Ready made

Dough—whether hand-tossed, rolled or sheeted into shape,whether thin-crust, deep-dish or pan style—is the foundation of apizza and the pride on which many a pizzeria is built. And, whilemany owners rely on tried-and-true (in some cases, secondorthird-generation) recipes, with advances in technology andmanufacturing, many premade dough and crust suppliers reportthat “frozen” or “premade” need not be the dirty words they oncewere in the pizza industry. New processes use fewer preservatives,or none at all; can confidentially duplicate family recipesto a tee; and often give pizzerias a chance to simplify operations,expand their brands, and explore new menu options.

Something Different

The most basic way to work with a dough supplier without takingthe full premade plunge: Add a new crust or two to your menu. Specialtycrusts can be difficult to perfect, and suppliers often spendyears in research and development to come up with tasty combinations.For example, the Neapolitan style can be difficult to createfor some pizzaiolos,butnow this typeof dough canbe purchasedfrom manufacturerLosurdo Foods, thanks to a partnership with AntimoCaputo, maker of “00” flour—ideal for those looking toeasily add an artisan-style pie to the menu.

Buying premade might also be helpful when introducinghealthy or whole-wheat options. “People want healthier optionsfor themselves and their children,” says Bob Horth, vice presidentof business and development at DeIorio’s in Utica, NewYork. “But for that individual operator to mix up a batch ofwheat dough—what a nightmare. You’ve got to experimentto make a product that works.”

Meanwhile, for celiacs and others on gluten-free diets,their diagnosis once meant giving up pizza and bread forgood, since gluten (Latin for “glue”) is what makes a crustchewy and is present in traditional pizza. Having a gluten-freeoffering that caters to these special diets can mean anew loyal fan base and improved sales. “It’s very rewarding toget contacted weekly, whether through Facebook or direct feedbackon our website, from people saying, ‘Thank you so much.My daughter hasn’t had pizza in 15 years and she wouldn’t evenlet us take a bite of this pizza,’” says Jimmy DeSisto, presidentand CEO of Venice Bakery in El Segundo, California.

A par-baked gluten-free crust is a natural choice for a pizzeria,since making such a dough on-site is a tough job. Flour in theair at a typical pizzeria easily could compromise such a dough’ssafety for gluten-free diets, and many find that often-sticky andinconsistent gluten-free dough batter sometimes falls apart beforeit even makes it into the oven. Many in-house recipes mayalso yield a crumbly, bland crust. “The first time I experimentedwith this type of dough, I would put my teeth into a product andit tasted like I was biting into a stick of chalk—that’s how bad itwas,” laughs DeSisto, whose gluten-free line required plenty oftrial and error with different blends of rice flours, potato, tapioca,and other nontraditional ingredients.

Gluten-free crust manufacturers may also offer programsdesigned to help operations remain within the FDA’s allowablegluten range, working with operators to set up a gluten-free environmentand test the gluten content of their final products.

Check with suppliers often to see what types of crusts they’reworking on. Horth says his latest creation out of R&D is a bean-baseddough that amps up the amount of protein and fiber withno reported negative effect on the flavor. “If you’ve got a situationwhere your customers want to eat healthier, do it in a funfood,” he says. “And let’s face it—pizza is a fun food!”

Outside the Pizzeria

A pizzeria operation isn’t always confined to four walls, but yourbrick oven probably doesn’t have wheels. Some situations whentravel is a must—from catering and food truck operations todelivery and sidewalk sales—call for different equipment, anddough is no exception. Chef and ownerMartial Bricnet from Colors Gourmet Pizza in Vista, California,advises pizza entrepreneurs to first consider what they want inthe restaurant concept, and then ask themselves what will work,rather than struggling to conform their amazing dough recipe towork on a pizza truck or in a catering environment. “Decide whatyou want and work backwards,” he advises. “That wonderful pizzayou had in Florence would be great if you had a little wine barwith 25 seats, but by the time it comes out of the kitchen, goesinto a box, and get delivered, it’s going to be cold.”It’s also necessary to evaluate “pizza expectations,”he says. Pizza comes in many forms and remainssatisfying—whether it’s a giant hot slice ongame day or authentic Neopolitan. Differentenvironments mean differentexpectations. Food trucks, farmersmarket stands and catering, for instance,dictate that pizza must bemade quickly and be plentiful. Witha diminished capacity to power atraditional pizza oven, a par-bakedcrust finished on a grill still excitescustomers without long prep and baketimes and high energy needs. “We coulddo an oven and a heat lamp,” Bricnet says.“But imagine instead flatbread and a grill—nowit’s a ‘wow’ thing! It’s very satisfying and fast, and a parbakein that environment works well.”

Horth, too, is familiar with the negative effects of pizza thathas spent too much time under the heat lamp. To combat theproblem, DeIorio’s developed high-moisture par-baked cruststhat he says perform well for food vendors or outlets in sportsvenues. Premade dough can be made the old-fashioned way—inwhich it gets to relax, ferment and retain moisture—and whenthe operator bakes it the second time, it turns into “a moist andflavorful product,” says Horth.

Par-baked crusts are available in a wide variety of crust stylesand even shapes, from ovals and rectangles to star-shaped pizza.Some even come complete with high-quality toppings. One manufacturersells a 18”-by-26” par-baked “party pizza” that typicallyweighs in at five pounds when topped. If it wasn’t par-baked, thistype of order could really tie up your production!

Additional Benefits

Premade pizza dough and crusts satisfy a bevy of needs. Hereare some additional benefits of premade dough:

Consistency: Typically, the main reason a pizzeria will finda dough supplier is to ensure that the pizza crust remains thesame high-quality product at every location, every day. “We allknow that even if we give 10 chefs the exact same recipe andexact same raw materials, we’re going to have differentiation inproduct, depending on who made it,” says DeSisto. Other variations,such as different types of mixers at different locations, canalso throw off consistency.Some suppliers offer recipe duplication services, so operatorscan order big batches of their own dough. Depending onthe supplier, even small pizzerias can take advantage of thisservice. “You can customize products without huge minimumrequirements,” says Horth. “We’re not going to demand truckloadsof production from the get-go.” Meanwhile, Horth notes,a nondisclosure contract will ensure that the manufacturerdoesn’t resell anyone’s family-secret dough recipe.

New menu items: When a talented chef is in the kitchen witha ball of dough or a par-baked crust and a few other ingredients,the menu (gluten-free or otherwise) is really only limited by thechef’s imagination, says DeSisto. He rattles off a list of potentialmenu items that can be made with premade dough: breadsticks,cinnamon rolls, Italian doughnuts, panini sandwiches, calzonesand stromboli.

Cost: Dough suppliers can help cut restaurant costs. “If you’rean independent operator and you’re using 50-pound bags offlour, you’ve seen prices skyrocket in a very short amount oftime,” says Horth. Pairing up with a supplier means the volumediscounts are passed on to you. Also keep in mind other costs,such as labor, on your end, he advises: “All those things do addup, so premade dough helps close that gap.”

Last-resort abilities: Sometimes, homemade dough or pizzamachinery fails. A few balls of dough kept on hand, maybe typicallyused to make extras such as dessert pizzas, can save theday. “It happens,” acknowledges Bricnet. “There’s no way thatwe can be perfect all the time. That’s Murphy’s law: If it canhappen, it will, and it does over and over again.”

Willow Nero is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Virginia.