So it’s happened again: Your pizza dough has over-risen in the cooler, and you’ve got a mess: one big blob of dough instead of the nice round balls you need to make your pies. Bakers often call this blown dough, and it can be caused by a number of things. So, let’s start at the beginning of the process and try to hit on each possible cause.

Two Common Causes of Blown Dough
In dough formulation, there are a couple of things that can result in blown dough. An excessively high yeast level can be a problem. When yeast levels (as compressed yeast) exceed 3% of the flour weight, the rate of fermentation can become difficult to control, and there’s a possibility that the dough will blow in the cooler if all of the control factors (times and temperatures) are not exactly as they should be. Most pizza doughs will perform best with a yeast level at or near 1% compressed yeast (or .5% active dry yeast or .375% instant active dry yeast).

The water content of the dough (absorption) can also contribute to a greater fermentation rate. The dough is softer with greater dough absorption, so it can ferment faster or at least give all of the outward appearances of fermenting faster. This can result in the dough pieces flowing together to form a single box of dough rather than a box containing a dozen or more individual dough pieces. In this case, the dough isn’t able to retain its shape while in the cooler, so the dough balls all flow together, giving the appearance and effect of a blown dough.

Related: Michael Kalanty and the art of sourdough creation

Controlling Dough Temperature
During processing, control of the dough temperature is vitally important. Typically, dough containing normal yeast levels of 1% to 2% compressed yeast will perform best with a finished dough temperature of 80°F to 85°F, but if higher yeast levels are employed, you’ll get better results with finished dough temperatures in the 75°F to 80°F range.

The best way to control finished dough temperature is through the temperature of the water that is added to the dough. Both the water temperature and the finished dough temperature should be monitored and recorded for each and every dough batch made. This will allow you to be aware of any differences and make corrections to the temperature of the water to maintain the targeted finished dough temperature.

Here’s a helpful hint: Adjust the temperature of the water in 5° or 10° increments. Changes of less than that will have only a slight effect upon the finished dough temperature.

Storing Dough Balls
After mixing, the dough should be taken directly to the bench for scaling. Do not allow the dough to sit out at room temperature before taking it to the cooler! That will only allow the dough to become somewhat gassy, with a more open and porous cell structure. This open structure will act as an insulator, making it more difficult for the dough to cool rapidly and consistently.

After balling the dough, place the dough balls into dough boxes that are specifically designed for refrigerated storage of dough balls. Then wipe them with a little salad oil to prevent the development of a skin or crust on the dough during the cool-down process.

In the cooler, you need to have a dedicated place to put the dough. Ideally, this should be away from the door, where the temperature is the highest and the greatest temperature fluctuations are experienced due to the door being opened and closed repeatedly. In fact, it’s a good idea to make your dough at a time when there will be little or no traffic into the cooler for the greatest length of time. For most pizzerias, this will be at the end of the day.

Place the dough boxes in a cross-stacked fashion, which allows for good airflow and ventilation of the dough. This will hasten the cooling process and prevent the development of moisture in the dough boxes. After being cross-stacked for about two hours, the dough boxes can be nested, creating an effective airtight seal over the dough balls. This will prevent any possible drying of the dough during the refrigerated storage period. The dough will be ready to use in 12 to 16 hours. If left in the cooler, the dough will remain in good condition for up to 72 hours.

Using the Dough
When it’s time to put your dough to use, remove a quantity from the cooler—being sure to keep the boxes covered—and allow it to warm (temper) at room temperature for about 90 minutes. The dough should then be ready to begin shaping. After tempering for 90 minutes, the dough will remain usable for about another two to two-and-a-half hours, depending upon the actual room temperature and dough formulation.

To use any dough that is not sold within this period of time, you can either convert the dough to focaccia or to breadsticks. Or if you’re making thin-crust pizzas, you can shape the dough, place it on a tray, and put it in the cooler. This will effectively allow you to hold the dough for several more hours, but the dough should be used within the day once it’s removed from the cooler. Any dough that is left over at the end of the day can usually be incorporated back into your new dough so long as the amount doesn’t exceed 20% of the new dough weight.

The late Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann was the director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking (AIB), a longtime contributor to PMQ and a beloved and respected consultant to the pizzeria industry. This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of PMQ Pizza Magazine.

Food & Ingredients