I concluded that at this juncture it is unlikely that we are going to get more and better information than we now have on the Donatos dough and sauce. So, I decided to just forge ahead and try making a clone of that dough and sauce using the best information that we have, along with some educated guesses.
To this end, I decided to make a test dough using all-purpose flour (bromated and bleached), 7% eggs (as a percentage of flour), and 54% hydration (60% when the water from the egg is factored in). The actual order of ingredients, by their predominance by weight in the dough, was as follows: all-purpose flour, water, eggs, vegetable oil, salt, dried dairy whey, nonfat dry milk (scalded in a bit of water and then cooled), sugar, instant dry yeast (IDY) and corn meal. Until we get a better fix on things, I will defer a discussion of all the baker’s percents I used and the dough processing steps I used other than to say that the dough turned out well. The dough was a bit firmer than those I usually make, undoubtedly due to the eggs and quite possibly the dried dairy whey and nonfat dry milk, but it was still smooth and a bit on the tacky side. I decided to cold ferment the dough for about a day. I assumed that this would be essentially equivalent to the frozen dough balls that Donato’s allegedly thaws out to use at the store level.
I removed the dough about 22 hours after putting it in the refrigerator and let it warm up at room temperature for an hour, covered lightly with a sheet of plastic wrap. I then rolled out the dough (using a rolling pin) to about 14 inches, the size of pizza I decided to make. At this point, my plan was to make just the 14” pizza. However, after I had cut out the 14” skin from the rolled out dough, using my 14-inch pizza screen as a template, I saw that I had a small amount of dough left over. Rather than discard it, I decided to rework it, flatten it, and put it back in the refrigerator pending a decision on what to do with it (more on this below).
I docked the 14” skin, placed it on a piece of parchment paper that I had dusted with corn meal, and put the skin/parchment paper on the pizza screen for support and stability in handling. I then put this arrangement into my microwave oven, which I decided to use to “proof” the 14” skin. To create the humidified environment in the microwave oven, I placed a 4-cup Pyrex cup filled with water that had been heated to around 200 degrees F. I left the skin in the microwave oven for 1 hour. Using a couple of flip maneuvers (not material here) after removing the skin from the microwave oven, I was able to transfer the skin onto the pizza screen without the parchment paper. The skin was then sauced, cheesed and topped to go into the oven.
For the sauce, I tried to make a clone of the Donatos sauce for which you provided the basic ingredients. In my case, I used 6-in1 tomatoes that I had cooked on low heat to reduce the liquids, and to which I added sugar, a bit of salt, a few pinches of ordinary paprika (just to the point of being detectable on the palate), dry leaf basil and leaf basil that I had pulverized in a mortar and pestle. For cheeses, I decided to use Provolone cheese, as does Donatos, but because the Provolone cheese I had on hand was an imported variety with a potent flavor, I decided to cut it with a low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese and white cheddar cheese. This is a combination I had used recently in making a Greek/pub pizza and thought was very good. For toppings for the pizza, I used pepperoni slices, sausage (raw, in thumb-sized pieces), and a combination of both sauteed and raw mushroom slices.
The dressed pizza was cooked on the lower oven rack position of my oven, which I had preheated to about 450 degrees F, for about 8 minutes. I then moved the pizza to the middle oven rack position where it remained for about an additional 4 minutes. The first set of photos below show the finished pizza.
While I thought the pizza tasted fine (I could even detect the egg in the crust), I concluded that the crust was likely too thick. The crust was chewy with a slightly crispy bottom crust and a soft interior crumb, but judging from the photos you posted earlier on this thread of the Donatos pizza, I thought that it should have been even crispier and more golden in color. I also concluded that the procedures I used to try to simulate the procedures apparently used by Donatos are too labor intensive and uncertain, with a high potential for mishaps when handling the dough. While I believe that measures might be taken to better simulate a proofing environment and to make a home oven behave thermodynamically more like the conveyor ovens Donatos uses, doing so may take a great deal of experimentation with both the “proofer”, the oven thermodynamics and, quite likely, the dough formulation itself.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I decided to try an entirely different approach. That is where the leftover dough comes in. After an additional day in the refrigerator, I rolled the leftover dough out to about 7” which, for the amount of dough involved (under 2 ounces), was about half as thick as the 14” skin I had made for the first pizza (a thickness factor of about 0.05 compared with 0.10 for the 14” pizza). I docked the skin and then fitted it into a 7” (6 1/2 inch ID) dark anodized cutter pan (from pizzatools.com) that I had first oiled and sprinkled with some corn meal. I covered the pan with the dough with a sheet of plastic wrap and let the dough “proof” for about an hour at room temperature (this time, without a special humidified environment). Using this greatly simplified approach, I avoided the messiness of using corn meal on a pizza screen, the parchment paper, and the need to flip the dough. At the same time, I set the stage for getting better browning and crisping of the bottom crust. Eliminating the proofing of the dough in a humidified environment further simplified the entire procedure.
After the skin had proofed, I sauced it, cheesed it and topped it. This time, for toppings I used pepperoni slices, sauteed and raw mushroom slices, and raw diced red and green peppers. As with the first pizza, the toppings were fairly generously applied, just as the Donatos pizzas appear to be from the photos you posted and as also shown at the Donatos website. The pizza was baked on a pizza stone that I had placed on the lowest oven rack position and preheated for about an hour at around 500 degrees F. When I first put the pizza onto the stone, I lowered the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. The pizza remained on the stone for about 6 minutes, whereupon it was moved off of the stone to the middle oven rack position. The pizza baked at that oven position for about 4 or 5 more minutes, or until the cheeses were bubbling and the crust was nicely browning. The remaining photos show the finished 7” pizza
There was little doubt in my mind that the second baking approach using the pan and stone was better and surer and “cleaner” procedurally than using the pizza screen. The crust was crispier but not cracker like, and with better color, and no doubt I could have left the pizza in the oven a couple of minutes longer to get even more browning. And I liked the pizza better than the first one. I concluded that the crust this time was perhaps too thin, so with this thought in mind I am in the process of modifying the dough formulation to produce a dough thickness between the two doughs I made. This time I plan to use bread flour (unbleached and non-bromated) to try to get even better crust browning, and make a 12” size and use a 14” (13 1/2” ID) dark anodized pizzatools.com cutter pan, using the same general baking protocol I used with the 7” pizza. If that effort turns out well, I will report back on my findings. Please feel free in the meantime to critique the pizzas I made in relation to your intimate familiarity with the Donatos pizzas.