Monday, October 8, 2012

How to make a perfect Donatos clone

Become a fan of this blog on Facebook!
The most useful pizzamaking lesson you'll ever learn.

The picture below is from my very first attempt at cloning Donatos. If you are familiar with Donatos, then you know this pizza looks just like a Donatos pepperoni pizza. (And yes, it did taste like Donatos.) If I can do it in one try, relying on incomplete information to guide me, then you can surely do it by following my detailed instructions.

Immediately after baking.

Nice golden color on this undercrust shot.

Having worked at Donatos for about a year and a half, I know a lot about how Donatos operates. However, even though I worked there for that long, it was impossible for me to learn anything about how they make their dough because Donatos makes their dough off-site, in a commissary, before a distributor delivers it to the stores in boxes of pre-sheeted frozen discs.

When I decided to attempt to clone Donatos, I started by gathering information shared by people who had already tried cloning Donatos. The formula here seemed like a pretty decent place to start. However, having handled thousands of actual Donatos dough skins, I could tell just by looking at the formula that the hydration percentage was way too high, as Donatos dough is pretty stiff (and because 54% hydration does not make a stiff dough, especially if the dough also contains a lot of oil and eggs, as this dough does). So I changed the 54% hydration figure to 35%, in addition to making a few other minor changes. I omitted dried dairy whey and nonfat dry milk because I didn't have any available. (Even though the pizza turned out fine without these ingredients, if I'd had them, I would have used them.)

So here's the formula I used:

100% All Trumps high gluten flour
35% Water
10.8% Egg
0.5% ADY
1.3% Salt
3.8% Canola Oil
0.93% Sugar

I only listed All Trumps flour because that's what I used when I attempted to clone Donatos. If I ever attempt to make this kind of pizza again, I'll almost certainly try a bleached all-purpose flour. So go ahead and use all-purpose flour.

Here's a recipe that will make 30 oz of dough, which is enough for two 14" pizzas:

19.67 oz Flour
6.88 oz Water
2.12 oz Egg (I think this was one whole egg.)
1 tsp ADY
1.94 tsp Salt
0.69 oz Oil
1.61 tsp Sugar

Special equipment you'll need for this pizza:
  • A kitchen scale that measures in ounces.
  • A 14" perforated aluminum coupe-style pan, seasoned.
  • Dough docker (but a fork will suffice).
  • Pizza wheel.
  • Baking stone (optional but recommended).

And here's the instructions for how to make this pizza:
  1. Measure the appropriate quantity of yeast (1 tsp) and put it in your mixer bowl.
  2. Measure the appropriate quantity of 110-degree water (6.88 oz) and pour about 2 oz of it into the mixer bowl.
  3. Add a pinch of sugar to the yeast water.
  4. Stir the yeast water to make sure there are no clusters (or clumps) of yeast.
  5. Measure the appropriate quantity of flour (19.67 oz) and set aside.
  6. Measure the appropriate quantity of salt (1.94 tsp) and add it to the flour.
  7. Measure the appropriate quantity of sugar (1.61 tsp) and add it to the flour.
  8. Use a wire whip or spoon to incorporate salt and sugar into the flour.
  9. Measure the appropriate amount of egg (2.12 oz, or 1 egg) and set aside.
  10. Measure the appropriate amount of oil (0.69 oz) and set aside.
  11. Check the yeast water. If it is foamy, it means the yeast is alive and hydrated, so move on to the next step. If the yeast water is not foamy, wait 5 minutes and check again. After you check the yeast again, go ahead and move on to the next step, even if the yeast water is not foamy. (The yeast is probably fine, but be aware that if the yeast water has not become foamy, it may mean your yeast is dead. So if your pizza ends up showing no sign of fermentation, buy some new yeast and try again.)
  12. Add the rest of the water to the mixer bowl.
  13. Add the rest of the ingredients to the mixer bowl.
  14. Place the mixer bowl in its place on the mixer and attach the dough hook.
  15. Mix the dough for about 5 minutes, or until all the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the dough.
  16. Divide the dough into two pieces, with one of the dough pieces weighing about 16 oz.
  17. Give each piece of dough a few kneeds and round them into dough balls.
  18. Let the dough balls rest at room temperature for two hours, covered or in a bag.

After the dough balls have rested at room temperature for a couple hours, begin turning the dough into skins, following these steps:
  1. Set the smaller dough ball aside.
  2. Use your hands to flatten the larger dough ball, in preparation for for rolling the dough.
  3. Roll the piece of dough with a rolling pin until the dough is slightly larger than 14". Try not to use much flour while rolling the dough, and try to keep the dough as circular as possible.
  4. When the dough is just larger than 14", place your 14" pan atop the dough.
  5. Using a pizza wheel (pizza cutter), trim the dough around the circumference of the pan.
  6. Remove the excess dough and weigh the dough skin. At this point, the weight of the dough skin should be around 14.62 oz. But if it's still heavier than that, continue rolling and trimming until the dough skin weighs about 14.62 oz.
  7. When you've trimmed the dough skin down to about 14.62 oz, sprinkle a little cornmeal on your work surface and place the dough skin atop the cornmeal. Also, place the dough scraps under the second dough ball (because you'll need this dough to make the second dough ball weigh enough to make another 14" skin.)
  8. Roll the dough skin lightly, until it is slightly larger than the 14" pan (because the skin will shrink back down to about 14").
  9. Once you feel confident that the skin will not shrink to smaller than 14", dock the dough with either a docker or a fork.
  10. If you will only be making one pizza today, find a way to cover both the top and bottom of the skin with plastic wrap. (Since you won't be using this skin for at least a day, you want to make sure the skin does not dry out in the refrigerator.)
  11. Put this skin in the refrigerator. Keep it flat, if possible.
  12. Repeat Steps 2-9 with the second dough ball.
  13. Spray your perforated pan with nonstick spray (optional). Here are a couple pics of how your seasoned pan should look:

  14. Showing the top of a seasoned 14" perforated aluminum pan. This American Metalcraft pan
    is very similar to the pans they use at Donatos.

    Showing the bottom of a seasoned 14" pan.

  15. Place the skin atop the pan, with the cornmeal side of the dough as the bottom of the skin.

  16. Trimmed skin on a pan. The skin shrank at least half an inch after I trimmed it.
    If you follow my instructions, this should not happen to you.

  17. Spray the top of the dough skin with nonstick spray.
  18. Leave the skin at room temperature for at least a couple hours before assembling a pizza.

At least half an hour before you intend to begin assembling the pizza, set your oven to 500 degrees and preheat. When the oven has preheated for at least half an hour, begin assembling your pizza.

  1. Add 8 oz of sauce to the top of the dough skin.

  2. After adding 8 oz of sauce to the dough skin.

  3. Pick up the pan and tilt it so the sauce flows to the edge of the skin.

  4. Donatos uses gravity to distribute their sauce on the dough skin.

  5. As the sauce reaches the edge of the skin, turn the pan almost like a steering wheel and let the sauce flow along the edge of the skin until the sauce covers the entire skin, from edge to edge.

  6. Using gravity.

    Using gravity.

    Done using gravity.

  7. Add 7.68 oz of provolone (or mozzarella) to the sauced skin, from edge to edge. If you are making a cheese pizza, add a little more cheese (because when you order a cheese pizza at Donatos, you're actually ordering an extra cheese pizza, which is why a cheese pizza costs the same as a 1-topping pizza). I don't know exactly how much is the right amount of cheese for extra cheese. Probably another 2 oz or so.

  8. 7.68 oz (0.480 lbs) of provolone cheese.

  9. If you're making a pepperoni pizza, add 4.8 oz of pepperoni (or 0.300 lbs). If you plan to use more toppings than just pepperoni, use 3.52 oz of pepperoni (or 0.220 lbs). (The topping weights I've listed here are the exact weights they use at Donatos. If I did not list a weight, it's because I don't know what the weight should be. Even though I listed a weight for the dough skin, I don't know the exact weight of a 14" Donatos dough skin. However, I do know the weight I listed is very close.)

  10. 4.8 oz (0.300 lbs) of pepperoni. I used very thinly-sliced Bridgford pepperoni stick.

  11. Just before you put the pizza in the oven, shake a mixture of romano cheese and oregano over the top of the pizza. My memory tells me this mix should be about 80% romano and 20% oregano. Or maybe 75/25.

  12. Sprinkled with a romano and oregano mix just before baking.

  13. Bake at 500 until the cheese and toppings look like they're done. If the toppings are done but the crust is not done, remove the pan and allow the pizza to finish baking directly on the stone for another minute or two.
  14. When the pizza is finished, use a peel or a cookie sheet to remove the pizza from the oven.

  15. Just after baking.

  16. If you made a cheese pizza or a 1-topping pizza, use 5 cuts by 2 cuts (as shown below). If you topped with more than one topping, use 4 cuts by 2 cuts.

  17. 14" single-topping pizzas are cut 5 cuts x 2 cuts. If there had been more toppings,
    this pizza would have been cut with 4 cuts x 2 cuts.

  18. Eat.
If you refrigerate the other dough skin, be sure to remove the skin from the fridge at least a couple hours before you intend to use it. As soon as you remove the skin from the fridge, place the skin on a pan with the cornmeal side down. Then spray the top side of the dough with nonstick spray and leave uncovered at room temperature until you top the skin.

After that, top and bake as I've already instructed.

Here are some more pictures of my attempt at cloning Donatos:

Profile of the pizza after some pieces have been removed.

Showing the bottom of one slice.

Showing the rigidity of this pizza. (This one was probably a little too rigid.)

Showing what it's like beneath the cheese and pepperoni.

Reasonably close up profile shot of a slice.

Here's a very good recipe for Donatos sauce:

12 oz Tomato paste
20 oz Water
1/2 tsp Basil
1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp Salt

A couple more things:

Donatos uses Biery provolone cheese. I'm not sure what kind of pepperoni they use, but if you can get your hands on Ezzo GiAntonio 38mm pepperoni, you'll like it. (You can order this pepperoni in 1 lb packages from PennMac.)

I've still only tried to clone Donatos once so far (two pizzas), but as I already said, I pretty much nailed it. Here's a link to my first post (of many) in a Donatos thread on I tried to use this blog post to recap everything I shared on (in a more ordered fashion), but I may have missed some details. So you might want to check out what I had to say there.

I may have more to add to this post.


  1. I live in Columbus and love Donatos pizza. I am going to try this crust recipe in the next couple days and hopefully it taste like the real thing. It looks like the real deal! Also, I love the "Grease Cup" pepperoni that they put on their pizza. Do you have to get a certain type so that it will curl up while baking?

    1. Yes. I don't know what brand of pepperoni Donatos uses, but I know of a few brands that work pretty well for a Donatos clone. The pepperoni I used on the pictured pizzas was Bridgford 16 oz stick, sliced pretty thin. If you don't have a slicer, you almost certainly will not be able to slice it this thin. However, it is easy to find in Columbus, as I believe both Kroger and Giant Eagle carry it. I used to like this pepperoni quite a bit, but I eventually got sick of it. Also, it's ridiculously greasy.

      Probably a better option, though, is to buy some of the sliced pepperoni they sell at the deli at Carfagna's, which is Pavone brand pepperoni, from Patrick Cudahy. The price is a little ridiculous, at $7.99 a pound, but it's very similar to Donatos pepperoni.

      The other pepperoni I know would probably work well for a Donatos clone is Ezzo GiAntonio 38 mm, which is the pepperoni they use at Tommy's. Unfortunately, you'll have to buy a whole case if you want to use this pepperoni. (However, I actually have half a case of it in my freezer right now. I'd probably gladly sell you some of it at cost if you'd like. It cost me a little over $4 a pound, I think. It's very good stuff.) This post on shows two pizzas I made using Ezzo GiAntonio pepperoni.

    2. I got some decent pepperoni at Restaurant Depot, but the best pepperoni that I have ever tasted by far was from Jungle Jims. I can't remember the name of it though.

      What are some good pizza joints around here...chains not included? I am not a pizza snob but I do occasionally like to try something different.

  2. Nice :)

    I was looking for a 'mock' Donatos crust for tonight and here I ran across the page of someone who also lives in Columbus. Gonna be a good night for homemade pizza, as we're supposed to get a bunch of snow. Thanks! :)


    1. I just want to warn you that it might be pretty difficult at first, especially if you're not familiar with bakers' percentages or measuring ingredients by weight (and stuff like that). Even if you are familiar with that stuff, it can still be hard to get the feel for trying something new like this. Repetition is one of the keys, so don't give up if your first try doesn't come out how you want it.

      Also, I'm gonna be moving from the boonies to Grove City (very convenient to I-71) either late this month or early next month. Once I move, I'd really like to host regular pizzamaking classes/chowdown gatherings to help people understand how easy it is to make this and various other styles of pizza at home if you only have the right source of instruction.

      It would be so much easier for me to teach people how to do this stuff face-to-face than through written words and pictures. Plus it gives me a chance to learn more and try new things, which I can eventually share with guests. These gatherings are just a good idea in every way, as long as I can get people to show up.

      If you may have any interest in attending such an event (or events), please let me know. And maybe spread the word, too. I want to make it fun for people to learn about pizzamaking, because it IS fun (and because most instruction sources don't make it fun, and most of them are horribly wrong).

    2. I love to make pizza, so I agree that it's fun :)

      Grove City, huh? My cousin lives in Galloway. I'm South Columbus, out by Scioto Downs, so I'm not too far from GC. Don't know that I'd have the time to attend your classes (neat idea!) but maybe my cousin would like to. I'll mention it to her.

      I enjoy making my own pizzas. I made one last night, following a little of your instruction (I didn't bother weighing anything) and the crust came out surprisingly good. The cornmeal made a difference.

      I make what some people would consider 'weird' pizza. One of my favorite pizzas from a local joint is the BLT. So I said hey, why not? I'll try and make my own. They use mayo on the crust instead of sauce, but they tend to get a little carried away with it, even when I tell them to go light. So I decided to make my own at home and ever since I began using mayo instead of pizza sauce, it's kind of become a habit now. I oddly prefer the mayo. Not just on my BLT pizza, but ANY pizza I make. One of my favorites is what I call a "Munion" pizza; mushroom and onion. I make my crust, then pop it in the oven for about 5 minutes (I do the same with the BLT) and just barely cook the crust a little bit to where it's sturdy, but not cooked through. I let it cool then spread on a thin layer of mayo. Then I add a whole 8 ounce package of fresh mushrooms (I usually saute them in a little butter first to bring the flavor out) and pile on medium-sliced (not thick, not thin) onions. Then I sprinkle with a little cheese, then bake it the rest of the way. I'm completely addicted to those things.

      I'll also sometimes make a tomato 'pie'. No sauce or mayo on the crust, just spread with a little olive oil and minced garlic. Then top the whole thing with tomato slices, sprinkle on a little basil and a little cheese, then bake till yumness is achieved :)


  3. Where does the pizza stone come in? Not sure of its application

    1. A stone is not that important with this one, since you bake it on a pan. However, I still prefer to use a stone with all pizzas that I bake on pans because the pan gets hot faster if you place it on a hot stone than if you bake on an oven rack without a stone.

      Having said that, I've been wanting to try making some more Donatos clones, but without a pan. That is, I've been meaning to try it by peeling the topped skin directly onto the stone, which I suspect is how Donatos did it before conveyor ovens existed.

      I've also been wanting to try making another Donatos clone because what I've done in this post needs some work. I omitted at least one ingredient that I know should be in Donatos dough (nonfat dry milk) because I didn't have it when I made these pizzas. I think I have all the ingredients now.

  4. Hey,

    When you going to have that class or did you already have it...if so, was it a success.I am always looking for friends in the culinary field that can teach me a new part of the food world that I myself might not be the greatest at. I am a chef of 10+ years with a culinary degree getting ready to go back to school to get my Culinary Science degree. Pizza is something I am ok at, but not great! I live in the south end of Columbus....if/when we have time I would like to meet, hang and learn some pizza secrets especially about the Donatos clone. My email address is

  5. My crust is coming out a little dry from the mixer? What is your recommendation ? Also if I had non fat dry milk when would I add that?

    1. I'm not surprised, now that I live somewhere with much different water (city water) than the water I used when I made these pizzas (well water). I'd say start by increasing the water by 2-3 percent. You can add the nonfat dry milk to the dry ingredients.

      I've made several more Donatos style pizzas fairly recently, and I learned a lot from them. I need to compose a new post to replace this one. Don't know when it may happen, but it's definitely on my list of things to do.

    2. Awesome, let me know when you post them. Above directions are already really good!

  6. Donatos uses pizza screens, I thought.

    1. No, they don't. They use pans that are almost identical to the pan I used. Unless they've changed in the last ten years. Which is unlikely, especially because screens are becoming a tool of the past.

  7. The Nation's Newspaper provides you with up-to-date coverage of US and international news, weather, entertainment, finance, and more

    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job

  8. The Nation's Newspaper provides you with up-to-date coverage of US and international news, weather, entertainment, finance, and more

    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job
    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job
    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job

  9. The Nation's Newspaper provides you with up-to-date coverage of US and international news, weather, entertainment, finance, and more

    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job
    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job
    Usa News,Usa today,usa life,usa Job

  10. Thank you for your great post. Your post is really valuable and help me a lot. Waiting for your next similar post.

  11. Hey man. I moved from Ohio to Texas like 10 years ago and haven't had a Donatos pizza since. I'm glad I found this blog, and will definitely be trying it. Just wanted to say thank you for writing it up. Donatos is by far the best tasting delivery pizza I've ever had.

  12. Trying this recipe right now. Dough seems a bit flaky and dry. Did it start off like that for anyone else or do I need to add more water than listed? I'm currently letting it rest for 2 hours, so hopefully I get word back before then.

  13. How did it turn out mine is a little dry and flaky too

  14. You are he real MVP. I haven’t had Donatos in 15 years. One randomly popped up in my hometown years ago, in Tennessee, but didn’t last long. Then, whenever traveling through Ohio in business, I made a point to grab Donatos. I was the weirdo that LOVED the Hawaiian with almonds and cinnamon. After a memory led me on a search for a clone, I found this post. I have been in thin crust, tastes just like Donatos, heaven since yesterday. My family is experiencing it for the first time. They are a little standoffish about the Hawaiian, but they are tearing up the pepperoni. Thanks, man!!!

  15. Any update ona revised version of this recipe?