When Your Dough Comes Out Wet and Sticky

  • If you don’t cross-stack your pizza dough boxes in the cooler, you’re likely to end up with a common problem: wet and sticky dough.
  • By cross-stacking the dough boxes when you first put them into the cooler, you will allow the moisture from condensation to escape from the boxes.

Related: The secrets to creating a better crumb structure

The late, great Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann loved helping pizza-makers’ solve their dough problems almost as much as he loved his family, hunting and corny jokes. PMQ continues to republish the best of the Dough Doctor’s advice for all of those pizzeria operators who still need his help – we believe Tom would have wanted it that way.

Q: A major problem we have is wet and sticky dough when we take it out of the dough boxes after a night in the cooler. We have tried reducing the amount of water added to the dough, but this has not helped. What is the solution?

A: Your description of your dough management procedure tells me what the problem likely is. After mixing, you take the dough directly to the bench for scaling and balling, and then place it into your dough boxes and stack it in the cooler for use on the following day.

However, you forgot a very important step. Cross-stacking the dough boxes in the cooler before nesting them is a crucial step in getting an easy-to-handle dough after a night or more in the cooler. Currently, your dough is warmer than the cooler. As a result, it is sweating with the condensation collecting on the inside of the dough box, so the dough balls are wet and sticky.

By cross-stacking the dough boxes when you first put them into the cooler, you will allow the moisture to escape from the boxes. Once covered and nested, they will no longer sweat, and the dough will not be wet and sticky when you remove it from the cooler. I also recommend that you wipe the top of the dough balls with a little oil (any type will do), as this will help to protect them from forming a dry skin or crust during the cross-stacked period. The length of time the dough balls should be cross-stacked will vary somewhat according to the cooler, dough temperature and dough ball weight, but here’s a good starting point:

Cross-stack for at least 90 minutes for dough balls that weigh 12 ounces or less; 120 minutes for dough balls that weigh 13 to 16 ounces; 150 minutes for dough balls that weigh 17 to 22 ounces; and 180 minutes for dough balls that weigh more than 22 ounces.

Note that these recommendations are for a walk-in cooler. If you are using a reach-in cooler, I suggest that you reduce the finished dough temperature (the temperature of the dough as it comes from the mixer) to no more than 75ºF, and then add 30 minutes to each of the above suggested cross-stack times. These changes are needed due to the lower operating efficiency of reaching coolers when being loaded with a lot of dough balls.

The late Tom Lehmann was the director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking (AIB), a leading pizza industry consultant and a frequent contributor to PMQ.