Now That’s a STRETCH
By Dan Malovany
Pizza equipment manufactures are coming up with new ways to produce pizza with a hand-tossed look.
In Italy, the Margherita pizza with its fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella still rules in terms of consumption and, along with Marinara, still reigns as the variety of choice by purists who like to keep their pizzas simple.
However, the organizers of SIAB — the International Bakery, Pastry, Confectionery, Fresh Pasta and Pizza Exhibition held earlier this year in Verona, Italy — note that trendy varieties made with ingredients such as sweet corn, fresh goat cheese and “pachino” tomatoes are becoming king for a day as consumers look to spice up Italian classics.
In the United States, what’s old has become new again, and that means Old World-style pizzas are the latest trend to capture the imagination of consumers. The trend toward Italian bistro-style pizzas comes on the heels of earlier favorites that include super-thin crusts, extra crispy pizzas, flavored dough, brick oven varieties, stuffed crusts and rising crust pizzas.
“Everyone in the industry is trying to make the finest quality pizza,” notes Jon Thompson, national sales director for Rheon USA, Irving, Calif. “Many consumers and purveyors of pizza shells or fully decorated pizzas are advertising or making comments that their product is ‘handmade’ or ‘hand-tossed.’ In our research and development, we have designed and manufactured equipment that truly duplicates the quality of handmade or hand-tossed pizza.”
To create such crusts, Rheon uses its “stress free” technology to produce pizza dough balls. Its pizza spinner takes the dough ball from the center and stretches it outward to the edges, much in the way hand-tossing does. Moreover, the thickness is even from the center of the shell to the edges, Thompson says.
“Hand-shaped or -tossed quality is recognized around the world in the pizza industry as the best,” he notes.
According to Rondo Doge Inc., Italian pizzas typically are round and normally thin and crispy after baking at extremely high temperatures for a short time. The crust has an irregular cell structure with big pores, and the edge of the crust has a high rim.
American pizzas, observes Jerry Murphy, president of the Moonachie, N.J.-based company, tend to be much thicker, with softer, irregular-shaped crusts. Often, they are baked in oiled pans with steam to get a crispy base and a soft interior.
To produce a wide variety of pizzas, Rondo Doge offers automatic pizza crust production lines with inline intermediate proofing chambers. Holding times can range from 10 to more than 40 minutes, which provides the possibility to improve the flavor formation and the quality of frozen pizza. Additionally, due to the relaxing of the dough prior to cutting, the crusts do not shrink materially.
In conjunction with the proofing chamber, Murphy adds, a pressing device can be used to produce frozen high-side rim pizzas, similar to handmade Italian bistro pizzas. That device not only presses the crust, but also simulates the action of human hands to give the product its authentic appearance and texture.
Hey, Hey! Gourmet!
Thank goodness frozen pizzas have gone premium. Years ago, Midwest supermarkets sold cheap pizzas under former Chicago Cub Ron Santo’s name. Fortunately, gone are the days when the crusts looked and tasted like third base. That’s not to say today’s consumers want pizza on steroids. However, if they don’t taste like they were made at a restaurant, they don’t play well in the freezer case.
“I’ve seen a lot of interest in gourmet sauces and higher-end ingredients,” says Jim Machura, Quantum Technical Services, Frankfort, Ill. “We have been working with many customers who are using sauces with larger particulates like tomato chunks, garlic and onion in them. This has typically been a limitation of target sauce application, but Quantum has and is continuing to develop the means to incorporate these larger particulates into target sauce applicators. Viscosity and particulate size are still important, but the need for a completely homogenized sauce is no longer a necessity. There is also increased interest in applying oils. Olive oil and other flavor infused oils are becoming more common place.”
Because of the flurry of product innovation in this category, companies such as Quantum often must customize system to provide solutions for individual production needs.
“With so many SKUs [stock-keeping units] being produced on the same equipment, it is vital that a production line be versatile and able to handle frequent changeovers,” Machura says. “Our systems are all made to order and feature a modular design. For example, our standard waterfall topping applicators are the same length as our pepperoni slicers.”
Many customers, he adds, reconfigure their lines based on the products being produced. One may require a sequence of applying sauce, cheese and then pepperoni while another will place the sauce on first, and then the pepperoni and cheese.
Moline Machinery offers versatile production by using rotary dies to cut pizza crusts on continuous sheeting lines. Its dual cutting stations can provide synchronized cutting, docking and crimping, thus allowing it to create two thick-crust pizzas with a lip at the edge and precise docking patterns, all at once.
“Customers are always looking to get more out of existing equipment with flexibility to add new products,” says Gary Moline, president of the Duluth, Minn.-based company. “We make rotary cutters in custom patterns and out of a variety of material from stainless steel to plastic to aluminum with advanced coatings. We respond with engineering drawings detailing patterns and trim ratios.”
Many pizza manufacturers often par-bake crusts prior to topping and freezing them. In Europe, fully baking and topping frozen pizzas prior to packaging are gaining in popularity because they are quicker for consumers to make.
Unfortunately, leaking and spilling of toppings can create a mess inside the oven. However, DFE Meincke of Denmark offers clean-in-place ovens, which eliminate spillage and difficult-to-remove baked-on toppings.
“We’re starting to see more and more companies starting to use raw dough and then treating it with heat or starches to prevent seepage and then topping it before fully baking it. People claim it taste better that way,” says Ken Hagedorn, partner and vice president of sales and marketing for Naegele, Inc., Bakery Systems, the Alsip, Ill.-based exclusive agent in the U.S. for DFE Meincke.
Hand-held savory items are increasingly popular, Hagedorn adds. Form & Frys, another Danish bakery equipment supplier represented by Naegele, Inc., makes machines that produce 2-in. by 2-in., four-fold products for grab-and-go snacking. A 10-row machine, for instance, can produce up to 24,000, 0.5-oz. products an hour.
Hot of the Presses
Several years ago, companies such as AM Manufacturing manufactured pizza presses that produced only round crusts.
“Today, not only do we make circular crusts, but we are asked to design our presses for square, rectangular and oval shapes with a variety of rim profile,” says Larry Serafin, marking manager for the Dolton, Ill.-based business.
Pizza producers use cross dockers, dough dividers and dough rounders, but the hot press is at the heart of the pizza production process, Serafin says, because it creates “the perfect crust from a round dough piece.”
“With its high-speed capability, it can produce literally thousands of crusts during a single work shift,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rademaker USA delivers turnkey pizza lines, everything from the pizza base line, proofer, oven, cooling conveyors and melting tunnels. The Hudson, Ohio-based company produces production lines for sheeted or pressed pizza crusts, as well as waterfall or targeted topping systems.
Fritsch USA creates pizza crust from a sheet of dough. The Cedar Grove, N.J.-based company’s lines are flexible enough to produce crusts from crispy Italian-style to fluffy American forms. Its lines also can produce other types of flat breads such as naan or pita, wrapped with or without fillings. Its lines also can produce other types of flat breads such as naan and pita, wrapped with or without fillings.
Whether the pizza is round or square or even heart-shaped, there are versatile systems that can help create a variety of innovative products. Purist might cringe at the next pizza trend, but producers must respond to consumers’ appetites for new products and the eternal quest for what’s hot in the market today. SF&WB