The Dough Doctor discusses managing thick-crust pizza dough

Last month, I discussed a few of the ins and outs of making great thin- and thick-crust pizzas. This month, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the ways to manage thick-crust pizzas.

The greatest management problem with deep-dish stems from the fact that these pizzas need to be proofed (allowed to rise) for a period of time between panning and baking. The most popular method is to allow the dough to rise in the pan until it reaches a prescribed height. Once that is reached, it is then taken to the cooler where the dough stabilizes. When determining how much to let the dough rise before taking it to the cooler, keep in mind that it will continue to rise in the cooler until it reaches an internal temperature of about 45 F. This means that you will need to allow the dough to rise to something close to half of the desired proofed height before taking it to the cooler. After allowing the dough sufficient time to cool, the pans can be wrapped or placed into containers to prevent the dough from drying out. Once stabilized, the dough can usually be held in the cooler for up to 24 hours.

To use the dough, just remove from the cooler, unwrap, dress the order and bake. It must be noted that these chilled doughs will require a different bake time and temperature than pizzas made with warm, proofed dough. We have found that deep-dish pizzas baked with pre-proofed, refrigerated dough typically require a longer bake at a slightly lower temperature than you would bake the same pizza with a freshly made, non pre-proofed, refrigerated dough. When baking in a deck or stone hearth oven, be mindful that, due to the longer baking time, you may need to place a screen under the deep-dish pans to prevent the bottom of the pizzas from getting excessively dark or over baked.

As you can see, there is a lot of subjectivity in this process. To remove some of it, you can mark the pizza pans with a reference mark (slight indentation) to show the targeted dough height before taking the dough to the cooler. Or, you might consider purchasing a dough proofer with temperature and humidity controls. With a dough proofer, all you need to do is keep your finished dough temperatures to within a couple degrees of each other, then set the controls to provide approximately 95 to 100 F temperature with 70 to 75 percent relative humidity. From that point on, the rising time will be quite consistent from dough to dough, resulting in a faster transition from the proofing stage to the cooler.

Now, let’s take a look at thin-crust pizza dough. Taking cold, thin crust dough directly to the oven will normally result in someone getting a lot of practice with the bubble popper. Even when heavily docked with a dough docker, the dough still exhibits a penchant to bubble almost uncontrollably. To counter this, you should plan on pulling the thin crust dough balls out of the cooler 90 to 120 minutes before you anticipate using them to make dough skins. By allowing the dough balls to temper for this period of time, you will significantly reduce the dough’s tendency to bubble during baking.

Once the dough balls have been tempered, they may be left at room temperature (covered to prevent drying) for up to an additional three hours. Or, if you are so moved, you can also begin opening the dough balls and flattening them after the requisite tempering period. If you do this, place the dough skins onto mesh screens and immediately take them to the cooler. Place them on a wire tree rack and allow them to cool for about an hour. Once cooled, cover the rack with a plastic bag or rack cover to prevent any drying. The dough skins can be stored in the cooler in this manner for 24 to 36 hours without loss of quality.

To use the dough skins, however, it will still be necessary to let them sit at room temperature for a bit before using them. But because the skins are so thin, they will temper in 20 to 30 minutes. When using these refrigerated skins, I like to lift them off of the screen and manually touch them up a little, bringing them out to full size if necessary. Next, lightly dock the dough before dressing the order.

As was mentioned with the thick crust, pre-proofed dough, it may be necessary to make some slight adjustments to the oven temperature and baking time to accommodate the colder temperature of this dough. Test the dough first using your normal baking times and temperature to see if any changes are needed. If they are, the
direction will be to lower the temperature slightly and extend the baking time by about a minute. u

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

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