From the dough to the first bite. Pizza recipe and dealing with issues


My friend Tim complained that in my last post for the making of pizza he was hoping to find the recipe he had been asking for and couldn't spot it. I quickly realized that he actually didn't read the whole post because he was too busy making love to his "Tranny" bike. 

I wasn't planning to post the recipe yet because in the list I made in the original post, I am following the sequence of how you should be approaching the making of pizza through a pizza oven in your backyard. However, after hearing his horror story about his last pizza I figured that I should have put the man out of his misery. Let me fix it with this post.

As most people born in the United States where there isn't a deeper home cooking culture as in other countries (Italy, France to name a few) people often look for an exact process or exact quantities when making some type of food. In those places where people make really good food, they rarely measure anything. That doesn't apply to all recipes but it is in general true. And the reason is that based on the dynamics of what you are dealing with, you adapt. In particular, you need to develop a sense of empathy with how the food is coming up. 

Other types of food, like sweets they require a super precision because the harder part is in not just the sequence of the process but also the exact measurements. For the pizza where the number of ingredients and steps is very basic, you need to go with the flow and adapt to your environment (in and out home).  Just like when you mountain biking, you go with the flow.

Let's start, shall we?!

Ingredients

  • 3 ¼ cup | 400 g flour 0 
  • 1 ⅓ cup | 300 ml water
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp low sugar
  • 1 tbsp | 8 g brewer's yeast
  • coarse salt
  • oil

Let's make it

  1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar with 1 cup (200 ml) water and then mix with flour.
  2. Knead everything with your hands and add the remaining water, salt, and finally oil.
  3. Let the dough rise properly covered for about 3 hours.
  4. After this time, flour a pastry board, grease your hands and knead the dough folding it on itself often.
  5. Divide it into two parts and let it rise again covered with damp towels for 20 minutes.
  6. While you keep your hands greasy spread the dough in two greased pizza trays
  7. Add your toppings
  8. Bake in a very hot ventilated oven at 428° F for about 15 minutes.
Chances are that once you make it following those instructions you probably get something slightly better than whatever you did last time and ultimately failed, which led you here to read this post.

There are a few good reasons why things don't work out. And I want to talk about that because finding a recipe for pizza, is not a problem. Figuring out why it doesn't come out right is what people don't talk about it in one sitting and as often.

Now let's make it right

Here are the top issues I have seen over the years:
  • Dough
    • too soft or makes holes when spread on the countertop
    • shows cracks on the edges
    • dries off on the top while it is rising
    • doesn't raise after a very long time
  • Baking
    • edges excessively burnt on one side and less on the other
    • baked outside but still raw/wet in some spots inside
    • tomato has dried off that almost you can't taste it
    • the bottom looks like your 120 years old grandma's skin
    • the bottom is charcoaled
  • Oven (bricks)
    • takes too long to bake
    • temperature drops too quickly
    • smokes a lot while baking
  • Oven (home)
    • smokes a lot
    • burn the dough no matter what you do

Let's face the music

Dough issues are very common and perhaps one of the top reasons why people end up door dashing it after a few attempts. Dough proofing is the first step to really focus your time because everything else becomes much more manageable.

Too soft or makes holes
When the dough rises very fast resulting in lack of density, typically is because of two key factors: mixed too fast or you are stretching it wrong.

When the ingredients are mixed too fast (e.g. high speed with kitchen aid) moist develops before the chemical reaction of the yeast starts taking place. It creates an unbalanced set of chambers that merge together and generates gas that stops the bonding in those regions. Resulting in a very big puffy dough but with very little consistency. If adding a ton more flour once taken off the rising container gets a lot better than that is definitely your issue.

You should be able to stretch your dough very thin and still have it hold together. If your dough is breaking easily then you may not have enough gluten development. If you still want stiffer dough then you could go for higher gluten content, or go for a lower hydration level, say 70%.

One thing I've found with pizza dough is that if you try to stretch it too far too quickly it will be uneven and prone to breaking. I've found that if you stretch it part of the way then leave it a few minutes it will relax a bit and be easier to work with.

Have a look at the master and see how he stretches it

Shows cracks on the edges
You have stretched the dough on the counter, it looks fine but the edges of the disc look callous dead skin. Your problem is the hydration ratio. One thing to take into account when you follow videos or recipes is that what they have worked out is based on where they live and their room environmental conditions. The hardness of the water makes a big difference in the final results. The room temperature is also another factor that consistently affects the dough development. So follow the hydration recommendation but adjust them based on water and temperature for your environment.

Dries off on the top while it is rising
Very common when you don't put some oil spread on top before closing for the rising. If you put in too much you are going to suffocate it so don't be a Papa John's.

Sometimes you can fix it like this maestro shoes here.

Doesn't raise after a very long time
It's alchemy and as such the number of issues varies a lot by the ingredients you have been employing. In general terms, the first culprit in these cases is the yeast's gone old. If you used a pinch of sugar to boost the growth or improved the crust color with a low-temperature oven, then your pinch needs to be revised. 


sugar also provides a source of nutrients 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.
Edges excessively burnt on one side and less on the other
A lot depends on what you are using to bake the pizza. Egg BBQ, household range, smaller pizza ovens, or a brick-based oven
  1. If you are not preheating your stone, start there. At 500-550, that's the best temperature range for the pizzas with hand-tossed crust although ranges brands distribute the heat differently. It takes at least 20-30 minutes to get the stone up to temp. It typically takes us 8-12 minutes to cook at pizza and I always check about halfway to make sure it's cooking evening. If you open the door to rotate you are losing heat and the edges are the first to release moist, resulting in burning.
  2. Adding to much sugar or any other form of sweet to condition the taste or hacking the baking process.
If you are experiencing this problem in a brick oven you are leaving the pizza too close to the fire or the fire is too high. This doesn't happen with a gas-lit brick oven through.

Baked outside but still raw/wet in some spots inside
The first guilty here is the temperature setting. Temperature fluctuations are also something to look into. If you are using a brick oven then you might have leaks or gust of cold flows are entering the dome. If you are using a range then you might have the wrong type for making good pizza.

The second guilty as charged is the dough, see the section above for details.

Tomato has dried off that almost you can't taste it
The number issue in those instances is that you either used the wrong type of tomato or a cheap one. The quality of ingredients makes an astronomical difference in the final outcome. Seems obvious but yet people underestimate that principle on regular basis. I use DiNapoli and I like it very much. Just like Costco size matter and if you buy that type of can, split it for future usage because unless you are throwing a mega party, it's a lot.

Bottom looks like your 120 years old grandma's skin
Your hydration ration is out of wack and most likely you didn't mix it correctly or with lack of grease.

Bottom is charcoaled
In a rage setting, the most likely issue here is that the stone (if you are not using one, you are doing it wrong) has oil or any other form of grease on it. If you are experiencing this problem in a brick oven the temperature is way too high.

Takes too long to bake
Temperature is your enemy here. Use a laser thermometer gun to figure out which part is giving you less bang for the buck. 

Temperature drops too quickly
In a brick oven setting this has only one very sad answer, your dome leaks heat big time or your wood is too wet to produce a consistent BTU score. Wet doesn't mean there's just water inside, it could also mean that you are using OAK which is not advisable, well... for obvious reasons :-)

Smokes a lot while baking
Keep your utensils (peels or stone) clean. Grease and heat produce combustion that is never enough to make a fire so you just make your food and environment a smoke chamber.

There are probably a few others that I have left out but those are the huge ones and if you run into a few others that I haven't mentioned, post in the comments or in Discord and I will try to help out.

;mE Out.

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