Q Why do I need to cross-stack boxes of dough balls in the cooler? Coming back later to down-stack the boxes is a real pain.
A Cross-stacking the dough boxes allows the dough balls to cool down at a consistent, uniform rate. If the dough boxes are not cross-stacked, the heat in the dough will allow moisture trapped in the box to condense on the colder box surfaces, where it will drip onto the dough. These water-spotted dough balls can exhibit sticky handling properties and a strong tendency to bubble during baking. Even worse, if the dough balls don’t cool down uniformly, the amount of fermentation the dough receives during the next 24 to 72 hours (or more) will strongly depend on the finished dough temperature; a difference of only two degrees can have a significant impact on dough quality and performance. The length of time the dough boxes remain cross-stacked is also important, as any variation can result in changes in dough performance, especially after several days of storage in the cooler.
If you have difficulty fitting the cross-stack and down-stack times into your schedule, there’s another option. Lightly oil the dough balls and place them in individual plastic bags immediately after balling; the open end of the bag should be twisted into a ponytail and tucked under the dough ball. Now the dough, placed on a metal sheet pan or into a conventional dough box, can go straight into the cooler without any additional covering. If you use dough boxes, simply cross-stack them and go home. When you return the next morning, you can down-stack them for long-term storage.
This alternative method works well because the bag is pulled firmly around the dough ball for full contact; the bag offers little insulation, so the dough cools at a predictable rate. The bag also prevents the dough balls from drying out during a longer-than-normal cross-stack period. But note that it’s important to tuck the twisted ponytail under the dough ball; this allows for some expansion of the dough ball without bursting the bag. For those of you with reach-in coolers, this is also the best way to manage your dough balls, as cross-stacking is impossible, and offset stacking is only marginally effective.