Dough storage can make or break your operation

dough ballsDough storage –– this is one of those topics that I continually get questions about, so it’s probably time that we go back and revisit the basics. The way in which we store our dough has changed over the years. Back in the 1950s it was common to allow the mixed dough to remain in the mixing bowl and then store it in one piece at room temperature until we were ready to us it. This was fermentation in the truest sense of the word and it worked well for us at the time.

As the popularity of pizza grew, we needed more dough, so we would make two or more doughs and store them in the cooler in hopes of controlling the rate of fermentation and allowing the dough to last longer in the store. What actually happened was that the outer portion of the dough was chilled, but the center portion, the core, remained warm due to the heat of fermentation. It actually continued to get warmer as time went on, resulting in doughs that had different baking properties, depending upon which part of the dough the crust was being made from. In essence, the outer portion provided dough that performed pretty well over a 24-hour period, while the center portion, which continued to ferment, provided dough that was burned out, light in color and had poor rising properties.

To get around this problem, it was soon discovered that subdividing the dough into smaller pieces, one piece for each pizza skin, would allow the dough to cool more quickly and consistently, resulting in improved performance and consistency. This process was so effi cient that it allowed the dough pieces/balls to be stored for up to several days in the cooler while still retaining decent performance and fi nish. As our business continues to grow, we are faced with the task of making enough dough to meet all of our needs, not just for one day but for several, and we want all of our pizzas/ crusts to be of the best quality.

Producing pizza dough that can be stored in the cooler and produce essentially the same quality product from days one through three is where the challenge lies. The key here is to control the finished (mixed) dough temperature to 80 F to 85 F, then take the dough directly to the bench for scaling and rounding (balling). Taking the dough balls directly to the cooler is an important part of the process. If allowed to remain out of the cooler for any length of time, the dough will begin to ferment, making it less dense and more diffi cult to cool uniformly. The dough balls should be lightly wiped with oil prior to going into the cooler to prevent drying in the cooler.

Next, the dough should be placed in the cooler in such a way as to allow for maximum airflow around the dough balls. If they are placed in plastic dough boxes, it is recommended that they be cross-stacked when first placed into the cooler. The length of time that the dough balls are cross-stacked, or exposed to the airflow, will depend upon the size/weight of the individual dough balls. As a general rule, dough balls weighing 16 ounces or less should be cross-stacked for at least two hours. Dough balls weighing 17 to 22-ounces should be cross-stacked for two-and-a-half hours, and anything over 22-ounces should be cross-stacked for three hours.

After being cross-stacked for the requisite time, the dough balls should be sealed tightly to prevent drying. If the plastic dough boxes are used, this means that the boxes should be down stacked. This is where the top box is placed at the bottom position of a new stack, with the stack being assembled in reverse order. As the boxes are stacked, they will seal the box below it; then, only the top box on the stack will require a lid. If the dough balls are not placed in plastic dough boxes, they should be covered to prevent drying.

It is always a good idea to try to have a dedicated place in the cooler to store dough, preferably one away from the front of the cooler where opening and closing of the door will typically affect the operating temperature of the cooler, potentially leading to inconsistent dough performance. When made and stored in this manner, you can expect to
have your dough last up to three days in the cooler.

Another question that frequently comes up has to do with freezing dough. I’ve never seen the performance of typical, or normal, dough improved by subjecting it to freezing. There is always a price to be paid in the loss of some quality. With that said, yes, we can freeze our pizza dough using nothing more than a chest, reach-in or walk-in freezer. This is known as “static” freezing. To freeze dough in this manner, immediately after mixing, take the dough to the bench for scaling and forming into balls. Set the formed dough balls aside to rest for not more than 10 minutes and then manually press them down to form a “puck” shape, about 1½-inches thick. Place the dough pucks on a very lightly oiled sheet pan, allowing about a 2-inch space between pucks, and place them in the freezer as quickly as possible so as to allow for as much airfl ow around the dough as possible. Allow the dough to remain in the freezer until the center/ core temperature of the pucks is at 10 F. At this time, the pucks can be given a very light application of oil and bulkpackaged in a corrugated box with a 2-millimeter (thousandths) thickness plastic bag approved for food contact. Twist the mouth of the bag to close it, and tuck in along the inside of the box to hold it closed, then seal the corrugated box and be sure to mark it with a production date as well as a use-by date. The maximum shelf life of this frozen dough will be 14 days, so I always like to project the use by date out 10 or 12 days, knowing that someone will always want to push the envelope, and use it the day after the expiration date. At least this way, I know the dough will still perform up to standard.

To use frozen dough, we suggest that it be placed onto lightly oiled sheet pans, or dough boxes (no need to oil the dough boxes), and allowed to slack out (thaw) for 18 to 24 hours. The dough can then be used in the normal manner as you would any refrigerated dough. While this is a slightly different procedure than what is recommended by many commercial frozen dough manufacturers (thaw overnight in the cooler and use), it does provide for a better-fl avored fi nished pizza crust. As with all frozen dough, this dough doesn’t perform all that well when used on the second day after you begin using it, but don’t toss it in the trash just yet. Any unused dough at the end of the day can be formed into focaccia bread, breadsticks, or garlic knots, par baked and saved (at room temperature) for reheating and use on the following day. Effective dough storage isn’t all that diffi cult. But, as you can see, it does require some attention to detail to have a consistently high-quality product over the course of time. ?

Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.