Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gluten Development

Last summer, Jim Dodge came down to try my pizza. He very politely informed me that it was very nice, but that it wasn't quite kneaded enough. We later got into a discussion via email about how to tell if you dough has been kneaded enough. He outlined for me the four stages of gluten development, as follows:

1. When you first begin kneading the dough and it forms a ball, it will stick to the sides of the bowl and look rough. When you touch the dough is will be very sticky and stick to your fingers. When you pull the dough it tears easily and quickly.

2. After slow kneading the dough begins to form a smoother shape, stops sticking so much to the side of the bowl, mostly sticks just on the bottom. When touched sticks less to your fingers. When you pull a peace of dough it stretches slightly and then tears. If you were to knead the dough by hand it would start to form a smooth ball, but then blister.

3. The dough has formed a ball, has pulled completely from the side and bottom of the bowl. There is very little dough left on the side of the bowl. When you touch the dough it is not sticky, but firm and very elastic. Pulling a peace oft dough it stretches thin and translucent. When you knead the dough it quickly form into a ball with a very smooth exterior skin and does not tear or blister.

4. If you continued to knead this dough it would revert back to step 2, which is and indication the gluten has broken down.

The same is true when you over whip eggs, it will go from 1.Soft peaks (wet & sticky), 2.firm peaks (slightly sticky), 3.stiff peaks (dry), 1. soft peaks (wet & sticky).

Our goal as pizza makers is to take the dough to the 3rd stage, as outlined above. I would say that this is the absolute core of proper pizza dough technique. You can get everything else right, but if you mess this part up, it's not going to be as good as it can be. You can do it in any manner of mechanical mixer, by hand, heck by some method not yet devised, but you gotta do it. Since I do all my dough preparation several days in advance, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday night, there's no way I can get someone like Jim to come down to Santa Cruz on some weeknight to make dough with me. So, it took me a lot of trial and error to really get my gluten development to the right level, but now that I know what to look for, it's quite easy.

The absolute best indicator of proper gluten development is contained in the sentence "The dough has formed a ball, has pulled completely from the side and bottom of the bowl." That's pretty much the whole thing right there folks. If you're mixing your dough in a mechanical mixer, and it hasn't pulled away from the sides of the bowl - ie the bowl should look CLEAN in the areas where the dough is not - then guess what? Your dough isn't done. So keep mixing. Until it happens. Simple as that.

Another good indicator, is how smooth the dough balls are when you go to divide them up. When you are dividing up your big ball of dough into individual dough balls (more on that later), if you’re getting blisters or funny textures, it’s because your gluten is not fully developed. Properly developed gluten will result in a super smooth and silky dough ball.

When the gluten is properly developed you'll notice that the taste is markedly improved. You'll get a much more bread-ey flavor. Also you'll find that the dough is easier to work with, since it is a bit more elastic and won't tear as easily. So, like I said, keep that mixer going until you see it pull away from the sides of the bowl!

PS - I'm having some problem with the Blogger application keeping all the text the same size and font, just in case you thought I was truly graphically challenged.

Crust Crust Evolution

Well my oven has certainly been busy, but this blog has been long neglected. I've had several requests for my dough recipe, so to kill two birds with one stone, I'm going to make an effort to update this blog and also share what I've learned.

To start with, the more I make pizza, the more I realize that the most important part of the equation is technique. Not some fancy salt from some far off place or water imported from the other side of the planet, but what you do to the four basic ingredients. So while this post will deal with the proportions and ingredients, subsequent posts will deal with the techniques used to make and form the dough.

I'm still using my excel spreadsheet to generate my recipe each time. You can download the spreadsheet here.

Taking the ingredients one at a time, starting with flour. I'm using a 50-50 mix of King Arthur Italian-Style and King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour. Those playing along at home may notice that while the Italian Style is sold in 3 lb. bags, the Bread Flour is sold in 5 lb. bags. Annoying right? So buy 15 lbs. of each, if you're going to be making lots of pizza like me. I used to have this line in the spreadsheet that spit out half of the flour weight, so I could measure each flour out. Now I make large batches of the 50-50 mix in a nice airtight tub, and simply measure out of that. A word on flour hygiene. I have noticed on some occasions (not in my pizza flour mind you, but in the all purpose stuff I keep separate) that it is possible to get some wee beasties in your flour. With the AP flour, I can throw it out and go to the store and get more, but not so with my pizza mix. So, I make sure to never ever put anything back into the tub. If you've got some extra flour from dusting? Throw it out. Measuring your flour out? Get a squeaky clean big spoon, don't touch the business end, and measure your flour out. Don't get such a big tub that you won't see the bottom of it for a year. As soon as you do see the bottom of it, give it a good wash with a little bleach and let dry thoroughly.

Water. This is easy. I take the filtered chilled water out of my fridge door. Since I'm using active dry yeast, the water needs to be heated to between 120-130F. I asked Jim Dodge if this step was really still necessary, and he informed me that it was. Besides, the nice warm dough on your hands feels better than really cold dough. At one point, I had this super nerded out section of the spreadsheet that would actually calculate how long I needed to put the water in the microwave in order to bring it to the right temp. Mind you it was calibrated for my fridge water temp, bowl and microwave. Then the microwave went kaput and I haven't yet bothered to update it, but I probably will in the near future, and I'll post on how you can calculate it for your setup as well.

Salt. I use Kosher Salt.

Yeast. I use Red Star Active Dry Yeast.

A note on weighing these ingredients. I keep two scales on hand, one for the flour and water, and one for the salt and yeast. The reason is that my flour/water scale weighs in 5 gram increments, which is too coarse for the amounts of salt/yeast usually called for in the recipe. My salt/yeast scale gets maxed out a 1 kg., which is too low to measure the flour/water amounts. If anyone has a scale that can weigh up to around 5 lbs, and has a resolution of 0.1 gram, please let me know!

My dough ball size has recently been bumped up from around 200-250 grams, to 275 grams. This was after a trip to Delancy in Seattle. Maisie took me there on my birthday, and we had a wonderful meal. If you're in the area I can't recommend it highly enough. We sat at the bar so I could watch Brandon at work, and he was kind enough to share some of his tricks with me. I really loved the large, puffy delicious crust, and so ever since then I've been making my dough ball a bit bigger, so I can get the same. I'm happy to say that I can now get the same big crust that I so enjoyed there.

A note on max mixing capacity. I've found that in my Electrolux DLX 2000 mixer the maximum number of 275 gram dough balls I can make is around 10. Any more, and it becomes much harder to get everything properly kneaded. If you're using a Kitchen Aid, it's probably far less, depending on what model you have. More on proper kneading later.

Also, I always add one "phantom dough ball" to the spreadsheet when I am making a batch. If you try to make exactly 6 275 gram dough balls, you'll inevitably lose some dough along the way, and then you'll end up with a half sized ball. Just add one dough ball to the number you actually want to make, and you'll always have enough.

That pretty much covers the ingredient side of things, on to mixing/kneading/dough ball formation.