With today’s consumers being better educated than before, and having a greater concern for healthy eating, they are making more food buying decisions based on what they perceive as being good for them. We are seeing this in the growth of vegetarian meals and organic foods.
For years, whole-wheat pizza crusts have failed to meet consumer expectations. Because of this dismal rate of failure, I have on many occasions made reference to the whole-wheat crust as the “Edsel of the pizza industry.” This is the crust everybody asks for, but nobody wants to buy. The pressing question here is why?
The truth of the matter is, whole-wheat pizza crusts often lack in flavor. In many instances, they also lack in overall mouth feel (often, the crusts might be characterized by a harsh, dry crumb characteristic).
The problem is that most whole-wheat flours are made from varieties of hard red wheat. The bran portion of these varieties is high in tannins. Tannins are responsible for the bitter taste associated with whole-wheat flour milled from hard red wheat. It is this bitter taste which — to a great extent — reduces the acceptability of whole-wheat crusts. For many years bakers have made acceptable whole breads, but they have done so only by increasing the sugar content of the bread to mask the bitterness with a sweet taste. While this might work in bread products, it does not work well with pizza crusts as it can lead to unacceptably dark crust color and an undesirable, sweet taste.
Many pizzeria operators have successfully produced wheat crusts containing only a partial amount of whole-wheat flour. A wheat crust might contain anywhere from 10-50 percent whole-wheat flour, with the remainder being regular white flour. This will significantly improve the flavor of the crust, but it still does not meet the consumer’s expectations of a whole-wheat crust. So, what’s a person to do? A relatively new innovation in the flour industry is the introduction of hard white wheat varieties for milling into whole white wheat flour. Because the bran portion of these wheat varieties contains less of the bitter tannins, the whole-wheat flour has a less bitter taste. So much so, it is often described as having a sweet, nutty taste.
To make pizza dough with whole white wheat flour, simply replace your regular white pizza flour with whole white wheat flour, and increase the total dough absorption by 5 percent of the total flour weight. It’s that easy. For some unique variations on this type of crust you can replace any regular sugar in the formula with brown sugar, honey, molasses, or malt syrup. This makes a really nice looking finished crust with a color a little lighter than a traditional whole-wheat crust.
Another approach is to take a different direction entirely. By this I mean to provide the consumer with a multi-grain crust rather than a whole-wheat crust. My personal experience is that most consumers will think that a multi-grain crust is actually a whole-wheat crust. In fact, when I’ve presented consumers with multi-grain crusts they’ve commented how good that “whole-wheat” crust was.
Multi-grain crusts are easy to make. Simply replace 20-30 percent of your regular flour with a commercial, multi-grain mix (containing a ground mix of six or seven different grains) that is available from just about all bakery suppliers. There is a little trick in doing this, though.
First, weigh out the amount of multi-grain mix that you want to use, then add an equal amount of water to the grain mix and allow it to soak for three to four hours. If you don’t allow the grain mix to thoroughly hydrate by soaking it, the resulting crust can have an unacceptably dry mouth feel. Once the grain mix has soaked, it can be added to the remainder of your dough ingredients. Increase the absorption of your dough by about 3 percent based upon the total weight of both the white flour and the multi-grain mix. Then, mix and process your dough in the normal manner for your shop. A neat twist to this type of crust is to replace any sugar in the formula with honey. Use a dark colored honey for the best flavor.
Reel Them in
Once you have your customers hooked on your new wheat or multi-grain crust, you can begin appealing to their sense of adventure. Try adding some small pieces of sun-dried tomato to the dough. How about some basil pesto? Or, how about a mix of both basil pesto and sun-dried tomato? Brush the edge of the crust with a little water and sprinkle with some of the whole wheat flour, multi-grain mix, or even some sesame seeds, and presto! These simple additions can add another dimension of color, flavor, and texture to the crust, transforming it into an eye-catching masterpiece approaching a gourmet crust, but without all the fuss and bother.
Whole-wheat crusts need not be your Edsel. Great tasting whole wheat and multi-grain crusts are easy to make and do not require a lot of extra or “special” ingredients to produce. They can have a special appeal to your “health conscious” customers, or to those just wanting something different and delicious.