I hold a special place in my heart for bubbles and blisters on pizza crusts — because this was the first problem I ever worked on.
To prevent them, what you need to concentrate on are dough temperature and fermentation time. In studies that we have conducted, we found that fresh dough exhibited the most pronounced tendency to bubble. But as we allowed the dough to ferment prior to forming and baking, the severity of bubbles began to decrease. With normal yeast levels (0.375 percent instant dry yeast, 0.5 percent active dry yeast, or 1.25 percent compressed/fresh yeast), and a finished (mixed) dough temperature in the 80 to 85F range, the bubbles are minimized after 2.5 hours of fermentation time at ambient temperature (approximately 70F). Longer fermentation times do not result in any further reduction in bubbles.
However, if you take the proper storage steps, you can pretty much eliminate bubbles. Start by taking the dough balls immediately after scaling and balling and place them in dough boxes, cross-stacked for two hours. Be sure to wipe them with salad oil to prevent them from drying out in the cooler. After two hours, downstack them and allow them to ferment overnight. Allow them to sit at room temperature for two hours before you use them and you’re ready to go.
From these observations we can safely say that fermentation is one of the keys to reducing bubbling in our pizza doughs.
The second main cause of bubbling crusts, and possibly the most common today, has to do with both temperature and tempering of the dough balls after removal from the cooler. If the dough is at cooler temperature when taken to the oven for baking, an open invitation has been extended for bubble development. However, if the dough has been allowed to warm slightly, at room temperature, bubbling can be diminished or completely eliminated. Some stores have found that allowing the dough balls to warm 5F above the cooler temperature is all it takes. We have found that by allowing the dough to temper at room temperature for 2 hours prior to opening the dough balls up into skins, bubbling is all but a bad memory. Keep in mind that dough that has been tempering at room temperature for roughly two hours will have a three-hour window of time in which to use it before it starts getting gassy.
Since it is my policy to never toss dough away, unless absolutely necessary, I will take any dough that is approaching the three hour limit, and open it up to full or nearly full size, then place it onto screens and store it in the cooler on wire tree racks, covered with a plastic bag to control drying. When getting ready to use this pre-opened dough, be sure to allow it to temper at room temperature again, this time for only 20 to 30 minutes before dressing and baking it. Failure to do so will only take you on the road back to bubbles.
Lastly, there is the dough docker. Dough dockers are designed to help control bubbling. But they don’t do anything to prevent it, or address the problem at its root cause. If you do happen to have one of those doughs that just seems to have a penchant for bubbling, the dough docker might prove to be your salvation. But, first, see if you can address the problem and eliminate it from your dough. ?
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.