Author Topic: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust  (Read 13837 times)

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Offline fazzari

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Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« on: April 26, 2008, 01:51:49 AM »
Well after 14 different experiments on the cracker crust, I've developed preferences regarding mix times, hydration rates, rising methods, forming methods, baking methods..etc.  I wanted to put it all together in one simple experiment....I thought I'd share

The recipe:  high gluten flour      100.00%
                 115 degree water      40.00%
                 instant yeast               .75%
                 salt                           1.25%
                 oil                             4.00%

Mixed all the dry ingredients in my Kitchenaid bowl...added the wet ingredients and mixed with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes....I then mixed with the hook for an additional 3 minutes.  The Kitchenaid did a splendid job.  I then let the dough rise in a warm oven for 75 minutes.  I flattened the dough by hand on my dough board and then sheeted it to about 1/8 inch with my rolling pin.  I folded this sheet in half and then in half again (making 4 layers).  I sheeted this dough to about 1/8 inch...and cut out a skin using a template ( I used no bench flour in the lamination process).  I refrigerated the dough for 30 hours, and then took it out to warm up.  Noticing it was a bit thick, I very gently rolled it out another inch until I had a skin which was 11 inches in diameter weighing 9.65 ounces.  I dressed the skin and put it in my oven on the oven stone (which was 535 degrees.)  This pizza baked in 6 minutes.  The skin was crispy, tender, and delicious.  My other laminations were all 6 to 9 layers thick, and so I was interested in knowing if 4 layers would add the texture I wanted....it did.  I've got one more experiment in mind....I'm wondering about a high hydration rate (say 60 percent), using lamination to form skins, and then baked in a pan..something is telling me it will be awesome...I'll let you know!!

John


Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2008, 07:19:16 AM »
John,

Thanks for posting. The pizza looks great. Based on the information you provided, I calculated a thickness factor of 0.102. So, it looks like your crust has some substance to it.

I have a few questions:

1) With your home oven, are you able to control and see its temperature in a display when you are warming the dough up?

2) When you rolled out the dough, folded it, and folded it again, was the skin round or square/rectangular when you folded it? I have found that it is difficult to roll out a laminated skin that has a triangular shape and end up with a round skin.

3) Was it much harder to roll out the skins with the 6-9 layers than the ones with the 4 layers, and was there any benefit, or sufficient benefit, to warrant using 6-9 layers? Out of curiosity, how did you actually create 6-9 layers?

4) Did you experiment with different flours before you settled on the high-gluten flour and, if so, what were the differences you detected? Also, what brand of high-gluten flour did you use?

Thanks. I look forward to the results of your higher hydration experiment with the layering.

Peter

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2008, 05:33:18 PM »
Hey Peter
As for the warm oven, I simply turned it on a couple minutes and then turned it off...I knew it was warm enough to keep dough warm, but not hot enough to cook it.

When I make these skins, I have more than enough dough for 1 skin...I am actually rolling out a sheet, trying to make it square.  When I rolled 9 layers, I would roll out a large square, fold it in thirds, roll out, fold it in thirds and roll it out.  Part of my experiment on this dough was to find out if 4 layers alone would give me the texture I like.  Rolling 4 layers was much easier than 9....and I'm handling the dough much less.  It took about 2 minutes to handle this lamination.  Anyway, after the final roll, my dough is roughly square..then I use some kind of template to cut skin(s).  After this experiment, I'm sure 4 layers is sufficient to achieve the texture I want.

As for flours...at work we used Mondako for years.  The last time I called the mill their flour was a 11.6 to 12.3 percent flour.  We had many inconsistencies with this and so went to a high gluten flour from ADM..it is about 14 percent, and we've had nothing but great experiences with it.  As for my home experiments, I've used nothing but the High Gluten flour for the cracker crusts.

Off to work...talk to you soon

John

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2008, 09:16:33 PM »
Unfortunately, I was reading at the PMQ Think Tank that Tom Lehmann considers a lower protein flour to be ideal for the cracker crust.  I guess I always considered the cracker crust to be a thin crust and thus needed a high gluten flour...and though he really doesn't discuss lamination at length, I thought I had better try a laminated, all purpose flour crust just the same.  The following are pictures of a 36% hydrated skin, laminated with 4 layers, cut out the skin, refrigerated about 28 hours...and baked on a 550 degree pizza stone for about 6 minutes.  This skin is 9.5 inches in diameter and weighs 8.45 ounces.  It is very crispy, but very tender...it is not perfect to my taste, but it warrants more experimentation for sure, for I'm sure this might be a real winner.
John

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2008, 10:01:11 PM »
John,

I assume that you are referring to Tom Lehmann's recent post at the PMQ Think Tank at http://thinktank.pmq.com/viewtopic.php?t=6039&highlight=lehmann+cracker. That post also caught my attention recently. However, if you look at one of his earlier posts on the same forum at http://thinktank.pmq.com/viewtopic.php?p=13504#13504, you will see that he recommended a high protein flour for a cracker style crust. I believe that Tom feels that just about any flour can be used to make the cracker style crust. As some evidence of this is Tom's cracker-crust dough recipes at http://www.pizzatoday.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=1&t=000919 and at http://www.pizzamaking.com/lehmann_crackerstyle.php. Usually when the type of flour is material to a particular dough formulation, it has been my observation that Tom specifies the type of flour to be used, along with some description of the flour (e.g., "high protein", "strong flour" or "strong bread flour") and, sometimes, the protein content of the flour.

In my cracker-crust experiments, I developed a fondness for the Harvest King bread flour. I don't have any high-gluten flour on hand to try that flour but Steve, the Administrator of this forum, once did a high-gluten flour/bread flour comparison test and preferred the high-gluten flour. When I tried using all-purpose flour, I did not like it as well as the HK bread flour. I thought the taste and crust coloration were better with the HK bread flour. At some point, I hope to try the King Arthur bread flour to see if I like that flour better than the HK bread flour.

You will also note that John Correll's cracker-style dough formulation calls for the use of high-gluten flour: http://www.correllconcepts.com/Encyclopizza/05_Dough-making/07_dough_recipe.htm.

Peter

EDIT (2/1/2013): For an alternative Correll link, see http://web.archive.org/web/20040606221443/http://correllconcepts.com/Encyclopizza/05_Dough-making/_05_dough-making.htm
« Last Edit: February 01, 2013, 12:05:53 PM by Pete-zza »

Offline DKM

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2008, 10:41:18 PM »
I've produced good cracker crusts with AP, Bread, and "high gluten" flours.  I've worked in places that used flour that had protein levels around standard AP.  So I wouldn't say that bread or high protein flour is by definition the "best" flour for cracker crusts.  Like all things try different ways and find the one you like best.

DKM
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Offline Essen1

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2008, 11:02:04 PM »
I had a frozen pizza last night. Yes, I know, shame on me.  :-\

However, it was the California Pizza Kitchen Sicilian Crispy Thin Crust. I really do like that crust and it has become one of my favorites among frozen pies.

http://frozen.cpk.com/prodDetail/sicilian.html

Has anyone tried to clone it? If so, I'd love to have that recipe.
Mike

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Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2008, 11:08:39 PM »
What a difference a day makes.  Took another all purpose, laminated skin out of the fridge, brought it to work and made a breakfast pizza out of it...so this skin was refrigerated about 40 hours.  The pizza was fabulous, it was a little less crispy, and alot more tender...exactly what I'm looking for in a cracker crust.  This might have been another breakthrough day in my search for the perfect crust in my restaurant.  I started making skins at home so I could really understand what was happening at work...and while we have had fabulous success with the use of high gluten flour for this product, we find that 3 or 4 times a year the high gluten product is simply too strong to make an excellent crust.....and so with this experiment this last couple days, I have decided to experiment with using the next level down from high gluten...if my thinking is correct, I should have an excellent product all year long regardless of the variances of the flour.  There sure are lots of little pieces to this puzzle!
John

Notice the action of the dough in such a thin crust

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2008, 07:14:28 PM »
Don't know if the following information will be of any use to anyone, but it is absolutely huge in my small world.  I had a conversation with a troubleshooter from ADM a few weeks ago regarding the problems I was having with high gluten flour about 3 times out of the year.  He informed me that whenever new crops are milled, these problems occur...but that they can be alleviated by using different hydration rates and/or mix times.  After telling the gentleman that I was more interested in producing an even more consistent product, using consistant procedures in the workplace, we both decided it best to drop down to a 12.5 percent flour, because this product is mixed and will have a lot less variance.  So, three weeks ago we switched...and I'm happy to say...this might have been the very last piece of the laminated cracker crust puzzle I've been working on for so long.  Not only is the product even more consistant than it was, but I think we kicked it up another notch in texture.  It was the pizzamaking.com laboratory which helped me solve the problem....thanks all!!!

John

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2008, 03:55:31 PM »
The thoughts on the laminated cracker crust seem to come in very small increments regarding the home pizza maker.  But, I had a couple new thoughts (at least in my small brain), and went to work on an experiment.  The following results are as good as any sheeted crust I've ever had...and it can be done with a rolling pin as long as you prep your dough correctly.  By the way, in rereading all that has been posted regarding lamination, I think there is the misconception that the dough should have layers in it.  In reality, we are using the lamination process to make one sheet of dough which has very small cells in it.  No bench flour is used in the following lamination.

First the recipe
KA all purpose flour     100%  (actually any flour works)
tap water 130 degrees  45%
vegetable oil                 4%
Instant yeast                 .75%
salt                             1.75%
diamalt                          .25%  (optional, I'm still testing the use of malt)


Poured water and oil in Kitchen Aid bowl.. and then added all other ingredients.  Mix on 1 for approximately 3 minutes, just until the bits on the bottom of the bowl get picked up.  Placed the finished dough in a barely warm oven for 90 minutes.  The dough should be very warm and puffy.  Roll out a sheet of dough in a square about one quarter inch thick.  Fold this sheet into quarters.  I was using a 30 ounce piece of dough, so my next step was to roll a rectangular sheet 3 times longer than wide at which time I divided into three pieces (10 ounces each).  Each smaller sheet was sheeted to between one eighth inch and three eights inch.  This dough is so easy to sheet you must be carefull not to make it too thin.  I then stacked the three sheets between parchment paper, wrapped in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 1 hour.  (My reasoning for this step is that the dough has now been very warm for about 2 hours, and I want to stop the yeast).  After 1 hour, the dough can be put in the refrigerator for use in 24 to 72 hours.

When you are ready to make a pizza, simply take a sheet from the refrigerator, trim it to look pretty if you need to, dress it and bake....this crust does not need to be warmed up.

The following pizza crust was in the refrigerator for 72 hours.  It is 6 inches by 11 inches and weighs 6.65 ounces.  It was baked in my home oven on a stone of about 575 degrees.  Cooking time is about 6 minutes.  The raw sausage is fully cooked and steam rolls off the crust when you take it from the oven...my camera wouldn't show this though
« Last Edit: December 11, 2008, 02:22:22 PM by fazzari »


Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2008, 02:40:54 PM »
John,

That is a good looking pizza. I am going to have to put the recipe on my "to do" list, along with a few of your other cracker style creations.

Out of curiosity, does your oven display the temperature at which you warm up the dough and, if so, what the temperature is?

Thanks for continuing to raise the bar on this style.

Peter

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2009, 07:43:40 PM »
I found some information today that at least might help in answering two questions I've had about the cracker crust.  One question is "why is it called a cracker crust?", and the other is "exactly what does laminating a pizza dough (without fat) do to the finished crust?"
From "Formulas and Processes for Bakers" by Samuel Matz.

"Layering and reduction (thinning) processes improve the grain and texture of the finished product by reducing the size of large gas bubbles and by forming many nuclei for steam evolution as a result of subdividing pockets of entrapped air.  These actions are separate frojm the fat layering effect and will occur even in the absence of any laminating medium such as shortening, although the latter may facilitate steam entrapment when it is present as a discontinuous phase.  The practice of braking cracker or biscuit doughs to improve texture is based on these considerations, although dough development is another important result of such procedures".

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2009, 01:25:55 PM »
A little more information on cracker doughs from "Formulas and Processes for Bakers" by Samuel Matz.

"Cracker doughs made with strong flour should be mixed for a few minutes at high speed to incorporate ingredients, but full development of the gluten at this stage will cause difficulties in machining.  If the doughs are made up with relatively weak flours, full advantage can be taken of their limited gluten extensibility by developing the flour completely in the doughing up process.  This behavior will tend to improve gas retention and, therefore, oven spring".

This post and the one above seem to confirm what I've experienced in the past 30 years.  I was taught (monkey see, monkey do) to mix doughs for 15 minutes and have even mixed them up to 21 minutes...this was at a time we were using a Fisher Mills product (Mondako) which had a 11.6 to12.3 percent protein rating.  The good crusts were fabulous...looking back, though the consistency was horrible probably due to the lack of knowledge I had at the time.  As time went on I switched to 14 percent high gluten product (ADM High Gluten), but was still mixing up to 13 minutes....the results were fabulous crusts a very high percentage of the time.  It was about then I started experimenting at home and using this sight for information...and I lowered my mix time at work to about 6 1/2 to 7 minutes.   The result is an even higher percentage of fabulous crusts.

My reason for posting this information is that I've seen the pictures (on this site) of the severely undermixed doughs, and I'm wondering if you are limiting "gas retention and, therefore oven spring" in your already beautiful pizzas, by not developing the dough further.  I think I just created a new experiment for myself....I'll give it a go when I have some time....Severely undermixed crust vs a developed crust..which will win....I think I already know!!!

John

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2009, 02:03:24 PM »
My reason for posting this information is that I've seen the pictures (on this site) of the severely undermixed doughs, and I'm wondering if you are limiting "gas retention and, therefore oven spring" in your already beautiful pizzas, by not developing the dough further. 

John,

I will be interested in your results. Certainly, using a food processor in a home setting should allow one to get much better mixing of the dough along the lines you discussed. However, a standard home stand mixer will have a harder time of it, especially if the hydration is in the 35-40% range. And a hand-kneaded cracker-style dough will be severely undermixed by your definition. Having made cracker-style doughs all three ways, I can't say that I noticed or got results that were disappointing for any of the three methods. But, then again, I did not do any side by side comparisons. Moreover, in some cases, I went to great pains as not to knead the doughs too much out of fear that I would overly develop the gluten. I even tried autolyse to reduce total knead time. In my case, I used mostly bread flour and, to a lesser degree, all-purpose flour. I did not have any high-gluten flour on hand to try that.

Peter

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2009, 09:55:23 PM »
My wife and I had a great time tonight with the ultimate cracker style experiment.  I mixed up a batch of dough in the following way..  The recipe I used was:

KA Bread flour             100%
hot tap water               45%
oil                                4%
salt                              1.75%
yeast                             .75%
diamalt                          1%

Combined all dry ingredients in the bowl, mixed thoroughly and then added the water and oil.  Using Kitchen Aid mixed dough for about 2 minutes.  At this time I took half of the dough out of the bowl and placed it in a oiled bowl and placed in a barely warm oven.  I then mixed the other half of the dough for another 8 minutes until it balled up nicely.  Even though this dough was mixed 5 times longer than the first it is still very undermixed..in fact its almost like plastic when you even attempt to pull a window.  This dough was placed in another oiled bowl and placed in the oven to proof.  After 75 minutes I took the severely undermixed dough to my counter and rolled a thin sheet with my rolling pin (about an eighth inch).  I then cut this sheet in half, placed one half on parchment...I then folded the other half into sixths
and sheeted this piece out, and placed it on parchment.
I then took the moderately mixed dough from the oven and did the exact same thing to it.  I then had 4 different dough sheets..one was severly undermixed and sheeted, one was severely undermixed and laminated, one was moderately mixed and sheeted and one was moderately mixed and laminated.  These sheets were placed in the freezer for 1 hour to cool off and then placed in the refrigerator to be used later.

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2009, 10:09:26 PM »
72 hours later we made pizza.  The first pictures are of a pizza made from severely undermixed dough which was sheeted, and the second on is a pizza made with the same dough but laminated.  Excuse my picture taking, it does my experiment no justice.  I'm trying to show the difference in oven spring between the two pizzas.  The first pie is 7 inches in diameter and weighs 3.65 oz....the second one is 7 inches and weighs 4.95 oz
« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 10:32:24 PM by fazzari »

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2009, 10:14:41 PM »
The next pizza is moderately mixed and sheeted, the second was is moderately mixed and laminated.  The first one is 7 inches and weighs 4 ounces, the second is 7 inches and weighs 4.6 ounces
« Last Edit: January 11, 2009, 10:36:05 PM by fazzari »

Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #17 on: January 11, 2009, 10:30:03 PM »
As usual all of these skins were cooked on the oven stone at about 540 degrees.  Even though all of the pies were great...I have to say the difference between the severely undermixed and sheeted skin and the rest was monumental.  It was very crispy, but did not come close to the texture of the others.  In my opinion the laminated crust made from the severely undermixed dough was better than the moderately mixed and sheeted dough, but the laminated crust made from the moderately mixed dough won top honors in my household.  How much better is it?  I'd say a notch or two!!  Check out the bottom of these pies..absolutely beautiful!!!
Again, much learned in this experiment...adequate mixing is a good thing, and if you choose it, laminating is a great thing!!

John

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #18 on: January 11, 2009, 10:48:44 PM »
John,

Excellent job.

I have a few questions:

1. Is the yeast instant dry yeast (IDY)?

2. Was the purpose of the hot tap water to elevate the dough temperature, or for yeast rehydration purposes?

3. Is the hydration value you used, 45%, to insure that the skins can be easily rolled out and laminated?

4. Would using a considerably lower hydration, say, in the mid-30s%, work for lamination purposes?

5. What was a typical dough skin weight and corresponding pizza size?

6. Is "diamalt" a diastatic malt and, if so, why was it used?

7. Was there a difference in the tastes of the various crusts and, if so, which was the one you liked best?

Thanks.

Peter




Offline fazzari

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Re: Evolution of the perfect cracker crust
« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2009, 05:14:04 PM »
Peter
This exercise was to allow the home pizza maker a chance to make a crust only found in pizzerias, because of the sheeter issue.  Along the way though it became a very selfish search for truths of the dough itself.
1.  I use SAF yeast
2.  The purpose of the hot tap water is to elevate the temperature of the dough for the sole purpose of sheeting after the dough is proofed in a warm oven
3.  The 45% hydration rate is used so that a Kitchen Aid mixer can be used and also so the dough can be laminated without too much trouble
4.  I've had a very hard time mixing lower hydration doughs at home...at least to the point where I believe they should be mixed..  After all the experiments I've done...the 45% level seems to be a perfect compromise for the equipment most of us have at home.
5.  I think I posted the diameters and weights above the pictures...they were all cut to a 7 inch diameter and weighed from 3.65 ounce (light) to 4.9 ounce (heavy)
6.  Diamalt is diastatic malt.  We used to use it in our dough at work, and I never knew what it was for.  I have now come to learn it acts as food for the yeast in secondary fermentation...so I thought I'd give it a try in various pizza crusts and breads that I bake.  I'm still trying to get a feel for it.
7.  The laminated doughs have more flavor, they are more tender, they even have a different smell sometimes when you cut them.  Having said that, I would tend to believe, that the more developed the dough, the better the flavor...so that even an unlaminated dough which is made from a well mixed dough would probably taste better than an undermixed dough.  This might be my bias...but I've eaten and served thousands of these over the years and my likes seem to match my guests.

John