Every year I meet new people at Pizza Expo and try to help them solve issues with their dough and pizza crusts. Many of their questions are unique we come up with some creative solutions. Often, however, pizza makers across the country bring very similar problems to me. Here are some of the most common questions that I get asked at Pizza Expo.
Question 1: My customers keep asking for a whole-wheat or multi-grain crust, but all of my attempts to make one have met in failure.
This is a common problem with an easy solution. It involves the use of a “soaker,” where we allow the whole-grain flour or multi-grain mix to fully hydrate by mixing it with about 75 percent of its weight of water. We then allow it to hydrate for an hour or more before using it in our dough.
Question 2: How do I know when my dough is properly mixed?
Research has shown that pizza dough is best when under-mixed as opposed to fully mixed or developed, as is the case with a bread dough. The best indicator of a properly mixed pizza dough is a smooth, satiny appearance.
Question 3: I’m using the best cheese that I can buy, but my pizzas still don’t have much of a cheese flavor. Is it something that I’m doing wrong or has the cheese changed?
There are a number of things that you can do to accentuate the cheese flavor of your pizzas. The first is to reduce the amount of dry basil and oregano either added on the pizza or used in the sauce. Both of these herbs tend to overpower all the other more delicate flavors, including the cheese. An excellent alternative is to use fresh basil or oregano, as their flavor is much more mild and less pungent. Another thing that works well is to add a sprinkle of Parmesan or Romano cheese to the top of the pizza just before taking it to the oven, this will add dimension and complexity to the cheese flavor, making it stand out better than just plain Mozzarella cheese. Finally, if you are not baking your pizzas to the point of getting “toast points” (slight browning spots) on your cheese, a slight increase in baking to get this characteristic can improve flavor.
Question 4: Can you really get decent, crispy pizza from an air impingement oven?
In two words, you bet! To do so the oven needs to be correctly configured with the top and bottom fingers and baking temperature set for your specific dough and pizza type. Additionally, there are numerous baking platforms (pan, screens, disks, etc.) that can be used in these ovens to help achieve specific characteristics with just about any type of pizza.
Question 5: My pizzas are always soft and soggy, what can be done to make them crispy?
Any number of things that can cause this result, but the short list of things to consider are as follows:
- Too much sauce being added to the pizza
- Too much or too many toppings, especially vegetable toppings
- The use of browning agents such as milk, eggs or sugar in the dough
- Baking the pizzas too fast or in an oven that is too hot for the type of pizza being made
- Selecting an incorrect type of baking platform to hold the pizza in the oven
- Using silver or non-seasoned pans
- Having an air impingement oven that is not correctly profiled for the pizza being made
Question 6: We do a carryout and delivery business and we find that our pizzas tend to become soft and soggy during the delivery period. What can be done to improve this?
Pizzas sweat during delivery, so it’s important to get the pizza up off of the bottom of the box to allow the crust to “breathe” and to keep it above any oil that might be released. There are a number of boards and screens that can be purchased and placed under the pizza at the time of boxing. Make sure your boxes have vents and that the vents are opened. From a handling perspective, the pizzas should be thoroughly baked, with a dry top when vegetable toppings are used. With this in mind, some types of ovens might work better than others. Allow the pizzas to steam off for a minute or so after baking to reduce the amount of moisture in the box. Even with all of these precautions, the steam in the box will still take a dramatic toll on the crispiness of the pizza, so don’t expect in-store crispiness from a delivery/carryout pizza.
Want to hear more? Gather up your questions and be sure to bring them, along with a paper and pen, to my Time With the Dough Doctor sessions in March.
Gather up your questions and be sure to bring them along with paper and pen to this informative session.
Tom Lehmann (aka The Dough Doctor), has been director of bakery assistance at the American Institute of Baking and is currently a consultant to the industry. His popular Time With the Dough Doctor seminars will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, March 7 – 8, at Pizza Expo 2016. You’ll get answers and learn from the discussion of issues facing other pizzerias during the hour-long Q & A sessions.
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