Pizza Making Adventure: Dough / Crust
date_range May 11, 2017
When I first started trying to make pizza I had no idea what I was doing. I was a total novice to baking things in general to be honest. My first attempt was pretty terrible, the dough didn't have a very good flavor. I also didn't know how to stretch the dough properly so it was uneven.
After my first attempt, I spent a long time researching various dough recipes, reading tons of forum posts, blog articles, and experimenting with different ingredients. I learned a great deal of things along the way which eventually helped me develop the recipe which I've been using ever since.
One of the first pizzas I made:
Baking Stone / Steel
The very first thing I learned about when I started trying to perfect my pizza making is that I needed a baking stone or steel. A baking stone / steel is what will help give you that signature light crisp that pizza crust is known for. Without one you will fairly hard time trying to replicate it in a conventional home oven.
I started out using Pizzacraft's 15" Square Baking Stone. It got the job done for over a year or so. The one issue with stones I've found is it's hard to clean them at times. Because they're porous, you can't really get them heavily wet or they can fracture. Still, that stone and I made many pizzas together.
Since then I've upgraded to Pizzacraft's Baking Steel. There has been a huge movement to moving from stones to steels. They reach temperature much faster than stones, have a more stable temperature, and is far superior at transferring their heat.
Even though I have a steel now, I still use my original baking stone. I use it above my baking steel. This allows the heat from the stone to radiate downward onto the steel the pizza is on, which emulates a more traditional pizza oven.
One of the key things I learned is that you can't just use any random, cheapy, all purpose flour. There are a few things you have to keep in mind, such as protein content, water absorption and the grind of the flour.
I learned that when it comes to pizza dough, you want to use a flour that has a high protein content. This is one of the key factors in terms of bubble development within your dough when it's rising.
When it came to trying out 00 flour, I chose Antimo Caputo Chef's 00 Flour and found that I was able to use less water and had a much better consistency in the dough.
I still have much to learn in terms of flours. There's a whole lot of science and debate behind them. I've been wanting to try mixing different flours together to see what kind of results I get.
Early on I had many problems with my pizza dough contracting into itself and not wanting to stretch properly. It would be very hard to stretch the dough without it tearing a small hole in some place. It was extremely frustrating, so I started looking up how to prevent this.
This is how I learned about retardation, which is the act of placing your dough in a cold environment in order to slow down the activity of the yeast. In this kind of environment, the yeast will produce carbon dioxide more slowly and behave differently. It'll produce more desirable flavor compounds and fewer sour ones.
Along with this, the texture will be way better, due to the longer fermentation giving the enzymes in the flour more time to split proteins in a process called autolysis. This allows the proteins to straighten out and link up into gluten, resulting in a more flexible yet stronger dough.
I typically let my dough cold rise in a fridge for about 48 - 72 hours. I feel this is a good amount of time for the enzymes to do their thing. I also just have a hard time waiting because I really wanna eat pizza. The dough sits there in the fridge taunting me for nearly three days.
This dough recipe is primarily meant for NY-style pizza crust and makes around two 14" pizzas. To develop a better flavor and texture, this dough is cold risen in a fridge for 48 to 72 hours, as stated previously.
- 100% - 400g of 00 Flour
- 60% - 240g of Water
- 0.35% - 1.4g of Instant Dry Yeast
- 1.5% - 6g of Salt
- 1.5% - 6g of Diastatic Malt
- 7.5% - 30g of Honey
- 2% - 8g of Olive Oil
The biggest response I get to my pizza dough recipe is "honey? wtf? why?".
Well... there's a few reasons why I use honey:
- It helps give the crust a nice golden color.
- It provides a really nice flavor to the crust.
- It's naturally occurring acids help enhance the flavor in the toppings.
- Helps with moisture, resulting in a much more tender crust.
- No need to use processed sugars.
- I find that it helps counter some issues presented by cooking in a conventional home oven, which can't perform as well as a pizza oven.
The diastatic malt in my recipe is a new addition I've been adding after reading about it in Tony Gemignani's Pizza Bible. The malt helps when cooking pizza in a conventional home oven, which can't reach the temperatures typical of a wood-burning or pizza oven.
It helps with the browning process of the crust and gives it a slight nutty-caramel flavor. Another advantage for using diastatic malt is that the active enzymes within it help break down the starches in the flour, turning them into sugar for the yeast which further helps the fermentation process.
Believe it or not, there is a technique to making a really nice dough ball. Making your dough into a ball will help so much later when you shape the dough into a circle.
To make a dough ball, form a rough ball with the dough and place the dough on a floured surface. Now, place your left hand on the left side of the dough, and your right hand in behind it (the side of the dough away from your body). With your left hand rotate the dough clockwise, while with your right hand cupping downward under the dough. Continue this motion over and over until you got a nice even ball.
Place the dough ball in a floured or lightly oiled bowl and cover it.
A Taste Test
After reading lots of different opinions on dough recipes, I decided to do a taste test of four different variants of my recipe. These dough balls cold rose in the fridge for 48 hours:
- One with sugar and no diastatic malt.
- One with sugar and diastatic malt.
- One with honey and no diastatic malt.
- One with honey and diastatic malt.
The sugar ones felt a bit tougher in terms of chewing. They also seemed to lack in flavor on their own, and purely functioned as a delivery method for the toppings. While the one with diastatic malt had a bit more flavor, it was not much to brag about.
The ones with honey had a very nice flavor on their own, providing a bit of sweetness to help balance the deep flavor of the sauce. The one with honey and diastatic malt just put it over the top. It had a nice golden color, the flavor was really good, and the crust had a great texture.
Shaping the Dough
Early on, I had a pretty hard time shaping the dough into a perfect circle. It was always tear somewhere or be too thin in some areas. Because of this I developed a method of shaping the dough where I would drizzle some olive oil on parchment paper, then place the dough on that, drizzle more olive oil on top of that, and slowly shape it out with my hands.
This resulted in a crust that was pretty thin and pretty crispy at times due to the oil. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it was passable for me due to my limited skill set at the time.
After the dough was shaped, I would top the pizza and then place the pizza on top of the baking stone while still on the parchment paper. The parchment paper helped prevent the pizza from burning due to the oil from the shaping. Once the pizza's crust was cooked slightly, I would remove the paper and rotate the pizza, allowing it to continue cooking directly on the stone.
While this method worked for me and I achieved consistent results, it became a pretty big headache when I wanted to make more than one pizza at a time. It simply wasn't a fast enough solution, plus I felt that it wasn't perfect still, as I didn't have that nice crust at the edges of the pizza.
I kept trying to figure out how to better shape my pizzas. After I switched to Antimo Caputo Chef's 00 Flour, I did notice that my dough had become easier to handle without the use of the parchment paper.
The biggest help though came from this video of Tony Gemignani going over the basics fundamentals of pizza dough. He explained it in the best way possible, and I was able to pick it up very quickly.
The pizza peel is that large paddle you often see at pizzerias, that they use to toss the pizza into the oven and retrieve it. There's both wooden and aluminum versions. When I started making pizzas at home, I got an aluminum version due to how thin it was compared to the wooden ones.
One of the biggest issues with the peel is your dough sticking to it when you're ready to toss the pizza in the oven. In my research I learned that you can use either flour or cornmeal to prevent your dough from sticking to the peel. Through experimenting, I also quickly learned that cornmeal is extremely messy.
From what I learned, you flour the peel or get a nice thin coating of cornmeal on the bottom of the dough. Then you place your dough on the peel, add sauce and topping, then gently shake the peel to make sure the pizza isn't sticking. Once you've confirmed it's not sticking anywhere, you want to get the peel at the back of your stone or steel and pull toward you, sliding the pizza off onto it.
Unfortunately, as easy as it sounds I've honestly always had issues with it. I'm still trying to perfect my technique with using a peel, but in the meantime I've resorted to using pizza screens as a method of getting the pizza in the oven. Which is fine, I mean honestly I like the texture they give.
Get a pizza screen, which is a aluminum mesh screen you place your dough on once shaped. It'll give a texture to the bottom of the crust, and keep the dough directly off the stone a little to prevent burning while the cheese takes time to melt.
Take a fork or docker to the shaped dough before saucing it. This creates small vents in the dough to prevent it from blistering and rising in large uneven pockets during baking.
Always make an extra dough ball, just in case you somehow mess up the first one somehow. This way you always have a back up.
Don't stress out when it comes time to shaping your dough. Try to be very calm and relaxed.
Flour the surface you are working the dough on. Re-flour if needed.
Continually flour your hands when working with the dough.
Cornmeal can be extremely messy, be prepared for a mess when learning with cornmeal.
Always let your dough ball cold rise for at least 24 - 48 hours. This will help so much with flavor and texture.
Let your dough ball come up to room temperature before shaping it.
Pizza Making Adventure
This post is part of a series of posts I will be making regarding my entire process and journey of pizza making. From the dough, to the sauce, to the cheese, to the topping choices. I'll cover everything I've learned so far.