June 1, 2016 |

Respecting the Craft: We’re Not in Naples, Part III

By Tony Gemignani

The final chapter detailing why what works in one climate may not work in another

Tony Gemignani World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

Tony Gemignani
World-champion Pizzaiolo and Pizzeria Owner

In the April issue, I discussed how I left a student perplexed when I explained to him that I had several different dough recipes for Neapolitan pizza dough. Last month, I talked about some of the ways refrigeration, dough temperature and water levels should differ, depending on climate, for a Neapolitan recipe. This month, I’ll close the book on this series by addressing yeast, starters and salt.

• Fresh or dry active yeast? They come from the same yeast strain (called saccharomyces cerevisiae). Fresh is typically used in Naples. In the U.S., it really depends on where you are. Fresh dies very easily. It can be dead within two weeks if not handled properly. Active dry can survive for up to eight weeks if handled properly.

Dry active is almost three times stronger than fresh. It can last longer and is stronger for long fermentations even during freezing. Using either yeast is okay to me. In some areas in the U.S., it’s difficult to find fresh yeast. Sometimes it has already expired or is dead by the time you get it. I found this out quickly in Las Vegas where it was hard to find and my supplier was sending me expired yeast, which was unfortunate.

Spaccanea• Starters. Typically, in Naples, not too many pizza makers use starters. Some do a long bench rest and bulk ferment, some use mother dough technique and most others use a pizza 101 recipe (which means just straight yeast). I tend to do one or the other: bulk ferment, or starter, but not both. That’s my personal preference. There is nothing wrong with a pizza 101 recipe using straight yeast, but I want my dough to be a little more complex.

Using a starter, especially a dry one, can make your dough a little tougher. With this in mind, a calculated higher hydration and/or higher yeast percentage could help with your rise. You will see this the more you work with all types of starters. Don’t forget to also slightly refrigerate your starter before use. This will help better control your final dough temperature.

• Salt. When are you adding it? Towards the beginning or end of the batch? Typically, in many Neapolitan dough recipes, the salt and water are added at the beginning of the batch. When the water hydrates into the flour, the salt goes right with it. For me, this strengthens the gluten net a little too much. But I can see this being better in a warmer, more humid environment like Naples, where the dough is often left to rise in the room. I prefer to add my salt towards the end of mixing. This way it will still absorb without over-strengthening the gluten net.

My general rule in the perfect environment is that my yeast is 50 percent of my flour weight if I am using a starter and one percent if I am not. Typically I use 20- to 35-percent starter. I do make a lot of adjustments, particularly to my salt and water, based on my environment (if I’m at altitude or it’s very hot, for example). Just because you have a base recipe, don’t forget that there are so many variables that can change those percentages. Sometimes even the most minor of changes to your recipe can make a world of difference.

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 jwhite@pizzatoday.com and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.