Q: This might seem like a rather basic question, but how do you make a decent take-and-bake pizza?
A: Several years ago take-and-bake pizzas appeared to be something of a novelty item, but today the novelty has worn off, and take-and-bake pizza has gone mainstream with even some of the big-box store chains beginning to offer them. To begin, take-and-bake pizzas are never prepared on a par-baked crust. Instead, they are made on a raw dough pizza skin, thus allowing the dough to further rise when baked in the consumer’s home oven to produce a lighter textured finished crust with an overall fresher, more pizzeria-like, presentation. I like to say that there are two kinds of take-and-bake methods. One type is used by the operator that wants to make a take-and-bake product to supplement their regular pizza offerings. In this case their standard dough formula is used but the procedure is modified slightly to make the take-and-bake pizza. These modifications typically consist of the following:
- Adjust the cold fermentation time of the dough to the shortest time possible to allow for opening of the dough balls into pizza skins. This is typically between four and 18 hours.
- The dough balls are opened into pizza skins as soon as possible after removing them from the cooler. This might be from about 15 minutes to an hour or more, but the emphasis should be on getting the dough balls opened into pizza skins as soon as possible.
- The opened pizza skins should be placed on lightly oiled screens and placed on a wire tree rack in the cooler for at least 30 minutes after which time they can be stacked, with a piece of parchment paper separating the individual skins up to 10-skins high. Lightly wrap or cover each stack of formed skins and keep in a convenient (reach in cooler under the prep table) cooler for use in filling customer orders.
- To fill an order, remove a skin from the stack and place onto an ovenable take-and-bake tray, or on to a piece of parchment paper, brush the top surface very lightly with oil to help create a barrier to sauce penetration into the dough, then dress the pizza to the order as you would any other pizza. Place it into a box and send out with an instruction sheet giving instructions for storing and baking the pizza once the consumer gets it home. Be sure to mark on the box top “keep refrigerated” just to be safe.
- As an added customer benefit, it is suggested that the pizzas be wrapped in some manner to maintain integrity of the toppings on the pizza while it is being transported home by the consumer. If the take-and-bake pizza is prepared on a silicone baking sheet as opposed to an ovenable tray, a corrugated pizza circle should be placed under the pizza to provide the needed support for wrapping the pizza and handling once it arrives at the consumer’s home.
The other method is for operators who want to develop a dedicated take-and-bake store operation. By this method the dough formula is modified in addition to using the four procedural changes outlined above. The formula changes suggested are as follows:
- Reduction of dough absorption by 2 percent from that which is normally used with your flour.
- Reduction of the yeast level by 50 percent from that which you normally use.
- Addition of a fat encapsulated chemical leavening (sodium aluminum phosphate + soda) at a level of approximately two percent of the total flour weight.
- Adjustment of the finished dough temperature to 70 to 75 F.
- Addition of at least five percent sugar, or seven percent sweet dairy whey to the dough formula to promote crust color development in a home type oven.
- It is suggested that the dressed pizzas be either stretch or shrink wrapped to better hold the toppings in place while the pizza is being transported home by the consumer.
- In addition to baking instructions, the purchase date — as well as a use by date — should also be provided on the overwrap covering the pizza. Don’t forget to add “keep refrigerated” and “remove overwrap before baking” to the packaging, too.
Q: I have heard you speak at Pizza Expo and I know that you are not a strong advocate of bulk fermenting the dough prior to scaling and balling it and placing it in the cooler, but I’ve forgotten your reason for this.
A: My main objection to bulk fermenting the dough prior to scaling, balling, and placing it in the cooler for use over the following day(s) is due to the fact that during bulk fermentation the dough becomes significantly more gassy than it is immediately after mixing. Hence, it becomes less dense, a better insulator, and more difficult to uniformly cool.
More often than not, this ultimately leads to the dough “blowing” at some point. The common corrective action for this is to reduce the yeast level to a point where the dough won’t blow anymore, but this now creates a problem where the dough won’t rise properly after being fully dressed and placed into the oven, with the end result being the development of a “dreaded” gum line under the sauce across most of the center of the pizza. This now sends us off on a “wild goose chase” trying to remedy the gum line, and the truth of the matter is that the only thing that will effectively address the gum line issue is to find and address the causative factor, which by then has been forgotten, or is clouded in all of the problems resulting from that dreaded gum line.
When the dough is taken directly from the mixer to the bench for scaling, balling, placement in the pizza boxes, and cross stacking in the cooler, the more dense dough cools down more efficiently, and faster, thus preventing blowing of the dough and all of the related problems associated with it.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.