Changing customer tastes demand that pizza operators add new toppings to their menus. But it isn't as simple as tossing trendy vegetables, meats and seafoods atop your tried-and-true dough-and-sauce base. The new toppings' flavors must complement the dough and sauce, and react well to the baking process, or they could ruin the overall finished product.

The enemy is moisture, said Tony Lagana, a product development consultant and owner of Culinary Systems in Orlando, Fla. Under heat, seafood and vegetable toppings "weep" or "bleed out." That can make a soggy crust and reduce the cheese's adherence to the pie, making a mess of every bite.


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Paradise Tomato Kitchens

"If you've got a high-moisture topping, then you may have to alter the moisture content of your tomato sauce," said Lagana, who consults with Paradise Tomato Kitchens, a year-round sauce remanufacturer in Louisville, Ky. Reducing a pizza sauce's moisture on the stove is one way to address the problem, Lagana said, but not an ideal one. Not only is there a risk of scorching, the added labor cost is unwanted. "I suggest adding something to the sauce that will increase flavor while taking up some of the moisture. Sun-dried tomatoes — even the ones in oil — will pull moisture out of the tomato sauce, while adding a nice tang and texture."

Addressing the problem through a dough change is much more basic, Lagana said.

"The simple thing is to parbake the pizza crust, which will knock off a lot of moisture," Lagana said. "It also helps flavor, too, because when you run it through the oven, you get some browning you otherwise wouldn't have gotten if the toppings were all there."

Add flavor, keep out wetness

Lagana said many pizzas he eats suffer from moisture problems that ruin the crust. While its rim and bottom are nicely cooked, the crust's interior can be underdone, even soggy. Tom Lehmann, director of bakery assistance at the American Institute of Baking, calls that wet layer the gum line. Eliminating it, he said, can be done in multiple ways, starting with the toppings.

"There are some very good frozen, reduced-moisture toppings available on the market now that can help with that," said Lehmann, during a recent seminar at AIB's Manhattan, Kan., headquarters. "You can change your dough or sauce, too, but I don't recommend changing your basic products just to adjust to some new toppings."

Once a dough skin is formed, Lehmann suggests brushing it with a thin layer of oil to resist moisture penetration.

"Since oil and water don't mix, that moisture won't migrate into the crust," he said. "And if you use olive oil, you'll add a little flavor to the dough in the process."

Lagana also likes oiling the dough, and he suggested taking the flavor addition a step further.

"Parmesan is a very dry cheese, which will pull out some of the moisture," he began. "I'd rub the crust with some Parm, kosher salt and black pepper. It'll help the problem and you'll up the flavor at the same time."

Moisture-reducing tips

·  Where applicable, roast vegetable toppings ahead of time to reduce moisture; it can boost flavor. Drain well if necessary.
·  Place vegetable toppings above the cheese to increase dehydration.
·  If possible, add vegetable toppings about halfway through the baking cycle. This preserves color and texture and releases less moisture onto the pizza.

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