A Tale of Two Flours

Note from Peter: Our friend Stan Ginsberg and, as of last week, now an IACP award winning author of the wonderful book, Inside the Jewish Bakery, started a small mail order specialty flour company called New York Bakers, to meet the need for those of you who have been searching for hard to find, high quality brands. You can read more about Stan in the Contributor Profiles section. We welcome him now as our newest Guest Columnist, as he tells us a little bit of his own quest to decide which Italian pizza flour he likes best. As you will see, it's not always clear cut. And, for those of you who are bread bakers or want to learn about the history and inside stories of some of America's most famous Jewish bakeries, I highly recommend his book, written with co-author Norman Berg.


When I started The New York Bakers (www.nybakers.com) a little over 2½ years ago, my goal was to offer home bakers the broadest range of non-bleached, non-bromated professional flours I could find. I didn't know what I was in for since there are dozens of professional flours out there. However, I soon earned that despite all the brands, most commercial flours are variations of four main classes: high-gluten (14% protein), bread (12½%), pastry (9½%) and cake flour (8%). I also discovered that the vast majority are produced by a handful of mega-millers –- think General Mills, ConAgra, and Cargill -- and also a number of mid-tier mills like Bay State, and Pendleton Flour Mills. And then there are the small mills, like Heartland and Central Milling, that produce premium flours for artisan bakers. And of course, King Arthur Flour, who contracts with reliable small mills to package to their specifications.

But one category that I really wanted to make available was imported Italian Tipo 00 pizza flour and, of course, the flour I wanted was Caputo, which everything I read described as the ultimate pizza flour, straight from Naples, the epicenter of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) universe. So out I went to locate a distributor. I found one in LA (despite our name, we're in San Diego) –- actually it was a bit south of LA proper, in Vernon, which is completely industrial -- no one actually lives there. So I phoned them and talked to one of their sales folks, who said, "Yeah, no problem. We have the Caputo, so come on over and pick it up."

So into my car I went for the 2-hour (optimistically) trek on the SoCal freeways up to Vernon. I have to admit, I was really excited. After all, everything I'd read told me that Caputo was the Holy Grail of pizza flours. So imagine my shock and disappointment when the warehouse guy comes back with several red, white and blue bags that said "Pivetti" where "Caputo" should have been.

"No worries," said the sales guy when I went back to the office to talk to him. "They're virtually identical. Besides, we have lots of customers who love the Pivetti."  What was I to do? I took the Pivetti, drove back down to San Diego and changed my product lineup to read "Pivetti."

Then I did some research and learned that the Pivetti mill, which has been owned and operated by the same family for over 130 years, is in Modena, in northern Italy, well away from Bella Napoli. It’s a city best known for its balsamic vinegar, sausage-stuffed pig feet called zampone (not to be confused with the hockey ice machine), and native son Luciano Pavarotti. "Drat," I thought to myself, "what do those northern Italians know about pizza?"

Of course, I hadn't tried the stuff yet – in fact, I'd never used any authentic Tipo 00 flour – so I proceeded to do so. I used the classic formula for VPN, which was 58% water, 2% salt, 0.3% fresh yeast, no bulk fermentation, and cold retardation of the dough balls of 12-18 hours.
Well, I was blown away. I had been using high-gluten flour, mainly General Mills All Trumps, at 75% hydration and with 5% olive oil, for my pizza doughs, and constantly found myself struggling with tearing. The Pivetti was pure pleasure, even at that low hydration level. The gluten was well-developed, but the most extensible I'd ever worked with; when I stretched it, it stayed stretched, and I could get a 16-inch pizza out of 10oz/280g of dough. I could literally read a newspaper through that crust. So I was a happy camper.

But I couldn't stop thinking about the Caputo. One of my customers in Arizona found a distributor there and started using the stuff. She told me that it was more elastic than the Pivetti, and held its shape better. I was tantalized, like the kid at a store window filled with imagined candy.
Finally, a couple of months ago, my supplier told me that he had the real-deal Caputo in stock and would I be interested. I think I broke the speed limit on my way back up to LA, loaded up the car with several bags of Caputo, plus a couple of Pivetti, and tore back home so I could try out my new found treasure.

It wasn't what I expected. Where the Pivetti was white and fine, the Caputo was more yellow and had what felt like a slightly coarser grind. Where I expected the same degree of extensibility, I found instead greater elasticity, comparable to a mild bread flour like General Mills Harvest King (12% protein) or King Arthur Bread Flour (12.7%). The Caputo formed beautiful round crusts, with a well-defined edge, but the gluten was really evident.

Here's how they compared in my test bake:
Raw flour: The Pivetti flour is a very pale yellow, nearly white, with a very fine grain. The Caputo has a somewhat coarser grain (although still fine, since 00 refers to the grain size and not protein/ash content), and a definite beige/ yellow brown color.
Mixing: The Caputo is definitely thirstier than the Pivetti. At 58% hydration, the Caputo formed a much stiffer dough -- to the point where my Kitchen Aid Pro was laboring on the dough hook. Not so with the Pivetti, which produced a smooth, fairly slack dough.
Benching: I rested both doughs for 20 minutes before dividing it into 280g boules and put each into a lightly oiled plastic sandwich bag.  The dough then went into my wine cooler for 10 hours.  The Pivetti dough increased in size more than the Caputo and was slightly softer to the touch.
Throwing the pizza: Both doughs rested at room temp for 2 hours.  My technique was the same for both doughs: cutting the sandwich bag away so as not to disturb the dough, flouring both sides and using my fingertips to stretch the middle, then shaping the pizza by putting the rim over my knuckles and stretching it to about 16" in diameter -- thin enough to see light through the center.  I then put the dough onto a floured peel, dressed the pizza and baked at 550F for about 6 minutes.
Both doughs were quite extensible, the Pivetti more so because its protein content is clearly lower than the Caputo, which almost felt rubbery and very firm. That said, both doughs threw very nicely, with a nod in the direction of the Caputo for ease of forming a more uniform circle.
The crust: The Caputo crust was denser, chewier and more flavorful than the Pivetti, which sprang nicely in the oven, leaving big air pockets in the rim.  Both crusts were thin and crisp, and biting off a piece of the Caputo pie took more effort than the Pivetti. At the same time, the Caputo didn't seem to hold up under the weight of the toppings as well as the Pivetti, so there was more sag when we picked up the slices. That said, both crusts had distinctive personalities and were excellent in their own way,
Verdict: If you like a chewy crust, not unlike good American pizza (emphasis on good), the Caputo wins hands down. My family and I prefer a crisper, less chewy crust, and the unanimous winner in my house was Pivetti.

Final Note from Peter: What do you think? Anyone have your own opinions of these two or other Italian flours? We'd love for you to comment. This could get us into "Coke or Pepsi?" territory....Meanwhile, check out Stan's full selection of flours at his website, including Central Mills newest blends.

 

Comments 

 
#1 Michael Wurzer 2012-04-13 10:42
I've always thought of the Tipo 00 flours as best for high temperature (800+ degrees) and hydration (62%+), which may be why the Caputo was chewier.
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#2 Matt 2012-04-13 11:42
I've scoured the internets for this stuff a few times to no avail (read: spent 5 minutes on the Google machine a couple of times)... any advice on procurement or is it really just a kind of talking to people about it and finding someone who knows someone kind of a thing?
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#3 Stan Ginsberg 2012-04-13 12:29
Michael, since the 00 refers to the fineness of the grind, I'm not sure that there's necessarily any connection with hydration and baking temp, which I think are more closely related to protein content and gluten quality. The Pivetti and Caputo, both 00 flours, exhibited dramatically different performance under nearly identical conditions, which suggests to me that they'll do the same thing at different hydration levels and bake temps.

Matt, I'm not sure if you're referring to finding good reference info on Italian flours or finding the flours themselves. The best general discussion of flours I've found is The Flour Treatise at www.theartisan.net/Flour_Suite_Frameset.htm. As for buying the various flours, I think Google is still probably the best place to start.
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#4 MARC FORMAN 2012-04-13 16:57
hi all - I find that there is a huge corelation between baking temperature and hydration - at up to 550'f alot is similiar - I use Caputo 00 in my home kitchen and some times a combination of the Caputo and one from italy called Petra 3. I have a Mugniani Wood fired oven we use most of the time and the 58% rule works well, but for small batches - up to 32 oz by wt flour, - mix it by hand and do not over knead - i find using a mixer to be too rough - we use 9-12 oz balls for 12" pies with great success. Do not over flour when streaching or rolling, and be sure to use cornmeal on the bottom - we cook @ typically 650-750 and if you only have a flour bottom it will burn and get bitter. We get 5-6 pies on average from a 24oz wt of dry flour

Also watch the hardness of your water - if you don't drink it don't use it - we have well water, while very hard has great minearls to add to the flavor, and reduce the salt amounts.

Marc
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#5 Peter Reinhart 2012-04-14 16:53
Stan, can you mention here what brands of pizza and bread flours you do carry in case anyone wants to order some from you? Do you carry both the Pivetti and the Caputo? Any other types, such as Central Milling? If you are not yet carrying the new Central Milling pizza blends our readers can contact Central Mill directly and I believe they will ship it to them in small batches, but I'm not sure how it works. If you do carry it, Stan, that would make it easier for one stop shoppers. I believe, also, that some flours are carried by our partner site, Forno Bravo, via their store. One of these days we hope to develop a Pizza Quest blend that folks will be able to buy in small bags. We're working on it....
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#6 Stan Ginsberg 2012-04-15 12:13
Hi Peter,
We carry about 45 different kinds of flour, ranging all the way from KA Queen Guinevere to GM All Trumps and KA Sir Lancelot on the patent flour side, three different whole wheat flours, four rye flours, two durum flours, buckwheat, spelt, rice, barley, oat and lots more, including several of our own artisan blends.

At the moment, we don't have Central Milling pizza flour, although I'm looking into carrying that as well.

We're continually adding new products, so it's best to swing by every couple of weeks.
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#7 Joe A 2012-04-19 15:19
Stan/Peter:

I am only a baker/pizza maker by hobby, but I am a practicing scientist by occupation. After trying many different brands of Italian Flours(Caputo, Divella, Rincossa ect) I have come across with the following. To select a flour with just the right properties one needs to be in tune with the Alveograph specs of the flour at hand. The Lower the Bread Making index, the shorter the fermentation time the dough will handle and the less water it will take up. Also for really easy to handle dough, the P/L Ratio needs to be ~0.5-0.6 So in my experience the higher the W value while maintaining a P/L of ~0.5 the easier it will be to make great, extensible, easy to toss dough with a nice puffy rim.

My all time favorite as of now is made by Molino di Borgo San Dalmazzo and is called "Napoli Style" and it is a W300 flour with a P/L of 0.5.
It has nearly identical specs to Caputo Rosso/Rinforzato. It has a sweet spot at~60% Hydration.
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#8 Andy Trottier 2012-05-18 12:48
Stan

Loved your article. I had always done bulk fermentation, does fermenting the dough balls individually, inprove the pie crust? If so why?

The only Tipo 00 I can find is Polselli. The woman who sold it to me asked what kind of pasta I was makig, she seemed surprised I was making pizza crust. Do you know anything about it?

Thanks
Andy
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#9 shoham ziv 2013-11-23 04:17
hi all,
i would like to learn more on the fascinating sucject of pizza dough.
i have basic knowledge but would really be happy if someone could point out a good read that could enlight me regarding all the little annoying parameters of the dough- what is W? p/l? how does protein effect dough quality?

there is so much to read on the web- but i am looking for something that will be easy reading and understood also to the common person(thats me..)

thanx
shoham
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#10 publicidad en 2014-02-20 01:51
I like it when individuals get together
and share opinions. Great blog, stick with it!


My blog ... publicidad en adwords: http://vendes.co
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