Dough Doctor: Clammy bottom pizza? There’s help for you yet

Q: We are experiencing a clammy bottom on our pizza, but our conveyor ovens were just recently cleaned. Where should we start trouble-shooting?

A: There is no escaping this one –– you have to begin trouble shooting with a thorough inspection of the oven. Cleaning the oven is one thing, but getting it put back together again might be a whole different story. Since you didn’t mention anything about the top of the pizzas, I’ll assume that the tops are coming out okay.

With conveyor ovens, as you know, there can be any number of different finger arrangements, all in different positions in your oven to provide the best bottom bake characteristics for your specific pizza. If, during finger inserts were installed incorrectly, or in the wrong (different) position, the quality of bake from that oven could be significantly compromised. I would begin my quest for resolution by removing all of the bottom finger panels/sleeves, and then checking each one against my finger profile map (which should be stored in your office or on the wall). Then make sure they are correctly installed (fit snugly into the air manifold) as you re-assemble the oven.

If, while reading this, you asked yourself: “Finger profile map? What finger profile map?” Now might be a good time to give some thought to either getting one from your oven supplier (only if you bought your oven new from them, as they will have this information on file), or you can make your own by removing the bottom fingers and inner sleeves and photographing them right next to the oven, in the order they were removed from the oven, for identification purposes.

When a dough ball dries out and a dry patch of dough develops, should this dough be tossed in the garbage, or can it be sprayed with water and still opened into a pizza skin?

I don’t recommend spraying the dough balls with water and then opening them up. This can increase the adherence of dusting fl our to the dough ball, potentially resulting in a bitter taste. Instead, if it isn’t too bad, just open the ball up as usual, then orient the side with the dry, crusty patches to the bottom of your peel or pan/tray/screen. This way, the crusted area gets the most heat during baking. This will allow the patches to color up reasonably well.

If the dry patches are oriented towards the sauce, there is a possibility that they may result in a localized area with a dense structure and tough eating characteristics. A lot will depend upon how dry and crusted the dough actually is. The bigger question is this: Why are your dough balls drying out?

If you’re managing dough through the cooler overnight or longer, do you lightly oil the tops of the dough balls after placing them into the plastic dough boxes, before putting them into the cooler? Omitting this important step can allow the dough to begin drying out while the dough boxes are cross-stacked in the cooler. It can also hasten the drying of the dough surface after you remove the dough from the cooler and begin using it on the following day(s).

I think the most common cause of the problem, however, is failure to replace the lid on the dough boxes promptly after removing a dough ball. This seems to be especially troublesome during busy periods. It is true that the dough balls won’t develop crusty patches in the few minutes that it normally takes to open a full box of dough balls into skins. But when a box is opened and one or more pieces are removed and the lid is not replaced for a long period, that’s when trouble develops. ?

Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.

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