Several years ago, I wondered what the origins were for using sugar in pizza dough, especially since it was not an essential ingredient to making pizza dough. I am not talking here about adding sugar to a dough to be sure that the yeast is adequately fed over a long fermentation period but rather its impact on crust coloration, and especially bottom crust coloration. It wasn't until I read a post on the Patsy's reverse engineering thread by Ron Molinaro (ilpizzaiolo) at Reply 3 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1053.msg9384/topicseen.html#msg9384
that the lightbulb went off and I saw how the evolution of pizza making in the U.S. gave rise to the introduction to sugar (and also oil) in pizza doughs, especially in the context of the NY style and the use of deck ovens. Ron's explanation also dovetailed with what I had learned a short time before when, in response to a question by a member posed at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,886.msg8022.html#msg8022
, I investigated various ovens, including deck ovens, to get an idea as to their operating temperatures. As noted in that thread, I came to the conclusion that, while deck ovens could theoretically get up to 650 degrees F, most operators were operating at below that temperature and, in some cases, considerably below it, as I noted with respect to a pizza operator in Massachusetts that I met who was making NY style pies at 470 degrees F in his Bakers Pride deck oven.
Since that time, I have read countless posts directed to Tom Lehmann at the PMQ Think Tank where operators have complained about excessive or premature bottom crust browning. And the advice that Tom invariably gave (and still gives) was to either 1) delete the sugar in the dough completely, if used or 2) reduce the amount used. Sometimes, he suggested using pizza screens to lift the pizzas off of the deck surface to control the bottom crust browning. When a sugar range was suggested, it was usually 1-2%. When the problem complained of was lack of crispiness in the crust, Tom's advice was consistent: reduce the bake temperature and bake the pizzas longer. He dispenses the same advice today, pretty much generically for all types of pizzas. As Terry knows, Tom is also a believer in using oil in NY style pizza doughs, as much for flavor as anything else, as I reported recently at Reply 700 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,576.msg61557.html#msg61557
(see also the posts that follow Reply 700).
I will concede to Terry that Tom Lehmann is not the final word or the arbiter of the authentic NY style as that style is embodied in the pizzas made today in NYC. He will, from time to time, concede that a properly made NY style pizza baked in a deck oven is hard to beat, and he will acknowledge the role that hearth-type ovens play in producing artisan type pies, but his focus is more on conveyor ovens that are increasingly taking market share away from the other types of ovens. Increasingly, the advice he dispenses to those in the former groups is technical in nature, such as how to resolve formulation problems and baking issues.