Thank you for your nice report. I was thinking about the entire MM matter quite a bit yesterday (more on this below) so I was anxiously awaiting your report. However, to be honest, based mainly on Norma’s recent MM experiments, I wasn’t really expecting you to report that you had solved the sweetness problem. But because you had reported earlier that you had made a sweet MM crust, which you have now recanted, I wanted to await your results before commenting further. Also, I would like to see what results Norma gets when she makes a pizza out of the frozen dough ball she made specifically to see if using the dough ball sooner retains more of the sweetness of the molasses. Like you and Norma, I am increasingly having doubts about the effectiveness of molasses alone to provide detectible levels of sweetness in a pizza crust. Maybe MM is using a special form or type of molasses that has a high sweetness factor that we cannot replicate with retail level products. In this vein, I thought that perhaps MM was using a molasses product with maltodextrin but after researching that possibility, I discovered that maltodextrin, which is technically a carbohydrate and not a sugar, has a low sweetness factor. So, it is unlikely to provide a sweetness boost.
Yesterday, in parallel with Norma’s efforts, I conducted a simple test to see how much molasses a dough can take while not becoming too dark. I don’t have any high-gluten flour on hand so I decided to take some King Arthur bread flour (KABF) and to increase its protein content to 14.2% by using the Hodgson Mill brand of vital wheat gluten (I used the Mixed Mass Percentage Calculator at http://foodsim.toastguard.com/
to do this). I then replaced 3% of that blend with the Bob’s Red Mill brand of wheat germ. Before adding the wheat germ to the KABF, I toasted it and then ground it into a flour-like powder. Both the vital wheat gluten and the toasted wheat germ added some color to the KABF. But it was not pronounced.
For the molasses, I used the Brer Rabbit brand of liquid molasses. It was the Full Flavor version, the only version that I could find the other day in my local supermarket. I decided to use 5% for my simple color test. I used an amount of water to yield a nominal hydration of 55%. That made the “adjusted” hydration 56.1% (after accounting for the water content of the molasses) and the “effective” hydration after accounting for the soybean oil, which was at 2%, was 58.1%. That value seemed to me to be an idiot-proof value that would yield a dough that just about anyone could handle and the dough would be nicely extensible but highly unlikely to stick to anything when opened up to make a skin. Because the amount of dough was on the small side, at 12 ounces, I used my 14-cup capacity Cuisinart food processor with the metal blade to prepare the dough. That worked out very well. The finished dough ball was a bit tacky but had a nice smooth feel. But, most importantly, the color of the dough ball was almost exactly the color of the brown coffee filter that I have been using as a benchmark for the color of MM’s dough. So, for my particular set of ingredients, 5% liquid molasses seems to be a good value or at least a good starting point if we are ever able to get a real MM dough ball to compare the colors of the two doughs.
Rather than throw the dough ball away, I decided to freeze it for a few days, defrost it for about a day, and then bake it to see if there is any significant contribution to sweetness. By that time, Norma will have perhaps answered that question with her own frozen dough ball.
I also did some research on sorghum, or “sorghum molasses”. I did not do an exhaustive search because I tend not to think that MM is using sorghum. I found some sources of sorghum syrup, including one in Georgia, but the sources I found were small mom-and-pop suppliers. I did not find a commercial supplier, which is the kind of supplier someone like MM would want and need to feed a growing franchise business that is moving across the country.
To this point, Norma and I have collectively spoken to or had other exchanges with three different flour millers (Pendleton, Montana Milling and General Mills), one wheat germ expert (Garuda International) and one or two ADM molasses specialists. Yet, surprisingly, these sources seemed to be oblivious to what MM is doing with its dough. If I had to guess, I would say that MM is most likely making its own flour blend using an unbleached, unbromated high-gluten flour, a defatted finely ground wheat germ with added Vitamin E, and that it is using a modest amount of molasses that is just enough to add color (but not too much) and some flavor and sweetness. At this juncture, it is not clear whether the molasses is a liquid molasses or a dry molasses powder, but I would lean more to the dry molasses powder because of convenience of use, handling and storage. If that is a correct guess, and if MM is using another sweetener, that added sweetener could include honey or barley malt, most likely also in a dry form. Honey comes in many different colors as does the barley malt but they both can be used with molasses. There are other possible sweeteners but they would have to be unrefined. MM has lived with the molasses story for so long and is part of their dough's DNA and accepted by everyone as a unique and distinguishing feature that there would be little point in changing that story at this time.