September 26, 2012 |

Take N Bake Pizza

By Tom Lehmann

Take and bake pizza has finally grabbed the attention of mainstream operators and questions abound on how to make take and bake pizzas. They are really not that difficult to make as evidenced by the fact that some operators don’t do much more than just dress a dough skin placed on a piece of parchment paper and send it out with the customer to be baked in their home. There are some things that can be done, though, that will help to make your take-and-bake pizzas more consumer friendly and perform better at the same time.

The main challenge in making high quality take-and-bake pizzas is being able to give the consumer a pizza that will tolerate the type of abuse that it will ultimately be exposed to. For the most part, this will be some form of time and/or temperature abuse.

When we make a fresh pizza at our store, we have complete control over the entire operation. We know how old the dough is, and if there is any question or problem regarding the dough we can make adjustments or take action to compensate for it. With a take-and-bake pizza, however, the entire pizza is sent home with the consumer to be baked (hopefully) in a timely manner according to our enclosed instructions. As we all know this is mostly wishful thinking. The consumer may buy a take-and-bake pizza with the intention of making it for dinner that same night — only to discover that other dinner plans have already been made. The pizza is refrigerated for dinner on another night. The challenge is to have a pizza that will still bake-up light and crispy even after a couple of days in the refrigerator.

It is also troublesome when the take-and-bake pizza is subjected to an unusually long period without refrigeration. This can easily happen when the pizza is placed into the trunk of a car along with other groceries on a shopping trip. The heat and 30-plus minutes can begin proofing the crust, causing it to rise prematurely. When the pizza finally arrives at its destination it might look something more like a 20-pound Michelin Man stuffed into a five-pound plastic bag –– not a pretty sight.

Either of these cases can result in customer dissatisfaction and, if you’re lucky, a customer returning the offending pizza for another one. If you are not so lucky, the customer might just write your pizza off as a total failure and you end up losing a customer.

So, what can we do to increase tolerance to this kind of abuse? Let’s keep things simple and stay with our regular dough formula, but make a few changes to the formula and procedure to give the dough/pizza that needed level of tolerance.

To give the dough improved tolerance to aging, first mix the dough fresh daily. Immediately after mixing the dough temperature should be in the 80 to 85 F range. Scale the dough to desired weight pieces and form into balls. Allow the dough balls to ferment for 2 hours and shape into dough skins. The dough skins can be placed on screens and put into the cooler for rapid cooling. After the skins are thoroughly cooled (60 minutes) they can be stacked with a piece of parchment between each skin and placed into the reach in cooler under the prep table for immediate use. Remember, if you use dough that has aged in the cooler overnight, that will just be one day less shelf life that the pizza will have in the hands of the consumer.

The dough formula can also be modified to some extent. By keeping the yeast level to 1 percent or less of the flour weight (for compressed yeast, or 0.5 percent for active dry yeast, or 0.35 percent for instant dry yeast) you can help to give the dough better tolerance to both excessive temperatures and storage times. The addition of about 1 percent (based on flour weight) of a fat encapsulated chemical leavening system will function to provide additional leavening with the reduced yeast level. Also, since it will not fully react to leaven the dough/crust until it is baked in the oven, it will provide a level of assurance that the dough will always rise to an acceptable level even if the pizza is subjected to extremes of storage time or temperature in the hands of the consumer.

When making fresh baked pizzas, we normally don’t like to work with cold dough since it exhibits a pronounced tendency to blister or bubble during baking, but in this application it is a distinct advantage to build the pizza on a cold dough skin since this further helps to prevent premature rising of the dough during transport to the consumer’s home refrigerator. Don’t worry about the cold dough blistering or bubbling excessively in the home oven. This is only a problem in our much hotter pizza ovens. The cooler baking home ovens generally don’t exhibit this tendency.

While we’re discussing those home ovens, don’t forget that those lower home baking temperatures will make the dough somewhat more difficult to color-up during baking. To correct, you will need to increase the sugar content in the dough to at least 5 percent of the flour weight. If you find that the finished crust has an objectionably sweet taste you might consider reducing the sugar back down to more normal levels of 1 to 3 percent and then adding 3 to 5 percent sweet dairy whey. Whey is high in lactose sugar, also known as milk sugar. This type of sugar will color-up readily during baking, but because of the low sweetness level of lactose, it will not impart a sweet taste to the finished crust like other sugars do.

Aside from the dough you should also take a look at your sauce. A sauce that is too thin and watery will tend to separate and soak into the dough with time, resulting in the development of an undesirable gum line. To forestall this, keep the sauce on the thick side (14 to 16 percent solids) and brush the dough skin with a little oil before applying the sauce. The oil application will help to create a barrier to further prevent moisture from migrating into the dough.

By following some or all of these guidelines you can make take-and-bake pizzas that will contribute to your bottom line and won’t disappoint any of your hard-earned customers.