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.