Q: Do you use the same flour in your starter as in your batch?
A: Not necessarily. In some cases I may not use a Caputo starter with a Caputo batch. I might use a Central Milling starter, “Keith’s Best”, and use 20 percent of the starter in my batch. It really all depends on your final product and what tastes best. There is no real right or wrong when it comes to the flour you choose for your starter. Some flours taste great together and others don’t. It is up to you as an operator to decide what tastes great.
Q: Is oil necessary in making dough?
A: Not always. Historically, pizza was a peasant food. Since oil was very expensive, it was left out. Several places, like many New Haven, Connecticut, pizzerias, don’t like to use oil because it is a fat. One advantage to using oil in your recipe is that it helps emulsify and bind your dough together. It also helps with the manageability and the elasticity of the dough. In some styles of pizza (namely Sicilian), as well as foccaccia, oil is extremely important and is one of the major components. When it comes to putting oil on the outside of your dough while it sits on trays or in boxes, that’s not really necessary. If your containers are air-tight, it does not matter if you use a wooden box or a metal tray to hold your dough. Oil will not be necessary and can become costly to use. In some cases the use of oil can leave a residual flavor that can become very unappealing. In your dough recipe, olive oil is not the only fat that can be used. Others include: lard, butter, vegetable oils — ranging from soybean to corn and nut oils, including pine, walnut, almond and pistachio. All of these can be used in replace of olive oil but can become quite costly, depending on the flavor profile you like.
Q: Is water that important?
A: Yes! Water is very important in making dough. Ideally, moderately hard water is best. If your water is too hard the dough will become very dry, unconditioned, and may make the dough snap back when you attempt to open it. I would also check the Ph levels of your water. Between .05 and .07 is best. Chlorinated water should also be avoided. To counter or correct problems with your water you could use a filtration system, reverse osmosis, or even bottled water. At my restaurant in Sacramento, Pizza Rock, we use reverse osmosis to correct any issues with the water. Another rule of thumb is that if your water is too hard, or high in minerals, you can cut back slightly on the amount of salt in your recipe. These are a number of ways which should help countering any problems with water, but always remember … If you won’t drink the water don’t use it when making your dough.
RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.