The other day, a couple of friends came over to help me experiment with pizza dough variations. Between the three of us, we made seven, altering things such as hydration (the proportion of water to flour), type of flour, the liquid used in the dough and the length of time taken to age it. Seven types of dough might sound like a lot, but it isn't - there were so many other permutations we could have considered if we had had the time or the fridge space.
One friend, Janine, made two types with 75 per cent hydration (in other words, 75ml of water to every 100 grams of flour) and compared Italian doppio zero (double zero, which is very finely milled) with bread flour. Another friend, CSY, made three doughs with 70 per cent hydration, one using doppio zero, the others bread flour; one substituting whey for water; and the other a pure sourdough (with no commercial yeast). My variations were made with plain (all-purpose) flour using the Jim Lahey (of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery) no-knead method, both with 70 per cent hydration and a scant amount of yeast, but I'd aged one for 1½ days and the other for five. We were looking for taste and texture, but also wanted to see which doughs were easier to work with. We cooked everything in my G3 Ferrari machine, which reaches about 475 degree Celsius and is capable of baking a pizza in 3½ minutes or less.
If we'd been truly scientific, the experiment would have been "blind" - none of us would have known which dough we were working with and tasting - someone else would have mixed them up randomly, marked them with numbers and not told us which was which. But this was just a casual experiment among friends.
The most noticeable result was that an additional 5 per cent of water - just an extra 25ml of water in 500 grams of flour - makes a huge difference between a dough that is easy to work with and one that is too sticky. Even 70 per cent hydration is considered high - many recipes recommend about 60 per cent water, which makes for tighter dough. But we made sure all of our doughs were well-chilled, which makes them firmer, so the stickiness inherent in high-hydration dough was not a problem, at least at 70 per cent.
The dough made with whey tasted sweet on the front of the palate, but unpleasantly bitter on the back of the tongue.
We all agreed the sourdough pizza was the best. It had the most flavour and texture. While not difficult, making sourdough pizza involves time and effort, because the dough needs to be mixed with increasing amounts of flour and water over several days, to build up a sufficient amount of dough. But a close runner-up was the easiest: the five-day no-knead dough, which was noticeably lighter and more flavourful than the one that had been aged for only 1½ days. Longer ageing allows the flavour to develop.
Now that I've narrowed down the parameters of what I like, I'll be doing some fine-tuning. I'll always include some sourdough in the doughs, and - if I'm able to plan far enough in advance - will age them for at least five days. I'll also experiment with types of flour.
Needless to say, I'll be making - and eating - a lot of pizza over the next few weeks.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.