit a lesser known pizza, at least to those of us out west.  Based in New Haven, Connecticut, this brick oven cooked pizza (or “apizza,” as New Haven-style restaurants call it) has its roots in Neapolitan-style pizza but is a delicacy all on its own.  New Haven uses a long cold fermentation process for the dough, and the oven gets the pizza nice and charred.  A “tomato pie” skips the cheese, and most New Haven pizzerias will treat mozzarella as a topping on its own.  Another variation is their white clam pizza, with clams, garlic, and cheese.

Detroit Style:  

Working our way west we next come to Detroit.  Some compare Detroit style pizza to deep-dish Chicago  style, but it’s really very different.  Detroit pizza is made in a square or rectangle pan.  The square shape is said to be the result of an early tradition of using metal trays originally meant to hold small parts in factories.

The dough is light and airy, similar to Sicilian dough methods, and the middle of the crust is nearly as thick as the edges.  When cooked, it’s crispy on the bottom and edges but light and soft on the inside.

Like Chicago pizza, the toppings and cheese (traditionally Wisconsin brick cheese, not mozzarella) go on before the sauce, protecting the dough from getting soggy.  That’s why this pizza is sometimes called “Detroit Red Top”!

Chicago Deep Dish Style:

Not all Chicago pizza is deep dish.  There is a thin style as well, but the deep dish version is so iconic that it is the version we will talk about.

Developed In the 1940s, the deep-dish version, has a deep crust that lines a large round metal pan.  Every Chicago pizza place from Pizzeria Uno to Giordano’s has its own deep-dish crust recipe, but generally, it’s made from either wheat or semolina flour to give it a yellowish color when baked (and Lou Malnati’s has its famous butter crust).

Though the pizza is quite thick, the crust itself is thin to medium thickness, and the pizza has a very thick layer of toppings.  It requires a long baking time, so the toppings are usually assembled “upside down” with cheese, vegetables, and meats placed on top of the crust, and an uncooked tomato sauce on the top layer, to help the vegetables and meats cook all the way through in the oven, and prevent the cheese from burning.

St. Louis Style:

Moving farther west we find the St. Louis style pizza, originated in the 1960s by Ed and Margie Imo of Imo’s Pizzeria.  It has a thin, cracker-like crust, made without yeast, and is topped with Provel cheese, rather than mozzarella.  Provel is a white processed cheese, made by combining cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone cheeses, and used primarily in the St. Louis area.  Even though this pizza is round, St. Louis-style pies are always cut into small squares.

California Style:

California style pizza is less about hand-tossed dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and cured Italian meats… and more about the toppings.  This pizza embraces the cuisine of the west coast.  Experimentation has few limits… think quail eggs, goat cheese, duck sausage or lobster, or smoked salmon with crème fraiche and capers.

Two pizzas that really caught on were the Barbeque Chicken Pizza, and Thai-inspired Chicken Pizza with peanut sauce, bean sprouts, and shaved carrots.  The focus is always on fresh, quality ingredients and a unique pizza eating experience.

California pizza generally uses a dough similar to the Neapolitan, and pizzas are rarely bigger than twelve inches.  This style of pizza is generally credited to Chef Ed LaDou who developed a pizza with ricotta, red peppers, mustard, and pate, that Chef Wolfgang Puck fell in love with in the early 1980s.  Puck hired LaDou to work at the newly opened Spago in 1982.  In 1985, Chef LaDou created the first pizza menu for California Pizza Kitchen.

Back to Frankie’s:

Now that we understand the roots of pizza, through its history and varying styles, let’s get back to the “how-to’s” of making a great pizza.

In my previous posts I provided you with recipes for our Frankie’s pizza dough and sauce, and talked about the best baking procedures.

In this post I’m going to share my other favorite sauce… fresh Basil Pesto… and the secret of making three of my favorite pizzas from our Frankie’s menu… all of which feature this pesto.

But before I give you the recipe let me share a few secrets I’ve learned about making the best pesto you’ve ever had!

 

 

 

Basil Pesto originates from the Genova area in the region of Liguria, a coastal area in northwest Italy (think Cinque Terre and north).  I’ve had pesto here and it is super fresh, vibrant and flavorful.  Why so good?   I’d say the most important are basil, olive oil and cheese.

 

Fresh Basil:  A lot of the basil here is grown in raised beds, often in greenhouses, with the plants very close together.  It is harvested very young while the leaves are at their most tender and flavorful.  You’re not going to find basil like that here, but you want it to be as fresh as possible.

Your best bet is either grow your own (easy when the weather is warm), or to buy live, potted basil plants (or live basil with roots in water).  Then use the freshest and most tender leaves.

Olive Oil:  A good extra virgin olive oil will make all the difference.  Olive oil loses its fresh, fruity flavor as it ages or gets exposed to too much heat or light.  Look for oils which list the year of their harvest on the bottle.  Olives are harvested in the late autumn so most of the time you’ll be buying oil which is from the prior year.  If it does not list the harvest it, it is likely more than a year old.  A local olive oil shop will have some of the best oils, but I’ve also found high quality oils, of the most recent harvest at places like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese:  The best cheese for pesto (and one of the best cheeses in the world, period!) is aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.  You will know it’s the real thing by looking for its stamped rind.  BUT, not all Parmigiano-Reggiano are aged for the same period of time.  The best quality-price ratio I’ve found is at Costco… not the pre-grated stuff in the jar, but the wedges.  Even there it is not cheap but it will last you a long time.  I bought another brand at a local grocery store recently and I could tell it was younger because it was softer and much less flavorful.

Other Ingredients:  The next major ingredient is pine nuts or some other type of nut.  Pine nuts are very expensive so you can substitute a different nut such as walnuts or even pecans.  The flavor will change slightly but its not really all that noticeable.

One non-traditional ingredient I add to my pesto is fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Its acidity brightens both the color and flavor, and it helps it keep its bright color.

Another optional ingredient, which I learned from Marcella Hazan (one of the most respected Italian cooks of all time), is softened butter.  It adds a little creaminess and richness to the pesto.

Here is my Basil Pesto sauce recipe followed by recipes for some of my favorite pesto pizzas which we served at Frankie’s…

If you’d prefer the recipe in a PDF click here… Basil Pesto Recipe PDF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are my favorite Pesto Pizzas…

PDF Format… Vesuvius and Chicken Gorgonzola

Pesto & Goat Cheese and Quattro Formaggio

Pizza Blog #2… Making Amazing Pizza at Home

Trattoria Pizzeria – Venice

This is my second post in my pizza series.  If you missed my last post check it out.  I gave a brief history of pizza, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce recipe, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.

In today’s post I will talk about…

  • Italian pizza styles (I will discuss American styles in a future post)
  • Discuss different kinds flours you can use
  • Discuss dough proofing and yeast
  • Ways to mix your dough
  • Post my pizza dough recipe

Italian Pizza Styles:

Knowing that pizza was born and raised in Italy I want to educate you on the different styles of pizza made there.  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Italians for giving us this culinary masterpiece!

In Italy there are many styles of pizza, some distinctively different, others minor variations. Of course each region thinks theirs is the best. The most famous is Pizza Napolitana, and that is the most authentic style which has made it’s way to our shores.  Here is some about that and some others which I think are worth being aware of.

Pizza Napolitana:  

Traditionally cooked in a wood-burning oven making for a thin crust with a puffy edge.  The most popular version, Pizza Margherita, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (usually buffalo milk), and basil to finish.

To Neapolitans, quality and consistency is of utmost importance—both Pizza Margherita and its cousin, Pizza Marinara (topped with tomato, oil and garlic), are regionally protected recipes.  To receive the stamp of approval from the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, Neapolitan pizzas have to stick to very strict standards that govern things like yeastiness, the type of flour (00), and the thickness of the dough, ingredients, and baking temperature.

If you want to find certified pizzerias near you check out their website at http://www.pizzanapoletana.org/en/associati.  Enter the name of your city where it says “Look for a Member” and it will list member pizzerias in your area.

Pizza al Taglio at Eatily

Pizza al Taglio: 

Translating Pizza “by-the-cut”, this pizza hails from Rome where it is baked in sheet pans and sold by the slice, hence the alternative names pizza in teglia (“pizza in the pan”).   You order as you would in a cheese shop, making your selection from the display case, telling the server how much to cut off, and paying by the weight.

Pizza al Taglio bakes in an electric oven for up to 15 minutes, yielding a crisp, airy, golden crust that’s up to an inch thick. To prevent toppings from being overcooked, some are applied mid-bake or after-bake.  Why such precautions for so humble a street food?  Because, at its best, Pizza al Taglio is a base for the some of the best cheeses, cured meats, seafood, and produce in Italy.

Not all Pizza al Taglio is Roman, though you may hear it called Pizza Romana, and not all Pizza Romana is Pizza al TaglioPizza al Taglio is prepared in many areas of Italy and takes on different regional characteristics.  Unfortunately this kind of pizza is hard to find in the states.  So you may have to make a trip to Rome.

Pizza Siciliana: 

Sicilian pizza – American style

In America “Sicilian Pizza” is often synonymous with “square,”  which is the shape of the pan pizzas prepared by Sicilian immigrants and their descendants, mostly on the east coast.  These New World pizzas were probably inspired by Sfincione of Palermo or Cudduruni of Syracuse, two types of Sicilian pizza typically sold in bakeries and likened, on account of their breadiness, to Sicilian focaccia.

When you order pizza in most areas of Sicily you usually get a round pie or, in the case of a stuffed pizzolo, a double-crust pizza. The term Pizza Siciliana is defined less by shape than by local ingredients: Semolina and other home-grown grains in the dough; toppings of goat cheese, pecorino siciliano and local cow’s milk cheeses – anything but buffalo mozzarella. Anchovies are common.

Pizza Romana Tonda

Pizza Romana Tonda:

Christopher Columbus convinced all that the world was round, not flat. Devotees of Pizza Romana Tonda view the world as round AND flat.  Whereas Neapolitan Pizza is floppy and bendy, this round pizza of Rome has a crust that is exceptionally thin, and ultra-crisp. If you hold up a slice the point of the triangle will never sag. I’ve had this style of pizza in Italy.  Personally it is not my fave, but for those of you who like a super thin, crispy crust, this one is for you.

 Pizza Alla Pala / Pizza A Metro:

These are alternate terms for oblong pizzas baked directly on the stone floor of the pizza oven.  Think pizza boards.  T he Pizza a Metro is sized according the number of people sharing it, up to a meter long, as its name “pizza by the meter” – suggests.  Pizza alla Pala may be cut into square slices.  Pala is Italian for “peel,” the long-handled shovel-like tool used to slide pizza in and out of the oven.  Texture and depth can vary, but in most instances these pizzas are crunchy and at least a half-inch thick.

Pizza Italiana:  

This is the none-of-the-above style.  It may also be recognized as “Classica”, “Tradizionale” or, in the generic sense, “Napoletana”.  It’s pizza according to the Italian model, as opposed to the American one… small size (about 12-inches)… with a thinner crust… fewer toppings… and less of them.  The toppings are familiar (Margherita, Marinara, Napoli, Quattro Stagione, Capricciosa) rather than design-your-own… no pepperoni… no chicken… no pineapple.

Flour: What kind should you use for pizza?

The first thing you need to understand about flour is gluten.  Gluten is NOT evil!

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein… when hydrated it creates an elastic system throughout the dough that gives it’s chewy, springy nature (think of it like a spider web). The process of kneading dough traps the bubbles of CO2 released by the fermenting yeast in the web that is created by the gluten strands, allowing the dough to rise.  The amount of gluten in the flour is what determines just how rubbery and chewy the bread will be as well as how much it will rise.

When it comes to pizza (and bread), there are a couple of key points you need to remember about gluten.

Key points:

  • Too little gluten makes dough very soft and tender and air pockets do not develop properly. It will tear easily when stretched.
  • Excessive gluten (or over-activated) makes dough too difficult to stretch. Like rubber it just keeps springing back.

There are different types of flour available to you at the grocery store…

Types of flour…

  • Cake and pastry flours – lowest gluten, described as “soft flour”
  • All purpose – medium gluten, a blend of “hard” and “soft” flour
  • Bread flours – highest gluten flours you will find in grocery stores
  • Commercial pizza dough flours—made from “hard” winter wheat
  • 00 – high gluten very finely milled
  • Semolina – made from Durum wheat—coarser and relatively high in gluten

Which flour is best for me?

Most pizza dough recipes found online or in cook books call for using all-purpose flour.  These will give you very good results.  Most have a protein levels of 10-12 percent.  This is what I recommend for starting out if you are not experienced at making pizza.

If you want your pizza to have more chew, and a bit more rise, you can try something higher in gluten.  Unfortunately you will not find high gluten pizza flour in your grocery store.  The closest you will find is bread flours which can have quite a range in protein levels from about 12 to 16 percent (most are in the 14 to 16 percent range).

High gluten flour can be a little more difficult to stretch, so if you’re a rookie, you might want to start with a good all purpose flour, or if you want to push it a little, you can blend some all-purpose and bread flour.

Should you use Organic Flour?

Personally I always use Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.  It has been widely reported that standard farming practice is to spray wheat with Round Up a few days prior to harvest which makes it go through the threshers better and gives farmers a higher yield.  This is not the case with Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.

There some excellent brands to choose from.  For personal use, or if catering pizzas, I use a commercial pizza flour, Shepherd’s Grain High Gluten Strength Flour.  It is sustainably grown… no chemicals sprayed prior to harvest.  But it’s only available in 50 pound bags at places which sell commercial products.  So unless you plan to make a LOT of pizza, or share it with others, it would not make sense for you.

So when teaching pizza classes I use a good Organic All-Purpose Flour.  Some of my favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Central Milling Company.  Bob’s and King Arthur are employee owned companies which really appeals to me.  Both companies make standard and organic flour so make sure it says “organic” on the bag.  They will cost you more, usually about $7 for a 5# bag, but for me it is worth it.  The Bob’s Red Mill is easiest to find in grocery stores where I live.

A really good value for quality organic all-purpose flour can be found at Costco.  They carry 20# of Central Milling Company Organic Flour.  I’ve had excellent results with it.

What is proofing dough and how long should I proof mine?

“Proofing dough” is simply a term used for the final rise before baking.  It refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation.  Fermentation is a step in creating yeast breads and baked goods where the yeast is allowed to leaven the dough.

When making pizza dough you have a variety of options, you can make the dough  in the morning or mid-day for making pizza later that night.  That is standard practice for Pizza Napolitana. Personally I like to make my dough at least one day, or preferably two to three days prior to making my pizzas and allow it to proof in the refrigerator after a brief initial rise.  This long proofing period allows the dough to gain complexity and a more yeasty flavor.

I most frequently make my dough two days in advance.  If I am busy that day I will usually push it forward or backward a day. This requires some planning but if you know what day you want to make your pizza, just put a reminder on your calendar for the day you want to make the dough.

Refrigerating Dough?  Really?

Pizza Dough

Yes, if you plan to make your dough one to three days prior it will need to be refrigerated.  This dramatically slows the rising but allows the flavors to develop.  I then remove the dough from the refrigerator one to three hours before using.  If I feel it is pretty much fully risen I give it about an hour just to bring it to room temperature.  If I think it needs to rise more, I give it two to three hours.  You want it to be roughly double the size of the original dough ball.  This is not rocket science so if it a bit more or less than double, don’t stress about it!  I like to put my dough in these clear plastic take-out containers which I buy at Cash n Carry.  But you can also store in one gallon plastic bags or a bowl with a lid.

About My Dough Recipe Ingredients:

The most basic pizza doughs are simply flour, water, salt and yeast (or no yeast at all if using naturally fermented dough… more on that another time).  I add two additional ingredients to my dough… extra virgin olive oil and just a little sugar.  This was the recipe we used at Frankie’s and it is so good I have stuck with it.

About the Yeast: 

I use Active Dry Yeast.  You can buy this in packets but I prefer to buy it in the jar so I can measure it myself, and easily adjust for the size of recipe I am making.  If you store the jar in the refrigerator it should last for months.

I recommend that you DO NOT use Rapid Rise Yeast unless you need your dough to be ready within 2-3 hours.

I recommend that you vary the quantity of yeast depending on how far in advance you make your dough.  My recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon, which is fine if making the dough within 24 hours of using it.  If I am making it two days ahead I reduce the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon, and even less if making it three days in advance.

Water Temperature:

To properly activate your yeast you want your water to be very warm, but not hot.  I use a thermometer to make sue my water is between 105-110 F.  If it is cooler it will not activate as well.  If it is too hot you run the risk of killing the yeast.

Measuring Ingredients:

I list my flour and water in both volume measurements and grams.  I highly recommend that you measure in grams if you have an electronic scale.  To do it by weight, simply put whatever bowl or measuring cup that you plan to use on the scale and then zero it out before adding your flour or water.

Why?  Because it will give you more consistent results.  Look online for the weight of a cup of flour and you will get all kinds of answers.  You can buy electronic scales these days for $10-$30 dollars.  If you don’t have one, just be careful in measuring.

How to mix your dough:

I generally mix my dough in my Kitchenaid mixer using a dough hook, and then do a brief kneading and shaping by hand.  You can also do it in a food processor if yours is large enough.  Some people who have tested both methods actually feel that the food processor is superior.  Either will work great, OR you can mix and knead your dough my hand and also get excellent results (with the added benefit of well developed muscles in the process!).

I use a somewhat unconventional mixing method that I learned from a professional baker which I have begun to use.   After mixing the dough in my mixer for 2-3 minutes I turn the mixer speed to high and mix for another 45 seconds or so.  This helps develop the gluten structure of the dough.

After mixing in a mixer, food processor, or by hand in a bowl, you want to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead by hand and then form a large dough ball (which you will later cut and reform).

The key is that you want to mix and knead your dough enough to activate the gluten structure.  You will know this has happened when you get some pushback when you make an indent in the dough.  If the dough is very soft and does not push back, knead it a little longer.  It will relax during the proofing process.

One last FYI, my dough recipe is based on a 60% hydration level (flour to water ratio).  I will explain hydration levels in my next blog, and how they effect your finished pizza.  This dough should be slightly sticky and take a little scraping to get it out of the bowl.  Use just enough flour on your hands and counter to make it workable.

After you form the dough, you will cover it and allow it to rest and go through a short rise before forming the final dough balls.  You will notice that the glutens have begun to relax when you come back to the dough.  I then do another short brief time at room temperature to let the dough begin it’s rise before moving to the refrigerator for proofing.

 

Download Dough Recipe PDF

Wrapping it up:

That’s it for today.  In my next blog post I will discuss…

  • Various American styles of pizza
  • Hydration levels (flour to water ratio) and how they affect your crust
  • Different styles of dough

I hope you enjoyed this post.  Please comment if you did, or if you have questions.  But mostly I hope you will get in your kitchen and bake some pizza!

Don’t forget, if you live in the eastside of Seattle area I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up.  I can do fewer people but you still pay for six.  For details on that and/or my catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com

It’s time to say grazie for reading my blog and bid you ciao for now!

Frankie