Monday, April 3, 2017

How A Pilot Makes Pizza

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 5, 2017] ©2017
 
When my engineer husband announced he wanted to make homemade pizza, I recognized a thinly disguised excuse to use the fancy stand mixer that he bought to make cookies for my book event two years ago. This is a man who has never met a gadget he didn’t like. He was dying to use the dough paddle feature.
 
Olof’s baking style is an engineering marvel. When he decided to make five types of Christmas cookies using the old family recipes he employed “a simple application of undergraduate quantitative analysis” to determine the yield, and FIVE spreadsheets (projected output per recipe, master ingredient list, etc. etc.) 
 
We’re pretty used to engineering terms around our house (the kids remember being declared “left turn-capable” in their driving lessons with Olof). But Olof is also a former Air Force pilot so the pilot terms have become part of the family parlance as well. While I would spell out words over the phone like “S as in Sam, E as in elephant”, Olof is strictly NATO Phonetic Alphabet: alphas, bravos, deltas, foxtrots, tangos, whiskeys, and zulus.
 
Any project designed by Olof will also have “Ops checks,” traditionally confirming the correct proper operational parameters for aircraft oil pressure, temperature, etc. As it turns out, they can also be applied to pizza dough.
 
In December, we had acquired a pizza stone (on which you cook a pizza in your oven, to make the crust more crisp) and a pizza peel – a special shovel to insert the pizza onto the stone. But we had used frozen supermarket pizza dough and pizza sauce from a jar. The store-bought dough kept shrinking when we tried to roll it out. An Internet search advised us to let the glutens “rest.” We were hoping that the glutens in our homemade pizza dough would have already had a good night’s sleep and the rolled out dough would stay rolled out which I’m happy to report that it did. 
 
In true Olof fashion, the pizza dough effort entailed a three-page post-project documentation entitled “Pizza Dough Apportionment” with subheadings including “Statement of the Problem,” “Factors Bearing on the Problem,” a “Solution” section full of mathematical equations, and, of course, assorted Ops Checks. 
 
It was clear that our dough recipe was going to make more dough than we needed for one pizza. Some of us might just wing it, but not Olof.
 
Factors Bearing on the Problem included:
(i) We cook our pizza on a round stone, 16” in diameter.  The crust cannot exceed this size.
(ii) Inga likes her crust thin and crispy.  She’s a little vague about how thin, so I estimate a target thickness (Tc)= 1/8” = .125”

The Final Problem Statement pondered:  How to separate an as yet undetermined volume of pizza dough into equal portions any one of which could be rolled out to a crust 1/8” thick and 15” in diameter, and the others conveniently frozen.
 
Olof determined that the easiest way to freeze the unused dough was to cut it into rounds (“like fat pancakes”), separate the rounds with parchment paper and place them in a freezer bag.  We had freezer bags with a mouth about 7” in diameter.  He decided that rounds 6” in diameter could be stacked, separated by parchment paper, and sealed in the bag.  A 6” dough cutter from Sur La Table was procured to make the rounds. A little mathematical scribbling later, he determined that the initial dough ball should be rolled out to ¾ inch thickness before cutting out rounds.
 
So how exactly did you determine that, I inquired innocently. Easy, he said, happy to write it out for me:
 
The problem that remained was how thick a 6” round should be so that it could be rolled out to a crust exactly 15” in diameter and 1/8” high.  Since the crust is fabricated from the round, it follows that the volume of the crust Vc and the volume of the round Vr are equal (i.e. Vc = Vr ).  Both the round and crust are cylinders.  The formula for the volume of a cylinder is:
Where D is the diameter of the cylinder and T is its height (or thickness in this case).  Since the two volumes are equal:
This equation can be simplified to
Substituting 1/8” for Tc, 15” for Dc, and 6” for Dr , gives an estimated thickness for each round of ¾”.
 
Um, OK.  A footnote noted the problematic nature of the V measurement since the crust was still rising. I was happy to note that given what we were making, there were some pi’s in these calculations.
 
In Experimental Result, Olof described manufacture of the dough, rolling it to the predetermined 3/4” thickness, and cutting five equal 6” rounds. (Scraps, he documented, were discarded.)
 
And now for the Ops Checks:
 
Ops Check 1: Will the four extra rounds fit in a 7” diameter freezer bag? After separating them with parchment paper sheets, they slid snuggly into the bag and are now in sub-zero hibernation.
 
Ops Check 2: Will the fifth round roll out to a 15” pizza, 1/8” thick?  Using a well-flowered rolling pin I rolled one round out on the 15” parchment paper template.  It fit perfectly, reaching the 15” edge just as the dough’s thickness reached 1/8”.
 
Ops Check 3: Does the homemade dough make good crust?  Conclusion: very tasty, but crispier if you remember to start pre-heating the oven and stone at the beginning of the process.
 
Ops Check 4:  Can the frozen rounds be thawed and rolled into future crusts? Check scheduled for future accomplishment.
 
Postscript: Ops Check 4 was a Fail. During the freezing process, the dough rounds retained sufficient fluidity that the weight of the stack caused the lower rounds to extrude beyond the intervening parchment paper separators and adhere to each other. Also: in the future, consider placing a thin layer of edible lubricant between the separators and the dough rounds.
 
Any excuse to use his fancy stand mixer
 
Olof cuts out 6 inch dough rounds
 
The dough rolls out to exactly 15 inches in diameter x 1/8 inch thick
 
The happy chef

2 comments:

  1. You have shared about your experience to make pizza, It is too easy with machine which we use to make it. Get the offers to buy top quality commercial Pizza Dough Press at best price.

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  2. Thanks for sharing the post.And I hope that other readers will also experience how they feel after reading your article. I decided to add your blog to my bookmarks so I can return to it at a later date.

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