Photos By Josh Keown
The streets of New York are in the midst of an epic battle. In one corner, the classic slice weighs in with its thin-yet-yielding crust topped with tomato sauce and low moisture mozzarella cheese. In the opposite corner waits a smaller, more delicate pizza baked in a showpiece oven and topped with hand-crushed tomatoes under a sprinkling of cheese whose name your customers have only heard on TV. The prior evolved on the streets of the city over the past hundred years and the latter arrived recently despite its roots in the origin of pizza itself. Who will emerge victorious?
To be quite honest, the New York slice has been going out of style for quite some time. Rising commodity prices and nationwide economic issues have forced many small pizzerias to make decisions to keep themselves afloat at the cost of reducing product quality. Thanks to the influx of Neapolitan and other artisan pizza styles, some savvy slice shop operators are taking a page from the artisanal handbook by using premium ingredients to craft their offerings instead of the old standbys.
The resulting slice is a welcome upgrade from the monotonous greasy wedge and fetches a higher price. Pizzerias like South Brooklyn Pizza, Best Pizza and La Margarita (their spelling) are proof positive that consumers are willing to pay more for quality. These slice shops use fresh mozzarella and the best tomatoes to elevate their slices from the white noise created by common slicerias.
On the other hand, I also see artisan pizza evolving to meet the demands of a slice-hungry culture. Roman pizza al taglio’s success in New York is a positive response to artisan pizza’s exposure to the New York slice. It successfully combines quick service and elevated ingredient quality in a by-the-slice format. Even pizzerias that don’t sell slices are altering their recipes to make more portable products. Madison Avenue’s Pizza Da Solo, billed as a Neapolitan pizzeria, uses oil in their dough. Even though it’s a major departure from Neapolitan pizza tradition, added oil results in a product that holds up better during transportation. The pizzeria offers only takeout and utilized an American pizza making method to solve its logistical dilemma.
Contrary to what New York “traditionalists” may believe, artisan pizza is more ally than adversary when it comes to slice culture. It elevates pizza’s public image from quick-service snack food to respectable meal and even provides opportunity for further development when it comes to ingredient options. At the same time, New York’s propensity for pizza-by-the-slice has influenced artisan pizza in a positive way that makes it more accessible than some initially perceive it to be. After all, this is not the kind of battle that culminates with a victor; it’s more like a sparring match in which both parties walk out of the ring in better shape than when they went in.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.
Photo by Josh Keown
Q: Why compete in food competitions at International Pizza Expo or anywhere else?
A: As an owner everything is done to my specifications and wants. It is rare that I am tested and that I am out of my element. There really isn’t anyone to tell me that I am wrong or that my recipe isn’t that great. In competition you are forced to use an oven that you have never seen or used before, make an amazing pizza under imperfect conditions and then attempt to explain and prove to a panel of judges that you’ve never met before why your pizza is better than everyone else’s. Competition makes you become better than you were when you first walked in. It tests you not only as a person and an individual but as a chef and artisan. It forces you to figure out how to best win, taking into account every possible factor and possibility of something going wrong. Everyone at a competition thinks they have the best pie and that they are the best pizzaiolo around. Entering a food challenge means that you are not going to settle for being the best just at your restaurant, but are willing to show yourself and the world that you are the best at your craft. Competing also increases your marketability. If you win, a story is most likely going to be written about you, although winning isn’t a requirement for getting press. Entering the competition alone allows people to write preliminary and follow up stories about you, maximizing your chances for good press.
Q: Could I use a dough sheeter or dough press to make my pizzas?
A: I do not recommend using a sheeter or a press for making any style of pizza other than thin crust. If you are making Neapolitan pizza you especially want to stay away from sheeters and presses. When you are hand-pushing dough the objective is to keep the gas in the dough but to readjust it and move it towards your crust. Using a sheeter or press goes against everything an artisan does and wants to achieve by taking out all the gas that they have worked so hard to create by proofing their dough. Typically, dough presses heat up the dough as it is pressing it out and that is something you want to stay away from. Also, there is an oil of some sort used on presses that leaves a residual flavor and film on the dough that is not to my liking. If I am making thin crust pizza I first prefer using a rolling pin and then maybe a sheeter.
RESPECTING THE CRAFT is a new column featuring World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.
Photos by Josh Keown and Rick Daugherty
I was recently looking through a catalog that I got at the last Pizza Expo and I saw both wood and metal peels being offered by the different companies. Do you have a preference in one over the other?
A: My preference is to use a wood peel as a prep peel — the peel used to dress the dough and take to the oven. The wood construction typically affords better dough release than the metal peels. The last thing you want to do is to slide a dressed skin into the oven and withdraw an empty pizza skin because it stuck to the peel and slid all the toppings into your oven. This is not to say that the dough will not stick to a wood peel — without dusting flour, the pizza skin can stick quite nicely. It is important to use some dusting flour even with a wood peel, but since wood is a better insulator than metal (aluminum), there is a reduced tendency for the dough to stick to the wood peel (condensation can form under the dough on a metal peel if the dough is warm and the peel blade is cold). I think the metal peel is best reserved for use as an oven peel where it stands up to the everyday “grind” of peel to oven deck/hearth much better than the wood peel does.
With all of this said, do keep in mind that in some localities, the use of wood peels are looked down upon by the local food safety people due to their inability to be properly cleaned and sanitized. This may leave us with only one option, the metal peel, or possibly a peel made from some type of manufactured, composite material that can be easily washed and sanitized without issue. More recently, I’ve had an inspector point to the worn edge of a wood peel and declare that those wood splinters are getting into the pizzas. Right or wrong, we’re in no position to argue with such wisdom, so be sure to give your peel selection more than just a passing thought or you might end up wasting your money on something you can’t use.
We use wood pizza peels to prep our pizzas on and we are required to wash and sanitize them daily. We notice that the peels tend to warp. What can we do to prevent this?
A: While wood peels are not made to be washed, they can be quickly washed and sanitized with a minimum of damage, primarily warping. It is best to start out with a new peel. Wipe it with mineral oil several times to impregnate and seal the wood. This will create a barrier against moisture migration into the peel when washed.
To wash the peel, dip it into the soapy water and scrub gently to remove any debris, then rinse and dip in the sanitizing solution. Next, be sure to wipe the peel as dry as possible with a clean towel, then set aside and allow it to dry thoroughly. This should be followed by another application of mineral oil to reseal the wood. Done carefully, and daily, you can keep problems to a minimum. I have a wood peel that is made from a material that looks a lot like Pakka Wood, a resin wood that is cured under high pressure and heat to form a homogenous wood that is highly stable and moisture resistant. These peels have all of the advantages of a wood peel but without any of the issues.
What is your preference for the top of a prep table where we will be hand stretching the dough?
A: That’s easy: just about anything but wood. Dough has a tendency to cling to wood bench tops. This is why bakers like it so much; but for pizza making, we want a top that will allow the dough to slide around easily without sticking or needing an extraordinary amount of dusting flour to prevent it from sticking. I’ve found that for top-end table-tops, marble, or man-made quartz, is hard to beat — but it comes at a price. Lower in cost, and almost equally as effective, is just plain old stainless steel. It has all the appeal of a homely fence post, but it works well and the price is right. Your food safety inspectors will look favorably upon it, too. A lot of your decision as to what to use will boil down to your store concept, and what you want to convey to your customers who might be watching you open your dough into pizza skins as they wait for their pizza to be made before them.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photo by Josh Keown
Q: We are having a problem with our dough growing in the cooler.
A: There are a number of things that can result in the dough “blowing” in the cooler. The first cause could be excessive amounts of yeast in the dough. Most pizza doughs perform best when the yeast level is at or near 1 percent compressed yeast –– this equates to .5 percent active dry yeast, or 0.375 percent instant active dry yeast.
You might also check your dough’s finished temperature. If you are using a refrigerated dough management procedure –– which allows you to use the dough over a three day period of time from the cooler –– a good target, finished dough temperature is in the 80 F to 85 F range if using a walk-in cooler, or 70 F to 75 F if you’re using a reach-in cooler. If your finished dough temperature is higher than this, it becomes difficult to effectively cool the dough to a point where the rate of fermentation can be sufficiently lowered to allow for holding the dough for any extended period of time.
The finished dough temperature is controlled by the temperature of the water that you add to the dough. In some locations, your tap water temperature may be sufficiently cold to give you a finished dough temperature within the targeted temperature range, but if this isn’t possible, then you will need to use colder water. The easiest way to get colder water is by storing it in the cooler, at least overnight. This should effectively get your water temperature down to the 40 to 45 F range. You can then replace a portion or all of the dough water with the refrigerated water to achieve the desired finished dough temperature you’re looking for.
In some cases, such as stores with only a reach-in cooler, this won’t be possible, so the correct course of action to get colder water is to add ice to your water. When adding ice, be sure to replace the water on a pound for pound basis for ice. Don’t use a volumetric measure for the ice as it has a significantly different density than water. I recommend that you begin by replacing one pound of water with one pound of ice. Be sure to use flaked ice rather than cube ice as the cube ice, which will not melt sufficiently fast to work in this application. Keep increasing/adjusting the amount of ice added until the finished dough temperature falls within the desired temperature range.
Another thing that can cause the dough to blow is failure to take the dough directly to the cooler after scaling, balling and boxing. For some, it is a common practice to allow the dough to set out at room temperature for a period of time before we begin scaling and balling it. This practice can lead to the dough fermenting, and changing in density (becoming less dense) before the dough actually goes to the cooler. The less dense dough is significantly more difficult to cool uniformly. It is a better insulator and, as such, it may never cool to a point where it will be sufficiently stable in the cooler to allow it to be held for any period of time without blowing. Normally, when the dough blows under these circumstances, the reaction is to reduce the yeast level to a point where the dough doesn’t blow, but this now introduces a whole new problem –– in many cases, the dough now has a yeast level so low that it cannot support the weight of the topping ingredients during baking, and it may collapse, or not rise sufficiently to give the desired, light, airy internal crumb structure. In all too many cases, a gum line develops just under the sauce that will be next to impossible to resolve until we get the yeast level back up to where it needs to be. But, then the dough blows again. Now you can see why reducing the yeast level is not the correct action to take when the dough blows.
Failure to cross stack the dough boxes can also lead to blowing the dough. When first placed into the cooler, the dough boxes should be placed in a cross stacked pattern to allow the warmer air to escape from the dough boxes. This results in a significant improvement in the efficiency of cooling the dough balls. In cases where a walk-in cooler isn’t available and only a reach-in is used, there isn’t room in the cabinet to cross stack the dough boxes, but they can be placed into the cooler with the ends off set, resulting in open, exposed ends on each box, allowing for the escape of the warm air from the boxes.
Even with cross-stacking, you must allow enough time for the dough to be cooled before you seal the boxes closed.
We have found that if the dough balls weigh 16 ounces or less, the dough boxes should be allowed to remain cross-stacked for at least two hours. If the dough balls are between 17 and 24 ounces, they should remain cross stacked for at least 2½ hours. Because the dough still hasn’t come down in temperature to that of your cooler within these times, it is important to be consistent with the cross stack time employed. For example, if your dough ball weight is 10 ounces, and you’re using a cross stack time of two hours, that’s fine, but be sure to use that cross stack time consistently. Keep in mind, though, that these are only recommendations. Since all coolers are not created equally, you may need to adjust the cross stack times from those given above, and this is perfectly acceptable — just be sure to be consistent and always use the same cross stack time that you’ve found correct for your dough ball weight.
Another factor to consider occurs during the dough-making process. Due to traffic in and out of the cooler during the busier parts of the day, our coolers typically work harder, and operate at a slightly higher temperature than they do during the late night hours after the store is closed, or when business slacks off a bit. For this reason, I don’t recommend making the dough during the day, or even during the early evening hours. Instead, I recommend making dough a couple hours prior to closing, when the cooler will be operating more efficiently. By the time you’re ready to go home, you can down stack the dough boxes just before turning the lights off. While we’re on the topic of coolers, if you don’t already have them, consider installing plastic strip curtains over the door. Tests have shown that they will improve the operating efficiency of your cooler by as much as 15 percent.❖
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photo by Josh Keown and Rick Daugherty
TIP: Be sure to use a wood or wood laminate peel for your prep peel. The metal blade peels are best reserved for use as oven peels.
We bake in a deck oven and we are presently baking on aluminum screens because when I use a peel to bake on the deck, the dough ends up sticking to the peel and making a mess in the oven as the toppings slide off of the dough. How do you keep the dough from sticking to the peel?
A: There are a couple of things that might cause the dough to stick to your peel. If you are using malt in your dough, make doubly sure that it is non-diastatic (non-enzyme active) malt. If the malt is diastatic malt (enzyme active), it will convert starch in the flour to sugars, making the dough sticky or tacky to the point where it will stick to almost any surface it comes into contact with, including a prep peel. If the dough is over absorbed (contains too much water) it may feel clammy or even exhibit a slight tackiness when touched. Over absorbed dough tends to be difficult to work with as the dough is just too extensible and is easily over stretched during the forming operation. While some of the traditional doughs are fairly high in absorption and difficult to handle during forming, they can still be peeled into the oven without much of a problem if they are well floured for ease of handling, and either fine cornmeal, or semolina flour is used as the peel dust to aid in sliding the prepared dough skin off of the peel. Be sure to use a wood or wood laminate peel for your prep peel.
The metal blade peels are best reserved for use as oven peels. The reason for this is because the metal blade peels will force any moisture coming from the dough skin right back up against the dough surface, creating the potential for the dough to stick to the peel during unloading into the oven. This can be especially troublesome during the colder months when the metal peel blade is cold, and condensation is formed when the warm dough is placed upon it; now, any flour that is present on the dough skin quickly turns to school paste with very predictable results.
When a wood or wood laminate is used as a prep peel, the wood will have some capacity to absorb moisture, thus reducing the potential for stickiness. Because it is harder to form condensation between a wood peel and the dough skin, the issue of condensation is all but totally eliminated. Even with the best dough and wood prep peels, it is still possible for dough to stick to the peel if too much time is taken in prepping the dough skin.
Even when a novice is prepping a dough skin and taking their own sweet time about it, there is still only a slight chance that the dough will stick to the peel. But where the problem arises is when the prepped or partially prepped dough skin is allowed to remain on the prep peel while they do something else, like wash and cut a topping for the pizza or stop to answer the phone, etc.
The solution to this is easy to address –– just make sure once the dough is placed on the peel it is dressed and peeled into the oven without interruption. Of course, a good peel dust doesn’t hurt either.
I think if you were to ask 20 different operators what peel dust they prefer you would probably get at least a dozen different answers. My own personal favorite peel dust is made from equal parts of fine cornmeal, semolina flour and regular white pizza flour. I’ve seen any one of these used by itself as an effective peel dust in addition to things such as whole-wheat flour, rice flour, rye flour and wheat bran, as well as bread crumb like materials more commonly added to the top of the pizza to help absorb excess moisture. All of these materials seem to work quite well in most applications, so you have plenty of things to choose from to get the dough to smoothly slide from the peel onto the oven hearth.
One last thing I’d like to share with those who are just beginning to work at peeling dressed dough skins into the oven: after you place the fully formed dough skin onto the dusted prep peel, do not try to dock the dough on the peel. Instead, dock the dough before you place it onto the peel, then, give the peel a shake to make sure the dough is sliding on the peel and not stuck to it for whatever reason. Shake it again about halfway through the dressing of the dough skin. This is a confidence builder more than anything else –– knowing that the dough is still unattached to the peel, I can now peel the dressed dough skin into the oven with the authority and commitment needed to make the dressed dough smoothly slide from peel to oven hearth.
Remember, what goes into the oven, must eventually come out again, so be sure to keep your oven rake and broom handy to loosen any debris from the oven deck and sweep it out, or you will soon have a carbonized build up on the deck, as well as unsightly, charred debris sticking to the bottom of your pizzas.
We have been thinking about doing an individual-sized breakfast pizza. What type of meat topping(s) do you recommend?
A: I’ve seen thinly sliced beef and pork used on breakfast pizzas, but I’m a traditionalist in some ways, so I really like to stay with things that people can easily relate to as a breakfast topping. My preference is to use breakfast sausage rather than Italian sausage, not the links, but rather hand portioned pieces, either pre-cooked, or raw (depending upon how you normally apply your sausage to your regular pizzas), and then there is the old stand-by, bacon bits/pieces. In this case, I always opt for the pre-cooked bacon pieces due to the added crispiness and flavor that they provide. I’ve found that if you offer too many different meat topping selections, your breakfast pizza will soon begin to lose its identity and begin taking on the appearance of a regular pizza. I don’t know about your thoughts on this, but I want my breakfast pizzas to look like a breakfast pizza, and to have a unique, stand-alone flavor, tasting like a breakfast offering,- rather than just a regular pizza, served at an earlier hour of the day. u
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Photos by Josh Keown
I’ve heard that there is a way to calculate the amount of dough needed to make any size of pizza. Can you explain how this is done? A: What you are referring to is the use of our old friend “pi” to calculate the surface area of a circle, and then using that number to develop a dough density number. It may sound confusing, but it really isn’t. Here is the way it’s done.
Let’s say you want to make 12-, 14-, and 16-inch diameter pizzas, and you need to know what the correct dough weight will be for each size. The first thing to do is to pick a size you want to work with (any size at all will work). We’ll assume we opted to work with the 12-inch size. The first thing to do is to make our dough, then scale and ball some dough balls using different scaling weights for the dough balls. The idea here is to make pizzas from the different dough ball weights, and then, based on the characteristics of the finished pizza, select the dough ball weight that gives us the pizza that we want with regard to crust appearance, texture and thickness. Make a note of that weight. For this example, we will say that 11 ounces of dough gives us what we were looking for.
We’re now going to find the dough density number that is all-important in determining the dough weights for the other sizes. Begin by calculating the surface area of the size of pizza you elected to find the dough weight for. In this case, it is a 12-inch pizza. The formula for finding the surface area of a circle is pi x R squared. Pi equals 3.14, and R is half of the diameter. To square it we simply multiply it times itself.
Here is what the math looks like:
3.14 x 6 x 6 (or 36) = 113.04 square inches
To calculate the dough density number, we will need to divide the dough weight by the number of square inches. So, now we have 11 ounces divided by 113.04 = 0.0973106 ounces of dough per square inch of surface area on our 12-inch pizza. This number is referred to as the “dough density number.”
Our next step is to calculate the number of square inches of surface area in each of the other sizes we want to make. In this case we want to make 14- and 16-inch pizzas in addition to the 12-inch pizza.
The surface area of a 14-inch pizza is 3.14 x 49 (7 x 7 = 49) = 153.86 square inches of surface area. All we need to do now is to multiply the surface area of the 14-inch pizza by the dough density number (0.0973106) to find the dough scaling weight for the 14-inch pizza — 153.86 x 0.0973106 = 14.972208 ounces of dough. Round that off to 15 ounces of dough needed to make the 14-inch pizza crust.
For the 16-inch pizza we multiply 3.14 X 64 (8 x 8 = 64) = 200.96 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the dough density factor to get the dough weight required to make our 16-inch crusts. 200.96 X 0.0973106 = 19.555538 ounces of dough. Round that off to 19.5 ounces of dough needed to make the 16-inch pizza crust.
In summary, the following dough weights will be needed to make our 12-, 14-, and 16-inch pizza crusts: 12-inch (11-ounces); 14-inch (15-ounces): and 16-inch (19.5-ounces).
In addition to being used to calculate dough weights for different size pizzas, this same calculation can be used to find the weights for both sauce and cheese, too.
In these applications, all you need to do is to substitute the dough weight with the sauce or cheese weight found to make the best pizza for you. This will provide you with a specific sauce or cheese weight, which can then be used in exactly the same manner to calculate the amount of sauce or cheese required for any other size pizza you wish to make. As an example, going back to that 12-inch pizza, let’s say we really like the pizza when it has 5 ounces of sauce on it. We already know that a 12-inch pizza has a surface area of 113.04 square inches, so we divide five-ounces by 113.04 = 0.0442321 ounces of sauce per square inch of surface area. Our sauce density number is 0.0442321. We know that the 14-inch pizza has a surface area of 153.86 square inches. So all we need to do is to multiply 153.86 times the sauce density number to find the correct amount of sauce to use on our 14-inch pizza. 153.86 x 0.0442321 = 6.80-ounces of sauce should be used on our 14-inch pizza.
For the 16-inch pizza, we know that it has 200.96 square inches of surface area. So all we need to do is multiply this times the sauce density factor — 200.96 x 0.0442321 = 8.88 ounces of sauce should be used on our 16-inch pizza.
To calculate the amount of cheese to use, again, we will use the 12-inch pizza and experiment with applying different amounts of cheese until we find the amount that works best for us. Then divide this amount by the surface area of our test pizza (a 12-inch, which has 113.04-inches of surface area). Lets say that we found six ounces of cheese to work well in our application. six-ounces divided by 113.04 = 0.0530785-ounce of cheese per square inch of surface area. Our cheese density number is 0.0530785.
A 14-inch pizza has 153.86 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the cheese density number to find the amount of cheese to add on our 14-inch pizza — 153.86 x 0.0530785 = 8.16-ounces of cheese should be used on our 14-inch pizza.
A 16-inch pizza has 200.96 square inches of surface area. Multiply this times the cheese density number to find the amount of cheese to add on our 16-inch pizza — 200.96 x 0.0530785 = 10.66-ounces of cheese should be used on our 16-inch pizza.
By calculating your dough, sauce and cheese weights for each of your pizza sizes, you will find that your pizzas will bake in a more similar manner, regardless of size, this is especially true if you are baking in any of the conveyor ovens, in which the baking time is fixed, and you want to be able to bake all of your pizza sizes at similar baking times. Typically, this allows us to bake pizzas with one to three toppings on one conveyor, regardless of size, and those pizzas with four or more toppings on another conveyor, again, regardless
If you use a deck or conveyor oven, you will find that your pizzas will bake with greater predictability, and your cost control over your different size ranges will be enhanced, and that can’t hurt in today’s economy.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
Q: In looking at different methods of dough management, some call for allowing the dough balls to rest at room temperature for an hour or more, while others say to take the dough directly to the cooler without any room temperature rest period. Does it really make a difference?
A: Yes, it does make a difference. When dough balls are allowed to rest at room temperature before going into the cooler they begin to ferment, becoming less dense. As a result, the dough becomes a better insulator, so when the dough goes into the cooler it is now more difficult to cool uniformly. In some cases, especially with larger/heavier weight dough balls, the dough may never cool down sufficiently to control the rate of fermentation so the dough “blows” in the cooler, resulting in a total loss.
Another problem with allowing the dough to rest at room temperature prior to going into the cooler has to do with the temperature of the dough as well as the actual time the dough is allowed to remain at room temperature. For example, if the dough is a couple degrees warmer than desired, or targeted, the dough will ferment more, making for an even less dense dough. If you forget to take the dough to the cooler at the prescribed time, this can also result in over fermentation. When combined with the perfect storm of a dough that is a little warmer than desired, and a warmer than usual shop temperature, the stage is set for blown dough as the order of the day.
By taking the dough directly from the mixer to the bench for scaling and balling, and then straight to the cooler, the effects of dough temperature (or more correctly stated, the effects of a missed target dough temperature) are minimized. And because we are doing everything right away, there is less chance to forget to take the dough to the cooler. Additionally, shop temperature will have essentially no impact upon the dough as the dough will not be exposed to it long enough to impact it. The net result of taking the dough directly to the cooler is that the dough will be denser, and have a more uniform density, making it easier to cool uniformly, and predictably, resulting in better handling dough, and improved dough performance over the refrigerated life of the dough.
As a side note, I’ve seen a number of cases where the operator thought he had the solution to his blown dough problem by simply reducing the yeast level in the dough to the point where the dough would no longer blow. This worked, but it created a whole new problem at the same time. With the lower yeast level, the dough would no longer rise as it used to, and the weight of the topping ingredients compressed the center of the pizza, reducing its ability to bake properly. The finished pizza was now characterized by a soft, soggy bottom crust, and worst of all, a gum line that just wouldn’t go away. As you can see, reducing the yeast level is not the best solution to this problem. The only real solution is to adjust/correct the dough temperature, rest time and possibly the room temperature, or simply take the dough directly to the cooler before any of these factors can impact the dough.
Q: What is the best way to thaw frozen dough that we are purchasing from our supplier?
A: If the manufacturer doesn’t provide instructions for slacking out/thawing their dough, remove the dough balls from the bulk package, and place onto a lightly oiled sheet pan or dough box. Oil the top of the dough balls and cover to prevent drying. If you only have a reach in cooler, oil the frozen dough ball and drop it into a plastic bread bag, then twist the open end closed and tuck it under the dough ball as you place it on a sheet pan or shelf in the cooler. Allow the dough balls to thaw overnight in the cooler and then remove a quantity of dough balls from the cooler and allow them to temper at room temperature for 90 to 120 minutes before starting to open them into pizza skins. Once you have allowed the dough balls to temper, they should be good to use for about a two-hour period of time. Any unused dough balls can be opened and placed onto screens or disks and stored in the cooler for use later in the day.
Q: How important is the temperature of the water that active dry yeast (ADY) is activated in?
A: Active dry yeast –— as well as instant dry yeast (IDY) —– are actually quite robust and will tolerate quite a bit of temperature abuse both in storage as well as during hydration. If you want to achieve optimum performance from the yeast as well as doughs that will handle and perform consistently, especially with extended periods of refrigerated storage, dry yeasts should be rehydrated, or added to the dough by the manner prescribed by the manufacturer.
For ADY, this means putting the yeast into a small quantity of warm (100F) water, and stirring it to suspend it in the water, then allowing it to hydrate for 10 minutes. In the case of IDY, it can be added directly to the dough, either by blending it into the dry flour, or by adding it to the dough after a minute of mixing. Just make sure the dough will be mixed for at least five additional minutes after the IDY has been added.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
The way these two forming methods affect the dough and finished crust characteristics is quite significant. The sheeter tends to both put a lot of work/energy into the dough, sometimes even causing the dough to become tough and elastic like during the forming or shaping process. It also tends to de-gas the dough to some extent. Generally, this results in a finished crust that has a slightly tougher, and more bread like internal cell/grain structure.
The press, on the other hand, does very little degassing of the dough. Instead, it redistributes the gas throughout the dough in round shaped cells. Depending upon the amount of gas present in the dough at the time of pressing, these cells can be quite small and evenly round, possibly resembling that of pound cake. If there isn't much gas to be redistributed, the cells can be quite large and open. Because there is so little work put into the dough as a result of pressing, very little toughening of the dough occurs. The result is a finished crust with the potential to be lighter and more tender than a sheeted crust.
In the production of thick crust pizza, where it will be necessary to allow the dough to rise for a period of time prior to baking, a hot press forming method might have a decided advantage over other forming methods. The heat transferred to the dough can effectively jump-start the yeast into action providing for a shorter proofing time.
Neither of these forming methods is better than the other. They're just different, and they produce different characteristics in the finished crust.
Photos by Josh Keown
Q: We are making a thick-crust pizza but it doesn’t maintain any crispiness after we put it into the box. What can we do to make a crispier pizza?
A: One of the most commonly encountered causes for a thick crust pizza to lack or loose crispiness is lack of sufficient bake. Sure, you can “bake” a thick-crust pizza in five minutes, or a little more, and it will probably work well for you in a dine-in application, but when the pizza goes into
a box, it is a whole different game played by a different set of rules. Nothing much good happens to a pizza when it is placed into a box, and it is even worse when that box is placed into an insulated delivery bag for 20 minutes or more. This is where the longer baking time at a lower temperature comes into play. Due to the number of different oven options available, as well as the number of different baking profiles (air impingement ovens), I can’t give any specific baking directions, except to say that utilizing a longer bake time at a lower temperature will give you a thick-crust pizza that will hold up better to the rigors of delivery and carryout. Keep in mind, too, that when using an air impingement oven, you may need to alter the top finger profile to allow you to bake the pizza longer for a crispier eating characteristic without over baking the top of the pizza.
Q: We are opening a new store that will be primarily delivery and carryout. What are some of the things that we could do to our pizzas to provide our customers with the best possible product?
A: There are a number of things that can be done to enhance delivered or carryout pizza. while addressing these issues won’t assure you of the best del/co pizza ever made, it will give you the peace of mind that you are doing all you can, with what you have, to provide your customers with the best quality pizza available from your store.
- Try to limit the amount of vegetable toppings used, as they can be responsible for releasing water onto the pizza, resulting in a wet, soggy pizza. If you must use a lot of vegetable toppings, an oven that provides good top heat that will help to evaporate moisture from the top of the oven can be beneficial.
- Set your oven up to provide a longer bake as this will both help to allow for evaporation of moisture from the top of the pizza and to develop
- a thicker, crispier bottom crust characteristic that can tolerate the rigors of delivery and carryout without becoming overly soft too soon after the pizza is placed in the box.
- Allow the pizza to set on a wire rack or screen immediately after baking for a minute or so, allowing the pizza to “steam-off”beforecuttingandboxingit.
- Utilize one of the mats designed to hold the pizza up off of the bottom of the box and provide for some airflow under the pizza to prevent or slow down the steaming of the bottom crust.
- While this might sound a bit silly, make sure your pizza boxes have steam vents, and that the vents are opened.
Q: Is it true that there is a difference in crust flavor when yeast from different manufacturers is used?
A: No, it is not true. The yeast manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure their product is compatible with that of their competition in all aspects. There have been cases where an “improved” yeast is developed and commercialized, but in those cases the new yeast is given a new or different name.
I’ve had some operators swear that when they used fresh yeast (aka compressed yeast) they saw differences in both flavor and fermentation activity between brands, but when further investigated we found the differences to be due to the age of the yeast, not specific to the manufacturer. To this, I might add that there was one major yeast manufacturer, who for years was thought to have the most active yeast of any of the major manufacturers. So being curious as we are in research, we tested the different brands of yeast against the proclaimed superior product using the latest industry accepted procedures. what we found was that there was no significant difference in fermentation capability between the different brands tested,but why were people saying that they saw a difference? Surely they couldn’t all be wrong.
What we ultimately discovered was that the said to be superior yeast was packaged in 17-ounce, one-pound bricks. That’s right, 17 ounces to one of their bricks, while everyone else used the accepted weight of 16 ounces to the pound. but didn’t that cost them in the end, just giving away so much extra yeast? No, not really because it explained why this particular yeast manufacturer had an advertising budget that could be covered by a schoolboy’s lunch money. A pretty neat trick I would say!
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of baking in Manhattan, Kansas.
I’m just getting started in the pizza business and would like to know how to determine the correct dough weight for each of my pizza sizes.
Pick a size (any size will do). Personally, I like to work with a 12-inch pizza, or something close to it. Next, calculate the surface area using Pi X R squared as our formula for finding the surface area. Let’s say our size selection includes 10-inch, 12-inch and 16-inch pizzas. Here’s the math;
10-inch: 3.14 X 25 = 78.5 square inches
12-inch: 3.14 X 36 = 113.04 square inches
16-inch: 3.14 X 64 = 200.96 square inches.
Begin experimenting with different dough weights to find out what dough weight gives you the pizza that you want to have. If you want a good starting point, go with 1-ounce of dough per inch of diameter for any size up to 16 inches. Add or subtract dough weight until you are satisfied with the finished pizza. Now we’re ready to break out the calculator again. Divide the dough weight by the surface area of the pan, disk, or screen you made your pizza(s) on. This will give you the dough loading per square inch of pan surface. Let’s say you were making a thin crust pizza, and you found that 10 ounces of dough gave you the 12-inch pizza you were looking for. Here’s the math;
10 ounces divided by 113.04 = 0.0884642 ounce of dough per square inch of pan surface area. To calculate the amount of dough needed for each of your other sizes, all you need to do is to multiply this number (0.0884642) by the surface area of each of your other pan sizes.
Here’s the math;
10-inch: 78.5 square inches X 0.0884642 = 6.9444-ounces (7-ounces)
16-inch: 200.96 square inches X 0.0884642 = 17.777-ounces (17.75-ounces).
You can use this for calculating any size and type of pizza. The main advantage of using this procedure is that now all of your pizzas will have a similar amount of dough under them, only the size (diameter) will vary. This means that if you are using an air impingement oven or some other type of conveyor oven, all of your pizzas, with similar toppings, will have a similar baking time regardless of size (within reason). This will make setting up your conveyor oven(s) a lot easier.
My mother made pizza once a week, usually on Saturday. In all those weeks and years of watching her make pizza, I never once saw her toss pizza dough. Stretched, not tossed (I believe that would be how James Bond would do it) was how that ball of pizza dough took shape. In fact, we stretched dough the “Italian way,” which means on the work surface. I still do it that way. Sometimes I will lightly oil a flat pizza pan and stretch the dough right on the pan, pushing out and away from me with fingers and palm. Other times I might sprinkle (lightly) cornmeal on the pan (if I am going for that cornmeal crunch) and stretch the dough the same method as with the oil. Or I will sprinkle flour on a pizza peel and stretch the dough right on the peel, ready to top and go in the oven.
Let’s take a closer look, however, at the art of tossing dough. Dough tossing, as in spinning it in the air is more for show than go, but when you have some young tikes watching, their noses pressed to the glass divider that separates the open kitchen from the dough area, the idea of the “show” has great merit.
There are several factors to take into consideration to make your dough tossing go smoothly and effortlessly, so let’s start from the beginning.
We begin with a proofing tray filled with dough balls that have been properly conditioned, meaning the dough had one rise overnight in the cooler, and now it has been out of the cooler for around two hours. Properly conditioned dough will be somewhat soft, almost puffy in texture, and almost to the point where it really looks and feels like it is ready to be stretched. Do not –– I repeat, do not –– punch down or flatten the dough ball. Using a dough scraper (or your hands), lift the ball of dough out of the tray and set it on a lightly floured work surface.
Relative to the moisture in the dough (if it feels moist), lightly sprinkle the top of the dough ball with flour. Now you can push down and flatten the ball of dough, pressing into the dough with the tips of your fingers (this is called “finger docking”), starting at the center and working outward. As you press the dough with your fingers it will start to spread and flatten. Rotate the dough a quarter turn as you go through this step. If you are in sync with the dough, it will keep its round shape throughout.
Keep pressing and docking with your fingers until the dough has almost doubled in diameter. Now, and only now, should you pick the dough up and begin the process of tossing. In fact at this point, the dough should be almost the size that you are going for. But keep on keeping on.
Make a fist. Drape the dough over one hand, then slide the other hand underneath the dough. Using the knuckles of both hands (fingers tucked close to your palm), begin to pull and stretch the dough, moving your hands farther and farther apart as the dough begins to stretch. As you rotate your hands, often the very weight of the dough enables the stretching process.
With the dough now being somewhat larger, and with both hands underneath the dough and in the center, twist your hands, so that one hand crosses over the other while at the same time you are throwing your hands upwards (almost as if an expression of disgust). At first do not go for height; start the tossing process slowly until you get used to the toss. Remember, it’s easy to throw the dough in the air; catching it is another problem entirely.
Repeat Step 5 as often as necessary until you arrive at the size you are going for. At any point throughout the tossing, if the dough feels sticky or is not stretching the way you expect it to, dust the dough with a little more flour. The flour actually does aid in the tossing process.
If you punch a hole in the dough with your finger you can probably repair it by pinching the dough to close up the hole. If you really screw up at first, and the dough becomes a scraggly mess, either discard it and start over or re-ball it. You will really struggle to stretch it at this point, because all of the gluten in the dough have regrouped and will fight you off, so just put it aside for another time, or until it rises again and is supple and soft.
As you get more experience in the feel of the dough, and the tossing into the air, you can go for more height (if it’s the show you are after). I have seen some pizza places where the workers will toss the dough to each other. At one Chicago restaurant, the workers would toss the stretched dough half way across the room, hitting the wall opposite, the stretched dough dropping onto an enclosed shelf just above the prep table, where it sat until ready to be used. Customers loved the show.
OK, so let’s say you use a dough sheeter in your operation. No problem. Sheet the dough in your normal fashion. Now take the pizza shell and do some tossing in the air (if for no other reason than to get the hang of it).
If you really want to see expert, world-famous dough tossing, catch the World Pizza Games Trials at Pizza Today’s Northeast Pizza Show in Atlantic City this month. You will probably not use any of the routines that you will see, but it will surely give you an up close and personal look at dough tossing as done by experts in the art.
I've watched a lot of people make hand-tossed pizzas, and I see that some people use plain flour and others use corn meal on their peels to help slide their pizzas into the oven. What is the best material to use as a peel release agent?
A good many things are used to help release the dough from the prep-peel to allow for event free transfer of the dressed dough skin. Some of the materials that are used are regular pizza flour, semolina flour, rye meal, corn meal and wheat bran. I've had experience in working with each of these and I can attest to the fact that they all work to some degree, but some definitely work better than others.
To begin, regular pizza flour can and does work well, but keep in mind that if there are any delays between placing the formed dough skin on the peel and peeling the dressed dough skin into the oven, you might discover one of its major faults: The dough can give off enough moisture to begin hydrating the flour, causing it to act more like glue between the dough and peel than a release agent. It is really interesting to see the lengths that people will go to get the dressed dough skin off of the peel. It can be a slow and tedious process, and it only works about a third of the time, so it's hardly worth the effort.
Semolina flour is somewhat coarser than regular pizza flour. As such, it is significantly more difficult (slower) to hydrate. This characteristic makes it a better candidate for use as a peel release. There is less of a tendency for the semolina flour to hydrate and get sticky/tacky, and the larger particle size actually provides for more of a ball bearing affect under the dough skin, making it easier to slide off of the peel. Due to the slower hydrating properties and larger particle size, more of the semolina flour comes off of the dough skin when it is peeled into the oven, thus reducing the incidence of burnt flour on the bottom of the crust.
Rye meal is another good peel release agent. Rye meal is essentially the same as "whole-wheat flour", except it is made with rye rather than wheat. The rye flour has a naturally higher water absorption capacity than wheat flour, and it has a larger particle size than regular pizza flour. Additionally, it also contains the bran (outer skin) portion of the rye berry to further slow the absorption properties. Combined, these properties make for a pretty good peel release agent, even when there is a delay in getting the dressed dough skin to the oven in a timely manner.
Corn meal is a long time favorite as a peel release agent. It has slow hydration properties that allow the dough skin to be dressed in advance of baking without experiencing problems with the dough sticking to the peel. Corn meal can be had in fine, medium or coarse granulation. Typically, the fine and medium granulations are used as a peel release agent. The coarse particle size just gets too hard and gritty during the baking process to work in this application. Due to uniformity in size and shape, corn meal acts as an excellent peel release agent. It is also unique in that a good deal of the corn meal that is attached to the bottom of the dough skin when it is peeled into the oven does not adhere as the crust is baked. Additionally, corn meal takes on a "crackly" eating texture when it is baked.
Wheat bran also works quite well as a peel release agent, but it can char and take on a very objectionable bitter flavor if it adheres to the crust for too long, so it’s best to shy away from this option.
The best choice, I have found, is to blend three parts fine-ground corn meal and one part semolina flour.
Just keep in mind that these peel release agents are just that. They are intended to facilitate the smooth release of the dough from the peel. Every effort should be made to minimize the amount of release material added to the peel since surplus material can remain with the finished pizza to affect the flavor of the finished crust. Also, residual release material must be regularly cleaned from the oven in order to maintain the flavor and baking properties of your pizzas. Excessive debris on the oven deck can act as an insulator between the oven deck surface and your pizzas, thus reducing the oven's baking efficiency. Besides, if you get too much debris built up in your deck oven, it could create a fire hazard inside of the oven.
When it comes to sizing, do you need to change your dough recipe depending upon how big the crust or pizza is going to be? What if we wanted to offer an 18- or 36-inch pizza?
Because our pizza crust will always have roughly the same thickness across its entire size, it really doesn’t matter what size we make our pizzas from a dough standpoint. When it comes to baking that pizza, though, it’s an entirely different matter. Most pizzerias will use the same dough to make a variety of different sized pizzas, but they will all be baked for different times, and sometimes even at different temperatures. The reason for this is because the larger pizzas will sink more heat from the oven than a smaller pizza. This is most graphically seen when we put a single pizza into a conventional deck oven and it takes about eight minutes to bake. But then, when we put 10 of those same-size pizzas into the oven, the baking time goes out to maybe something closer to 12 or 14 minutes. We even see this same thing happening in the air impingement ovens, where a 10-inch thin crust pizza might bake in four minutes, and a 14-inch pizza made from the same dough might require nearly 10 minutes.
Due to its smaller mass, the 10-inch pizza is heating up much faster than the 14-inch pizza, so more of the heat becomes available to further raise the temperature of the smaller pizza to a point where it becomes over-baked with the longer baking time of the 14-inch pizza. The converse is also true, where the larger pizza would be under-baked if it were baked under the same conditions as the smaller, 10-inch pizza. To bake some of those really large, party size pizzas, the only thing that you will need to do is to determine the correct baking time and temperature for your particular oven.
As a side note: If you were to prepare an endless ribbon of dough and sauce and top it continuously as you fed it into any of the conveyor ovens, the oven cavity would be continually exposed to the same amount of material to be baked (pizza). The oven could be set-up and continually operated in this manner, without needing to make any further time or temperature adjustments, just so long as the oven cavity is completely full. Application of this principle also explains the reason why conveyor ovens will bake more pizzas per hour than most deck ovens. Of course, you’ve got to keep the conveyor oven completely full to get that maximum production figure out of it, but that’s what they are designed to do.