Proofing pizza dough is a balancing act between time and temperature. Introduce too much or too little of either one as dough is rising, and you could end up with crusts that underperform or outright fail.
As the crust experts, Alive & Kickin’ Pizza Crust is often consulted about perfect proofing techniques, and we’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions, answers and best practices.
Does all pizza dough need to be proofed?
No. Par-baked and live dough crusts require no proofing.
Yeast dough, on the other hand, requires fermentation—the process whereby yeast digests sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas in the dough. The gas collects in minute air cells and expands the cells as fermentation progresses, which causes the dough to increase in volume.
In a restaurant operation, dough can be proofed in two forms: as dough balls and rolled out. Hearth-baked pizzas and most screen pizzas are proofed as a dough ball. Pan pizza dough is usually proofed after it’s rolled out and has been placed in the pan.
How do I proof pizza dough?
It all starts with dough management, which is the process of either cooling or warming dough during proofing so that fermentation — the rate of rise — is either slowed down or sped up.
Fermentation is slowest at 33°F. As the temperature increases, fermentation accelerates, up to 100°F, after which it begins to slow until it reaches 140°F and the yeast dies, essentially “killing” the dough.
To keep dough from over-rising and failing, the time that dough is above 40°F must be minimized. Use these best practices for proper dough management and proofing success:
- Divide bulk dough into smaller pieces. The larger the piece of dough, the longer it takes to cool or warm. Storing dough in smaller pieces instead of in bulk allows you to better control temperature and time.
- Lower the refrigerator temperature. Use a separate thermometer to check your refrigerator’s temperature. Is it above 38°F? Consider lowering the temperature to 34°
- Keep the walk-in refrigerator door closed. Even if the refrigerator is set at the recommended 34°F, if the door is routinely opened or propped open for a period of time, temperatures can easily spike to 50-60°F. In this case, it would take an hour for the cooler temperature to drop back to the mid-30s.
- Allow full airflow around dough trays. To ensure a rapid drop in dough temperature, the cold air in the cooler must be able to circulate completely around the trays. Keep the trays off the floor (a pallet or dolly works great) and remember the rule of three: keep a 3" gap between stacks and between the trays and cooler wall. After the dough has reached 40°F, stacks can be moved closer together.
- Cross-stack dough trays in the cooler. To ensure proper dough temperature drop, double space your trays for about an hour before racking them. Note that sheet pans or bakery trays are better for proofing because they allow for better airflow than fiberglass dough totes (pans with sides), which results in uneven proofing. Cross-stacking for more than 90 minutes may cause crusting on the dough balls. In addition, we recommend wrapping dough balls in plastic wrap to also prevent crusting. Normally, if the trays are racked for 60-90 minutes, any crusting that may have occurred will disappear within 8 hours as the dough ferments.
How do I determine how much dough to proof?
In addition to managing dough temperature and proofing, two other conditions play a key role in dough management:
- Production planning. To achieve proper rise, dough-making must be synchronized with pizza production. Tracking pizza sales helps. In short, before each dough-making session, a manager should project dough consumption for the upcoming period and subtract the amount on hand. Then take that amount of dough, plus a 10% buffer, out of the freezer.
- Rotation and First-In-First-Out (FIFO). Refrigerated dough should be tagged, showing when it was taken out. Then, stock should be rotated in the cooler so the oldest is always used first. Without proper rotation, over- and under-risen dough results.
How do I know if my dough has achieved proper rise?
Dough performance will tell the tale, both during proofing and baking.
- Properly risen dough nearly doubles in volume from when it came out of the freezer, and holds an indentation when gently poked
- Under-risen dough is tight and springy, and when gently poked the indentation tends to spring back
- Over-risen dough is loose and has a rippled surface caused by large air cells, and loses gas and collapses when gently poked
- Properly risen dough makes a crust of maximum volume, even grain, white crumb, golden brown surface and full-bodied yeast bread flavor
- Under-risen dough makes a crust that’s flat with a tight, dense grain and bland, biscuit flavor
- Over-risen dough makes flat crust with an irregular grain, gummy-grayish crumb, an unbrowned and usually blistered surface, bland flavor, and beer-like odor
Have questions about proofing or the Alive & Kickin’ crusts that consistently proof and perform? Give us a call at (920) 662-0304.