The Dough Doctor sounds off on opening a dough skin and using air impingement ovens
Q: Can I get the same chewiness and crispness from a machine rolled dough as from a hand-toss forming procedure?
A: If the intent is to fully open the dough by machine to form the pizza skin without any changes from what you are presently doing by hand tossing, the answer is no. Hand-toss forming has essentially no impact upon the gas entrapped within the dough, so as soon as the dough goes into the oven those gas cells almost immediately begin expanding to create an open and porous cell structure which is conducive to achieving a crispy crust characteristic –– though not necessarily the chewiest. When the dough is fully opened by machine to full size, there is almost always extensive degassing of the dough. If taken directly to the oven, what gas is left entrap-ped within the dough is slower to expand. The open, porous crumb structure is not formed, resulting in thinner, denser dough that exhibits better heat transfer properties than the hand-tossed dough during baking. This, in turn, allows more heat to be effectively transported from the bottom of the pizza to the top where the moisture from the sauce and vegetable toppings help to dissipate the heat in the form of steam. This results in the bottom of the pizza never getting hot enough for a sufficient long period of time to develop a very crispy characteristic, and if the pizza is baked long enough to develop a crispy characteristic the crispiness is soon lost after baking.
On the other hand, these same machine-rolled doughs have a penchant for developing a chewy finished crust characteristic resulting from that dense crumb structure. The issues with dense crumb structure can be addressed by allowing time for the machine rolled (sheeted) dough to rise for a period of time after forming and before dressing and going to the oven. This rising (proofing) time allows the open cell structure in the dough to reform so the dough can perform more like that of the hand-formed dough with similar finished crust characteristics. However, the challenge to this approach is in integrating the rising/proofing time into your existing dough management procedure.
A number of years ago I was challenged with teaching an individual who had never opened a dough by hand to hand-toss dough. The greatest problem in opening the dough by hand is in getting a uniform thickness across the entire diameter of the skin, with the greatest problem being thin spots in the center of the dough skin. With time, practice and experience the technique for opening the dough without the thin spots can be mastered, but that takes time –– which many of us do not have, especially when teaching a new hire.
The solution that we found was to use the dough roller/sheeter to only partially open the dough and then finish opening it by hand to full diameter. This resulted in a learning curve that could be measured in minutes as opposed to days, weeks, months or even years. Opening the dough to about 75 percent or a little more of its full diameter will not de-gas the dough as much as opening it to full diameter will. Bringing it out to full diameter by hand tossing will not de-gas the dough any further, so the dough performs much as a fully hand-opened dough does, and it provides essentially all of the same finished pizza characteristics as that of a hand opened pizza. The greatest benefits to this procedure are that it allows the dough to be much more easily opened without developing overly thin spots in the center and it eliminates the most difficult part of hand opening the dough –– getting the dough ball started in the opening process. This process reduces the learning curve for hand opening the dough to just a matter of minutes.
Q: We are presently using an air impingement oven and we are going to be moving into a smaller shop. Due to the floor plan, our existing oven will not fit so we will need to downsize to a smaller (shorter) oven. My concerns are whether a smaller oven will still bake as well as our existing oven, which has a 54.5-inch long baking chamber.
A: Not to worry. You can downsize to an oven roughly 42 inches long and actually get improved baking performance as well as economy of operation. Since you will be downsizing the dimensions of your oven I would highly suggest that you plan to purchase a new oven and work with the manufacturer to develop a top-and-bottom finger profile that will replicate the bake you are presently getting, not just on your pizzas but on anything else you’re presently baking. I see no reason why this shouldn’t be entirely feasible. In fact, you might even like your new oven more than your old one.
Tom Lehmann is a former director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas and Pizza Today’s resident dough expert.