Summer is coming quickly, and with Covid restrictions across the country loosening and the number of vaccinations rising, that means dining rooms will be opening and off-site events will be returning. Pizza trailers and catering events will be in full swing, and ensuring your product and dough is consistent and cool will be the ultimate challenge.
Taking on mobile catering and events can be tricky at best. Every time you think you nail down the details in advance, when that day comes there always seems to be a change in plans or an unexpected hurdle. We are always looking for the best ways to control our environment and anything outside your normal will test your knowledge and skill as a pizza maker. Here are a few ideas on how to manage your dough in unanticipated conditions.
Before you prepare for any event, you will always want to know a few things first. If you are using an oven given to you by the venue, what kind of oven is it? You will want to know the temperature it can reach as well as if it is a home style, convection oven or if it is a pizza oven. This will dictate what kind of dough you will be making and the style you will be serving. Next, you will want to check the weather and then pray the weather app is accurate or at least darn close. Depending on where you live, there could be four seasonal changes in a day, so having a backup plan is best.
Depending on the weather there are a few things to consider: how much yeast? Bulk fermentation? Starter? When will I ball my dough? If the day looks to be on the cooler side, adding a bit more yeast than normal could help activate your dough a little quicker before the day of the event. Understanding that there is such a thing as too much yeast, I would recommend upping by a quarter percent and no more. On the day of the event getting your dough to a warm temperature can be a trickier scenario. I have been in situations where it looked like I messed up my dough because it did not rise or used dead yeast, but it was because the environment was just too cold. It slowed down the yeast activity to a point of hibernation. Warming the dough up as fast as possible was my only solution. If you are ever so lucky to be in a place that has heating, crank up the thermostat. Investing in a warming cabinet that is easily transported is a great way to warm up dough quickly as well as maintain the temperature and humidity. If extra equipment is not in the budget, then something I do quite often is moving the dough in front of the oven and rotating the stack occasionally to ensure even heating. Finding the warmest and coolest spot of any kitchen or venue is always good to know.
In the case that it is too hot, this can be a little trickier. Refrigerated trucks or vans or inside
refrigeration is always the best route, but not all venues and concepts can accommodate this. Large coolers with ice are always needed because not only will your dough need to be kept cold, but your
ingredients will also need to be refrigerated. Delivery style bags are also a great tool as they not only keep the heat in but will also keep cold. Investing in a few may be a good idea as these break down when empty and can be easily stacked and stored when they are not in use.
If the weather is anticipated to be hot and you will not have access to a lot of cold storage, adapting your dough could be an advantage. Bulk fermentation is a great tool that can be used when conditions are not ideal. Although some advance planning may be needed, bulk fermentation is a great technique when there is not a lot of storage on hand. Before the event you would want to make your dough, and instead of scaling out your portions and forming balls the same day, you would place a large portion of your finished dough into large containers and either leave them out in cool areas, so they rise slowly or refrigerate. This bulk dough could be left for a day or so in its container until the day of the event. On the day of the event, you would punch it down and then form the dough into balls. Whether in dough boxes or on sheet pans and a speed rack, the dough would then sit out at room temperature until ready to use.
Optimally you would want to portion your balls in the morning in anticipation of cooking them later in the afternoon or evening. If it is going to be extremely hot, this rising process will happen sooner in which you would wait to ball your dough till late morning. Bulk fermenting your dough is a great method to learn for those events where conditions are tricky. You have more control over the fermentation process and can decide when to ball your dough depending on weather conditions that day.
Lowering your yeast percentage is another way to ensure your dough will not blow up on you on a hot day. Yeast is more active in a warm environment, and if there is too much yeast in a batch on a hot day, there is a possibility of the yeast consuming all the sugars in the dough before you use it. This would end up as blown dough and something that will not color well in the oven or rise. Normally bulk fermentation is done without the use of a starter as the end goal is the same, to create flavor and structure. If you choose to go the route of bulk fermentation, omitting the starter is best.
All in all, off-site events can be fun and a great way to expand your company’s presence but can also be stressful and overwhelming. Keeping these tips and tricks in mind will help smooth out any bumps and hurdles you may encounter along the way.
Laura Meyer is Administrator & Instructor, The International School of Pizza.