Dough Doctor: Dough mixing and pizza ovens

2013 May: Dough Doctor

Q: How do I know when my pizza dough is properly mixed?

A: Most pizza doughs as we know them are under mixed in regard to full gluten development. The only real exception is commercially made frozen pizza dough which is almost universally mixed to full gluten development. For the retail operator, though, a dough that is mixed just to the point of becoming smooth and satiny in appearance in the mixing bowl is sufficient. This level of development allows for continued biochemical gluten development as the dough is managed through the cooler for three or more days while ensuring a thorough dispersion of ingredients and adequate hydration of the flour for decent handling properties when the dough goes to the bench for scaling and rounding.

Using a spiral or planetary type of mixer, this usually means mixing the dough for 8 to 10 minutes at medium speed, or 15 to 20 minutes at low speed. When a vertical cutter mixer (VCM) design is used, the mixing time required to achieve this level of gluten development will be between 60 and 90 seconds, with 70 seconds being about the average mixing time. Mixing times longer than this are just unnecessarily hard on your mixer, especially if you are one of the majority, using a planetary mixer. Shorter mixing times may be ok, but they are normally prone to handling difficulties such as stickiness and tearing at the bench when the dough is being scaled and rounded.

Q: What function does oil/olive oil (fat) serve in the dough formulation?

A: Oil serves a number of functions in the dough. It can provide a flavor such as is the case with olive oil, sesame oil, or even lard or butter, for that matter, the fat can help to retain those wonderful flavors created during the baking of the pizza, adding to the overall flavor profile of the baked pizza. It provides lubricity to the dough allowing it to be opened into a pizza skin somewhat easier without tearing. This same lubricity also helps the dough to expand during the early part of baking to give a nicely raised edge to the pizza. Along these same lines, the fat coats the cells within the dough allowing them to better hold the gas produced during fermentation, which in turn is at least partially responsible for the desirable open crumb structure common to so many thin crust pizzas. Fat of any kind in the dough will help to retard the migration of moisture/water from the topping ingredients down into the dough/crust to provide for a crispier eating characteristic in the finished pizza. Fats, in general, are known as tenderizers to product formulators and their use in product formulation provides for a more tender/less chewy eating characteristic in the finished pizza. As you can see, fat is a multifunctional ingredient when it comes to pizza making.

Q:What type of oven should I use to bake my pizzas?

A: It never ceases to amaze that so many ovens are purchased for all the wrong reasons. My personal advice to newbies just getting into the pizza business is to make your oven selection the last thing you do with regard to your equipment package. The reason for this is because there are so many factors that must be considered when choosing an oven, for example;

What is your store concept? Will it be a grab and run, DELCO, a slice operation, dine in? Will it provide your customers with a more or less formal dining experience?

What about the product concept? Will you be positioning your pizza as the most loaded pizza in a 50-mile radius, or will the pizza be more of a “gourmet” or classical/artisan presentation with just a few, but very elegant and/or flavorful ingredients? Several years ago I assisted a shop owner decide upon a new oven. Their product concept was one of high customer perceived value, meaning that their most popular pizzas were heavily loaded with all kinds of vegetable toppings. The ovens that they were using did not provide the capability to evaporate the moisture released from all those vegetable toppings during baking, so a change in oven technology provided them with a much drier finished pizza that was better received by their customers.
What about your product mix? How many other products will you be selling that will need to be baked or heated in the oven?

Will you have an open or closed kitchen area? You can get away with a conveyor oven in a closed kitchen where fine or casual dining is the norm, but what a waste it would be to hide a wood fired oven in a closed kitchen store.

Location and codes may also dictate what type of oven you can have. For example, some malls may not permit a wood fired oven, I know of one pizzeria that had to work around a code that would not allow them to have a wood fired oven installed within a frame structure.

And then there are questions regarding utilities such as gas and electric and wood or anthracite/coal. These questions revolve around availability and cost. There is an issue of space. Do you have the necessary space in your location for the oven you have selected? Keep in mind that some types of ovens may require more operator/tender space than others.

Be sure to consider the noise, heat, and hood requirements of the oven too as there can be some rather significant differences between brands and oven types.

Don’t forget to consider the baking capacity of your selected oven. Depending upon your store concept, one properly sized oven or two ovens of a different type may be needed to keep up with your production demands.

And lastly, aside from the toppings, find out how well suited your oven of choice is to baking the type of pizza that you want to make. For example, some artisan pizzerias use a very high absorption dough that requires the oven to operate at well above 600F to produce the desired finished product characteristics. Is the oven you’re looking at capable of this?

You may have noticed that I haven’t even mention price. This has to be one of the deciding factors, but don’t let it be the only one, sometimes a few extra dollars spent can have far reaching returns on the success of your business. Warranties, service, and parts availability are all considerations too that should influence your final selection and ultimate purchase.

And I bet you thought choosing an oven was going to be one of the first things you did in putting together the equipment package for your new store, it might be your single most expensive purchase, so be sure to give it the ample thought and consideration.

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

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