A look at the most popular dough style in America
It is estimated that 70 percent of the pizza consumed nationally is based on the New York-style pizza that evolved in response to the product’s equipment and cultural differences that Neapolitan immigrants encountered when they settled in New York over 100 years ago. The result of that adaptation is a pizza that, for many, sets the standard as America’s gift to the pizza landscape.
Until recently the prevailing wisdom was that excellent New York-style dough could only be made in New York. Theories about water, climate, altitude and other variables combined with a sprinkling of myth and pseudo-science to create legend that was repeated as truth.
Spurred on by industry leaders such as Tony Gemignani, the craft of pizza making has adopted science and baking principles to push us into a new era where high-quality pizza of every style is now being made in virtually every corner of the world. One need look no further than International Pizza Expo to see the success that pizza makers from diverse areas have had in international competition. As a case in point, allow me to introduce you to last year’s NY-style Caputo Cup winner: Dr. Derek Sanchez. Dr. D is a physical therapy practitioner who has combined his penchant for science with his love of pizza to create incredible NY-style pizza sold from a mobile pizza operation called MiaMarcos (named after his children) in San Antonio, Texas. Derek shocked the pizza community by dominating the Northeast Pizza and Pasta show in competition against some of the best pizza makers from the New York area.
Surprisingly he did it with dough that he made in Texas and brought with him on the plane to Atlantic City. Best of all he won with a simple cheese pizza: no tricks, no razzle dazzle. Just high-quality ingredients backed by sound scientific principles. Sanchez took time away from his medical practice and pizza business to share his thoughts in a Q&A.
Define the characteristics you strive for in your dough?
DS: Our target is light, full of air, crispy yet tender, great structure, foldable and fermented to just the right flavor profile. I have made every mistake in the book in my quest for my target dough.
Have your methods changed over time?
DS: My methods have not only changed over time, they change all the time! I have the luxury of having my own lab built at home. Our methods have to change due to our environment. MiaMarcos is in a pizza trailer. The constantly changing environment makes us constantly change our methods. It has taught us so very much. We could make excellent pizza dough on a volcano or in a rain forest if we had to. We are not afraid to change everything if it means a better pizza. Over the past 13 years of research we have changed flour, water, salt, olive oils, mixers, ovens, room temps — you name it and we have changed it all to better our outcomes. You have to be able to be wrong if you’re going to be right.
What do you consider the most crucial component of this dough, and why?
DS: Attention to detail in every way. Of course you need great flour, salt, oil, water and time. I choose the products made by people who are passionate about them as we are about our pizza.
What tools and equipment do you consider essential to making your dough?
DS: Your hands, nose and mind. You have to understand the feel and smell of your dough. When you start getting close to your desired outcome you must place into your memory how your dough feels and how it smells along with charting everything. We know when our dough is right by touch, smell and sight. As far as hardware I have used and experimented with it all. Hand, stand mixer, food processor, HCM machine, planetary, fork mixers, and now spiral mixer. Each produce different characteristics and styles of dough.
What is your preferred baking temperature and cooking method?
DS: 550 to 625 F for 6 to 8 minutes. We bake directly on the stone and turn it at 3 to 4 minutes.
Any useful tricks of the trade?
DS: There are no secrets or tricks. If you want to make a great pizza you have to put the time in. There is no school that can teach you passion. There is no one that can teach you effort and attention to detail. There is no substitute for hard work. Greatness comes from hard work, passion and a blessing of talent.
What defines you as a pizza maker?
DS: I do what it takes to get things right. I enjoy the truth of things. I do that in both of my professions. In one of them, people’s lives depend on it; the other people’s joy, taste buds and stomach depend on it. I use evidence and truth in both. So I suppose truth defines me as a pizza maker.
Final thoughts, philosophy or personal observations?
DS: All of the research, time, money, dedication, travel, books etc. has been to make a great cheese pizza! Sometimes I think, “Am I crazy or am I perfectly sane and just passionate about pizza?”
Here is a basic dough formula from sanchez:
High protein flour — 100%
Water — 61%
IDY — 0.3%
Sea salt — 2.6%
Olive oil — 2%
25 pounds high protein flour
15¼ pounds water at 60 F
1.2 ounces IDY or 3 ounces fresh yeast
10½ ounces sea salt
8 ounces olive oil
Add the water and yeast to bowl and combine 2½ pounds of flour (10 percent of your total flour). Mix to incorporate. Let sit 20 minutes.
Add the rest of your flour with the salt. Mix for 4 minutes on slow speed. Slowly add the olive oil until blended well (3 to 4 minutes depending on your mixer).
Portion and ball your dough, cover and cold ferment for 24 to 48 hours.
Before using, remove dough from cooler and let it reach at least 55 F.
John Arena co-owns Metro Pizza in Las Vegas.