What will happen if I mix my dough less than the normal time?
A: If you mix your dough in the 15- to 20-minute range, you probably won’t see much change in either the dough or the finished pizza. Where you will begin to see a change in both the dough and the finished pizza is when the mixing time (using a planetary mixer) falls into the 7 minute or less range. If you mix dough for less than 5 minutes, and are using instant dry yeast (IDY), you should pre-hydrate the IDY in 95 F water, and then add it to the remainder of the dough water in the mixing bowl. If you are using compressed yeast, you should suspend it in the dough water prior to adding the flour and any other ingredients.
There are two ways to stage the dough ingredients in the bowl. The first is to put the flour in the bowl, followed by the other dry ingredients, and then add the water and oil and mix. The second is to add the water to the bowl first, and then add the flour, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients, and lastly the oil. The first method typically results in rather poor flour hydration with short mixing times. For that reason, when short mixing times are employed, it is recommended that the second method be used as it results in a more consistent dough with less mixing time required.
With less mixing time there is less gluten development and, as a result, the dough tends to be stickier when handled soon after mixing, such as when taking the dough to the bench for scaling and balling. Because of this, the dough will tend to pick up more dusting flour in the process, and take on more of the appearance characteristics of a “rustic” dough and finished crust. The main reason for under mixing a dough is to achieve a more open, porous internal crumb structure in the finished crust. This type of internal crumb structure is conducive to achieving a light, tender eating characteristic, while promoting a crispy bottom crust characteristic.
In some cases, the mixing time is reduced to only a matter of seconds. We have used 45 to 75 seconds of mixing time to achieve a unique cracker-like finished crust. When these extremely short mixing times are used, the result doesn’t look anything like a normal dough. Instead, it looks more like that of a baking powder biscuit dough, with a sizeable amount of dry flour present. This dough must be manually pressed together at the time of scaling just to get the pieces to cling together, it is then roughly formed into a ball –– still with a lot of dry flour present –– and placed into a plastic dough box where the dough will be allowed to hydrate while it is stored in the cooler for the next 18 to 48 hours, prior to use. As you might imagine, this dough is very particulate, and it just falls apart at the suggestion of forming it by hand, so it must be formed into skins by using a dough sheeter/roller. Once this is done, it must be trimmed to size, as it cannot be stretched to a circle. The resulting crust has a very dry, cracker-like texture that is perfect for use in a pizza buffet type of operation.
By all means, experiment with different mixing times for your dough. It is just another tool that we have to work with to modify the finished crust characteristics.
I’m trying to decide between a deck oven or an air impingement/conveyor oven. How do I know which is right for my operation?
A: Many people look at an oven only as a means to bake their pizzas, but it is actually a lot more than just that. Consider your store concept. Will you be a delivery/carry-out delco or will you be more focused on dine-in? A delco pizza can benefit from being baked in an air impingement oven, as the high airflow does an excellent job of removing any water released by the vegetable toppings, resulting in a potentially drier pizza for the customer. Air impingement ovens are also ideal for pizzas with lots of toppings, as they can remove the moisture released from all of those vegetables.
On the other hand, if you have a more traditional, dine-in concept and you want to entertain your customers by allowing them to watch your prep people toss pizza skins, a deck oven might be the oven of choice. If your concept is upscale dine-in, perhaps a wood-fired –– or one of the look-alike deck ovens –– might be right for you.
If you have a by-the-slice concept, you could go with either a deck oven or an air impingement oven. A deck oven works well for a traditional slice operation where ready-made slices are placed into the oven for reheating while the drink order is filled and the order paid. The air impingement oven is a vital link in a concept where each slice is topped with fresh ingredients and finished to order in about 3 minutes. Think of it as an upscale slice operation where the same air impingement oven is used to par-bake the skins from which the slices are cut, and to finish baking the slices to order.
There are a multitude of other reasons for choosing one type of oven over another, but space does not permit me to cover all of those. These are the main considerations when selecting the best oven type for your store, and hopefully they will help you in making the right decision on one of your most important –– and expensive –– pieces of equipment.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan,