Pasquale "Pat" Bruno
How much do we know about stuffed crust pizza? I know that the idea of stuffing, say, cheese into a crust is not new. In fact, as I recall, a family in New York actually took out a patent on a stuffed crust pizza, and this dates back some 15 years or more.
There is also some wordplay going on relative to stuffed crust pizza. Version A — the standard (and made popular by a pizza chain or two) procedure — involves rolling out the crust, laying some cheese (string cheese, for example) along the inside edges, and then folding the dough over the cheese and sealing the edges. After this takes place, the basics are added in the usual way.
There is also a school of thought that brings in the idea of a stuffed crust pizza being more of a double crust pizza, similar to, say, a stuffed pizza (made famous in Chicago, circa 1970). I have no problem with this approach, since, in fact, the crust is stuffed, but simply in a different way.
What are we going for here? It is my opinion that Version A involves a lot of extra work, extra cost, and, in the long run, the idea of the cheese stuffed in the crust is not such a big deal to the customer. To put it another way, does the customer get a kick out of the extra cheese stuffed into the crust? Or, are they even aware that it is there?
Having said that, let's take a quick look at a basic stuffed crust pizza (Version A) and maybe play around with some production techniques, along with some ideas that might amp up customer interest in this product. Then I think it would be a good idea to explore another stuffed crust idea along the lines of a stuffed pizza that I have come across on my trips to Italy.
As stated earlier, the initial direction relative to stuffed crust has to do with cheese and cheese alone. I saw situations where operators tried to use shredded mozzarella to stuff the crust (laying the cheese along the edge of the crust as suggested above). That takes a lot of time, and it gets messy, the cheese ending up all over the prep table or work area. Then once the pizza gets baked, the cheese melts away to the point where you hardly know it is there. This is definitely not a good thing.
A more appropriate idea is to use string cheese or strips of mozzarella (cut from a block), and fold those into the crust. Production moves faster this way, and this approach leaves no mess behind. However, once again, the cheese melts away to the point where the idea of it all gets lost on the customer.
Enhancing the cheese in some way helps to draw customer attention. For example, I would sprinkle some dried oregano over the string cheese before folding the crust over it. Another approach I have used quite successfully involves using plastic squirt bottles filled with sauces and such.
For example, if I am doing a barbecued chicken pizza, I would squirt a ring of barbecue sauce alongside the cheese (in this instance I would suggest a smoked mozzarella) before folding the crust.
If I were doing a Mexican pizza I would squirt salsa alongside the cheese (the cheese in this situation being Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, cheddar).
In other words, adding a little something extra, a kick of flavor, will enhance the whole idea of a stuffed crust pizza. Try this out for size:
Three-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza
Makes 1 12-inch pizza
12 ounces of pizza dough stretched to 14-inches
8 ounces string cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
8 ounces pizza sauce
4 ounces shredded (or thinly-sliced) provolone
4 ounces shredded mozzarella
Stretch the dough onto the screen or pan.
Lay the pieces of string cheese (I use pieces that are 5 inches in length) around the crust, about 1/2-inch from the edge, so that they touch edge to edge.
Sprinkle the oregano over the string cheese.
Fold the crust over the cheese, and press and seal the edges all around. The pizza will now be about 12-inches in diameter.
Spread the sauce over the crust.
Spread the provolone and mozzarella over the sauce.
Bake the pizza.
Note: You can use whatever two- or three-cheese blend (a fine selection of cheese blends are available from suppliers) suits your needs.
No matter which way you go, keep in mind that you are adding extra cost to each pizza you make. Translate that cost to customer interest, awareness and satisfaction. If the equation comes out in your favor, then give it a test run around the culinary track and see what kind of speed you can generate. Otherwise, take a different approach.
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