I spent this past weekend in Jacksonville, FL, and on my way to my hotel I came upon a Mellow Mushroom on Jacksonville Beach (http://mellowmushroom.com/store/jacksonville
) or Rte 1A just north of Ponte Vedra. Since it was about lunchtime and I hadn’t yet had lunch, I thought that it would be a perfect time to try a MM pizza and to try to gather more intelligence on the MM style of pizza and hopefully contribute something of value to this thread.
Upon entering the building, I asked to be seated near the ovens where workers were busy making pizzas. Unfortunately, there was a rather tall counter in front of the workers that obscured the bench work but I was able nonetheless to see the workers twirling the skins for the pizzas. There were a series of double deck Blodgett deck ovens behind them, with several workers, all male but for one girl, making the pizzas. I would say that they were of college age. In fact, it appears that many MM stores are near college campuses, giving them access to low-cost labor. That suggests that the MM dough is such as to be capable of being formed into skins and made into pizzas by unskilled labor with modest training since it cannot be expected that college students are likely to be motivated to stay on the job for long. The workers I saw looked like they were actually having a good time, as though they really didn't have jobs. The design of the restaurant was hip and colorful design-wise, with a lot of beer being consumed by diners (MM stores typically have a large selection of beers) and a lot of background music and TVs scattered throughout the store to entertain the diners.
I ordered a 10” (four slices) pepperoni pizza, which is about all that I thought that I could handle given that I was scheduled for a big dinner later that night. It took some time for the pizza to arrive at my table (maybe about a half-hour) but the place was quite busy and I was actually happy for the delay because it gave me more time to watch the workers.
When the pizza arrived, I approached it as though I was performing an autopsy. I examined all of the physical, coloration and textural characteristics of the pizza, and I smelled and tore apart and tugged and stretched the crust and crumb, and tasted all of the components, isolating them for taste purposes as much as I could. Based on the notes I took, here is my critique.
The pizza that I ordered had an exceptionally large rim, actually quite bulbous and considerably larger than any pizza I can recall as having had before in a pizzeria. To begin, the rim was not uniform in height, as is shown, for example, at the various MM websites I visited. Some parts were significantly taller than others, as though the worker who made the pizza had not formed a rim of uniform size and height before dressing and baking. There were a lot of small blisters on the rim. As I reported earlier in this thread, all of the MM stores outside of Atlanta use frozen dough balls. This is also true of the Jacksonville Beach MM location. Frozen dough balls usually contain a lot more yeast than fresh dough (because freezing of the dough kills off some of the yeast) and are more prone to overfermenting, resulting in a rather short period of usability (typically about 2 days for defrosted flash frozen doughs). If I had to guess, I would say that the dough that was used to make my pizza was on the long end of the fermentation cycle and that is why the rim had the profusion of small fermentation blisters. I would actually view that as a good thing because the longer fermentation contributes favorably to the final crust texture, flavor, aroma and taste because of the increased fermentation byproducts.
The rim of the pizza was also quite dense. It was not light and airy, which might have indicated a relatively high hydration. Moving from the rim to the center of the pizza, the crust got thinner but it was also more tender and a little more airy with larger alveoles and maybe a bit on the underbaked side but in a pleasing, satisfying way (for example, it was not pasty or gummy). The color of the top crust of the pizza was a light to medium brown. The bottom crust was considerably darker and it evidenced the use of cornmeal in the formation of the skin. I later learned that the frozen dough balls that are sent out to the MM stores from the MM commissary have some cornmeal on the bottoms of the dough balls. However, I later saw that cornmeal was also on the bench.
The crumb of the crust was a light brown color. I was told later by one of the workers that the color of the crust and crumb (and also for the unbaked dough) was due to the use of molasses. I don’t recall seeing any specks of wheat germ in the crumb but I suppose it is possible that, if actually used, it is processed to reduce its particle size and blended into the main flour (said to be a high gluten flour) so that it is not visible in the finished product. The crust itself was quite chewy. The bottom of the crust itself was not cracker-like or particularly crispy. I was able to bend a slice of the pizza and, upon releasing it, it returned to its original position. There was no permanent crack in the slice. The crust was flexible and pliable.
From a taste standpoint, I could clearly detect sweetness in the finished crust. It was sweeter than the Papa John’s clone pizzas that I have made using around 4-4.5% sugar (table sugar) or versions made using honey at around 5%. I will have more to say on the molasses and other parts of the MM pizza I had below, but I did not find the molasses flavor to be overwhelming in any way. Also I did not find the crust to be overly salty to my palate but the sweetness of the crust may have masqueraded the saltiness to some degree. I understand that the rims of MM pizzas are brushed with butter (I have read that it can be garlic butter) and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese after baking but if the crust of my pizza was buttered, I did not detect the presence or taste of butter (or garlic). On my pizza, there was just a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, to the point of almost being undetectible. I love Parmesan cheese, so I would have liked more on my pizza.
I counted 11 pepperoni slices on my 10” pizza. I have read that MM pre-cooks all meats and drains them of excessive fats and oils. I don't know it that is done with pepperoni slices, but I did not detect much in the way of surface fat on the pizza I had.
Overall, I liked the pizza quite a bit. I ate three of the slices and had my server package the remaining slice to take back with me to the hotel. Fortunately, my hotel had a small refrigerator where I was able to hold the final slice to bring back with me to Texas (in an insulated container) to re-taste when I got back home to see if the crust of the slice became tough and whether it retained its sweetness. (As it turned out, the crust did get tougher but the sweetness persisted and the slice reheated well but obviously was not as good as a fresh slice.)
When I was done with my pizza, I approached the work area where the workers were busy making pizzas and struck up a conversation with them. I asked several questions to gauge the depth of the workers' knowledge about the MM dough. It became evident quite quickly that they knew little about the dough balls themselves. However, one of the things I did learn is that the pizzas are baked in the Blodgett deck ovens at 550 degrees F. I was told that the actual bake time varied depending on how many pizzas were in the oven at any given time and how often the oven doors were opened and closed but that the bake time could be as long as 10 minutes. I was also able to see the workers form skins, and I noticed that an effort was made to make a distinct, upstanding rim before stretching and tossing to get the final skin size. (For examples of how this is done, see the videos at
) One skin that was formed by the young lady actually developed a hole in it but she quickly patched it and went on to finish dressing the pizza. If one is able to achieve an oven temperature of 550 degrees F, I think there is a reasonable chance of achieving good results in a standard unmodified home oven. This is something I discovered when I made my Papa John's clone pizzas using my basic unmodified electric home oven.
As I was ready to leave the restaurant, another worker happened to join the group and, hearing my discussion with his associates, seemed receptive to answering more of my questions. I told him that I had never seen a pizza dough like theirs before and asked him if he could tell me more about it. He said that the dough was “just a regular dough” using unbleached flour but had molasses in it, which gave the dough and crust its characteristic light brown coloration and taste. When I asked whether the water used to make the dough was reverse osmosis water or something similar, he said no, that it was actually spring water (the pizza boxes themselves say “Spring Water Dough”). He also said he knew the dough ball weights, which he gave to me. Later, I found the costs (pre-tax) of the dough balls, which they do offer for sale at this particular MM. On the way home on the plane, I was able to calculate the thickness factors based on the dough ball weights that were given to me. Here is a summary of the information on the dough balls (pizza size, corresponding dough ball weight, cost and corresponding thickness factors):
10”, 14-16 ounces, $4, TF = 0.17725-0.20372
14”, 24 ounces, $5, TF = 0.15591
16”, 28 ounces, $6, TF = 0.13926
As you can see, there is a wide variation in thickness factor. This is quite wide although it is common to use different thickness factors where multiple pizza sizes are offered. In the case of MM, for example, it is possible, I suppose, that as the pizza size goes up, the thickness factor goes down so that the pizzas bake within a fairly standard period of time irrespective of what goes on the skins. I am also sure that the MM oven tenders learn how to move pizzas in and around the oven to achieve the desired end results. For your purposes, I think I would go with the 14” size. If you decide to purchase a frozen (or fresh) MM dough ball, I'd like to know the weight of the dough ball you purchase to see if the above weights are correct inasmuch as I tend to be skeptical of what workers in stores who are away from where the dough is made tell me (I am a trust and verify type). I may also call an MM store myself to see what answers I get there, if any.
Here is some other information to consider in relation to your clone experiments.
Hydration. Judging from the chewy, fairly dense crust, especially at the rim, I would say that the hydration perhaps isn’t all that high. I would guess around 56-57% or so. I would say that the 550 degrees F bake temperature may help with the oven spring despite a lower hydration value. A relatively low formula hydration value is also perhaps a good idea if relatively inexperienced kids who may not be around for long are to open up dough balls.
Yeast. If I had to guess, I would say that the MM dough is likely to contain a lot of yeast, to assist in producing a good oven spring, especially if the hydration of the MM dough is on the low side as I suspect. Also, as previously noted, frozen dough balls typically contain an excess of yeast, a part of which has to be available when the dough is defrosted (which is typically done overnight in the cooler) to promote some fermentation. About the only fermentation that a frozen dough gets is during defrosting and during the bench warm-up time before using to make pizzas. I don't have any idea of how the fresh doughs are used in the Atlanta-area MMs.
Salt. I did not detect anything in the crust to suggest that the amount of salt in the dough was on either the high or low side. Remember, also, that salt is also imparted to the palate by the sauce, cheese and pepperoni slices. When in doubt, and absent any evidence to the contrary, my practice is to use about 1.75%, and adjust upwardly or downwardly for future efforts based on the final results. A lot of this involves personal preference and how salt levels are perceived on the palate.
Molasses. Since the MM crust was quite sweet, I think I would start with a value of 6%. Molasses is mainly sucrose (about 70%) with the rest being glucose and fructose, which, as simple sugars, are more readily available for the yeast to use as food. Molasses is also said to be less sweet than table sugar. You perhaps don’t want to use too much molasses because that might cause the bottom crust to finish baking prematurely and turn a dark brown or even burn before the rest of the pizza is finished baking. Too much molasses might also be overwhelming from a taste standpoint. However, you want enough to produce the desired degree of sweetness and crust/crumb coloration. Since molasses is about 22% water, as can be calculated from the data at http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5573/2
if you use a liquid molasses, which would be my personal preference over the dried form, it may be necessary to adjust the hydration value to compensate for the water content of the molasses. However, at the single dough ball level, I would not expect the difference to be material but that is something that can be tested. If used at a high enough level, the molasses should also coat the gluten strands and increase the plasticity of the dough and improve dough volume and handling.
The MM Sauce. I found the sauce to have a pleasant sweet tomato-ey flavor. There was some salt in it but it might have been balanced by the overall sweetness of the pizza crust. I did not detect any herbs in the sauce that overwhelmed the natural tomato flavor of the sauce. I thought that the amount of sauce was just right for my taste. According to the article at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_41_40/ai_n26707254/
in the past, at least, it was reported that MM used only fresh-pack tomato products for its pizzas. If that is true today, that usually means fresh-pack tomato products from Stanislaus, Escalon, San Benito or maybe a smaller outfit that sells canned fresh-pack tomato products that are naturally sweet. Generic MM literature frequently states that no refined white sugar is used in their sauces. So, unless a different form of sugar/sweetener is used in the sauce (which I did not detect), the sweetness must be the natural sweetness of the tomatoes themselves. Also, as I noted in Reply 18 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=3940.msg149648#msg149648
at least back in 2003 MM used only tomatoes, spices and water for its pizza sauce. If you can't find fresh-pack tomato products from the above companies, you might try the Pastene Kitchen Ready crushed tomatoes, if they are available to you, or the Wal-Mart crushed tomatoes, with maybe some added sugar to enhance their sweetness, even though they would not be my first choice for this application.
The MM Cheese. It was earlier noted that MM apparently uses a part-skim, low moisture mozzarella cheese (MM refers to the mozzarella cheese they use as being "reduced fat" or "low fat"). When I was researching that part of the MM pizza, I came across a fairly recent post in a yelp review where the owner of a MM in Tempe, AZ said that his store uses a Premium mozzarella cheese from Saputo (see the reply of Jay B. to Ken C. at http://www.yelp.com/biz/mellow-mushroom-tempe?rpp=40&start=40
). The Saputo Premium mozzarella is a foodservice product. However, if you look at the bottom of the page at http://www.saputousafoodservice.com/
, you will see several other brands of mozzarella cheeses produced by Saputo. I have seen the Frigo, Stella and Dragone mozzarella cheeses at the retail level and I think that a low-moisture, part-skim version of any of these cheeses should be an acceptable substitute for the Saputo Premium mozzarella cheese. Saputo also offers a mozzarella cheese brand called Golden State (see Reply 171 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,14928.msg151772.html#msg151772
) but I have not seen it in any store near me. It may be a Left coast brand. I found the amount of cheese used on my pizza to be just right.
Earlier in this thread I made reference to an article at http://www.nbcdfw.com/the-scene/food-drink/Mellow-Mushrooms-House-Special-Recipe.html
where the dough balls weight is 12 ounces (which is the correct weight for a 10” pizza), and 3 ounces of sauce and 4 ounces of mozzarella cheese are used. The cheese is stated to be “extra cheese” so a normal amount for a simpler 10" MM pizza might be somewhat less, maybe 3 ounces or so. So, for a basic MM 10” pizza, equal amounts of sauce and cheese by weight might be reasonable amounts. If those values are reasonably correct, then one can scale up the quantities of sauce and cheese to larger size pizzas based on the surface areas of the larger size pizzas.
On the matter of sauce and cheese quantities, as you might expect, reviewers of the MM pizzas, on yelp and elsewhere, often complain that there is too much or too little sauce and/or cheese. These are personal preferences that I usually ignore when I am trying to reverse engineer and clone a particular pizza. Knowing the final weight of a given size MM pizza is more useful to us to help us determine how much sauce and cheese to use. Of course, we will have to have the correct dough ball weight and account for losses in weight during baking of the pizza. Based on my experience with the Papa John's clones, I would place the weight loss at around 8-9%, or maybe a bit more for an MM clone, depending on the total total unbaked pizza weight, and total bake time and temperature.
I hope that the above serves as a backdrop for what you would like to do. Once you have had a chance to digest the above information and have concluded your own research on a real MM pizza as previously discussed, I think we should be able to come up with an MM clone dough formulation for you to test out.
Note: The dough ball information other than cost given above turns out to be incorrect. For details and the correct information, see Reply 42 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,3940.msg151482.html#msg151482