On January 17 from 6-7pm ET we launched our new “Inside the Pizzeria” virtual tour series with a visit to Di Fara Pizza in Midwood, Brooklyn. Host and SPT founder Scott Wiener led the group via live video feed through a tour of the pizzeria while talking to the staff and answering questions from the group. This is a rundown of the most common questions from the event along with their responses. “Inside the Pizzeria” runs every other Sunday through April 2021. You’ll find a complete schedule of pizzerias here.
Q: I read that Di Fara’s uses 50/50 mozzarella and hard cheese prior to baking. Is that true?
A: Di Fara does use both mozzarella and grated hard cheese before the bake, but it’s not a 50/50 blend. Dom Sr has changed ingredients over time so it’s not consistent. You may have gone 10 years ago and seen something different from what they’re doing today. Yet somehow the pizza still tastes pretty damn good. As the pizzeria reached peak popularity in the early 2000s the mix was low moisture mozzarella (Polly-O brand, sliced on a box grater directly onto the pizza) + fresh mozzarella di bufala. They used to add grated cheese (Grana Padano) post bake. Today they use the same Polly-O low moisture mozzarella, but instead of slicing they rip it into clumps and place them around the pie. They switched from Grana Padano to grated parmesan a few years back and add that pre-bake. Not a 50/50 mix, more mozzarella than parmesan by a long shot.
Q: Is he using flour or semolina to pull out the dough?
A: No semolina. Di Fara uses the same white flour on the bench as they do in the dough. “Bench flour” is the flour used to coat the dough when they’re stretching it.
Q: Is the sauce cooked or uncooked?
A: Di Fara used to have different sauces for the square and the round but today they’re both the same. This is an uncooked sauce that’s a blend between Italian whole peeled tomatoes from Parma and a passata, which is a puree made from cooked and strained tomatoes. A hallmark of the Di Fara sauce is that they roughly crush the whole peeled tomatoes, so you’re likely to get a nice tomato chunk on your slice!
Q: Are the top and bottom ovens on even though he’s only using the middle?
A: Di Fara has three ovens in their stack, all gas fueled deck ovens that were purchased second hand when the pizzeria opened in 1965. The ovens have undergone so many repairs that the make and model is of no consequence at this point. Rumor has it they modified their ovens to run at over 700°F, but when I checked the oven temps after the live class they both registered under 500°F. Sure, the ovens cool down a lot with heavy use but I still don’t believe they regularly hit anywhere near 700°F. The bottom oven hasn’t been used in years; it’s mainly used to hold the other two up! The current system at Di Fara starts the pizzas in the center oven and finishes them in the top oven.
Q: What flour do they use at Di Fara?
A: This is another component that’s always in flux, but the current flour is a blend of Heckers All Purpose (called Ceresota in the Midwest and west coast) and Caputo Chef’s Flour. The Caputo flour they prefer is the small red bag available at retail, not the commercial 50 pound bag. For some reason, Dom prefers the smaller retail bags of Caputo “00” Chef’s Flour. The Heckers/Ceresota comes in 25 pound bags and the Caputo flour comes in 2.2 pound bags. They weren’t clear on whether it was a 50/50 blend, but I’ll bet it’s less Caputo than Heckers/Ceresota. That being said, I have seen the 50 pound Caputo “blue” pizzeria bags in the shop. I imagine they use that from time to time if the Chef’s Flour is unavailable.
Q: What’s the hydration, or is that a guarded secret?
A: Not as much a guarded secret as a imprecise factor. Di Fara isn’t weighing ingredients or measuring the temperature of their water. It’s an old school joint that still measures by feel. That became more of an issue as the pizza and dough making duties shifted from Dom Sr. to his kids. During the “Inside the Pizzeria” event, Dom Jr. said they use 3 gallons of water in each batch of dough. If Di Fara is using 50 pounds of flour per batch (that’s the standard batch size at most pizzerias because a single bag is usually 50 pounds) that would make this a 50% hydration dough.
We know that they are NOT using a 50 pound bag of flour, but we do know that a bag of Heckers/Seresota is 25 pounds and since 50% seems too low for this dough texture I believe there’s less than 25 pounds of Caputo Chef’s Flour in there. I’d still put this dough in the 54-58% hydration range but that is only my hypothesis based on the expressed information. Wow, that got nerdy fast.
Q: So for those that are not in NY I’ve heard that hard water in NY makes a difference in the crust. Is that true?
A: Nope. Good pizza is made by good pizza makers. I wish it were as simple as the water being good, but there’s a lot of bad pizza in NYC and it all uses the same water. There’s pizza outside of NYC that’s better than a lot of the pizza in NYC and despite what they tell you nobody really imports our water. FICTION! That being said, water IS crucial but as long as your water doesn’t smell like sulfur or isn’t super hard or anything like that it should be OK.
Q: What’s the kneading, rising, proofing schedule?
A: This isn’t complicated dough. They use an ancient Hobart planetary mixer (similar to your home stand mixer) to mix for ~10 minutes. I wasn’t able to get many specifics during the event, but it does seem like dough is mixed, allowed a short rest, balled, then used as soon as it’s ready. Dough is not matured overnight, not cold fermented, not bulk fermented… it’s just balled and used the day it’s made. This is not the sophisticated procedure you might expect from one of the city’s most iconic pizzerias, but it works for them.
Q: Nerd question: what gram size is a ball for a pizza?
A: For the round pie, it’s about 1 pound or 454g. The square is a bit bigger, but I didn’t get an exact answer on that.
Q: What kind of pans are they using for the square pizza?
A: These are coated black steel pans. Di Fara uses the kind with the rolled edge, but I can’t seem to find them online right now. One of the companies that made them isn’t in operation anymore. You can still get great coated black pans like this one, which is what I use at home. It gets great results MUCH better than an aluminum cookie sheet. It won’t buckle at high temperatures and will last forever.
Q: Are they greasing the pan for the square pizza?
A: Absolutely! They oil the pan before they push dough into it, then again before the second bake and also again in the middle of the bake.
Q: How long to they par bake the dough for the square?
A: The par bake is just to get the base to rise and firm up, so that’s about 5 minutes.
Q: Why par bake?
A: By par baking the base, it becomes firm and light before toppings are added. It also allows the operator to top and finish the bake to order, shaving off some of the bake time since they’ve already done it!
Q: Is Dom Sr. retired or does he ever show up to make pizza?
A: He comes in occasionally but I haven’t seen him make a pizza for at least 2 years. It’s a taxing job and he’s been at it for a long time. The man deserves a break! But I have a feeling he’d rather be making pizza in his tiny shop than taking a break.
Q: Does Scott’s Pizza Tours stop at Di Fara on tours?
A: We do stop at Di Fara, but it’s a very special occasion situation. The group has to be relatively small and it has to be a bus tour or subway tour. And since the wait is always an issue over there, I have to call in a favor to get a pie. Anyone who has been to Di Fara on a tour can tell you how excited I get when those stars align.
Q: How has business been since COVID?
A: Business isn’t good for many small businesses, but Di Fara has managed to make it work. They’re using some third party delivery companies, which take a huge cut but come with the benefit of a delivery staff that Di Fara doesn’t need to manage. The problem there is that those delivery people are not reliable. They sometimes cancel pickups because the pizzeria is out of the way, leaving Di Fara with wasted food and angry customers. Those angry customers take out their anger on Di Fara, not the deliver company. It’s rough. So please try to order food directly from restaurants rather than third party sites!
What’s really keeping them going right now is Goldbelly. This is the service that makes food from famous places available all across the country. Di Fara bakes pizzas at their Williamsburg shop, then packs them on ice and ships anywhere in the U.S. It’s pretty cool and they’re shipping constantly. You can order your frozen Di Fara pizza via Goldbelly here.
Q: Is the pizza making process different in any way in Di Fara’s Williamsburg location?
A: Same process, new equipment. If anything, they’re probably more exact in Williamsburg. Since that location is inside an otherwise closed food hall, you can’t just walk in for a slice right now. The location is used exclusively for baking pizza for Goldbelly https://www.goldbelly.com/di-fara-pizza orders.
Q: Do they still make a white pizza?
A: YES! I’ve never had one but as soon as the session ended somebody ordered one and I snapped some pics. For those who aren’t familiar, white pizza is just a pizza without sauce. It’s pretty common and goes back to the dawn of pizza, before tomatoes were eaten in Italy. White pizzas usually have mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and oil.
NEXT TIME ON “INSIDE THE PIZZERIA”
Join me virtually on January 31 for a trip to Fornino in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This is one of NYC’s early artisan pizzerias that took inspiration from places like Di Fara and Totonno’s to create a combo of traditional Neapolitan pizza and New York style. Sign up here or grab a season pass so you can participate in all our winter events!