Emergency pizza crust help needed
I'm desperate. Six or seven years ago I started trying to learn to bake bread and frankly I'm having very limited success. The only "production" baked good I make now is a sourdough loaf crafted to be a substitute for white loaf bread for sandwiches. But I'm a pizza junkie so it was inevitable during this process I would give pizza dough a shot, and that's been mostly a failure.
The basic problem is that few of my efforts have tasted good and the few that did were inconsistent and the exception rather than the rule. And maybe even more telling, none of them has a pleasant aroma when baking. For that matter neither does my sourdough loaf bread but at least my loaf bread is always pleasant-tasting. Biscuits, cakes and such have the aroma you'd expect but none of my homemade breads do, which gives me to wonder if it might be something 'odd' with my oven. My pizza crusts in particular generally have an unpleasant, sort of mildewy aroma, when what I would prefer -- of course -- is that rich, yeasty pizza parlor smell).
I couldn't count all the recipes I've tried but it's well into the dozens. I've got two of Peter Reinhart's books and have tried a few of his recipes. As well as a couple from America's Test Kitchen. And several from YouTube. Thin crust, thick, and deep dish. At this point I don't care what style it is, I just want it to be pleasant-tasting.
As for the details, I generally use King Arthur flours, Fleischmann's active dry yeast (or on occasion KAF sourdough starter using the 1:2:3 formula), and water from melted ice filtered through a Brita charcoal filter. I use a pizza stone but my (electric) oven will only get to 550°F. I spun my wheels for a while using Caputo 00 flour but later learned 00 is pointless with such a relatively low baking temp (which maybe explains why I always was disappointed with the result). And I always weigh my ingredients.
I consider the toppings immaterial to this discussion because what I use varies considerably with no apparent effect on the outcome (in fact the toppings are always at least moderately pleasant-tasting). To overcome problems with dough sticking to the (aluminum) peel, I sometimes throw the dough on one of those perforated pizza pans, then put it on the hot pizza stone for 2-3 minutes until it turns loose of the pan. Then transfer the partially-cooked dough to my peel for dressing before going back in the oven to finish cooking. And even with no ingredients on it the bread still has that unpleasant mildewy odor. It's not "knock buzzards off a gut wagon" awful but it is consistently mildly unpleasant.
The recipe I'm tinkering with now -- which shows promise -- is this one from Our Happy Mess. It's 40/40/20 bread flour, APF and semolina and 68% water (by weight). Its crust and crumb is as much to my liking as any recipe I've tried, and I can even dial in the chewiness to suit by varying how long I knead it in my Magic Mill Assistent.
It just isn't pleasant-tasting. Not necessarily unpleasant but I figure that if the crust doesn't taste pleasant after cooling for a day or so, giving all the flavors extra time to meld, it's just not right.
Which begs the question, what the heck am I doing wrong? How come I keep trying other people's 'prized' pizza dough recipes but my effort neither tastes nor smells pleasant?
And I don't think it's that my standards are too high. I pretty much like the pizza from all of the major chains and would be thrilled if I came close to the taste of any of them. My favorite style is a medium-thick "hand-tossed' but style is a tertiary consideration (after flavor and aroma).
Long story short, this morning I was about to make another batch of crusts using the Our Happy Mess recipe when it occurred to me that I don't have a clue what I should alter to improve its flavor. Or should I scrap it an begin again from scratch (for the forty-leventh time)? Einstein never really said that the definition of insanity is repeating an action and expecting the outcome to change but regardless who came up with it, the principle applies here. My history pretty clearly demonstrates that I lack the baker's skills to sort this out on my own so I'm hoping youze guys have some hints and advice to put me on the on the path to pizza nirvana.
Fix my pizza. Please.