You’ve kneaded your dough and it’s almost ready to shape. But before this step you need some patience while the yeast goes to work – so what is the best pizza dough proofing temperature?
The answer is – it depends on how much time you are willing to invest.
Warmer temperatures will speed up rise time up until about 35°C/95°F, but using a colder, longer rise in such a place as the refrigerator will allow the dough to develop a better taste and texture. Above 50°C/122°F and you are killing yeast, below 20°C/68°F and you are significantly slowing fermentation.
If you need some dough then check out my pizza dough recipe which works perfectly with this article. Let’s take a closer look at some proofing methods.
If you’re in a rush, then there is a temperature window that will have the optimum range for yeast fermentation.
Below 20°C/68°F degrees and the growth is significantly reduced. Above 35°C/95°F and the growth also decreases. So a spot that is just above room temperature is ideal.
Consistency is also key, so avoid a place that might have draughts. Going much too high will also have unhappy results – above 50°C/122°F degrees and you will kill your yeast.
A warm space such as an airing cupboard is ideal, just remember to keep the dough in an airtight container.
If you don’t have a suitable warm place in your house, then you can use your oven as a makeshift proofer.
Just remember to keep within the recommended temperatures otherwise you will kill the yeast. Even if that means turning on the oven to its lowest temperature for a short period and then turning it off so it’s just warmer than room temperature.
The actual temperature you pick is not so crucial – but knowing it and being consistent is useful as you can be consistent with your timings.
Leaving your dough in a new place and returning to find it hasn’t been proofed as you expected is not what you want!
If time is not against you, then work with your cooler temperatures for a slower rise.
Cold temperatures slow down the fermentation activity but don’t kill the yeast.
You can put your dough in an airtight container in your fridge and it will slowly proof, which allows the yeast to develop a better flavor as the yeast works with the sugars for longer.
Large bubbles of CO2 will also give the dough a lighter texture, rather than a tough bite.
Leaving it in the fridge overnight will also relax the dough, so it’s easier to work with – you might have noticed that freshly kneaded dough will spring back to a ball if you try and roll it out.
I’ve found that up to 3 days gives optimal results, but after this time the dough starts to deteriorate.
Allow the dough to return to room temperature before stretching and cooking.
Can pizza dough over-proof? Yes. It’s possible to over-proof your dough if it is left too long to rise at warmer temperatures.
Bubbles will get too large and burst, the dough will lose its structure and the pizza will likely be dense when cooked.
How To Tell If Dough Is Over Proofed
The first obvious sign is the smell. It will smell strongly of yeast but also strongly of alcohol – as alcohol is a byproduct of the fermentation process. So if it smells like a brewery, then it has probably gone.
You can tell a dough is over-proofed because it will be very floppy and lose all of its structure. When you bake it, it will be pretty lifeless, so it’s best to start over.
Bulk Fermenting VS Single Dough Balls
You can choose to proof the dough in a whole piece, also known as the bulk ferment. Or you can split the dough up into individual pieces, and ball up ready to be placed in containers, and removed when needed.
The bulk ferment is then split into balls and allowed to proof on the worktop for 2 hours for the final rise, as and when the dough balls are needed.
You usually go for the bulk ferment stage if you haven’t added a starter to your dough, as the fermentation in bulk develops flavor and texture. This has already taken place in the pre-fermented started so isn’t needed.
Bulk fermenting large amounts can cause the center of the dough the be a different temperature from the outer of the dough. This is because the dough will generate heat as it ferments, and retain it inside.
Warmer dough means more fermentation so this means your dough will ferment at different speeds. Usually, this isn’t such a problem for the home baker, where the dough ball is small enough to stay cool as a whole.
Frequently Asked Questions About Proofing Pizza Dough
Can pizza dough be left out overnight to rise?
You can leave the dough out but it could possibly over-ferment by producing too much alcohol and lose its structure to become floppy.
By putting the dough in the fridge, it will slow down the fermentation process and allow the yeast to slowly consume sugars and develop flavor. You can leave the dough in the fridge for up to 3 days before it starts over-fermenting.
Should you punch down pizza dough?
Yes. By punching down pizza dough after the first rise, you push out the larger pockets of gas which will likely grow too big when cooked in the oven.
You don’t want to be too rough as you want to maintain some air bubbles in the dough, as to push everything out would cause the dough to become dense and tough.
By squashing the dough you also release some more food for the yeast to feed on in the next proof. Do not break the dough or do anything to the gluten strands – you need these to remain intact for good structure.
Should I let the pizza dough rise before refrigerating it?
Yes, you want to give the dough a slight head start with the fermentation process so the usual recommendation is to leave the dough for one hour at room temperature after it has been kneaded.
This allows the dough to warm slightly for yeast activity. It can then be placed in the fridge for 1-3 days before the flavor starts getting strong.
They say if cooking is an art then baking is a science – and they are not wrong. You can do your bit to speed up your rise, but too much heat and your yeast won’t like that either.
There’s nothing wrong with proofing your dough for an hour if that’s all the time you have.
But for the best pizza dough proofing temperature, I recommend you make your dough ahead and leave it in the fridge overnight. You can also have it conveniently in the fridge for the next 3-4 days for all your pizza creations.
Besides your dough, make sure your cooking equipment is up to scratch to make great pizzas.
My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is to use a pizza “steel”. It adds intense heat from below for amazing crusts – I have this steel from Amazon which is much lower priced than other brands but works perfectly. Steel conducts heat better than stone, they don’t shatter and are easier to clean.