Subtle changes can help create a more consistent pizza
In the world of independent pizzerias, we are always looking for the next big thing that will make our restaurants stand out. More importantly, we are striving for consistency in our product. There is nothing better than getting new customers, but retaining them for a second, third, and hopefully loyal return visits is the name of the game. There are a few simple changes you can make to your dough procedure and dough recipe that will help you achieve that consistency and maybe take it to the next level. Change can be scary, and you’ve worked really hard to come up with a recipe that you can be proud of and one that works within your operation. But have no fear. Small subtle changes can ensure a consistent product as well as one that keeps you creative and always striving for more.
Here are a few ideas to adjust your procedures:
- Switching from volume measurement to weight. Volume can be very inconsistent in that one person may pack down an ingredient and another might do a heaping scoop. The two are never the same and will always drastically alter the outcome. Whether you choose grams or ounces, I recommend picking one and sticking with it.
- Controlling temperatures. If your dough changes from day to day, the most common reason is inconsistent temperatures. Yeast becomes most active around 70 F and dies around 110 F. When you make dough, you always want to think about the final temperature. If your dough is too hot, it will proof too quickly causing it to blow up before the intended use. How to combat this is to focus on the temperature of the ingredients that you can control the most. Use cold water or add ice in the summer or on warm days. If using a starter/pre-ferment, cool it off in the refrigerator for a bit before adding it to the mixer. Controlling just these two ingredients will have a profound effect on the result.
One thing people always forget is that as your dough is resting, whether on a bench or in the fridge, it is a living thing and is going to rise, which means heat. Your dough is going to release heat, and if it is enclosed in a container, then that means heat is trapped and your dough will rise too quickly. Letting your dough breathe a little before closing is always a good idea. If you go straight from mixer to balled form, cross stack your dough boxes for two to five minutes to let some of the heat escape. If in bulk form, let it rest on a table or in its container for a few minutes before closing. You will only want to do this for a few minutes. Anything longer and your dough will begin to dry out and form a skin.
- Type of container. Another way to help control temperature is the type of container or vessel you choose to proof your dough in or on. Dough boxes are great in that they are stackable and can be color coded, but can trap heat. Metal sheet pans, wrapped in plastic and held on a speed rack, cool down faster because of the metal. They also help with air circulation between the trays. Both have their pros and cons depending on the operation and handling methods you employ.
When it comes to your dough recipe there are countless simple tweaks you can make that will alter the texture of your dough in its raw and baked form as well as enhance the flavor.
Water is usually the second most common ingredient in dough, and increasing or decreasing this will change the texture of your finished product (as well as change the handling of your raw dough). The lower the hydration, the easier it is to handle when raw and in balled form. As a cooked product it will have some crispness (depending on how long it is baked), and the interior crumb will be tighter. By increasing the water in your dough the manageability when raw becomes more difficult, but when it is baked your dough will have a more pronounced crispness and a more open interior crumb.
Another way to enhance flavor is by the addition of a starter or pre-ferment. There are a few types of starter, but the most common are sourdough or levain (no commercial yeast), biga (anywhere from 50 precent to as high as 65-percent hydration) and poolish (100-percent hydration). A preferment is just that, a portion of mixed flour, water and yeast that is fermented separately a day or two in advance and then added to your dough during the mixing process. By using a starter you are adding already created flavor, which enhances the overall taste and adds to the final crumb structure.
Autolyse is a technique more commonly found in bread baking, but is a great addition if time permitting. Autolyse is the process of mixing flour and water (sometimes with yeast and salt added) to a shaggy mass and then resting before mixing to full gluten development. The period of rest allows the flour to hydrate more fully while starting the natural enzyme breakdown and gluten development. In theory, this process reduces the amount of active mix time, but can cancel out total mix time because it may need to sit for 20 to 30 minutes or longer.
Having enough salt in your dough will greatly impact overall flavor. Doughs with at least 2-percent salt will have more pronounced flavor than those with less. Doughs with higher salt contents reaching above 3 percent can start to affect fermentation, so there is a give and take with this.
There are lots of small tweaks we as pizza makers can do to enhance and change our dough and final product. Not all are doable depending on your operation, but change is nothing to fear. With the climate we are in, change is necessary … and you never know what new technique or recipe might inspire you next.
Laura Meyer is Chef at Capo’s and Administrator and Teaching Assistant at the International School of Pizza in San Francisco.