This article was originally published in March of 2016 and has been updated for 2018 to include the latest best practices.
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 and dough experts, Alive & Kickin’ Pizza Crust is often consulted about proofing, so we decided to compile the most frequently asked questions, answers and best practices to help you perfect your proofing techniques.
Does all pizza dough need to be proofed?
No. Par-baked and live dough crusts require no proofing.
Dough balls, on the other hand, requires fermentation—the process whereby yeast digests sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas in the dough. The gas collects in and expands minute air 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. Dough for hearth-baked pizzas and most screen pizzas is proofed as dough balls. Pan pizza dough is usually proofed after it’s rolled out and placed in the pan.
For more great tips on proofing pizza dough, check out this handy reference guide:
How do I proof pizza dough?
Proofing starts with dough management, which means 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, minimizing the time it is above 40°F is essential. Use these best practices for proper dough management and proofing success:
- 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°F.
- 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 either case, it would take at least 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. Sheet pans or bakery trays are preferred for proofing because they allow for better airflow than fiberglass dough totes (pans with sides), which results in uneven proofing. We also recommend wrapping dough balls in plastic wrap to prevent crusting that can occur when cross-stacking exceeds 90 minutes. If the trays are racked for 60-90 minutes, any crusting will typically 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. That amount of dough, plus a 10% buffer, should then be taken 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, 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
For everything you need to know about dough proofing — straight from the pizza crust experts — download our quick-reference guide, How to Achieve Perfectly Proofed Pizza Dough. Click the button below to access your copy now!