Hi I've just built a wood fire oven at home and I want to know how to get he pizza crust soft? Any tips for success with traditional Italian-style bread? Some people say to put sugar in and other people say not to.
Italian pizza crumb must be soft (morbida, as Italians say) in its inner part (the one below the tomato sauce), and its outer rim can be more or less crispy.
You can check the requisite for being soft at this link from the Vera Pizza Napolitana association (check the "Description of the product"):
The consistency of the " Verace Pizza Napoletana " - (Vera Pizza Napoletana) should be soft, elastic, easy to manipulate and fold. The centre should be particularly soft to the touch and taste,
The crust should deliver the flavour of well-prepared, baked bread.
The outer part can be crunchier or softer, depending on your taste. It will depend on the strength (W value) of the flour. You can check it in this Italian pizza flour manufacturer.
Using a longer fermentation time will extract more taste from the flour. That's why a crunchier outer rim is usually associated with tastier pizzas.
That long fermentation also helps the dough been extensible and not stretching back, which is desirable when you are shaping the pizza. I wrote more details on it in this answer on pizza flours.
In order to achieve a soft center, the pizza is done in a very little time (from 60 to 90 seconds). To get this, you need a very hot oven (over 450ºC / 900ºF).
It is difficult to get a thermometer that measures that temperature (most infrared ones usually can't measure over 350ºC). You can check if the oven is too hot throwing flour in it. If it catches fire (in less than 5 seconds) then it's too hot. If it just gets dark, then it's ok. After using this method, remember to remove the burnt flour, or it will give a bitter taste to the pizzas you'll later put on it.
To get the outer rim of the pizza rise like bread, you should have some flames in the oven. They will radiate a lot of heat, so you have to rotate the pizza 180º during its baking, so it will get done equally in all the border.
The flames should be in one side of the oven, never at the back. This way the air that enters to feed the flame will induce a rotating whirpool that helps the air in the oven to be hotter.
As the floor surface of the oven is very hot (>400ºC), the pizza you put in it won't actually be touching it: it will be floating on its own steam. That's why the bottom of the pizzas are not burnt.
You are asking about adding sugar or not.
Sugar is the food yeasts eat.
Flour has no sugar. But it has starches, which are molecules made of many sugar molecules together. Flour also has enzymes that can break the starches in sugar molecules. That happens when you add water to the flour, and the enzymes can move easily to do their work. But they need time to do so.
When you add flour, water and yeasts, the late ones have to wait a bit for their food. If you add sugar, they'll have food since the beginning (the sugar you added) to the end (the sugar from broken starches): sugar is added to make the dough fermentation in less time.
So, if you want a quick risen dough, add (a small quantity of) sugar. If you want a tasty one, don't.
Perhaps you should describe in more detail exactly what kind of pizza crust you desire--there are a lot of types or styles of pizza crust.
In most breads, soft crust is achieved by 1) not adding steam to the oven which enhances crust formation; and 2) brushing the crust with butter or milk after it comes out of the oven. The second would be very non-traditional for pizza, though.
The thing is, to the best of my personal knowledge, mostly people who build wood and coal fire ovens are after Neopolitan style pizza, which Serious Eats (linked) describes as:
Small (about 10-inch diameter), thin-crust pizzas made in a wood-burning oven. Usually have a puffy "cornicione" (lip or end crust) and marked by use of the freshest ingredients applied sparingly for a careful balance.
The crust for this style of pizza is usually crunchy, not soft.
Their key points are:
- Quality ingredients, including 00 or similar flour
- Long slow ferment
- Blazingly hot oven
Here are their recommended ratios (for US flour products, obviously):
- All-purpose or bread flour: 100%
- Salt: 2%
- Instant yeast: 1.5
- % Water: 65%
By soft and tasty pizza crust I'm going to assume you mean crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside which is the characteristic of pizza dough cooked at high temperature in a wood fired oven. You need this high temperature to produce that crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside.
There's no magic or sorcery to good pizza dough. The ingredients really are very simple, good quality flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast. Please note the sugar is there to activate the yeast and allow it to grow it's not there for any other purpose other than that. Salt is there for flavour, but too much will kill the yeast.
The rest is up to you. Good quality pizza crust is all down to the kneading, resting period, kneading again and spreading to the required size and cooking at high temperature – it's this that determines whether your crust will be good or bad.
Sometimes in wood fired ovens with thicker crust pizzas by the time the inside cooks the outside is way to crunchy. You can put a pot of water in your oven or spritz water in to sort of steam cook just to keep things from getting to dry. You will still end up with soft inside and not over done outside.
I havnt tried in wood fired but for moist soft crumb powered milk is added to dough. Might be something to experiment with.