Tom Lehmann: In Lehmann's Terms

In Lehmann’s Terms: How to Improve Your Crust’s Flavor With Minimal Effort

We’re looking for a quick and easy way to improve the flavor of our crust. Any suggestions?

Since you need a “quick and easy” approach, I will focus on your dough formulation rather than your dough management procedure, which would require a more in-depth response. First, look at the salt level. For optimal flavor, the salt level typically should be about 2% of the flour weight. Any salt level under 1.5% will negatively impact the finished crust flavor, resulting in a lackluster flavor or even a “starchy” taste. Anything above 2.25% begins to lend an overly salty taste and detracts from flavor.

Alternatively, a little sweetness might improve your crust’s taste. I recommend a sugar level at 3.5% or higher. Five percent sugar provides a noticeable sweetness to the finished crust. But the use of sugar comes at a price, since it will have a significant influence on how the crust color develops during baking. You will need to adjust the baking time and temperature downward when adding or increasing sugar levels to your dough formulation. 

You can also try adding dried herbs to the dough; basil, oregano and parsley are commonly used. Onion and garlic can also help, but either of these can produce a dough that is overly soft and extensible. Unless you want increased extensibility, be sure to keep the total weight of either or both of these ingredients below 0.15% of the total flour weight. 

Finally, you can try an old trick that I’ve used countless times with success: adding a dry, inactive sourdough. These are known as dry white or dry rye sours. Since they’re inactive products, they are added only as a source of flavoring and provide a distinctive tartness or fermentation-like flavor to the finished crust. The amount to use will vary according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, but, for the most part, I’ve found that benchmarking at half of the manufacturer’s minimum recommended level is a good starting point. Remember, we are not necessarily looking for a predominant tartness in the taste; instead, we are looking for a hint of tartness that will excite the taste buds and thus improve the customer’s perception of the flavor without actually changing the crust or the flavor itself.  

Tom Lehmann was the longtime director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking and is now a pizza industry consultant.