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Peter’s Blog, August 8th — Alright, Controversy!!

Written By Peter Reinhart
Thursday, 09 August 2012 Peter's Blog

I’m packing and getting ready for the big book launch over the next two weeks in SF and the Bay Area, so will keep this short.  The schedule is listed below in my previous Peter’s Blog, if any of you can make it to any of the classes or book signings. There are still a few seats left for the classes but you’ll have to call the venues for more info.

But this week I think we’re going to have to address the controversy that emerged in the Comments section of my last posting, thanks to someone named Scott007 and a few other voices, including another Scott — Scott123. It’s actually kind of exciting — apparently, I’ve pissed a few people off and am not sure why but would sure like to find out what I did (if you aren’t up to speed, please check out the Comments thread in the recent Peter’s Blog — last time I checked there were 14 comments).  So, what I’d like to do is open up the discussion here on this posting, via a new Comments section, the one on this posting, and ask any and all of you to chime in.  If I’ve trashed NY pizza culture, as Scott123 accuses, or passed on misinformation about pizza methodology or dough science, let’s get it all on the table so we can clear it up.  Scott(s), how about getting specific and make your case — I hear that 123 is a well respected pizza authority so maybe I have something to learn from you. None of us have a monopoly on the whole truth and Pizza Quest was created to be a forum for the sharing of our mutual pizza journeys and celebration of artisanship. I’m open to learn from you but also would like to know the actual specifics of where you think I went wrong, rather than generalized attacks.  The only rule for this discussion is civility — I reserve the right to edit out ad hominum attacks, unnecessary language, and nasty language.  But differences of opinion — sure, I’m okay with that. So, for those who want to play along, go ahead and express yourselves — but let’s do it respectfully, please.

I won’t be posting another Peter’s Blog till I return at the end of the month, but will try to join in the Comments section from the road if my i-Pad and local WiFi will allow it. In the meantime, let’s get to the heart of it — we’re on a search for the truth (or, perhaps, truths). Let the discussion begin….





Thank you for the invitation; I appreciate the opportunity you have afforded me.

As you well know, and as you correctly explain in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Philip Gosselin’s great innovation was the long, cold autolyse, using only flour and water, which allows a head start for amylase activity to produce, without competition from yeast, sugar in the dough. This innovation is particularly vital for commercial baguette bakers in France, as the baguette, by law, can only contain flour, yeast, salt, and water. Essentially, Gosselin found a natural way around the law to get more sugar in the dough. Gosselin’s baguettes are noted for their rich, caramelized crusts, and sweet flavor.



But Americans, the primary audience for your books, don’t have French law to contend with while baking. We can add sugar to the dough when making baguettes or pizza, and get a similar effect. Why bother to go through all that rigamarole? Sure, it is fun for the geeks, of which I am one, but the average amateur home baker should have this explained.



Now, the above criticism pertains to use of the original Gosselin formula. However, in your book the recipe for Pain a l’Ancienne uses yeast and salt right out of the chute, with no autolyse. What’s the point of this change? Yes, yeast activity is retarded by the cold temperature, but so is enzyme activity. And while retarded, yeast activity still occurs; the yeast is eating the sugar produced by the slowed amylase activity. I doubt sugar production is getting any significant head start during this rather ordinary cold-fermentation, which has been a common commercial pizza making method for decades. Granted, the ordinary long, cold ferment offers significant improvement in flavor over traditional room temp short ferments, due to increased fermentation time under controlled temperature conditions, but the revolutionary nature of Gosselin’s new method is lost in the translation.



I have to say that from my own experience, a cold or retarded fermentation yields better tasting results than a long refrigerated autolyse.

At low enough temperature, I understand that yeast metabolic activity halts but the residual enzymes both from the yeast and also (although I suspect to a lesser extent) in the flour continue to work. In other words adding yeast before refrigerating increases the level of enzymes at work while the refrigeration prevents the fermentation concerns you raised.

So perhaps a “hybrid method” that uses yeast but no salt in the refrigerated dough is the best option?



Great insights from both of you. I agree, Gosselin’s version uses no yeast or salt and I doubt if it would work as well if did have the yeast, mainly because in the volumes he has to produce it would be too difficult to reduce the temperature enough to protect against over-fermentation. What I found in my versions is that the small batches were able to cool down enough to accomplish all the enzyme action, plus some nice acidity and flavor development from the slow fermentation, yet not over-ferment. Over time, I ended up creating my own hybrid version using Gosselin as an inspiration but I went with higher hydration and cooler retarding. The result allows me to make a number of great tasting breads, none of which are exactly the same as his but the discovery process has been a lot of fun.

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

Peter’s Books

American Pie
Artisan Breads Every Day
The Bread Bakers Apprentice
Brother Junipers Bread Book
Crust and Crumb
Whole Grain Breads

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