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May 23, 2010

A new tip for pizza strivers

Pineapple pizzaFor those of you striving for homemade pizza perfection, there's an interesting article in The New York Times.

Instead of making crazy oven alterations to approximate torrid brick-oven temperatures, this author suggests you just need a better dough.

And that's achieved, Oliver Strand writes, with a homemade "mother starter," which leavens the dough in place of commercial yeast. The starter is a mixture of flour and liquid that's allowed to ferment, then kept in the fridge and "fed" weekly with more liquid and water.

One method described here starts with mixing the flour with pineapple juice, which is said to counteract harmful bacteria. I've heard of pineapple on pizza, but never in the dough.

I've made lots of pizza dough and bread, but only with commercial yeast. Years ago, I attempted to make a sourdough starter but it went bad.

Now I'm eager to give it another go.

Joe Squared Hawaiian Pizza. Sun photo by Algerina Perna
Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:47 AM | | Comments (7)
        

Comments

What you are creating is a lacto-fermented dough. The pineapple juice is providing simple sugars for lactobacilli and some acid to tame harmful bacteria and yeast in the initial phase. There's nothing magical about pineapple juice; you could use any number of other variations.

For safe lacto-fermentation salt also inhibits the growth of yeasts and harmfui bacteria.

You could achieve a similar starter by using whey powder and some liquid from plain yogurt. Or even a little sugar, honey, agave syrup whatever and a teasoon of salt plus yogurt liquid or juice from natural kim chee or natural real sauerkraut (not the crappy ones that use vinegar. Yuk). Once the lactobacilli colony takes over the medium it will keep out all dangers. It's anaerobic, so keep out the air and you are safer.

An easy way to do a lot of lacto-fermentation is to use vacuum sealer bags or even easier, just fill a gallon ziploc bag no more than half capacity and squeeze out the air. This will inhibit yeast growth and over time the bag will fill with CO2 which you can easily vent out.

The lactobacili turn sugars into lactic acid and CO2. Your dough will naturally rise from the CO2. The lactic acid will loosen up the gluten and other proteins which are usually tightly bound. Once they unravel they create a lattic that traps CO2 and creates a stretchy dough that rises.

I suggest whey because it contains lactose which, duh, is the lactobacilli's favorite snack. Lactobacilli are on all fruits and vegetables. They protect the plant from harmful micro-organisms. That's why I suggest not washing frutis or vegetables until you use them. They will spoil faster without their litte bacteria buddies. Synergy. Symbiosis.

Yeast dough that is undercooked, meaning that not all the yeast is killed can lead to minor or serious GI upset. In the case of lactobacillus dough, you could eat it raw wth no discomfort. In fact, it would provide the same healthful intestinal bacteria as yogurt.

You don't need a recipe once you understand the concepts. It's very easy chemistry. The chemical and biological reactions will explode at room temperature, so once you get the process going you need to refrigerate to slow them down. Even still they will continue, so some care and feeding needs to be done now and then.

I suggest that you create a mother culture of just liquid. It's easier to tend to and is more versatile than a gooey dough one. Thyat's unnecessary.

Get a sturdy glass jar or bottle and add moderate amounts of various sugar rich substances: whey, honey, sugar, malt syrup, apple juice, even pineapple (pineapple has a very strong flavor so I would pass on that), a teaspoon of sea salt. Add some plain live yogurt liquid (an ounce will do) and fill the container to the top with purified water.

Put the cap on loosely and let sit out overnight. For fun try putting a balloon on instead. Put the container in the sink just in case it overflows or breaks. In the morning you will see tiny bubbes cascading upward and possiblt a hissing sound. Dump out a little of the liquid, seal securely and refrigerate.

You can then ad this starter liquid to anything you want to ferment. For example, carrot juice is very healthy put it has so much natural sugar. I add an ounce of starter to a large bottle and overnight it's alive with healthful bacteria, which ironically will keep it fresh longer. In a pinch a tabespoon of yogurt liquid will do. Some of the sugar has turned to lactic acid and it is slightly tangy instead of sickening sweet.

You can do an amazing amount of fun stuff with lacto-fermentation and it's EASY. I had a jar of lacto-fermented shredded carrots and another of shredded beets at the back of my refrigerator for 2.5 years. I figured that had to be bad but in fact they were delicious and I ate them with no ill effects over the next month.

You know what the secret of Greek yogurt is, besides mystery and marketing? They remove water to make it thicker, That's it. Take some regular plain real yogurt and put it in a coffee filter or cheesecloth. After a few hours the liquid will drain out and voila fancy yogurt. More impoirtanly you have the whey liquid that can be your macho master starter culture.

I got some small plums at the farmer's market in the fall and did this magic on them and I had tangy plums in a jar until the spring. Tasted amazing.

A quick and wickedly fun thing to do is take some grapes, I like black or red, and lacto-ferment them in a ziploc bag over night. In the morning they will be slightly bursting out of their skins and will carbonated inside. They are internally effervescent grapes. It's like eating champagne. Now THAT'S a party in our mouth.

N.B. There is never any alcohol produced in lacto-fermentation.

thank you Mr. Wizard. That last entry was amazing!!! I can't wait to try it

Mr. Wizard, nice rundown.

To go back to the referenced article in the NY Times, the topic was specifically related to pizza.

For pizza making, there are definite differences between maintaining a more liquid "mother" (barm, starter or whatever you want to call it) and a stiffer "mother". One is not better than the other, but the differences allow an individual to express their personal preferences in the resultant pizza crust....with more of a noticeable "tang" in the crust from higher acetic acid production or more of a "sweeter" note from more lactic acid fermentation being one difference in flavor profiles from using a more battery poolish mother versus a stiffer sponge/biga type starter. --K

Mr. Wizard, nice rundown.

To go back to the referenced article in the NY Times, the topic was specifically related to pizza.

For pizza making, there are definite differences between maintaining a more liquid "mother" (barm, starter or whatever you want to call it) and a stiffer "mother". One is not better than the other, but the differences allow an individual to express their personal preferences in the resultant pizza crust....with more of a noticeable "tang" in the crust from higher acetic acid production or more of a "sweeter" note from more lactic acid fermentation being one difference in flavor profiles from using a more poolish mother versus a stiffer sponge/biga type starter. --K

I don't want to get into semantics with pizzablogger, but none of what he is talking about has to do with yeast. Acetic acid is vinegar acid. You could call it tangy. I call it sour. Lactic acid is a lot less sharp, I would call that tangy, but whatever. My goal was to reveal the basic workings of lacto-fermentation to dispel the idea that there is magic pineapple recipe, No magic, just chemistry.

Max, sour and sharp work here as well as descriptions. Great detail in your initial post.

Was just replying to the mention that a "gooey" dough starter is "unnecessary". Again, specifically relating to pizza making, lots of people prefer a gooey starter for their pizzas.

Other than that, I think you accomplished your goal well and there is no magic pineapple juice, that's for sure! :)

Thanks pizzablogger. I think we can both agree that there is a world of flavor and texture out there once you ditch the magic recipes per se and go mad scientist on the dough world.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.
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