Can a new dough net you new customer loyalty?
The Belgian purity rules as they pertain to beer are very simple: all beer must be made with only water, hops and barley. With that said, there are a million ways to make different-tasting beers under those stringent standards. And, today, the beer brewing community has gone on to create amazing variations with added ingredients from chocolate and honey to Sriracha and ginger. That forward movement is accepted and encouraged in beer, but pizza makers have been less inclined toward dough experimentation. Frankly, it’s holding us back. Take your basic dough recipe of flour, yeast, water, salt and — in most American recipes — olive oil. At Andolini’s, we’ve created a ton of variations with just those ingredients using different flours, varied fermentations and processes.
We’re not saying American pizza makers are holding back on getting crazy with pizza inventiveness, it’s just that by and large when a pizzeria innovates, they typically do it via the toppings.
Now why is that? Why is it uncommon to see a basic pizzeria, one willing to do an “everything pizza,” unwilling to make the leap into a beer dough or a honey and rosemary dough? The biggest reason is it’s hard to create an experimental dough and have enough sales of it to justify the expense of labor and product that comes with making a separate specific batch. In fact, if you are making anything more than one dough recipe inside your pizzeria, you would be in the minority.
It takes a lot of R&D to have multiple doughs, so if you’ve found one that works with your recipes and toppings it’s easy to want to count your blessings and call it a day on that front. That’s lazy logic though.
I’ve competed with a beer-based dough in the past at Pizza Expo and learned that it can be a powerful addition to my menu. We used a local beer, Marshall’s Big Jamoke, made down the street from us in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went out on a limb to be different for the competition, but I’ve learned that what I push myself to do for competition will typically translate into what my brand needs to do in order to stay fresh.
Now, the process I went through to settle on a recipe is something I highly suggest to anyone else looking to be creative with pizza dough. Here are some guiding principles for creating a new dough:
- Start with the script, not the movie poster. Pizzas are best built from the ground up. A few years back I wanted to make a German Oktoberfest pizza with a beer dough and brats for toppings. Cool idea, sure, but a word of advice — don’t be in love with the idea. Develop an appreciation for the flavors and build upon each one.So, I started with some different beers as the single variable in each test dough. I tried three doughs with different beers, but all with the same quantities of flour and other ingredients. I went from there to build upon which beer works the best and then tested the recipe with different amounts of that beer. Then and only then did I do multiple iterations of pizza toppings on this beer dough. If you’re open to experimentation and input, you’ll find that what you expected might not be reality, but what you discover is better than your original intent. The newly created beer dough recipe seemed to work better with Alfredo sauce and garlic than it did with bratwurst. That’s just how it goes. I was able to turn that into a great-selling pizza only when I decided to choose flavor above story.
- Have the tools to do it. If you want to make small batches of dough to try out, a 20-quart stand mixer might be your best bet to avoid massive amounts of a single dough type.
- If at first you don’t succeed… If the new dough isn’t different from your regular dough, or the flavor you’re looking to sell it on isn’t pronounced, then try it again. If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up. As a matter of fact, it’s highly unlikely that it will work the first time. It’s a hard but very real pill all self-employed owners and pizza makers must swallow if they want to be better than the pack. Be a mad scientist. Get crazy with it. If it sounds out there — try it anyway. You won’t regret trying some things wrong to eventually land somewhere very right.
- The corners of the ham: I have a story I tell every member of my staff. I don’t know who wrote it, or even if it’s true, but the parable holds up: “At Christmas one year a little girl asked her mom why, every year, her mom cut the corners of the Christmas ham before baking it. Mom said, ‘Because that’s how you cook ham.’ The little girl persisted and her mother asked grandma. Grandma said, ‘Because that’s how you cook ham.’ The little girl then asked great-grandma, who said, ‘I cut the corners off ham because in the ‘20s I had a very small pan and cutting the corners was the only way it would fit in the pan.” The moral of the story is that just because it has been done that way forever, doesn’t make it right — or even a good idea that still applies to today. KNOW why you put something into your dough and how it affects your recipe or else you are just cutting the corners off your ham. Here are some examples:
- Malt is basically sugar and will speed up the yeast in your dough and make it brown or even burn faster. If your dough is cooking way before your cheese, avoid adding sugar. If you have a bleached flour or a slower bake recipe, malt or sugar might be just what you need.
- Honey is also a sugar; it can brown your dough. It also has the potential to kill yeast. Not that you can’t use it, but be aware of how much you use and how.
- Salt also can kill yeast. It’s best practice to mix your yeast water and have it fully absorbed before adding anything to your dough.
- Garlic, ginger and most herbs will get better with time and can act as a preservative to the dough. It is hard to say with certainty how the flavor will develop with fresh herbs until you experiment. You can go the safe route with dried herbs, but I say if it’s worth going this far, might as well go full bore and maximize the potency with fresh herbs.
Keep in mind, if your additive has carbohydrates, it will speed up yeast and brown your dough. If your additive has salt, it will strengthen your dough’s gluten net and potentially hurt your yeast if introduced too early.
So what’s the point? Why try this at all? My answer to that is brand identity and top-of-mind awareness. There is no call to action for the pizza place with the same five-pizza menu on the tile menu board with the same old clichéd pizzeria standards. That place might be what people say they love because of how dive-y it is, but that style of pizzeria doesn’t create consistent revenue because the menu is stale. It’s the once-a-year place people go to rather than the twice-a-month you need to survive. The phrase you want people saying is, “Let’s go to (your pizzeria name here). They have that new (insert fantastic pizza concept here) pizza that I really want to try. The owner (your name) is way into trying interesting things and I really want to see what (he or she, not discriminating) does with it.”
The big boys of the pizza world have new pizzas all the time to generate this, but instead of being kitschy and soulless, you do you. You, as an independent pizzeria, can use ingenuity and heart to create unique doughs and accompanying ingredients — something people will stand in line to try.
Mike Bausch owns and operates Andolini’s Pizzeria in Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker and presenter at International Pizza Expo.