2011 August: Dough Doctor

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.

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