Keeping it Crispy
A COMMON concern among pizza lovers is that the dough on their favorite pie can’t keep crisp. A number of factors can contribute to this phenomenon, although they each have their trade offs. In the end, it’s
up to the pizza maker to decide what sacrifices are worth making to maintain a pizza’s desired crispiness.
To start at the beginning, it’s important to understand how the ingredients you use, and
the quantities in which you use them, can impact a pizza’s dough. Tom Lehmann, the director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking (AIB), insists the “secret” to a crispy crust is to increase the amount of water to the dough formula,which allows the dough to be a little more fluid,and expand more readily during those first few critical minutes in the oven. “The greater porosity (less dense) structure of the dough creates a far better thermal block to the heat coming up from the bottom of
the pizza than a dense, heavy dough would,” he says. As a result, “heat does not readily move through the dough and into the sauce, where it is dissipated as steam during the baking process.” Instead, he says, it builds at the bottom of the dough piece, which gives a more thorough bake and creates a crispier texture in the finished crust.
Too much sugar can also have an impact on the crispiness of the crust as it directly affects the cook time for a pizza. Because the sugars caramelize quickly, the pizza has the appearance
of being cooked when, in fact, it has not baked through thoroughly. What happens is that the pizza
browns, but doesn’t bake.
“This can be a mistake because the dough may not have had sufficient time to thoroughly bake all the way through,” says Lehmann, “resulting in the development of a gum line under the sauce; or,
at the very least, the crust may be brown and crispy only on the surface, with a
very thin crispy layer on the crust that is soon lost after the pizza is allowed to set
for any period of time after baking.”
Additionally, sugar typically is more concentrated in the outer portion of the crust and, because sugar absorbs moisture from the air, most of the moisture will be drawn into the portion of the pie
that we want to be most crisp.
One supposition is that a thinner crust is a crispier crust, which is not always the case. While it a thinner crust will be crispy when its pulled from the oven, the crispy texture doesn’t remain
for more than a couple of minutes.
How a pizza is handled once it is removed from the oven will also have an impact on the longevity of its crispiness characteristic. The most common reason that a pizza loses its crisp is that the pizza is not allowed to “steam off” after baking. This is especially true of takeout and delivery pies. According to Lehmann, it’s best to allow a pizza to rest on a wire cooling rack or a pizza screen for at least 30 seconds, and at most one minute. “This will allow the steam to escape from the pizza rather than letting it get forced back into the crust, which is what will make it lose its crisp,” he says.
Baking pizza at an excessively high temperature can also cause it to lose its crispiness. “In this case, the pizza’s crust will have only a very thin layer of crispiness; once this thin layer absorbs moisture, its crisp is quickly diminished or lost completely,” he says, adding that this is a problem primarily for takeout
and delivery applications.
In fact, takeout and delivery applications pose the greatest challenge in keeping it crisp, for several reasons. Boxing a pizza for delivery holds in all that steam for an extended period of time, leading to a softer, soggier pizza. The problem, he says, gets worse when the box is placed in an insulated delivery bag.