Modifying Texture in Crumb and Crust - Modernist Cuisine

Modifying Texture in Crumb and Crust

MCMay 3, 2024

People have strong opinions about crumb and crust—crispy, soft, charred, blond, or nonexistent. The diversity of preferences is hardly surprising; after all, the rim crust is an integral part of most, but not all, pizzas. Understanding the science of baking dough is something that can help you take control of your own preferred texture in dough by using several different recommended ingredients. Today, we’ll dive into the science and some basic modifications that you can make to some recipes.

The Science Behind the Dough

Most crusts emerge from the oven with a crispy exterior, while the interior remains a hot, soft gel of starch and protein molecules. As the crust cools, water vapor escapes and starch granules recrystallize, altering the texture of the crumb. Understanding how these processes work can help you learn how to adapt your own pizza crusts.

The Role of Dough Modifiers

To influence the texture of crumb and crust, you can experiment with dough modifiers. Ingredients such as amylases (a type of enzyme found in flour), sugar, pregelatinized starch, and certain emulsifiers contribute to texture and enhance pizza crusts in unique ways.

Our Recommendations for a Softer Crust

For those seeking a softer crust, we recommend the use of amylases with intermediate stability, as they continue to break down starch molecules at a slower rate.

Alternatively, consider incorporating fava or soybean flour, known for containing lipoxygenase enzymes that contribute to a softer crumb. However, be cautious of their strong beany flavor, which may be better suited for breads.

Modernist Pizza features a high-hydration Neapolitan pizza dough that incorporates the use of pregelatinized flour to help increase the hydration of the dough while maintaining the ability to mix the dough, creating a delightfully soft crumb. You can find it in vol. 2:127.

  • How does sugar affect dough? Sugar and humectants act as moisture magnets, attracting water molecules that cling to the crust. This process postpones starch migration, preserving the soft texture of the crumb. The result? A pizza crust that maintains its delectable tenderness.          
  • How do amylases affect dough? Amylases interact uniquely with starch, breaking down long molecules into shorter segments that recrystallize at a slower pace. Not all amylases serve as effective softeners, making it crucial to consider thermostability. While fungal amylases are heat-sensitive, declining post-gelatinization, bacterial counterparts remain active. Optimal crumb softening occurs with amylases boasting intermediate stability, active during gelatinization but ceasing at around 80°C / 176°F. We prefer to use diastatic malt powder, an enzyme derived from the germination of barley.
  • How does fava/soybean flour affect dough? Fava or soybean flour is used by some bakers for a softer crumb. Loaded with lipoxygenase enzymes, these legume flours break down lipids in flour, contributing to a softening effect. However, caution is advised due to their strong, beany flavor, potentially imparting an unpleasant aftertaste to pizza crusts. While suitable for breads, these flours may not be the ideal choice for pizza experimentation.

Our Recommendations for a Crispy Crust

If a crispier crust is your goal, try adding polydextrose (a type of soluble fiber) or sodium alginate (a carbohydrate product of seaweed). These additives enhance the crispiness of your pizza by delaying the softening of the crust during retrogradation. A little goes a long way, and we suggest experimenting with around 1% polydextrose in your dough to achieve that perfect crunch.

Another alternative for a crispier crust includes using 5% pregelatinized masa harina flour. You can pregelatinize this flour by whisking the flour with 21°C / 70°F water at a ratio of 1 to 4. Whisk together the water and flour in a small saucepot, cooking over medium heat while whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 65°C / 150°F. Then cool over an ice bath to room temperature. As a result, your flour will become pregelatinized.

Where Can You Find These Ingredients

  • Diastatic malt powder is our preferred amylase with intermediate stability. You can find it online at places like Amazon or Modernist Pantry.
  • Fava or soybean flour is sold by Bob’s Red Mill and other sellers.
  • Polydextrose can be found online through retailers like Modernist Pantry.
  • Sodium alginate can be found in powder form at some grocery stores or online through retailers like Modernist Pantry.
  • Masa harina flour can be found online through King Arthur Baking or Bob’s Red Mill.

Understanding the science behind pizza dough opens up a world of possibilities, regardless of whether you’re a home chef or a seasoned pizzaiolo. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more Modernist Cuisine techniques, recipes, and announcements.