Baking flatbreads and breads in your pizzeria
In 1980, I had a job as a short-order cook working the graveyard shift at a roadside diner called The Breakfast Barn in rural North Carolina. Being the young punk that I was, I thought I knew everything and ruled my night-kingdom of high school waitresses, truckers, burgers and burnt coffee until five a.m., that was when Mona came in. Mona was the head cook. She taught me about the art of mixing sausage, braising collards and making the perfect gravy always while yelling at me to “look closer child, this is how you do it.” Every morning, Mona started by silently making biscuit dough over a large bowl. One day, I asked her why she did this instead of ordering refrigerated dough. She said, “Son, if you don’t make your own biscuits, you’ll never be a good cook.” I still carry her wisdom in my pizzeria today. We bake everything from buns to baguettes in our ovens and have become better cooks because of it. We now sell breads to barbecue joints, farmers markets and local grocery stores and are the only pizzeria in town that bakes bread.
Let’s face it, titles are just that. If you are making your own dough and baking your own dough, you are a baker. In fact, the very mixing you do, be it direct mixing using only yeast or indirectly, using a natural starter or mother is exactly how bakers do it.
Dough say can you see…
Here are some considerations when thinking about expanding your pizzeria into a bakery:
- How much time is your pizzeria closed? If you close at 1 a.m. and open at 10 a.m., that’s nine hours in which time all that expensive equipment you invested in sits idle.
- Who better to be a baker than you? You’ve got all the equipment sitting right there in front of you, like flour, mixer, walk-in, peels, trays, etc.
- Who is filling the void in the bread market or the sandwich market? If you have artisan bread, you’ll probably be able to make the best sandwiches in town, right?
Achy Baky Heart
The distance between a pizza baker and a bread baker is short. A pizzaiolo or pizzeria owner who wants to step into the baking world doesn’t have to invest much. All it takes is heart, motivation and a plan. Here are some things to get you started:
- Educate yourself about breads. The world of bread extends well beyond the typical batards, baguette and sourdough loaves. Flatbreads across the world are made because they are tasty, fast to make and popular. There are many great books out there from great authors like Peter Reinhart, Michael Kalanty and Jim Lahey. Steal and tweak existing recipes like every baker. Most importantly go the International Artisan Bakery Expo in Las Vegas, concurrently with Pizza Expo, every spring.
- Set yourself up with a plan. Who and where will you sell these breads? Is there room in your lobby for breads or a merchandiser for sandwiches? Who and when are you going to make the dough, proof the loaves and when will you bake them without getting in the way of your pizza operation?
- Use your existing ingredients. Many flatbreads around the world are accompanied by vegetables, meats, fruit and nuts. This can include olives, garlic, sausage, Parmigiano, feta, Asiago, onions, green peppers, ham, jalapeños, mushrooms, potatoes, spinach, artichokes, hot peppers, prosciutto di Parma, capicola, walnuts and even pineapple. Your whole wheat, spelt, rye as well as ancient grains, can be mixed with high-gluten with delicious results.
The world of baking is broad and may seem daunting but the more you work at it the better you will get. Here are some technical secrets that I have found to make baking breads easier.
- Couche. This is a linen fabric to hold bread forms while proofing.
- Benneton. These are straw or plastic baskets in the form of a boule, (round bowl) or batard, (long, fat loaf). They help retain the structure of the bread while proofing.
- Bakers parchment. When you are loading flatbreads onto large sheet pans, this will save you from trying to scrape the bread off.
- Egg wash. People are like bass. If you stick something shiny in their face, they’ll bite. In typical bread ovens, steam is used to get a shiny crust. Using egg wash with 30- to 50-percent water is a great way to get a shine from any dough. This is magic when your conveyor oven doesn’t (and never will) steam.
- Razor blades and small plastic cutters. Couldn’t do without them.
- Always sample your breads. A bread sample in a hungry person’s mouth is worth all the advertising in the world.
When you really think about it, bread baking should be right up your alley.
Spinach Pide, (Pee-DAY) Flatbread
This is a Turkish flatbread made in hot ovens. It is another favorite of mine and once you get the dough-knot mastered, it’ll be a real showstopper for your customers. I tell people that this is just like a spinach-artichoke dip pie. Oh yea!
Ciabatta with old dough starter (Pâte Fermentée)
Ciabatta is the Italian “Slipper” bread because of its appearance. This recipe uses old pizza dough as the Biga or pre-ferment and gives it much character, color and longevity on your counter. It is from the lake region in Northern Italy and is known for its airy interior and crunchy crust. The wet dough is a challenge for heavy-handed newcomers to baking but you’ll know it was well worth it after that first bite. The perfect sandwich for ciabatta is fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil and lots of extra virgin olive oil.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.