Q: Our mixer finally crashed and we got a 40-quart vertical cutter mixer (VCM) to replace it. How does this mixer compare against our old 80-quart mixer?
A:The first thing to know about the VCM is that it has a much higher mixing speed. The two-speed models mix at 1750 RPM at low speed and at 3500 RPM at high speed. Single-speed models mix only at 1750 RPM. In most cases, only the 1750 RPM speed is used for dough mixing. This high speed mixing means that the mixing times will be a lot shorter, typically in the 70- to 90-second range, and due to the high speed mixing, dough heating may be a problem.
To address the dough temperature issue, we suggest that you have a five-gallon bucket of ice water at hand, and between doughs, fill the mixing bowl with the ice water, then pour it back into the bucket when you’re ready to add the ingredients for your next dough. The short mixing time can pose a problem for those using instant dry yeast (IDY) as the mixing time is not sufficiently long enough to fully hydrate the yeast or properly incorporate it into the dough. For this reason, IDY should be hydrated in 95 F water for 10 minutes prior to addition to the dough (I like to add it directly to the dough water after hydration).
If you are using active dry yeast (ADY), you have to hydrate it anyway, so there won’t be any change for your normal handling procedure. If you use fresh, compressed yeast, we suggest adding the yeast to the dough water in the mixing bowl, then running the mixer for a couple seconds to fully suspend the yeast throughout the dough water. The remainder of dough ingredients can then be added.
VCMs come with two different mixing attachments. One is flat, looking something like an airplane propeller, while the other one is curved and sharp on the leading edges. The flat mixing attachment is the correct one to use when mixing dough, while the sharp, curved one is correct for cutting or chopping applications. To assess the correct mixing time when going from a planetary mixer to a VCM, mix the dough just long enough to achieve a smooth appearing skin on the dough. Unlike with other dough mixers, it is very easy to over-mix a pizza dough in a VCM, so proceed cautiously, making adjustments in mixing time in increments of no more than 5 or 10 seconds. By following these basic guidelines, the VCM should work well for you.
Q: Are there some quick and easy things that we can do to expand our menu offering without the need to inventory a lot of additional ingredients?
A: Some of my favorite ways to “spice-up” old favorites are as follows:
Marinate pieces of skinless chicken breast in lemon, lime or coconut juice. Add one of these along with a few pieces of drained or frozen/thawed peach slices to a pizza. Add a few pieces of pecan nuts to the top of the pizza to increase the “wow” factor. Or, if you used the coconut juice marinated chicken, try adding a little shredded coconut to the top of the pizza instead of the pecans.
Offer a simple shrimp pizza using a white sauce (Alfredo) on the dough skin to replace your regular pizza sauce. Marinate baby shrimp in lemon or lime juice. Begin by brushing a little olive oil over the dough. Add some diced garlic, followed by the white sauce. Sprinkle the top of the pizza with dried dill weed, and add the marinated shrimp. Follow this by adding some red and green pepper slices, and a little red onion. Top with a light application of Mozzarella cheese (about 4 ounces for a 12-inch pie), and finish by adding 1 ounce of shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake the same as your regular pizzas.
Offer a slightly upscale version of your meat pizza using a 50/50 blend of your pizza sauce with a tangy BBQ sauce, garnish with red onion rings, and a sprinkling of smoked Provolone and Parmesan cheese.
These are some of the things that I like to do to add something a little different. Use your imagination to come up with your own special treatment of one or more of your house favorites!
Q: What is your opinion of spiral dough mixers?
A: I think spiral mixers are the greatest things since sliced pizza. They are highly efficient, mixing the dough very well, and with essentially the same total mixing times as a typical planetary mixer when using second speed. In addition, they will mix doughs from full size (whatever is appropriate for the mixer) to as small as 25 percent of full capacity.
Because of this, I always suggest to potential buyers that they purchase a mixer a little larger than what they think they need; then, the mixer will have the needed capacity to meet future growth demands. Due to the design of spiral mixers, they can mix a relatively large amount of dough with a fairly small power draw, making them highly efficient. They also have a foot print that isn’t much larger than most 80-quart planetary mixers, so they are not difficult to fit into most shops. The larger size mixers will typically have a removeable bowl on wheels, allowing the bowl to be moved around the shop.Most of the smaller size spiral mixers don’t have this feature, so the dough will need to be removed from the mixer and manually transported to the work area for cutting and balling.
Most shops using spiral mixers address this issue by simply installing the mixer as close as possible to the cutting bench, as this allows them to easily cut dough from the bowl and toss it onto the bench for cutting as needed. A handy feature that I would like to see more often on spiral mixers of all sizes is a removeable drain plug in the bowl. To clean a spiral mixer, we typically pour some hot water into the bowl and cover it with a sheet of plastic, allowing the bowl to be steamed, thus softening any dough residue in the bowl. After steaming for about 15 minutes, the bowl can be scrubbed out using a nylon bristle pot brush. The bowl is then rinsed and sanitized. A drain plug makes cleaning the mixer a bit easier by allowing the wash water, rinse water and sanitizer to be simply drained from the bowl by placing a bucket under the drain plug, and removing the plug. Without a drain plug, you will need to bail the water out of the bowl like bailing a sinking boat.
So, why don’t we see more spiral mixers used in pizzerias? It’s probably because they don’t have any provision for changing the agitator. Hence, you can’t mix sauce in them. And they don’t have an attachment hub, so you can’t install an attachment for chopping, grinding or slicing (a.k.a. pelican head) to the mixer. But, if you’re looking to update your dough mixer, and you can keep your old planetary mixer to do the sauce and cutting chores, a spiral mixer might be just the ticket.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.