In the Mix
In my day-to-day job I answer a lot of questions. One main question that always stands out centers on the proper way to mix a batch of dough and for how long. It is always hard to tell people there is no magic written recipe that will come out the same every single time unless you learn the factors at play and how to adjust for them. When it comes to mixing a batch of dough, there are a few key elements that I always consider that will determine the length of mixing as well as the order in which I add ingredients to the mixer.
The mixer itself will determine a lot and no two mixers are the same. The most common mixers you will find in pizzerias are planetary, spiral, and fork (specific to those doing Neapolitan style pizza). Planetary mixers tend to be the roughest on dough and drill a hole in the middle pushing all the ingredients together against the sides. Planetary mixers have detachable bowls that raise up and down and have different speeds to accommodate a faster mix. I would recommend not exceeding a 12-minute total mix time in a planetary mixer. They also have attachments to cut cheese and vegetables or to mix sauce with a balloon whisk attachment.
Spiral mixers have fixed bowls and dual speeds. The spiral itself is usually off to the side and is gentler on the dough. The dual speeds can bring higher hydrated doughs together better than a planetary mixer. The bowl on spiral mixers can also rotate. Combined with the rotation of the spiral itself, which can spin clockwise or counterclockwise, these two elements give you a better overall mix without having to stop and manually push your dough together.
Well mixed dough in spiral mixers forms a pumpkin-like appearance on top. I would not exceed a 15-minute total mix time in a spiral mixer. The ability to toggle between speeds will alter these total mix times. If you are only staying on speed one, then those total times apply. If you are moving between speed one and the faster second speed, your total mix time will be shorter.
Fork mixers, which are most common in Neapolitan styles, are even slower than spirals. They are gentler on your dough and fold your ingredients together creating less friction and impart less heat on your dough. The bowls are fixed, and the total mix times can extend towards 18 to 20 minutes. The advantage to these mixers is how gentle it is on your dough. Dough does not come out as one homogeneous mass but is more of a rope.
The least common mixer found in U.S. pizzerias is a diving arm mixer. These mixers are more commonly found in specialized pizzerias or bakeries. This mixer replicates how dough would be mixed by hand. These are great mixers as they impart the least amount of friction or heat but can take the longest to mix as well as can be hard for operations as they do not have attachments for cutting and grating.
Now that I have thought about the type of mixer I am using and know more or less how long I should be mixing for, in what order should I be adding ingredients? If my recipe includes a preferment/starter, there are two ways to approach a mix. Some add a portion of water to the bowl first and then add the preferment. Mixing these two ingredients together first ensures the preferment is mostly dissolved before proceeding with the flour and the rest of the ingredients.
The other method is to either begin with water or flour in the bowl, add your yeast and then the other ingredient you did not start with, be it water or flour. And then add your preferment into the mix before your flour and water have become a complete homogeneous mass. If using this second method, you do not want to wait too long to add your preferment. Once the water and flour have started to develop gluten, it can become hard to incorporate a preferment that has also developed gluten. It becomes like two pieces of taffy trying to become one. They do not always come together completely.
Yeast is another ingredient to take into consideration. If I am using instant yeast, this can be added directly into the bowl with the flour. If I am using dry active yeast, I need to first bloom it in warm water and then add it to the bowl in a different stage. If you do not bloom active dry yeast, it does not mean your dough will not come out correct; it may just take a little longer to really get going.
When to add water can be done a few different ways.
Some people add water to the bowl first and then the flour and then some people do the reverse. Regardless of the method I choose I never add all the water at once. Even if I am making the same batch of dough I make every day, temperature, humidity, the flour itself and even how hot the mixer is from use will change my batch of dough. I always reserve a small portion and gradually add my water in. You can always add, but once it is in you can never take it out.
Autolyze is another method regarding water that ensures flour is as completely hydrated as it can be. This method requires a resting period after a gentle mix of a portion of the flour and water before adding the remaining water and other ingredients. The downside to this method is that it requires time and space. If you only have one mixer, then you could be making dough for hours because of the wait time between steps.
For recipes without a fat, salt is always my last ingredient going in. Some people dissolve salt into the water, but salt can kill yeast and even though it is not a guarantee that the salt will kill the yeast, it is just a precaution of mine to separate them as best I can.
If my recipe calls for a fat this is always my last ingredient. Fats do not mix well with water and if it is added too early on, it can create little pockets where water cannot penetrate. Fats are binders and emulsifiers. We want to add this at the end to bring everything together.
The way I approach mixing a batch regardless of the equipment and ingredients is I always aim to hydrate my flour as best I can and incorporate each ingredient completely before adding the next. My goal is to make sure I can maximize fermentation by giving the ingredients the best head start possible.
Laura Meyer is Administrator & Instructor, The International School of Pizza.