What is emergency dough, and when would a pizzeria owner need to use it?

Emergency dough is a dough that you make in the event that you should lose all of the dough that you have stored in the cooler. For example, a lightning strike might blow out a transformer that provides power to your store during the night, and when you come in in the morning, you’re greeted by the aroma of fermenting dough. In short, your shop smells like a brewery. Upon investigation, you find that all of your dough has blown, leaving it useless for making pizza. What to do?

Enter the emergency dough. This dough is a variation of your regular dough that has been modified to be capable of producing acceptable pizza skins/crusts within the shortest time possible after mixing. Because of the steps taken to speed up the fermentation process, you will need to make a number of emergency doughs during the course of the day.

Related: Solving the mystery of blown dough

To convert your regular dough formula to an emergency dough, follow these steps:

1) Double the amount of yeast, but do not exceed 2% of the flour weight.

2) Increase the target finished dough temperature to 90° to 95°F.

3) Mix the dough just until it takes on a smooth, satiny appearance in the mixing bowl (this may or may not be different from the way you normally mix your dough).

4) If your dough formula contains sugar, reduce it by half.


Immediately after mixing, scale into desired weight pieces and ball. Place into plastic dough boxes and wipe the dough balls with vegetable oil; cover and set aside to proof/rise at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough can be opened into dough skins without excessive snap-back. The dough is now ready to use in filling pizza orders. Any dough balls that will not be used within 90 minutes should be opened into dough skins and placed onto pizza screens that can be stored in a wire tree rack in the cooler. Be sure to cover with a food contact-approved plastic bag to prevent excessive drying.

The pre-stretched dough skins can be used at any time during the same day, but they do not hold over very well from one day to the next. To use the readymade dough skins, remove them from the cooler about 30 minutes before you anticipate needing them, allowing them to temper at room temperature a little. Then remove the dough skin from the screen and place onto the prep peel or baking pan/disk, dock the dough skin, dress for the order and bake as you would your normal dough.

Your emergency dough formula be typed out and placed into a protective plastic sleeve, to be stored in your formula/recipe book. This way, it will be ready to use in an instant when you need it the most. Trust us: When the day comes that you walk into your store and the aroma gives you a hint of the disaster that has occurred, your brain will be too busy trying to sort things out: calling a repairman, cleaning up the mess in the cooler, cleaning dough boxes, and trying to figure out if anything in the cooler can be salvaged. So you don’t want to worry about trying to figure out how to manage your emergency dough.

True, working with an emergency dough isn’t fun, but then neither is hanging a “closed” sign on your front door.

The late Tom Lehmann was a longtime columnist for PMQ and served as director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking (AIB).

Dough Information Center, Food & Ingredients, Tom Lehmann, Tom Lehmann: In Lehmann's Terms