Let Inga Tell You: A pilot makes pizza

Olof cuts out precision pizza rounds.

Olof cuts out precision pizza rounds.



When my engineer husband announced he wanted to make homemade pizza, I recognized a thinly disguised excuse to use the fancy stand mixer that he bought to make cookies for my book event two years ago. This is a man who has never met a gadget he didn’t like. He was dying to use the dough paddle feature.

Olof’s baking style is an engineering marvel. When he decided to make five types of Christmas cookies using the old family recipes he employed “a simple application of undergraduate quantitative analysis” (the family recipes included no yield), and FIVE spreadsheets (projected output per recipe, master ingredient list, etc. etc.)

We’re pretty used to engineering terms around our house (the kids remember being declared “left turn-capable” in their driving lessons with Olof). But Olof is also a former Air Force pilot so the pilot terms have become part of the family parlance as well. While I would spell out words over the phone like “S as in Sam, E as in elephant,” Olof is strictly NATO Phonetic Alphabet: alphas, bravos, deltas, foxtrots, tangos, whiskeys and zulus.

Any project designed by Olof will also have “Ops checks,” traditionally confirming the correct proper operational parameters for aircraft oil pressure, temperature, etc. As it turns out, they can also be applied to pizza dough.

In December, we had acquired a pizza stone (on which you cook a pizza in your oven, to make the crust more crisp) and a pizza peel, a special shovel to insert the pizza onto the stone. But we had used frozen supermarket pizza dough and pizza sauce from a jar.

The store-bought dough kept shrinking when we tried to roll it out. An Internet search advised us to let the glutens “rest.” We were hoping that the glutens in our homemade pizza dough would have already had a good night’s sleep and the rolled out dough would stay rolled out which I’m happy to report that it did.

In true Olof fashion, the pizza dough effort entailed a three-page post-project documentation entitled “Pizza Dough Apportionment” with subheadings including “Statement of the Problem,” “Factors Bearing on the Problem,” a “Solution” section full of mathematical equations, and, of course, assorted Ops Checks.

Alas, the La Jolla Light’s news layout system will not produce formulas with readable subscripts, so I can’t reproduce them here. But if I could, you’d be totally dazzled. It was clear that our dough recipe was going to make more dough than we needed for one pizza. Some of us might just wing it, but not Olof.

Factors Bearing on the Problem included:

(i) We cook our pizza on a round stone, 16-inches in diameter. The crust cannot exceed this size.

(ii) Inga likes her crust thin and crispy. She’s a little vague about how thin, so I estimate a target thickness [T(subscript c)] = 1/8-inch = .125-inch

Olof procured a 6-inch dough cutter from Sur La Table to cut out the dough rounds.

As for the Final Problem Statement? How to separate an as yet undetermined volume of pizza dough into equal portions any one of which could be rolled out to a crust 1/8-inch thick and 15-inches in diameter, and the others conveniently frozen.

A bunch of formulas later involving Ds (diameters), Ts (thickness), Cs (crusts), Vs (volumes) and even, fittingly, given what we were making, some pi’s, the estimated thickness for each 6-inch round was determined to be 3/4-inch. A footnote noted the problematic nature of the V measurement since the crust was still rising.

In Experimental Result, Olof described manufacture of the dough, rolling it out to the pre-determined 3/4-inch thickness, and cutting five equal 6-inch rounds. Scraps were discarded.

And now for the Ops Checks:

Ops Check 1: Will the four extra rounds fit in a 7-inch diameter freezer bag? After separating them with parchment paper sheets, they slid snuggly into the bag and are now in sub-zero hibernation.

Ops Check 2: Will the fifth round roll out to a 15-inch pizza, 1/8-inch thick? Using a well-flowered rolling pin I rolled one round out on the 15-inch parchment paper template. It fit perfectly, reaching the 15-inch edge just as the dough’s thickness reached 1/8-inch.

Ops Check 3: Does the homemade dough make good crust? Conclusion: very tasty, but crispier if you remember to start pre-heating the oven and stone at the beginning of the process.

Ops Check 4: Can the frozen rounds be thawed and rolled into future crusts? Check scheduled for future accomplishment.

Postscript: Ops Check 4 was a Fail. During the freezing process, the dough rounds retained sufficient fluidity that the weight of the stack caused the lower rounds to extrude beyond the intervening parchment paper separators and adhere to each other. Also: Next time consider placing a thin layer of edible lubricant between the separators and the dough rounds.

— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at