If your thick crust doesn’t have a light texture, you likely are not proofing the dough properly. Proofing is the act of allowing the dough to rise after it has been formed. This is the final processing step before baking.
During proofing, dough is aerated, which leavens it and creates a thicker, more tender and potentially crispier finished crust. Typically, thin crusts are not given any proof time. Instead, they are formed, dressed and taken directly to the oven. Thick crusts, on the other hand. really need to be proofed to give them their desirable characteristics. Under normal conditions proofed dough will double or triple in height during the proofing stage. This expansion will continue during the first few minutes in the oven. With the combination of proofing height and oven spring, a lighter textured crust is produced. This lighter texture also provides for a more tender crust, and the reduced density of the baking dough creates better resistance to heat transfer through the dough (resulting in a more rapid temperature gain and a higher surface temperature at the bottom of the crust, which can result in a more crispy texture).
One of our challenges is to figure out how to produce thick crust pizzas that have been proofed for upwards of 60 minutes in a timely and predictable manner so they are ready for baking when an order is placed. The operative word here is “predictable.” while you can effectively proof pizzas at room temperature, the problem is that when doing so you are left entirely at the mercy of the room temperature. When the room is cold, the dough will proof more slowly; when it is hot it will proof faster. Additionally, we also find that the finished dough temperature has a greater effect upon the rate at which the dough proofs when the proofing is done at room temperature rather than in a controlled environment, such as a proofer.
Another approach that some operators have taken is to stack the pans of dough either near a heat source or right on top of the oven. We see a lot of this when deck ovens are used since the top of these ovens can get rather warm and the large, flat top looks like a good place to stack pans of dough. Sure, you can proof this way, but it has its drawbacks. Since the top of the oven is the heat source, those pans, which are sitting right on top of the oven, will get the most heat while those pans which are stacked above them will get significantly less heat exposure. The result is a vast inconsistency in proofing from the top to the bottom of the stack, and you will soon find yourself digging through the stack of pans looking for that pan with correctly proofed dough to fill the order at hand.
I think the best solution is to invest in a commercial proofer or proofing cabinet. A proofing cabinet is typically about 24-inches wide, 32-inches deep, and about 72-inches high. It will have a number of suitably spaced cleats down both sides to hold 18-inch by 26-inch size pans. A proofer will have both temperature and humidity controls so you won’t need to cover the pans to prevent the dough from drying out. The best operating conditions for proofing pizza dough are to set the temperature at 90 F and the humidity at 75 percent relative humidity. No, this won’t make the dough proof any faster, but it will allow the dough to proof much more consistently. If you fill the proofer with pans of dough all at one time, it will all come ready to dress and bake at the same time. This may not be such a good idea unless a bus just pulled up outside your store. Here is where we must get a little inventive.
It’s best to simply give the dough partial proof in the pans. If you closely control your finished (mixed) dough temperature, this can be time effective. But if your finished dough temperature varies quite a bit, then you will need to periodically check the height of the dough as it rises in the pan to determine about where half proof is at. Then immediately take the pans of uncovered dough to the cooler. The dough will continue to rise for a period of time in the cooler to reach full proof height at about the time that the dough cools enough to stabilize (significantly slow in proofing rate). This allows it to be held in prime condition, ready to be baked for a longer period of time than it could be held at room temperature or in the proofer. You can build an inventory of dough in the cooler so it will be ready to use at any time within a four-hour period after placing it in the cooler.
To use a pan of this fully proofed dough, place it onto a warming tray set at 150 F for about a minute or so (this sure beats having to wait for the dough to finish proofing). It is then ready to dress and bake for the order.