Some pizza doughs are made with sugar, and others are made without.
Typically, we find that dough destined to be baked at high temperatures is made without any added sugar, while those that will be baked at lower temperatures (425 to 450 F) will contain at least some sugar to assist in crust color development. Doughs that contain sugar will brown quite quickly when baked at high temperatures, thus prompting their removal from the oven. But be advised, the pizza may not be baked as well as it appears to be. While nice and brown on the outside, it may be soft and moist on the inside.
Besides affecting crust color development, sugar also provides a source of nutrient for the yeast to feed upon. So if you are holding your dough for several days in the cooler, a small amount of sugar added to the dough formula –– about 1 percent –– may help your dough to perform better after several days of cooler storage. Since much of this sugar will be consumed by the yeast, there will be very little, if any, of it left to contribute to crust color development in the oven. The type of sugar added can have an impact on both the flavor and crumb color of the finished crust, and this is what we are going to review in this article.
When it comes to selecting a sugar for its flavor contribution we have several choices. Honey comes in a number of color-based grades. The higher the grade, the lighter the color. Since the price of honey is based on its color, the lighter the color, the more expensive — but that doesn’t always mean that it is the best suited to our specific application in a crust. Taking into account the high cost of honey, it makes a lot of sense to use a darker colored, more intensely flavored honey at a lower level to achieve the desired flavor in our crusts. The only time when a lighter colored honey needs to be considered is when a honey flavor is desired and you want to minimize any darkening of the crumb color in the finished crust. If you’re making a wheat or whole-wheat crust, one of the darker colored, lower cost grades of honey will provide both flavor and crumb color improvement to the finished crust and save you a few dollars in the long run.
Molasses can also be added to pizza doughs to impart a unique flavor. But like with dark colored honey and malt syrup, the color of molasses is also dark, so it will have a darkening affect on the crumb portion of the finished pizza crust. The flavor imparted by molasses is truly unique and it blends well with dark colored flours such as whole-wheat, multi-grain or even many of the more exotic flours such as buckwheat, quinua, amaranth, and a host of others. About the only thing to watch for with molasses is to purchase only unsulfured molasses, as other forms of this sweetener can be detrimental to yeast activity, resulting in poor dough performance.
While not exactly a sweetener, fruit juice and juice concentrates have been used in some applications. Some of the more common ones are apple juice, apple juice concentrate, raisin juice, raisin juice concentrate, and prune juice. While these can be effectively used as sweeteners, their main shortfall is with the flavor that they impart. In some products the flavor may not be an issue, but in others, the flavor might be construed as off, foreign, or different, in any case, this is something that you would have to seriously consider to determine if it might be right for your product or application.
Corn sugar, (dextrose) either as a dry sugar, or as syrup, may also have a unique application in pizza crusts. Dextrose differs from sucrose (regular table sugar or cane/beet sugar) in that it is less sweet, only about 90 percent as sweet as sucrose, and it also imparts a lighter crust color to the baked product than sucrose. What this means is that it can be used to provide some level of sweetness, or nutrient for the yeast to feed upon without getting quite as dark of a baked crust color as would be had with other sweetener forms.
Brown sugar is another sugar type that we see occasionally used. This is really nothing more than white table sugar (sucrose) with a small portion of the black strap molasses added back to the sugar to give it the darker color and slight molasses like flavor. Because of its low level in the sugar, the molasses really doesn’t provide for much flavor, but it does give more of a “natural” formulation than the refined, white sugar.
Finally, lactose, also known as milk sugar, is a truly different type of sugar from those previously mentioned sugars because it is not fermented by the yeast and it also has a very low sweetness, only 15 percent that of sucrose, so it doesn’t really contribute any sweetness to the finished crust. What it does bring to the party is crust color development, or browning. This can come in handy when formulating a dough for a take and bake application. Because a take-and-bake pizza will be baked in a home oven, which doesn’t have the strong bottom heat to really bake the pizza well, the addition of 3- to 5-percent lactose to the dough formula will provide for the necessary browning properties without any unwanted sweetness. And since the lactose isn’t fermented by the yeast, you don’t have to worry about the sugar level diminishing with time as the dough/pizza is stored in the refrigerator.
While many of these sweeteners are syrups rather than dry, their flavor and/or color contribution is more significant than that of regular white sugar. You will want to experiment with a lower use level than you are presently using for your regular sugar. A good place to start is to replace the dry sugar with the syrup at the same weight. Due to the water content of the syrup, this will provide about a 20-percent reduction in overall sugar level, you can then make additional adjustments as necessary to achieve the desired flavor and color characteristics. If you are making a natural type of crust, or just want to add more of a “natural” or “healthy” appeal to your existing crust, proper selection of sugar type can play an important roll in the way your consumer perceives you crust/pizza.