In Lehmann's terms: sticky situations

Question:

A major problem we have is wet andsticky dough when we take it out of thedough boxes after a night in the cooler.We have tried reducing the amount ofwater added to the dough, but this hasnot helped. What is the solution?

Answer:

Your description of your doughmanagement procedure tells me exactlywhat the problem is. After mixing, youtake the dough directly to the benchfor scaling and balling, and then placeit into your dough boxes and stack it inthe cooler for use on the following day.
However, you forgot a very importantstep. Cross-stacking the dough boxes
in the cooler before nesting them isa crucial step in getting an easy-to-handledough after a night or more inthe cooler. Currently, your dough iswarmer than the cooler. As a result,
it is sweating with the condensationcollecting on the inside of the doughbox(es), so the dough balls are wet andsticky. By cross-stacking the doughboxes when you first put them into thecooler, you will allow the moisture toescape from the boxes. Once coveredand nested, they will no longer sweat,and the dough will not be wet and stickywhen you remove it from the cooler.I also recommend that you wipe thetop of the dough balls with a little oil(any type will do), as this will help toprotect the dough balls from forminga dry skin or crust during the cross-stackedperiod. The length of time thedough balls should be cross-stacked willvary somewhat according to the cooler,dough temperature and dough ballweight, but here’s a good starting point:

Cross-stack for at least 90 minutes fordough balls that weigh 12 ounces or less;120 minutes for dough balls that weigh13 to 16 ounces; 150 minutesfor doughballs that weigh 17 to 22 ounces; and 180minutes for dough balls that weigh morethan 22 ounces.Note that theserecommendations

are for a walk-in cooler. If you are usinga reach-in cooler, I suggest that youreduce the finished dough temperature(the temperature of the dough as itcomes from the mixer) to no more than75ºF, and then add 30 minutes to eachof the above suggested cross-stacktimes. These changes are needed due tothe lower operating efficiency of reachingcoolers when being loaded with a lotof dough balls.

Question:

We occasionally have a pizza stick tothe peel when we put it into the oven.It makes a real mess on the stones andthrows a wrench into things, as this invariablyhappens at a busy time. Whatcan we do to prevent our pies fromsticking to the peel?

Answer:

Nothing is worse than peeling a dressedpizza skin into the oven and pulling outa half-dressed pizza skin still clinging tothe peel—except when ithappens at 7:00p.m. on a Saturday night. There are afew things that can be done to reduce thepossibility of the dough sticking to thepeel. First, let’s make sure we’re usingthe correct peel. Pizza peels come intwo styles: metal and wood/composite.The wood/composite peel is the correctpeel to use as a prep peel. The metalpeel should be relegated to the oven asan oven peel only. The wood/compositepeels are much less likely to causecondensation to form on the peel dueto temperature differences between thepeel and the dough. This condensationcan cause the dough to adhere tothe peel.

The next thing to consider: What areyou using for a peel dust? While plainflour works well, it isn’t very forgiving.If the dough is a little cold or sticky, forwhatever reason, you must be on topof your dough dressing game, or youmight end up with the dough stickingto the peel at the oven’sentrance.Some operators swear by cornmealas a release material on the peel,and I can’t argue with them; it worksgreat, much like thousands of tiny ballbearings under the dough skin. Withjust a little shake, the dressed doughwill slide effortlessly off the peel. Theonly problem with cornmeal has to dowith the grit that it can impart to thebottom of the baked pizza. For some,this is desirable; for others, it is not.Then, too, the excess cornmeal has tobe regularly swept out of the oven, orit will show up on the bottoms of thebaked pizzas as hard black spots.Some operators advocate the useof semolina flour. Semolina flour issignificantly coarser than regularflour, and it doesn’t absorb moistureas fast as regular flour does. For thisreason, it makes for a pretty decentpeel dust, a good compromise betweenregular flour and cornmeal.

Still other operators have turnedto more “exotic” ingredients to useas a peel dust, such as wheat bran,rice flour, corn flour, coarse-groundwhole-wheat flour, and even rye flour.Any of these materials make for aneffective peel dust. My own personalfavorite peel dust is a blend of equalparts of cornmeal, semolina flour andregular pizza flour. Don’t ask me whyI like it—it just works for me. It givesme the confidence necessary to peelthe dressed dough into the oven withauthority and confidence, knowingthat the dough will slide off the peelevery time.

And here’s a little trick to preventdumping your pizza toppings onto a hotdeck while the dough remains firmlyaffixed to the peel: As you’re takingthe dressed dough skin to the oven,give it a little shake to confirm that thedough is not sticking to the peel. If itis, there is no reason to believe that it
will miraculously free itself as you peelit into the oven; now is your chanceto address the problem by freeingthe dough from the peel or, atworst,dumping the pizza and starting overagain. This sure beats transferring themess to your oven stones, where it willcontinue to plague you until you cleanit off, not to mention the smoke andaroma of burning toppings emanatingfrom your oven.

Tom Lehmann is the directorof bakery assistance for theAmerican Institute of Baking(AIB). Need more dough advice?
Visit the Dough InformationCenter at PMQ.com/dough.