Harnessing the Power of Fermentation Part 2: The Long and Short of Pizza Dough

by Kathleen Culliton
Antoinette Bruno and Shannon Sturgis
May 2011

Pizza Dough Cheat Sheet:


Flour: Look for a high-protein content to form strong webs of glutens. Remember that 00 does not imply high-protein content in the United States. It’s a measure of the fineness of the grain.

Yeast: Fresh yeast should be stored in a cold and dry place and reduced daily to keep it healthy. Use sparingly in the pizza or it will continue to ferment after the pizza leaves the oven.

Time: Fermentation time should be proportionate to the protein content of the flour. For longer fermentation (days) use higher protein content flour, for shorter fermentation time (hours) use lower protein content flour.

Toppings: The topping weight should never exceed 150 grams or it will smother the crust.

Biographies

Pizzaiolo Pasqualino Barbasso of Il Falco Azzurro – Cammarata, Italy

Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana – Portland, OR

Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC

Recipes

Long Fermentation Pizza
Pizzaiolo Pasqualino Barbasso of Il Falco Azzurro – Cammarata, Italy

Medium Fermentation Pizza
Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana – Portland, OR

Short Fermentation Pizza
Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC

Photo Galleries

Industry workshop on Italian Quality Pizza at the 2011 International Day of Italian Cuisines at The Italian Culinary Academy - New York, NY

Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana - Portland, OR

Chef Nicholas Stefanelli and Pastry Chef Doug Hernandez of Bibiana Osteria Enoteca - Washington, DC

Pizzaiolo Pasqualino Parbasso prepares to stendere (roll out) la pizza

When Pizzaiolo Pasqualino Barbasso claimed pizza as a health food to a room full of New Yorkers, he received skeptic glares. Watching his presentation at the 2011 International Day of Italian Cuisines at the Italian Culinary Academy we envisioned scooping greasy, dripping slices of pizza into our mouths and scoffed. Barbasso gave an Italian sniff. He wasn’t talking about [insert sniff here] New York pizza. He was talking about Neapolitan.

 

Barbasso shows off his Harlem Globetrotter-esque skills

Strike a Balance


Health to Barbasso doesn’t require calorie-counting, just choosing food that feels good. A well prepared Neapolitan pizza nurtures without weighing you down—read: the perfect lunch for a sunny piazza in Rome. And the key to a “healthy” pizza isn’t forgoing the salty mozzarella or even pepperoni—the secret lies in properly fermenting the yeast in pizza dough. If a dough’s fermentation is cut short, the yeast lives on—alive and thirsty in your stomach—after you eat a pizza. And if you’ve ever awoken at 3am after a pizza dinner so desperate for water you’d suck the condensation off the refrigerator, you’ve felt the effects of ill-fermented dough.

While bread completes its transformation in the oven, pizza only browns there, so the work must be done beforehand. During fermentation, yeast transforms carbohydrates into alcohol (responsible for the crust’s aroma and for soft texture) and carbon dioxide (the air pockets that bubble and blister in the oven). Meanwhile the flour’s proteins form an interconnected, elastic web of glutens that trap carbon dioxide and support pizza toppings. Proper fermentation allows time for the yeast to complete its job. Carbohydrates that remain undigested continue to fuel the yeast, even after ingestion, and causes the insatiable thirst.

 

Barbasso prepares the toppings for a classic Neapolitan pizza

All in the Timing


For his Neapolitan pies, Barbasso prefers long fermentation, which entails minimal kneading and lots of resting in the walk-in. Placing the dough in the cold slows the yeast and prevents it from producing sour-tasting flavor compounds. And with the extra time, protein better untangles and forms stronger bonds, which results in an improved elasticity.

Long fermentation isn’t always convenient for restaurants that need to make and bake dough on the same day. But to compensate and allow for optimal fermentation, chefs can adjust the flour they use for the dough: dough that uses lower-protein flours requires shorter fermentation time. The following chart outlines different options for finessing the fermentation process to fit kitchen practicalities without sacrificing taste or texture.

 

Process: Possible Flour Choice Protein Content
Long Fermentation:
For pizzerias with weekly or bi-weekly dough production. Dough cold-ferments in the refrigerator at 39°F to 42°F for at least 24 hours, with best results between 48 and 72 hours.
5 Stagioni Tipo 00 LL Flour Minimum 14.5%
Medium Fermentation:
For pizzerias that ferment dough overnight. Dough ferments at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours or in the refrigerator at 39°F to 42°F for at least 24 hours and at most 48 hours.
Shepherd’s Grain Enriched Unbleached High Gluten Strength Flour 13%
Short Fermentation:
For pizzerias that ferment the dough same day. Dough ferments at room temperature for 5 to 8 hours.
Antico Molino Caputo Tipo 00 Pizza Flour 11.5 to 12.5%
Shorter Fermentation:
For pizzerias that make the dough the same day as the pizza is made. Dough ferments at room temperature from 2 to 4 hours.
Giusto’s Vita-Grain Artisan Unbleached Malted Bread Flour 11 to 11.5%

 

Chef Cathy Whims puts the final touches on her Margherita pizza

Chef Cathy Whims puts the final touches on her Margherita pizza

Care for Your Mother


Barbasso oftentimes cannot access fresh yeast. Instead he combines a small amount of dried brewer’s yeast with Naturkraft dried culture yeast powder. Using this specialized yeast powder lowers the necessary yeast quantity. The dough rises more slowly, which gives the proteins more time to untangle. But this is a sacrifice a travelling pizza-twirler must make. For those able to cultivate a bacterium garden in the walk-in, fresh yeast greatly improves the quality lost to shorter fermentation.

What Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland, Oregon likes most about keeping her own starter is the story that comes with it. “It comes from a pizzeria in Nice, [France],” she says and admits, “I love telling people that.” The starter isn’t the same starter any more, since a starter attracts yeast bacterium from the ambient air, but it’s got history all the same. When incorporated into Whims’ original pizza dough, the fresh yeast bolsters the flavor with an almost nutty sweetness and makes the roll-out a breeze; “it’s really easy to shape … with commercial yeast the dough was much harder to form, it wanted to pull back on itself.”

To care for the starter, Whims keeps it sealed in the walk-in and tends it twice daily. “The starter is healthier if it has to work really hard,” she explains, “so we take it down really far.” Every morning she discards all but a half pound of the starter and feeds it 12.8 ounces flour and 9.6 ounces water. For the evening feed, she takes away what she needs to make tomorrow’s dough and adds 52 ounces flour and 44.8 ounces water. As a backup, Whims recommends drying a piece of starter on a baking sheet and preserving it. If the yeast ever dies, refresh the dehydrated starter, and life can begin again. However Whims' original French starter is over a decade old at this point and it’s still going strong.