The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Emergency pizza crust help needed

plumbob's picture

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.

idaveindy's picture

 Hey, pizzaiolo, welcome to TFL !

It's either your flour, or water, or salt, or oil.

You've changed flours, so that is likely not it.

Oil can go rancid, so try a new bottle of oil, if you have not done so.

Try a fresh container of plain salt, if you have not done so.

But the most likely culprit is "water from melted ice" and "run through a filter".  Both of those (ice machines and filters) are notorious for possible fungus/mold build-up.

Try bottled _spring_ water.  Not filtered water, and not "purified" water.  Spring water. Bottled.  And not carbonated.  (Spring water is good because it has minerals that benefit yeast.)

Btw, where are you that you need to use melted ice water?

What is the source of your ice?  What is the source of the water that goes into the ice?  How is it melted, and in what container?  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and would like to add, check over your bowl and spoon, what ever you are using to prepare and hold the dough while it ferments, could be transferring off flavours.   How's the tap water?

idaveindy's picture

"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."


I'm a literallist, and to me that sounds like you mean that you're cooking your bread and pizza in a different device than what you are cooking your biscuits/cake in.

Please break it down, 1, 2, 3...  

1. a) What device/oven do you bake your bread in? 

1.  b) what water are you using for the bread?

2.  a) what device/oven do you cook the biscuits and cake in?

2. b) what water are you using for the biscuits/cakes ?

3. what device/oven do you cook the pizza in?


Please also describe your oven(s):  gas, propane, electric, convection (fan), countertop, brick, wood fired, outdoor grill, etc.


idaveindy's picture

Does the mildew smell happen when using dry commercial yeast, and also happen when using sourdough, .... or ... just when using sourdough?


Do you bake your bread in pans or on a stone?  Same stone as used for pizza?


Is the baking stone the common element for the smell?  Or, is the filtered water from ice the common element for the smell? 


Another possibility, is mold in the filtered water, but it only becomes a noticeable problem when used in a _fermented_ product, and the mold grows during fermentation (ie proofing/rising).


Another possible source of weird mystery-odor/flavor:  What is your baking stone made of? If it was originally made/intended for floor tile, most (not all) floor tile outgases, and can create bad odors when baked. (I once contacted a floor tile manufacturer about that idea.)

Is the stone glazed or non-glazed?  

If the stone is granite, originally intended for a counter-top, it is possible it has "fills", where epoxy is used to fill in defects. That epoxy can give off fumes when baked.

dabrownman's picture

but I can help fix your pizza dough.  My wife likes yeast pizza dough and I like SD but try both to see what you like best.  But, both need a clove of minced garlic, minced sun dried tomato, fresh rosemary and basil and some EVOO included in the dough.  This is a standard thing for us now and we would never ever think about making pizza dough any other way.  You will smell this great dough baking for sure!  Plus it makes a great Italian loaf and a fabulous base for focaccia as well.  I prefer 10% whole grains and 10% semolina.  The rest can be AP, I like a great Sonoma White for flavor or a mix of a good AP and bread flour.  I find 00 flour has less flavor.

Here is one of a bunch of pizza dough recipes we have posted over the years.

Happy pizza making.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

who puts herbs and olive oil in their pizza dough!  :)  

dbazuin's picture

In have baked pizza on a weekly base for several months using Caputo 00 flour and Caputo semolino. 
It is a exelent flour and the result is so good we never ordered a pizza sind then.

About the oil just smell and tast it to see if it is alright. 
Mine oven goes to 490° And it takes 8 minutes on a pizza stone about in the middle of the oven. 

I recommend not to use different recepies but  tinker with the ingredients until you git your own like I have done. 

The base is 

100% flour
67% water
2% salt
2% oil

With sourdough you use about 10% preferment flour. 


idaveindy's picture

Plumbob,  any feedback on the various ideas ?

Sorry, for overloading you on the possibilities, but since you said it was an emergency, I thought I'd save time by giving a list instead of one idea at a time and waiting for a reply on each idea before presenting the next.


phaz's picture

What does the starter smell like? An off starter can get that type of smell and will impart that to anything it goes into. As everything else (sans starter) is normal, the starter would be the place to start looking. 

I would do this - take a really small amount of starter and feed it something like 50 to 1 and just stir it a couple times a day. It'll take a little time but just keep stirring till it doesn't rise anymore. At that point start feeding again. That should straighten it out.

I'll tell ya this, I make pizza as least a couple times a week (neighbors adorable 10 yr old daughter loves pizza so I make one for them). When I first tried sd pizza - it was nasty. Not in a musty taste kinda way but more of a surprise to the taste buds. I came to the conclusion that my taste was too accustomed to a sweet, yeast type taste - the normal taste I'll call it. I gave that one to some friends and they thought it was the best pizza they ever had. Not for me. I don't bother anymore. Anyway - try the above and see it if helps, if it does that funk will be no more (as to why the starter got that way - most likely a feed problem - as in slightly not enough over time). Enjoy!

idaveindy's picture

Phaz, I thought of that too, but he said he generally uses active dry yeast, and only on occasion uses SD.

"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'm with you about preferring dry yeast for pizza dough instead of sourdough.


I'm anxiously looking forward to the full story behind "water from melted ice filtered through a Brita charcoal filter."  My gut feel is that there is not enough mold to make the water smell, but the dough's warm fermentation period multiplies it -- so the smell appears in fermented bread, but not in the non-fermented baked product.

The other thing common to his bread and pizza, but not to the other baked products,  is the baking stone.  If it is a make-do of something not intended for ovens, it likely outgases, and maybe that smell is being mistaken for mildew. 

I once considered using marble and floor tile for baking, and fortunately I checked with the manufacturer and they educated me about outgassing of floor tile, and the possibility that counter-top granite _could_ have epoxy fills.

"Travertine" tile and "unglazed quarry tile" has been mentioned various places as cheap baking stones. But, Travertine always has fills, and if its clean clay being used as filler, that's fine. But it "could" also have toxic material.

"Quarry tile" is not supposed to have toxic material, but if the maker is unscrupulous,  theoretically it could.

Since the above is intended for flooring, cheap but toxic substitutions can pretty much go unnoticed.

In today's corrupt international business climate, cheap but deadly shortcuts probably happen too often. (Anyone remember the deadly dog food story about a toxic additive to boost protein percent?)