On Sunday, January 31, 2021 I led a virtual tour of Fornino in Greenpoint, Brooklyn as part of our bi-weekly Inside the Pizzeria series. Since we can’t tour pizzerias in person, the next best thing is to beam you into each spot via video link. To grab tickets to future virtual pizzeria tours, visit our website. This particular tour featured Michael Ayoub, Fornino’s chef/owner, who was generous enough to show us around the restaurant while answering attendee questions. Here you’ll find a summary of questions from the event’s chat function with my answer summaries.
Q: What kind of oven does Fonino use and how hot does it get?
A: All Fornino locations use ovens fired exclusively with wood. Michael designs the ovens with a mason, who builds on-site. These are not blistering-hot Neapolitan ovens because they’re meant for cooking multiple dishes at once. Neapolitan ovens are round and domed, but the oven here is rectangular to provide multiple temperature zones ranging from 350-650°F (left to right) on the oven floor. Michael can roast veggies in the corner while baking pizza in the center. That’s impossible to achieve in a 1000°F oven.
Q: The oven here is covered in white tiles. That’s common on a lot of the older coal-fired ovens like the one used at Lombardi’s. Is there a reason for the white tiles?
A: White (subway) tiles are inexpensive and look good. Beyond that, there’s no specific reason.
Q: Have you had to lower the bake temperature since COVID to get the pizzas to travel better?
A: This is a common solution for Neapolitan pizzerias since their pizza doesn’t typically travel very well. At Fornino, the oven is already tuned to a lower temperature to produce a pizza that delivers well. If anything, the volume they’re doing could require a higher temp just to help the oven recover lost heat.
Q: Do you ferment at room temperature or also in the refrigerator
A: This dough gets a 2 hour room temperature rest followed by a 1-2 day cold bulk ferment in the walk-in refrigerator. After the bulk ferment they’ll portion the dough and round it using a mechanical dough rounder. This saves lots of time and produces an extremely consistent product, unlike what you’ll get fro rolling 500-1000 dough balls by hand.
Q: How long to the balls stay in the refrigerator?
A: Once balled, dough can stay in the refrigerator 1-2 days.
Q: What type of yeast does Fornino use?
A: This is fresh yeast or cake yeast. It comes in blocks and has a relatively short shelf life compared to dry yeast, but it’s live and active. If converting a recipe from dry to fresh yeast, you’ll want to use 3-4 times as much yeast by weight to equal time same power as dry yeast. Fresh yeast like this also has a lot of water, so it will make for slightly wetter dough.
Q: In Ken Forkish’s book The Elements of Pizza, he claims that that in Naples/VPN all of their dough is fermented at room temp only. Did the US start to go to cooler temps for fermentation to try to achieve different flavors?
A: VPN refers to Vera Pizza Napoletana, the organization and methodology that require a specific set of “traditional” ingredients and techniques to make what they consider to be “vera” or true authentic Neapolitan pizza. There was no refrigeration in the old days, so most VPN pizzerias use short ambient fermentation.
The big drawback with ambient fermentation is that all of the dough balls reach maturity at the same time. With cold fermentation, the baker gets control when the dough is ready. Refrigeration stretches time, so the window of pizza perfection is wider. All the pizzaiolo has to do is take a couple trays out of the refrigerator so the dough can warm up.
As Michael said during the tour, bulk fermentation is a great way to achieve deeper flavor. Small dough balls cool down very quickly, as does their fermentation rate. A large mass of dough continues to ferment because the center of the dough remains warmer longer than the outside.
Q: Were they using a starter as a levain back in Naples?
A: That was certainly the case before commercial yeast first became available in the late 1800s, but VPN regulations for some reason still call for commercial yeast and not a natural starter culture.
Q: What hydration is Fornino’s dough?
A: This dough is 62% hydration, meaning that for every 100 parts flour there are 62 parts water.
Q: I there oil in the dough?
A: Yes, there is a very small amount. Just over 1% to give the dough some tenderness.
Q: Does Fornino use malt syrup or Diatastic malt?
A: Michael uses malt syrup. It used to be honey, but they switched so the dough would be vegan friendly.
Q: What does Fornino use for their gluten free pizza?
A: Fornino use a product called Caputo Fioreglut. It’s excellent and you’ll find it in use at lots of high-end pizzerias
Q: How do they shape their gluten free dough into balls?
A: The trick to shaping gloppy gluten gree dough is simple: wear gloves and oil them up! That makes it much easier to shape the dough.
Q: Does Fornino use the Caputo Fioreglut as a bench flour when they stretch the gluten free dough?
A: No, that’s just rice flour. It’s less chalky than the Caputo product and also less expensive.
Q: There’s a pizza on the menu called the “Al Roker.” Is Mr. Roker a big fan of the pizza/frequent customer?
A: Al Roker visited Fornino on an episode of Roker on the Road and invented this pizza. It’s still on the menu to this day!
Q: What’s the scoop on the red sauce?
A: It’s a simple process. First mill canned whole peeled tomatoes, then submerge a bundle of garlic and herbs. Warm it up at just high enough a heat to extract the oils from those herbs and garlic. Then refrigerate the sauce overnight so the flavors can meld. It’s a great, simple sauce.
NEXT TIME ON “INSIDE THE PIZZERIA”
Join me virtually on February 14 for a trip to Wheated in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. They were an early adopter of electric ovens and one of the only pizzerias in NYC to use 100% natural fermentation. After a calamitous start, including having their ovens destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, Wheated rose from the ashes to become one of the city’s hidden gems. Sign up for the virtual tour here or grab a season pass so you can participate in all our winter events!