Dough Doctor: National Pizza Month

artisan pepperoni pizza

Here we are, October and National Pizza Month. It’s time to celebrate! For some operators the summer has been slow, but now that kids are back in school, pizza is back on the menu again for social and school functions, and home meals for families on the go. This is the month to begin promoting your pizzas for what they really are. Pizza represents a great meal value just as it is, but when combined with a side order of breadsticks and a little dipping sauce, it can make for a great dinner. And if you have a picky eater, don’t worry because pizza is one of those foods that you can tailor to everyone’s likes or dislikes. Just think about how many orders you’ve had for pizzas made with half pepperoni and half sausage.

To promote pizza this month, think about bun­dling your pizza with some of your other sides to create a meal presentation, such as with any large pizza, receive a free order of breadsticks, or sub­stitute a simple dessert item for the breadsticks, like a free 10-inch dessert pizza or cinnamon breadsticks with the purchase of any large pizza. Promoted as a mealtime special, you just might put ideas into your customer’s minds.

October is also the “kick off” time for many of the televised fall sporting events so it might be harder to pull some people away from their TV sets, especially on that typically slow Monday night. If this is the case, we need to think about a Monday night game special; for example, after 7 p.m., order any large pizza and receive a free two-liter bottle of soft drink. This works well when tied in with local teams that are playing, or you might even think about promoting a post-game special (es­pecially if you have dine in) after a local school sporting event.

October can also be a good time to celebrate National Pizza Month with a few special pizzas of your own creation. One of my own personal favorites at this time of the year is what I like to call my T-rex Pizza. This is nothing more than a four-eat pizza garnished with onion slices and fresh tomato, or tomato filets. If you don’t already have them in inventory, consider bringing in some steak strips for use on this pizza –– they’re really visual and make it scream meat!

Q: Is it possible to make a take-and­-bake pizza using my regular pizza dough?

A: Yes it is. In fact, most operators don’t use anything special for their take-and-bake pizza. We do recommend that you follow these sugges­tions when using your dough for take and bake pizza as it will give your dough the ability to withstand the time and temperature abuse your pizzas could potentially be exposed to once taken home by the consumer. If you manage your dough through the cooler, use it only after the first day of refrigerated storage. After removing the dough from the cooler, experi­ment to determine how soon you can begin opening the dough into pizza skins by your forming method. This is important as it allows you to keep the dough as cool as possible right up to the point of sale. Once the dough is opened into a pizza skin, place several skins on a wire screen using a piece of parchment paper and a light coating of spray oil between each skin to prevent them from sticking together. store the pre-opened skins in your cooler or under your prep table for ease of ac­cess. when an order is place for a take-and-bake pizza, just remove a skin from the stack and place it onto a cardboard pizza circle with a piece of parchment paper between the dough and the circle. Or, if you wish, you can use one of the several ovenable trays available for this application, then dress the skin to the order.

Note: If you didn’t lightly spray or brush the skins with oil when stacking them, it is suggested that you lightly brush the dough surface with oil prior to application of the sauce as this will help to prevent migration of moisture from the sauce into the dough while it is being held in the customer’s refrigerator, resulting in an unwanted gum line in the finished pizza. As soon as the pizza is dressed, wrap it in stretch film and place it into a box for ease of handling while it is being transported home by the consumer. Make sure you provide all required information with the pizza, including baking directions, a state­ment to bake the pizza soon after getting it home, and above all, don’t forget those most important words “KeeP reFrIgerATeD.”

Q: Does it make a difference if I add flour or water to my mixing bowl first?

A: yes it does. If you add the flour first, the mixing time is typically much longer than it is when you add the water first, and this translates into more wear and tear on your mixer. with most pizza doughs containing 52- to 58-percent absorption/water (based on the total flour weight) the mixing time is in the range of 10 to 12 minutes with the water added first; however, when the flour is added first, the mixing time, to get the same level of development, will average five to eight minutes longer. I’ve also noticed that with those who do add the water first, they also like to add the salt and sugar –– and sometimes the yeast –– into the water, and mix this for a couple of minutes. This really isn’t necessary, and it can save you a few minutes off of your total dough mixing time if you just add the water, then the flour and drop the salt and sugar on top of the flour.

Q: To settle an argument I’m having with a couple of my employees, can you tell me how long it takes a skilled person to cut, scale and ball a dough based on 50 pounds of flour?

A: To some extent, this will depend upon the scaling weight of the dough pieces. Using a scaling weight of 14 ounces, we have demonstrated to a group of students that two people can cut, scale and round a dough, based on 50 pounds of flour (about 83½ pounds of dough) in just over 12 minutes. This is averaging about eight pieces per minute, and I might add that we don’t do this all the time. Just think how much faster it could be done by a well-trained hardworking experienced crew of pizza professionals.

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