Ask Big Dave: Dough consistency batch after batch

weighing dough on scale Q: We make our dough fresh every day and get a fairly consistent result. However, every once in a while our dough will have a smooth/firm bottom crust instead of a “soft/dimpled” bottom crust — and I like the smooth result better. The smooth result happens very infrequently so it is hard to understand what causes it. Do you have any ideas or thoughts as to what might be causing this?

Craig LeCrone
Bestway Pizza
Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania

A: I’m at a little disadvantage here because I don’t know the steps you take when you put together a batch of dough. Pizza dough is a living organism. As such, it has a birth, maturity and death. These stages of life are controlled by time, temperature and fermentation rate. I believe the only way to control the many variables is to develop a process that will ensure dough consistency from batch to batch. I strive to remove all of the human variables possible.

• Step 1. Weigh out your flour. 50-pound bags of flour rarely contain 50 pounds of flour. They have a tolerance that will allow the bags to be slightly over or underweight. Since they are filled mechanically on a fast moving line, it is not unusual to see 49- or 51-pound bags. The mills have to hit a pallet weight average to pass final weight tolerances. I am a big fan of a digital receiving scale. I like the models that have 150 pound capacity and weigh out in 2/10 of a pound increments.

Also, I only use flour that has been in my storage area at least two days. If I were to use flour right off the delivery truck, it would be 40 F. This cold flour would stunt the fermentation of the batch. I want flour that is around 60-70 F.

• Step 2. Weigh the water and take its temperature. Volume metric measurement of liquids is not very accurate. I use the same scale I use for the flour. Then I adjust the faucet to deliver 70-75 F water. The temperature of the water is important because it controls the core temp of the batch. If you use 70 F flour and 75 F water and mix for 9-10 minutes, the core temp will always be 80 F. Friction heat usually imparts 5-10 F of warmth to the batch. I always take the temperature of the whole blob of dough on the prep table before I start to cut and weigh dough balls.

• Step 3. Weigh out your dry ingredients. The salt, sugar, yeast and any other dry ingredients need to be weighed out even more precisely. I like to use a 0-32 ounce dial, platform scale with a no bounce feature. The only missing ingredient is vegetable/olive oil. This can be measured in plastic measuring cups or weighed out to the ounce, which leaves no room for error.

• Step 4. Set a timer so you mix every batch for the same length of time.

• Step 5. When the dough is born (comes from the mixing bowl to the table), take the core temp and don’t tarry in cutting, rounding and refrigerating the dough. As it sits on the table it is rising (fermenting), and hustle is the name of the game. Don’t ruin a batch by ignoring it for half an hour, especially on a hot summer day. I hope I have shed a light on why your dough is not totally consistent.

Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-aftertrainer. He is a monthly contributor to Pizza Today.