Mix Masters: Smart operators are choosy about their dough mixers
From spiral and planetary models to VCMs, let us help you select the right mixer for your pizzeria.
The dough mixer is one of the essential tools of the pizza industry. A good one provides a consistently even mix of ingredients without overworking the dough. Many commercial models come with innovative features and attachments for increased versatility. But smart pizzeria operators know they have to be choosy when it comes to selecting a mixer. Much depends on their pizza style, dough formula and required volume. For this article, we asked one of the industry’s leading experts—Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann—to address some of the most frequently asked questions about dough mixers.
Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann mixes a batch of dough during a visit to PMQ’s test kitchen.
Q: When it comes to dough mixers, what’s the right size for general use in a pizzeria?
Tom: If I had to choose one size, it would be a 60-quart capacity mixer, preferably heavy-duty and designed specifically for mixing tough dough. However, those can be difficult to come by, so I would accept any 3-phase planetary mixer as my second choice. Just keep in mind that, with the exception of specially designed heavy-duty mixers, virtually all of the 3- and 4-speed 60-quart mixers will be what I’d describe as medium-duty. With these mixers, you should limit yourself to mixing dough based on no more than 40 pounds of flour to get optimum performance and the longest, most cost-effective operating life out of your equipment.
For higher volume, heavy-duty mixers will mix dough based on up to 50 pounds of flour weight. For many of these mixers, you can purchase adapters and mixing agitators for use in 30- and 40-quart bowls to handle smaller mixing jobs. They may also have an attachment head that allows for the use of a grinding/shredding attachment. However, not all mixers will have this feature, so if that’s important to you, do your homework first.
An 80-quart planetary mixer is like manna from heaven—any one of these mixers will have plenty of power to handle the mixing of just about any pizza dough based on up to 50 pounds of flour weight. And, like the 60-quart mixers, they can be equipped with adapter rings to allow for the use of smaller bowls and mixing attachments. But, again, remember that not all 80-quart mixers are equipped with an attachment head.
Q: Is a spiral mixer as good as a planetary mixer?
Tom: Yes, it is. In fact, in my professional opinion, it can be a better mixer in many ways, but the spiral mixer does have its limitations. Due to the way the mixing agitator engages the dough, spiral mixers tend to endure less abuse from mixing heavy dough as compared to other types of mixers, so they will have the potential to provide longer, trouble-free operational life. On the other hand, thanks to the squat shape of the mixing bowl, spiral mixers tend to have a slightly larger footprint than an equal capacity planetary mixer, and I have yet to see a spiral mixer with an attachment head or the ability to be fitted with any other type of mixing attachment. That means a spiral mixer will be dedicated to mixing only dough, something to keep in mind if you also need a mixer for preparing sauce and other items.
Most spiral mixers will handle dough sizes from as small as 25% of rated capacity to as large as 125% of rated capacity. (I don’t recommend exceeding rated capacity, but if the need ever arises, this type of mixer is up to the task.) While the mixing action differs from that of a planetary mixer, the total dough mixing times between spiral and planetary design mixers are surprisingly close.
Spiral design mixers tend to fall short of planetary mixers when you’re mixing very high-absorption dough (70% absorption and higher) and dough with very short mixing times, such as a dough for a cracker-crust pizza. In these cases, it is difficult to get a decent blending of ingredients until a dough starts to form, and, with these dough formulas, cohesive dough never really gets formed, so that can be problematic.
When choosing a dough mixer, key factors to think about include your dough formula, pizza style and volume.
Q: We’re a small operation that will need to make enough dough for only 10 to 15 pizzas a day. What mixer size do you recommend?
Tom: Any of the smaller bench-top or floor-mount mixers in the 12- to 30-quart capacity size would work for you. But I’d suggest going with a 20-quart capacity planetary mixer. These mixers are readily available and quite durable. Just don’t overload this mixer to the point where the motor overheats or the agitator stalls. Otherwise, it will serve you well. And most of these mixers even come with an attachment head for slicing and grinding.
Q: What do you think about vertical cutter mixers (VCMs)?
Tom: I have a lot of experience using a VCM, and I’ve found them to work quite well for mixing pizza and other types of dough. The mixing time will be measured in seconds, not minutes—a range of 70 to 90 seconds is the norm. However, due to the high mixing speed of the VCM, the dough tends to heat up more than desired. To address this problem, keep a bucket of ice water next to the mixer and, between dough batches, fill the bowl with ice water while you’re scaling up the dough ingredients. Then pour the water back into the bucket, add the tempered dough water, oil, salt, sugar (if used) and finally the flour. Close and secure the lid and mix just until a smooth dough is achieved. (Be very careful, as the dough can be easily overmixed with this type of mixer.) From that point on, the dough is essentially the same as dough made in any other type of mixer.
When buying a VCM, make sure it comes with two mixing attachments. One is dull and is designed for mixing dough; the other is curved and sharp and designed to cut. With these attachments, a VCM is great for cutting cheese and making sauce.