Temperature is the driver of fermentation, key to effective dough management
While at Pizza Expo this year, I met with many pizzeria operators and discussed their ongoing dough problems. What I found was that, in a good many cases, the operators were not exercising any real control over the finished dough temperature. In fact, when asked about the finished temperature of their doughs, most had no idea except to indicate something like “it’s about …”.
I found this to be surprising.While many were indeed measuring the temperature of the water used in making the dough, they were not “connecting the dots” by measuring the finished dough temperature.
The reason why we adjust the water temperature is to help us achieve a targeted finished dough temperature. This is why it’s important to measure the dough temperature immediately after mixing. If the dough temperature is not at or close to the targeted temperature, the fermentation rate of the dough can be faster or slower than anticipated, resulting in problems opening the dough balls into skins (or even the “blowing” of dough balls in the cooler).
But if I use the same water temperature all the time, won’t my doughs always be the same temperature? No, differences in the flour temperature and room temperature will impact the finished dough temperature, as will mixing multiple doughs back to back (the bowl is warmed/heated from mixing the previous dough, resulting in the next dough being warmer).
So what is the best finished dough temperature? That’s an impossible question to give a hard and fast answer to because there are so many different methods of dough management. There are also differences in the coolers many of us store the dough in. A good starting point is 75 F to 80 F when using a walk-in cooler and 65 F to 70 F when using a reach-in cooler. The reason for the difference in temperature here is due to the difference in cooling efficiency when a walk-in cooler is used over a reach-in cooler.
Once we know what our desired finished dough temperature is, how do we maintain it for every dough? There are three ways. The easiest one is to simply monitor the finished dough temperature and make adjustments to the water temperature to help maintain our targeted temperature. In this case, it is suggested that the water temperature be adjusted in 5 F increments to give about a 2 F change in finished dough temperature.
Another method is to subtract the flour temperature from the number 145. This will give you the water temperature needed to give a finished dough temperature in the 80 F to 85 F range; you can then make a final adjustment to the water temperature to give you the desired finished dough temperature.
The last procedure requires a little math, but it is also generally the most accurate method for determining the water temperature needed to achieve a desired finished dough temperature. This is referred to as the “calculation for desired water temperature.” The three factors taken into account for this calculation are flour temperature, room temperature and friction factor. The flour and room temperature are self-explanatory. The friction factor is a number used to account for the warming of the dough due to the friction created between the bowl and the dough during the mixing process. While the friction factor can be highly variable due to differences in mixer type, mixing speed, mixing time, dough absorption and dough size relative to bowl size, we will limit ourselves to the more commonly used planetary design mixers using 60- to 80-quart size bowls and doughs based on 40 to 50 pounds of total flour weight. Years of mixing pizza doughs of this size have shown that you can use the number 35 for the friction factor and not be too far off with your final water temperature calculation. The calculation for desired water temperature is three times the desired finished dough temperature minus the sum of the flour temperature, room temperature and friction factor. Here’s an example of how it works:
Desired finished dough temperature: 80 F (this is the temperature that you decide you want your dough to be after mixing).
Flour temperature: 65 F
Room temperature: 75 F
Friction factor: 35
3 times 80 F (desired dough temperature) minus 65 F (flour temperature), 75 F (room temperature), 35 (friction factor).
Calculation: 240 – 175 = 65 (in this example we would need to use 65 F water to achieve a dough with a finished/mixed dough temperature of 80 F).
Since there are so many variables affecting the actual finished dough temperature, this calculation should only be used to get an approximation of the dough water temperature, because actual finished dough temperature will dictate the actual water temperature needed.
In application, I like to use this calculation only for the first time or two that I make a dough. After that, I monitor the finished dough temperature of every dough and make water temperature adjustments as indicated above to stay on track with hitting my targeted finished dough temperature.
If you have a shop where the room temperature where you are mixing your dough experiences wide swings you can develop a chart showing the room temperature and the water temperature needed at that room temperature to achieve your targeted finished dough temp. Then, with time you will be able to just compare the actual room temperature to the room temperature shown on the chart to see what your water temperature will be. This is just another reason for monitoring and recording the finished dough temp as well as the room temp.
In our discussions at Pizza Expo, I also found that some operators are using infrared (IR) thermometers to measure the temperature of the dough balls prior to opening. It is a common practice to allow the refrigerated dough balls to warm to 50 F to 55 F prior to opening them into skins (this results in much easier opening/forming of the dough). The problem with using the IR thermometer in this application is that it is measuring only the surface temperature, not the internal temperature of the dough ball. It is the internal temperature of the dough ball that we need to be measuring at this point, not the surface temperature (which can be highly variable and inaccurate for our needs). For this specific application we will need to use a dial or stem type thermometer that is inserted directly into the dough ball. The IR thermometer will work just fine for measuring the finished dough temperature as the dough will have a uniform temperature throughout the dough at this point.
Tom Lehmann is a former director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas, and a speaker at International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.