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Jeff Varasano - how to make pizza at home
Old 10-18-2008, 11:31 AM   #1
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Jeff Varasano - how to make pizza at home

I asked him how to make pizza at home with things you can find at a regular supermarket.
Here is his reply.

Jeff Varasano's NY Pizza Recipe
You can make a good pie from stuff at Publix. Get Gold medal Bread flour in the bright yellow bag. Use Cento Whole Peeled Italian Tomatoes and get Belgiosso mozzarella in the shrink wrap package in the deli cheese case. If you are baking at less than 650F you can use sorrento mozz in the dairy isle. They also have the locatelli romano. You can use regular Fleishman's yeast, but it will not have add much flavor.

But I have to tell you, it's not the ingredients that are the problem. It's the learning curve. It really takes a while to get this down. So I'd say either commit to it or skip it - and just come buy pizza from me ;-)

Let me give you a few things to do when baking in a cooler oven.

  • For starters, don't try to make Neapolitan style at 550. It's just not going to happen. Don't use the Caputo flour or any 00 flour that a lot of the Neapolitan purists try to use. Those are for temps of 800 and up. Try to make a great NY style instead. Gold Medal Bread Flour (formerly labeled Harvest King) is a good bread flour available in many supermarkets. King Arthur Bread is another good one.
  • Go a little thicker on the dough. NY style is thicker than Neapolitan. For a 13" pizza, instead of a dough ball in the 270-300g range, go for 350g.
  • Add a bit of oil to the dough to keep it from drying out during the longer slower bake. At 550 the pie s in the oven so long that it dries out the crust.
  • Preheat the oven for a long time. Get an Infrared thermometer so you can really know the temp of every spot of your oven. Even after the oven is at it's maximum temp, preheat a little longer; The thermostat measures just the temp of the surface but you want to make sure the heat has penetrated the walls of the oven. The oven temp won't drop as much when you put the pie in. I preheat my oven for about 70 minutes.
  • If you have convection, use it.
  • Use 2 pizza stones and also use thicker stones that have preheated for a long time. Most stones are in the 1/2 inch range but if you can find stones that are an inch+ you are even better off. You are trying to store up heat that can be transfered to the pie. Bake the pie on the top stone for 4 minutes or so, then switch to the bottom stone, opening the door for as little time as possible. Then test it the other way (bottom first, top second).
  • Don't age the dough as long. There's a battle between flavor and lightness. The slower the fermentation, the better the flavor, but the worse the oven spring (rise in the oven). If you want a lighter crust, reduce the fermentation time to 12-18 hours. Do this by adding a bit more yeast. My recipe has a very tiny amount of yeast for a super slow rise. I use so little that a single packet of yeast can make 40 pies. For a faster rise double the yeast. It's still a tiny amount compared to most recipes. Adding oil to the dough will somewhat make up for the flavor loss. Also, even though you are only aging the dough for a short time, it must be cooled to 55F or less for at least part of that time to develop some flavor. Even a couple of hours in the fridge will help the flavor a lot compared to dough that was only proofed at room temp
  • Try using a higher quality dry aged mozzarella. Not the shredded stuff, but just a good block of dry aged, like polly-o or sorrento. Dry cheese can have a good mouth feel and more flavor than the fresh stuff. But it won't hold up to the high heat of an 800F oven. But if you only have 500F give it a try. If you have access to a super high quality fresh mozz (ie you live in NYC and can buy mozz in a deli that makes it hours before you buy it), then the fresh is almost always better. But if you are using one of these wanna-be fresh mozz's, like the ones they sell at Whole Foods that are weeks old, then dry mozz may be better.
  • Consider doing a Sicilian Style like this one I made. If you max at 500 or less, then this really, really is your best option. Even at 550 I'd go this way myself. This pie was so good that people who've never even had my regular style were saying I should open a pizzeria doing just this kind. I don't have full instructions but it's a similar dough, just with oil in it and only risen about 8-16 hours. Instead of baking on a stone, it's baked in an oil lined pan, preferably a dark anodized aluminum pan. I actually line the pan with a silpat though, which works great. With no silpat you oil the pan, but even with it you might put oil just for flavor. This whole style is really different. Bake as hot as you can on a low rack so the bottom crisps up as much as possible. I recommend putting a good amount of romano and parmessean cheese and oregano on top of he pie and drizzling oil on it too before baking. You can use either fresh mozzarella or the dry aged stuff. I haven't measured exactly but the dough weight is probably about double a thin crust. I'd guess 600-700g is about right. It could be more.
It's ok to use commercial yeast but still do a long slow rise. For about 3 dough balls, at your ball size, you'll probably start with around 400g of water. For that much water, use only teaspoon of commercial yeast. To maximize the flavor of commercial yeast, try to find a way to proof the dough at around 50-60F instead of either room temp or fridge. My garage is about that temp and sometimes it's about that outside overnight. If you can't find that, then let the dough sit out for 2-4 hours after mixing, then put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours (but as long as 3-5 days). This will maximize the flavor available in commercial yeast.

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Old 10-18-2008, 04:59 PM   #2
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Thanks, Dex! I'm thinking of making "make a really great pizza" my culinary goal for 2009, and this was really helpful in answering some basic questions I had about dough chemistry.
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