Herb infused doughs are one of those things that seem to come and go. It gets popular for a short time, and then it disappears, only to come back again after a few years.
For some of us, though, it has found a home on our menu boards as a variation to regular pizza crusts. A few years ago, when herb flavored crusts were all the rage with a number of large chains, we looked at what it took to make a great herb-flavored crust. The first thing that we discovered was that if you opt to use dried herbs, as many of us do, the best flavor is achieved when using fresh stocks of dried herbs. As the dried herbs age, while setting on the shelf for long periods of time, they lose a good deal of their rounded flavor profile. This results in the need to use more of the dried herb to achieve the targeted flavor characteristic. In the end, though, the resulting flavor might be rather harsh. This ultimately leads to increased cost of production and lower consumer acceptance.
The use of fresh, green leaf herbs, such as sweet basil and oregano, thyme, dill, and rosemary can also be used to replace their dried counterparts with excellent results. We’re all familiar with the pungent flavor of dried basil and oregano, but when the fresh non-dried product is used, the flavor is entirely different. Rather than being pungent, the flavor is best described as sweet, almost perfume like, with an excellent “bouquet”, and not a hint of pungency. All that is necessary to use the fresh herbs is to chop it finely. Or puree it in a food processor or blender with a little olive oil and then add this to the dough or sauce. In this case, the smaller particle size of the herbs can improve the appearance of the finished crust when added to the dough. During the baking process, the heat will release the flavors of the herbs. But rather than allowing them to escape the product with the steam, they are entrapped in the oil, and a greater portion of those aromatic volatiles remain with the product to be savored by the consumer when enjoying your pizzas or bread sticks and rolls.
If you are using onion or garlic in your dough, make sure you use it in a chopped or diced form. As such, there is much less surface area exposed for any given amount, as compared to a powdered or small, granular form. This means that there will be less opportunity for the onion or garlic to interact with the dough and soften it; at the same time, the larger particle size will give a more significant burst of flavor when bitten into than we normally get when using these materials in a powdered or granular form. A little experimentation may allow you to add more of the onion and/or garlic directly to the dough without getting excessive dough softening. By using herbs, you can create some distinctly different flavored crusts that will complement toppings such as chicken, fish and seafood, just to name a few. ?
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.