2011 November: Dough Doctor

Q: In looking at different methods of dough management, some call for allowing the dough balls to rest at room temperature for an hour or more, while others say to take the dough directly to the cooler without any room temperature rest period. Does it really make a difference?

A: Yes, it does make a difference. When dough balls are allowed to rest at room temperature before going into the cooler they begin to ferment, becoming less dense. As a result, the dough becomes a better insulator, so when the dough goes into the cooler it is now more difficult to cool uniformly. In some cases, especially with larger/heavier weight dough balls, the dough may never cool down sufficiently to control the rate of fermentation so the dough “blows” in the cooler, resulting in a total loss.

Another problem with allowing the dough to rest at room temperature prior to going into the cooler has to do with the temperature of the dough as well as the actual time the dough is allowed to remain at room temperature. For example, if the dough is a couple degrees warmer than desired, or targeted, the dough will ferment more, making for an even less dense dough. If you forget to take the dough to the cooler at the prescribed time, this can also result in over fermentation. When combined with the perfect storm of a dough that is a little warmer than desired, and a warmer than usual shop temperature, the stage is set for blown dough as the order of the day.

By taking the dough directly from the mixer to the bench for scaling and balling, and then straight to the cooler, the effects of dough temperature (or more correctly stated, the effects of a missed target dough temperature) are minimized. And because we are doing everything right away, there is less chance to forget to take the dough to the cooler. Additionally, shop temperature will have essentially no impact upon the dough as the dough will not be exposed to it long enough to impact it. The net result of taking the dough directly to the cooler is that the dough will be denser, and have a more uniform density, making it easier to cool uniformly, and predictably, resulting in better handling dough, and improved dough performance over the refrigerated life of the dough.

As a side note, I’ve seen a number of cases where the operator thought he had the solution to his blown dough problem by simply reducing the yeast level in the dough to the point where the dough would no longer blow. This worked, but it created a whole new problem at the same time. With the lower yeast level, the dough would no longer rise as it used to, and the weight of the topping ingredients compressed the center of the pizza, reducing its ability to bake properly. The finished pizza was now characterized by a soft, soggy bottom crust, and worst of all, a gum line that just wouldn’t go away. As you can see, reducing the yeast level is not the best solution to this problem. The only real solution is to adjust/correct the dough temperature, rest time and possibly the room temperature, or simply take the dough directly to the cooler before any of these factors can impact the dough.

Q: What is the best way to thaw frozen dough that we are purchasing from our supplier?

A: If the manufacturer doesn’t provide instructions for slacking out/thawing their dough, remove the dough balls from the bulk package, and place onto a lightly oiled sheet pan or dough box. Oil the top of the dough balls and cover to prevent drying. If you only have a reach in cooler, oil the frozen dough ball and drop it into a plastic bread bag, then twist the open end closed and tuck it under the dough ball as you place it on a sheet pan or shelf in the cooler. Allow the dough balls to thaw overnight in the cooler and then remove a quantity of dough balls from the cooler and allow them to temper at room temperature for 90 to 120 minutes before starting to open them into pizza skins. Once you have allowed the dough balls to temper, they should be good to use for about a two-hour period of time. Any unused dough balls can be opened and placed onto screens or disks and stored in the cooler for use later in the day.

Q: How important is the temperature of the water that active dry yeast (ADY) is activated in?

A: Active dry yeast –— as well as instant dry yeast (IDY) —– are actually quite robust and will tolerate quite a bit of temperature abuse both in storage as well as during hydration. If you want to achieve optimum performance from the yeast as well as doughs that will handle and perform consistently, especially with extended periods of refrigerated storage, dry yeasts should be rehydrated, or added to the dough by the manner prescribed by the manufacturer.

For ADY, this means putting the yeast into a small quantity of warm (100F) water, and stirring it to suspend it in the water, then allowing it to hydrate for 10 minutes. In the case of IDY, it can be added directly to the dough, either by blending it into the dry flour, or by adding it to the dough after a minute of mixing. Just make sure the dough will be mixed for at least five additional minutes after the IDY has been added.

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