Tom Lehmann: In Lehmann's Terms

Remember the 20-Minute Rule for Getting Pizza Dough Balls into the Cooler

Why do you always insist that pizza dough be scaled/divided, balled and placed in the cooler within 20 minutes after coming off the mixer?

I make this recommendation because the yeast has what we call a lag phase. Due to this lag phase, the yeast isn’t changing the density of the dough for a period of about 20 minutes after it comes off the mixer. This is crucial to the process of cold-fermenting your pizza dough balls, which is the standard approach for most pizzerias.

If we can get the entire dough processed and placed in the cooler within that 20-minute window, there will be little change in dough density between the first and last dough balls that you make. However, if we take our time and exceed that 20-minute window, the last of the pizza dough balls that we make from that particular batch will begin showing signs of fermentation/leavening, and they will be less dense as a result. This means that the less dense dough balls will be more difficult to cool, and they will cool at a slower rate than the more dense dough balls, which will result in inconsistent dough performance. This inconsistency will become more pronounced as the cold-fermentation time is extended out to several days or more.

Related: Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann explains how to improve the flavor of your pizza crust with minimal effort

Although it may seem difficult to completely process an entire pizza dough within 20 minutes, it really isn’t. There are several ways to get it done. You can add an extra person or two to the bench to help with dough processing, or you can purchase a mechanical dough rounder, which will do a great job for you.

Additionally, depending on how you are presently rounding your pizza dough balls, you can try a more efficient way of accomplishing this task by hand. To learn how to hand-round dough balls faster, you might want to visit my website at Here you can check out my three-part dough processing video series, “How to Make Pizza Dough.” In part 2 of the series, a former colleague and I demonstrate how to round dough balls using only one hand at first and then progressing to rounding one in each hand (two at a time). Using this procedure, one person can hand-round an entire dough made with 50 pounds of flour (about 86 pounds of dough) into 12-ounce dough balls in under 20 minutes!  

Tom Lehmann was the longtime director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking and is now a pizza industry consultant.