Proofing frozen 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, the Alive & Kickin’ Pizza Crust team is often consulted about proofing frozen dough, so we decided to compile the most frequently asked questions, answers, and best practices to help you perfect your proofing techniques.
1. Does all pizza dough need to be proofed?
No. Par-baked and live dough crusts require no proofing.
Dough balls, on the other hand, require 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 (e.g., a Detroit-style pizza).
2. How do I go about proofing frozen 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 until it reaches 100°F, then begins to slow. At 140°F 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 (and these expert proofing tips) for proper dough management and proofing success:
Lower the refrigerator temperature
Check your refrigerator’s temperature using a thermometer other than the one installed in the cooler. 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°F-plus. 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
Double space your trays for about an hour before racking them so dough temperature drops properly. Sheet pans or bakery trays allow for better airflow and more even proofing than fiberglass dough totes (pans with sides). Wrapping dough balls in plastic wrap prevents 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.
3. How do I determine how much frozen pizza dough to proof?
In addition to carefully proofing frozen dough and minding dough temperature, two other factors play key roles in dough management:
To achieve proper rise, dough-making must be synchronized with pizza production. Before each dough-making session a manager should review pizza sales data to project dough consumption for the desired timeframe. That number, less the amount of dough on hand and the addition of a 10% buffer, equates to how much dough should 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.
4. How do I know if my pizza dough has achieved proper rise?
Dough performance will tell the tale, both during proofing and baking.
- Properly risen dough nearly doubles in volume compared to 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 a flat crust with an irregular grain, gummy-grayish crumb, a non-browned and usually blistered surface, bland flavor, and beer-like odor.
Learn more about dough proofing and other common dough-related frustrations (and fixes) in our resource below!