March 1, 2015 |

Respecting the Craft: Daily Bread

By Tony Gemignani

Tony Gemignani headshot

World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento

I took a group of pizzeria operators to Central Milling in Petaluma, California, recently and we worked with Nicky and Keith Giusto. These guys are rock stars in the bread world. Nicky formulated several recipes for breads using different flours, pre-ferments and techniques. Pizzeria operators tend to think that making fresh bread is impossible in a pizzeria. They seem to believe that you need special ovens or flours, but that simply is not the case. You don’t even need to switch flours if you are already using a high-gluten, high-protein flour in your store and if you can cook between 475-525 F.

Before we get started, though, technique is something we need to discuss. Typically, in the pizza world, we tend to be a little tough on our dough handling. We push it down, we stretch it out, etc. In most cases this is necessary, but when it comes to making bread like ciabatta, baguettes, batards or boule, it’s all about technique. Along with handling, two additional things of major importance include the pre-ferment and hydration of your dough. Of course there are other things involved, but for me these three are the most important.


A pre-ferment (also called a starter) is fermented dough that you add to make your dough more flavorful, sour, sweet, acidic, etc. Pre-ferments can help provide better texture, flavor and aroma. Some pre-ferments, such as Levan or poolish, can be very strong in flavor and can make your dough very complex. I have always stressed that it’s important to have balance in my pizza. I strive for some complexity without overpowering the process or flavor.

Hydration is one of the key ingredients in baking. The higher the hydration the better the crumb, bake and structure of your bread or pizza. In the pizza business, most of us have somewhere in the 60- to 70- percent hydration range. For other types of breads we are looking to go above 70 percent. In a lot of cases, when the hydration is too high for pizza, the handling and shaping of your pizza becomes difficult and can slow you down. Yet hydration is very important and we are always trying to achieve more water. Contrary to popular belief, more water doesn’t necessarily mean a wetter dough. When it is finished baking, it actually becomes crispier.

loaves of breadAs we made dough with Nicky, we saw that his theories, methods and practices explained how to slowly hydrate the dough at three different stages in the mix. In other words, he didn’t dump all the water at one time. He staged it and as the gluten developed during mixing he added more water. As gluten develops it will assist the flour in absorbing more water.

Using a spiral mixer, Nicky explained all of this to us and talked about how important it is to read the dough. I have always said that there isn’t one magic recipe. There are always variables and we sometimes have to make day-to-day adjustments based on a variety of factors such as water hardness, weather, etc.

Next month I will provide a bread recipe for you to try in your shop.

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 and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.