Oil is a truly multi-functional ingredient in pizza dough production. It can affect everything from the crispiness to flavor of the crust, as well as the way the dough handles during shaping.
The type of oil used can influence the flavor of the finished crust, providing anything from a neutral flavor to characterizing flavor. For example, most of us think of olive oil, with it’s characteristic flavor, but olive oil has its detractions too (such as cost, and even its flavor, which may not be compatible for all types of pizzas). While the cost of olive oil is high, other oils such as canola, sunflower, and soybean are significantly cheaper, but they don’t provide the same flavor impact as the olive oil does. This can be used to some advantage to help reduce the cost of the olive oil. By blending the olive oil with a neutral flavor oil, the flavor of the olive oil can be retained while bringing about a significant cost savings.
With the growing popularity of dessert pizzas, we have found that olive oil may not always impart the flavor we’re looking for. So in this case, a neutral- flavored oil might be preferable. Or blend a little butter into the oil to provide a richer, dairy note to the oil. We see a similar issue when making wheat, whole- wheat and multi-grain doughs. In this case, the flavor of the olive oil might be acceptable, or we might target a flavor profile that is more buttery in nature. Here, we could use a pure butter oil or, more typically, blend a butter oil or butter with a neutral flavored oil to obtain a buttery flavored finished crust at a lower cost, and better nutritional profile, than would be possible if we had used all butter in the formulation. In addition to using a flavor modified, or infused oil, any type of oil added to the dough formulation will help to improve the overall flavor profile of the finished crust by retaining some of those fantastic aromas released from the pizza during the baking process.
Another type of oil that may have an application in pizza doughs is sesame oil. This oil has the flavor characteristics of toasted sesame seed and it has proven to be very desirable in crusts that are made to appeal to the Asian market/consumer, or pizzas based on an Asian theme. Again, this oil is rather expensive, but it can be made a lot more cost friendly by blending it with, say, canola oil. Along these same lines of blending oils we can also make flavor infused oils, capitalizing on the ability of oil to extract and tightly hold other oil soluble flavors such as garlic, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon or cardamom, just to name a few. In this application, the flavoring material is added to the oil, such as garlic, rosemary, or thyme would be added to olive oil, where as something like cinnamon or cardamom might be better added to a neutral flavored oil to better preserve the delicacy of the flavor.
Oil also acts as a lubricant in the dough, making it easier to stretch or sheet out in the forming process. A good example of this is when the dough is shaped using a dough press. In this case, the addition of at least 3 percent (based on the flour weight) oil to the dough will help the dough to flow under the press head without tearing. Since oil will not mix into water, when we use oil in our dough, it helps to impede the migration of moisture from the sauce and toppings into the dough both prior to baking, such as would be the case where dough skins are pre-sauced, and also during and after baking, resulting in a potentially crispier crust. Many operators have taken this a step further and give their dough skins a light brushing of oil prior to dressing. This has proven to be very effective at keeping moisture from the sauce and toppings away from the dough and finished crust. In fact, this works so well, that we suggest all take and bake pizzas be made on a dough skin that has been brushed lightly with oil to keep any moisture away from the dough between the time of purchase and actual baking in the consumer’s home oven.
There are some things that we need to keep in mind when adding oil to pizza dough. The average oil level in pizza dough will be from 2 to 5 percent of the flour weight, with most of us using between 2 and 3 percent. Oil, being a liquid, will soften the dough in the same manner as water will, so when making any adjustments to the amount of oil used, you might need to increase or decrease the water by the same amount of oil adjustment. For example, if you were to add 1-pound of additional oil, you would decrease the water by 1-pound, and if you decrease the oil by 1-pound, you would need to add an additional pound of water to retain the same dough consistency. Lastly, when adding oil to your dough, remember to mix your flour and other ingredients together with the water for two minutes before adding the oil. This will allow for complete hydration of the flour before the oil is introduced, resulting in improved dough consistency and uniformity.