In the Kitchen
Great dough, great crust: The Pizza Chef
By Diana Cline
By Diana Cline
Never underestimate the importance of great dough. As few as five simple ingredients become the base of your pizza, and good or bad, it all starts here.
Most pizzeria operators can get the same toppings and cheese as the next guy down the block. The level of quality and freshness you choose determines your standards for your pizza, and your position in your market. This leaves it up to your dough to flatten or to enhance the flavours on your pie.
Many operators buy ready-made pizza dough. Pizza dough is actually quite easy to make, once you know what you’re doing. Of course, it’s just as easy to mess it up, so I understand why many prefer ready-made dough. Salt, yeast, water, olive oil and flour, sometimes sugar: it’s science, but not rocket science.
The water content is known as the hydration of your dough. Many operators think using less or only a little water will create a crispier crust, but actually the opposite is true. Some pizza dough recipes have extremely high water content, and the dough is almost like a pancake batter, which means you must bake them in a pan. In a future column I will focus on different levels of hydration and using beer and wine to enhance the flavour of your pizza dough.
Choose a flour that lends itself to the characteristics of the style of pizza crust you are aiming to create. A pastry flour with low protein and high starch content will create a softer crust. If you are making dough the same day that you use it, then a pastry style flour will work great for you. A flour with a higher protein and a lower starch content will create a stronger crust. If you are letting your dough proof in your walk-in cooler, known as a cold fermentation process, the higher protein flour will lend itself best to that method.
Some operators ask me if the added expense of olive oil over the mainstream use of canola or vegetable oil is worth it. And my answer is always yes. Olive oil gives your crust that authentic Italian bread flavour. If you spend extra money on high-quality toppings, cheeses and tomatoes for your sauce, then it’s only natural your customers would appreciate the flavour enhancements of a good olive oil in your dough.
Be careful not to over-mix your dough: anything more than nine minutes with an industrial mixer is too much. After your dough is mixed, allow it to rest, covered, for 15 minutes. This allows the gluten strands to realign. Then cut, weigh and gently roll your dough into balls. I’ve seen a lot of new guys work the dough over something nasty when rolling it into balls. Over-mixing or over-kneading will result in a tough, chewy crust, no matter what quality of ingredients you start with. Unless you’re making your dough entirely by hand, you need only to gently tuck the dough into a ball – making sure there aren’t any bubbles in your tuck. This would become a thin spot when you stretch it out.
If you want, you can get fancy with your dough recipe and use a starter, then add it to your regular batch. In Italian-style pizza dough making, this is often called a biga or poolish method. There’s also a method of using some of your leftover dough in a new batch, but if you do, never use more than 30 per cent of the total weight. These methods make much more flavourful crusts, but it is additional work to achieve and maintain consistent results.
Managing your dough is an art in itself. There is a “sweet zone” in every dough patty’s life when it’s a breeze to stretch out and bakes up the perfect crisp,s golden brown. Over-proofed dough won’t rise as well and will have burn spots if used for a pizza, but it will make excellent breadsticks and also nice shells for flatbreads. For best results, keep a well-maintained, clean walk-in cooler at a consistent temperature (34 to 38 F) and allow your dough time to proof – at least 24 hours will give it time to develop its flavours. The biga and poolish methods take a minimum of 48 hours to develop their flavours.
At my shop, we specialize in dough. We make four styles of crust (medium, thick, thin and crispy thin) available in white or whole wheat plus we also make our award-winning Moosehead beer dough. Not to forget our from-scratch gluten-free dough and – coming soon – keto diet-friendly pizza crust.
Pizza crust preference is a very personal taste. A lot of people love thin. Some like it crispy. Some don’t. Others like a balance between crust, cheese and toppings. And still others like a thick crust, especially when the crust tastes really good. At the Cucina, we appreciate the fact that everyone loves their pizza their way, we just love to make it with the best of the best ingredients!
Once you have a great dough recipe, you can turn your dough into another revenue stream. We sell our dough balls fresh and frozen fresh at the Cucina.
Earlier this year, we launched my pizza doughs into our local Sobeys and Safeway grocery stores here in my hometown of Winnipeg. And, I’m happy to say they’re selling very well. A lot of people like to make pizza at home with their families and friends.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more details, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org