How to determine optimal dough mixing time
Q: How long should you mix your dough?
A: This is a common question, and many years ago we conducted some fairly extensive testing to answer it. What we found is that the optimal mixing time of a dough is dependent upon a number of factors. Those include how the dough is assembled (sequencing of ingredients into the mixing bowl), type of mixer, amount of dough in a given bowl size, temperature of the dough, use of any reducing agents in the dough, the speed of the mixing agitator, characteristics of the flour, dough absorption, etc. Is it any wonder that there is so much confusion when it comes to dough mixing time?
We broke the variables down into type of pizza being made, type of mixing agitator and type of mixer used. When dough for a cracker-type crust is being made, the dough is typically mixed just until it comes together as a homogenous mass. At this point the dough is considered sufficiently mixed. There is another kind of cracker-type crust dough that is mixed entirely differently, however. This dough is essentially just mixed until the flour is whetted, which normally takes around two minutes of mixing time at low speed. At this point the dough is what we call “shaggy.” The scaled dough is pushed together to form “pucks,” which are then allowed to fully hydrate and/or cold ferment to give the necessary cohesive properties.
The mixing agitator can have a significant impact upon the dough mixing time, as well. For example, the old “J” hook design is notorious for grabbing the dough and just spinning it around the inside of the mixing bowl with little or no mixing action. Conversely, the reverse spiral mixing arm forces the dough off of the agitator to the bottom of the bowl, where it remains in contact with both the agitator and the bowl for excellent mixing action (and significantly shorter mixing times). Due to the inefficiency of the “J” hook design, there is no way to predict mixing time when it is used. For this reason the reverse spiral dough arm is what we used for the tests that we conducted and is highly recommended for all dough mixing over the “J” hook design.
The type of mixer used can have an impact upon the mixing time as well. For example, when a vertical cutter mixer (VCM) is used the total mixing time is measured in seconds, so the difference between a properly mixed dough and an over-mixed dough can be measured in the blink of an eye. When using this type of mixer, mix the dough for 60 seconds and check the consistency and appearance. If the dough is not smooth and satiny in appearance, mix in five-second increments until these characteristics are achieved. Make a note of the mixing time in seconds and all future doughs can be mixed to the same time.
By far the most common type of mixer encountered in pizzerias today is the planetary mixer. When equipped with a reverse spiral dough arm these mixers do a great job of mixing pizza dough with excellent consistency. The best way to determine when a pizza dough is properly mixed using a planetary mixer is to mix the dough at the highest possible speed without putting undue strain on the mixer. This normally means second speed on a two-, three- or four-speed mixer. The dough should be mixed just to the point where it takes on a smooth, satiny appearance. Keep in mind that if there is any doubt, it is better to under mix the dough than to over-mix it. The dough is then ready to go to the bench for scaling and balling. When mixing the dough in this way, we normally find that the second speed mixing time is held to around eight to 10 minutes.
Finally, spiral mixers (resembling a bowl with a cork screw) are finally coming into their own in pizzeria applications. It seems that I hear of more spiral mixers finding their way into pizzeria kitchens every year — and rightfully so. The spiral mixer is an excellent design for mixing tough pizza doughs. It can pretty well match the planetary mixers for handling different dough sizes based on the bowl size/capacity. And mixing times are typically only about two minutes longer than that of a planetary mixer. When judging the correct dough development when using a spiral mixer, the same criteria are used as when using a planetary mixer. Just mix the dough until it takes on a smooth, satiny appearance and it’s done.
One of the strong points for the spiral design mixers is that they handle the abuse of mixing tough doughs very well and seem to require very little in terms of maintenance or repairs over the course of years. The only real negative to the spiral mixers is that, by design, they are a dedicated dough mixer as opposed to many of the planetary mixers, which can also be used for blending sauce, slicing vegetables, shredding cheese, etc.
As you can see, it’s almost impossible to give a recommendation for mixing time as there are just so many variables that impact the mixing time in one way or another. But if you follow these guidelines for determining when your dough is properly mixed, you can find a mixing time for your specific dough that your employees can easily follow.
Tom Lehmann is a former director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas and Pizza Today’s resident dough expert.