Pizza Dough for Small Outdoor Pizza Ovens, Like Ooni, Bertello, Camp Chef and Others…
When you get your first tabletop oven, the excitement of a 90 second to two-minute pizza cook time is hard to suppress. Until you pull out a charred rim with uncooked ingredients that looks like it passed to close to the sun. That’s when we realize that there is another side to this equation. Using the suitable time and a recipe that lets a dough autolyze and rise, getting the right combination of flexibility, elasticity and most of all the proper cooking response.
But time is only part of it.
We are all familiar with Maillard reaction as foods brown. The caramelization aspect is more noticeable when we add sugars to our cooking, in this case basically bread dough, to get a nicer crust on the exterior surfaces. We also like to add oils to the dough to keep it softer while working it and giving it a softer chewier texture. While this all works great with a standard oven baking process, and even some higher heat processes, the contained interior of the compact pizza ovens works against much of this common wisdom.
Let’s jump in and see why and how we can tweak the traditional pizza dough making process to thrive in a tabletop pizza oven.
The design work that allows you to have a box blazing with internal temperatures that can reach 900 degrees or more is amazing. The only drawback is in fact the compact nature of these ovens. There is no escaping the heat, and that is why we so often will rotate our pie 2, or even 3 times on a cook period that is less than 2 minutes. Otherwise, our beautiful leopard spotted browning will migrate into swaths of black and nasty charring.
That puts the burden on us to diminish opportunities, in this case specific ingredients, that will cause more over-coloration. This is where the sugars and oils come into play. Olive oil in particular has a low heat resistance, so being perfect for focaccia while baking, or pizza dough in a conventional oven that peaks at 550 degrees, it becomes problematic when we cook at our targeted high temperatures. Sugar, great fun when caramelized and the color that it brings to food, is always quick to shift right over to carbonization.
Like the Bavarian purity law of 1516 for beer (only water, hops, malted barley and yeast) we need to work with the minimalist ingredients of bread making. In our case, water, flour, yeast and salt. Working with just those ingredients in the right ratios, and with proper time, will give us a sturdy flexible dough that we can work with, and will stand up to the inferno we’ve craved for cooking our pizza quickly.
These basic ingredients also respond well to a patient approach. Yes, that means these steps will take time, actually quite a bit. Most of it will be waiting for nature and physics to do their thing however. The water to flour ratio will be a little higher, making a moist dough with good hydration of the flours. Yeast is negligible as a percentage; salt may take up to a couple points. Like always, salt is not a friend of yeast, so we want to get our yeast established before adding salt to the mix.
We are going to use an initial autolyze stage in the form of a firm sponge period to get the yeast established, then we form the dough for a traditional rise. Our goal on all of this is low temperature work. Too warm and the yeast will spend it self over attenuating before the flavors have developed and the flour has been softened up. Given the right amount of time the dough will develop great flavors along with a very workable texture. In this case, at least 24 hours of refrigerated rise time is necessary, up to 72 hours.
Speaking of flour, we prefer this recipe to be made with at least one fourth ‘00’ flour preferably from Italy. Without going too deep down the rabbit hole, Europeans classify flour differently than in the US. The EU approach is predominantly based on the grind, ‘2’ being coarse and ‘00’ being the finest. In Italy that also typically means durum wheat, strong with good protein, but not good for elasticity. Combining that with a US all purpose (AP) flour, usually ground from softer wheat both strong and elastic, will give you a great ‘chew’ characteristic in your crust.
For more ideas on types of pizzas, see our article on pizza toppings for inspiration.