In Lehmann's terms: calzones and conveyors

From time to time, I get asked the question“Where have you had the best pizza?”In all probability, my answer was, “Thelast one I ate.” Except for the one and onlypizza that was made with ketchup for pizzasauce, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pizzathat I didn’t like in some way, or couldn’tlearn to like over time.

The truth of the matter is that it isn’tpizza that lights my candle; it’s the serviceassociated with the pizza that really getsmy attention. Case in point: Recently, Iwas on vacation in northwest Arkansas,chasing whitetail deer over a good portionof the landscape. As luck would haveit, one day was warm and rainy, and thedeer refused to cooperate, so three of us(my brother-in-law, a hunting friend andyours truly) packed into the truck andheaded for the bright lights of Huntsville,Arkansas, to restock the food pantry andgrab some lunch at a local restaurant. Ourlunch of choice was pizza, and we foundourselves directly across the street from aneat little pizzeria called That Little PizzaPlace. There we were, three deer hunters(looking the part, too) walking into a pizzeriawith a soup and salad bar and a diningarea filled with booths.

The first clue that this was going to be agood dining experience: We were met by afriendly and helpful waitress who was veryfamiliar with the menu and the differenttypes of pizzas available. As it turned out,each of us opted for the soup and saladbar, along with a personal-size pizza withour choice of toppings. The soup washot; the salad bar was clean and appetizing;and the pizza was delicious. True, weprobably would have eaten anything thatwe didn’t need to chase down that day, butthe point still remains that we had a greatexperience, which just goes to underscorewhat I’ve always said: “If the food is goodand the quantity is sufficient, it’s the presentationthat can turn an average mealinto something special.” We were all madeto feel special and welcome at That LittlePizza Place. Call it Southern hospitality ifyou want, but we all look forward to goingback next year when we take a break fromdeer hunting.

QUESTION:

We’re thinking of making wheat orwhole wheat grilled calzones. I’ve readabout making grilled pizzas, but whatabout calzones?

ANSWER:

Grilled calzones are as good as grilledpizzas, and just about as easy to make.The difference between wheat and wholewheat is the amount of whole wheat flourused in the dough formula. Whole wheatis made from 100% whole wheat (no whiteflour), whereas wheat is made from ablend of both whole wheat and white flour(typically 25% to 50% whole wheat fl our isin the blend).

You can use your regular pizza doughfor making calzones, or you can make adough just for calzones. Here’s a doughformula that can be used for both pizzaand calzones:

  • Whole wheat flour: 50%
  • White pizza flour: 50%
  • Salt: 2%
  • Honey: 5%
  • Butter: 3%
  • Instant dry yeast: 0.5%
  • Water: 60% to 62% (65°F)

Prepare the dough as you would yourregular pizza dough, keeping in mind thatthis dough will be a little softer and stickierthan regular pizza dough (this is normal,so don’t add more flour to the dough in aneffort to dry up the dough; you will justruin the quality of the finished calzones).

The dough will improve as it sets (inthe cooler), and in a couple of hours, orthe following day, the dough will feelpretty normal. Shape the dough skinsand fill with your favorite fillings. Mypersonal favorite is a blend of half mozzarellaand half ricotta cheese, to which Iadd a couple of cut fresh basil leaves anda few pieces of sun-dried tomato (that’sthe base filling). To that I add the fillingsrequested on the order.

Keep in mind that only precooked meatsshould be used, and grilled or blanchedvegetables are actually better than fresh,since they are easier to cook. Once youhave the calzone filled and the edges wellsealed/crimped, place it on a screen or abaking disk and cut three or four slits diagonallyacross the top of the calzone toallow steam to escape. Brush the top ofthe calzone with whole milk, olive oil ormelted butter, sprinkle on some sesameseeds if you wish, and take that bad boyto the grill.

Put the calzone on a covered grill at400°F, keeping it as far away from the heatas possible. This will allow for a slowerbake and better heating/cooking throughout.The calzone is finished when the crust is a rich golden brown in color. If you areusing a gas grill and want to add a smokyflavor, soak some wood chips (apple, cherryor mesquite) in water for an hour andplace them in a metal container in the grill.The heat will cause the wood chips to beginsmoking and give the desired flavor. Ifyou didn’t already sprinkle the top of thecalzone with sesame seeds before puttingit on the grill, as soon as you remove thecalzone from the grill, brush with meltedgarlic butter and sprinkle with a blend ofpowdered Parmesan and Romano cheeses.Cut the finished calzone in two diagonallyand serve with a cup of dipping sauce(ranch dressing, garlic butter or marinarasauce). Now, that’s some fine eating!

QUESTION:

Is it possible to get New York-style pizzacharacteristics when using one of thenew conveyor ovens?

ANSWER:

Yes. I have been working with both theMiddleby Marshall and Lincoln FoodserviceProducts air impingement ovens to geta true New York-style bake on thin-crustpizza. We have been quite successful onlywhen using the dark-color baking disks(such as those from www.pizzatools.com).When we used the expanded mesh screens,we were able to get only a uniformly brownbottom on the pizza, which did not resembleanything that I’ve seen come outof a New York pizzeria. Our best resultshave come from working with disks thathave large-diameter holes across the entirecenter section of the disk and a solid edgearound the perimeter of the pan; this configuration allows the pizza to be baked at ahigher temperature and for a longer periodof time than would otherwise be possible—without turning the crust edge into a hard“pizza bone.”

Most recently, we have been workingwith Pizza Tools to further define the sizeand placement of the holes in the bakingdisks to achieve an even more pronouncedNew York appearance and flavor for thepizzas baked on these disks. The largerdiameter of the holes allows for the developmentof dark, almost burned spots onthe bottom of the crust. These darkenedportions of the crust have a significant effectupon both the appearance and flavorof the finished pizzas, while the solid-edgesection helps to prevent overbaking of thecrust edge. Isn’t it amazing how technologykeeps evolving to give us different andbetter pizzas?

QUESTION:

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot aboutsome of the new conveyor ovens beingable to bake pizzas in less than five minutes.What is your opinion about this?

ANSWER:

I’ve never been an advocate of fastbakinga pizza, but I must admit that I’vehad to rethink this attitude after I wasrecently invited out to the test kitchens ofLincoln Foodservice Products to see andtest for myself the company’s new Fast-Bake Impinger Conveyor Pizza Oven. Withthis new technology, I was able to bakeboth thin- and thick-crust pizzas (loadedwith scads of toppings) faster than I hadpreviously thought possible. The best partwas that the finished pizza crust didn’t haveeven the slightest hint of a gum line, andthe surfaces of the multiple-topping pizzaswere as dry as, or drier than, any that I’veseen come out of an air impingement ovenwith a 20% to 30% longer baking time. Thisis quite an achievement for the folks at Lincoln,and, while I have not had a chance topersonally see or work with a similar bakingconcept from Middleby Marshall, theWOW! Oven, I’m guessing that it is also upto the advertised task of providing a faster,more efficient bake than their other ovensor baking profiles. Once more, technologyscores again, giving us better pizzas withshorter baking times!

Tom Lehmann is the Director of Bakery Assistance forthe American Institute of Baking (AIB).