As with most foods, it can be nice to be prepared ahead of time so the stress before serving is minimal. Pizza certainly has a few hoops to jump through before you get the dish on the table. Making it the night before or even a few days ahead can make the process much easier and enjoyable.
So can you prepare pizza dough in advance? Yes, pizza dough can be made in advance. After mixing, the yeast in the dough starts fermenting which starts the life span of the dough. By slowing down this fermentation it ensures it will last longer and not become over fermented. Temperature and yeast amount are the main two factors.
To slow down dough fermentation you can:
- Chill it
- Freeze it
- Use less yeast
- Use more salt
The most common practice is either reduce the yeast quantity in your recipe and allow to ferment at room temperature, or to use a moderate amount of yeast and ferment in cooler temperatures such as the fridge. Longer fermentation develops deeper flavor (a bit like sourdough), so making dough in advance is very common and highly recommended.
I have added some recipes which you can follow to suit your preparation. Then the following sections go into detail about the different ways you can slow down yeast fermentation, and how long you can store it.
Recipes For Making Pizza Dough In Advance
Here are recipes which I thought would be the most common scenarios. Either a) you are making dough in the morning for the evening or the evening for the next day, b) you are making dough for at least a day ahead c) you are making dough to be used days ahead.
The recipes make 3 pizzas. I’ve given the recipes in bakers percentage so they can be scaled up and down as you need. Want to make just 1 pizza? Divide it all by 3. The instructions are below the ingredients.
“I want to store my dough until tonight or the next day”
This dough should be kept out of the fridge to ferment at room temperature. It has a very small quantity of yeast which stops it over fermenting. The fermentation should be at least 6 hours and up to 16 hours – it will be very delicate by the end. This is based on room temperatures around 70F/21C so adjust for your environment.
It is super relaxed and easy to stretch as it’s had so long at room temperature, so the gluten doesn’t snap back. Some people think you need days of fermentation to make a flavorful dough, which isn’t true. This recipe certainly makes delicious pizza.
Ingredients (makes 3 medium pizzas)
Bread Flour: 500g – (100%)
Tepid Water: 325ml – (65%)
Instant Yeast: 0.3g – (0.06%)
Salt: 15g – (3%)
“I want to store my dough for 24-48 hours”
This dough is stored in the fridge to slow fermentation. It has more yeast to get fermentation rolling. The dough should be stored for at least 12 hours in the fridge, after 48 hours it still works but is past its best. You need to bring the dough to room temperature for 1-3 hours before stretching otherwise it will be difficult to open up.
It makes pizza that has excellent taste and texture – it just takes a little longer to get there.
Ingredients (makes 3 medium pizzas)
Bread Flour: 500g – (100%)
Tepid Water : 325ml – (65%)
Instant Yeast: 2.5g – (0.5%)
Salt: 10g – (2%)
“I want to prepare dough over 48 hours in advance”
It’s really easy and convenient to freeze your dough balls. They turn out well and can be stored individually. Follow the recipe steps and freeze your dough after the balling step. Allow it to defrost in the fridge overnight and continue the steps.
Use Recipe 2 ingredients and freeze after balling.
Instructions For All Recipes
Measure your ingredients using a scales for accuracy.
Mix salt and water together in a bowl or tub. Add the yeast to the mix and dissolve. Add the flour. Use your hands to bring the dough together. Squeeze it and flip it in the bowl for a minute or so. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes to absorb the water.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured worktop for 2-3 minutes. The surface should be smooth but it doesn’t need to be too elastic.
4. Bulk fermentation
Let it have a bulk rise for 1 hour at room temperature in a covered container.
5. Ball the dough
Split the dough into equal portions with a dough cutter or knife. Fold the edges under the dough and pinch it shut. Take the ball under your hand and roll it in a circular motion on the worktop until smooth and round.
6. Second fermentation
Cover the dough balls with plastic wrap on a tray or plate, or place in a airtight box. Either let the dough rise in the fridge, or outside the fridge depending on the recipe.
7. Final rise
For fridge dough, remove from fridge 2 hours before using. Let the dough come to room temperature while still air tight.
It’s ready to stretch and bake.
Slowing Down Fermentation Explained
The effect of fermentation on dough
When dough consisting of flour, water, yeast and salt is mixed, two things happen. The yeast is activated with moisture and warmth and starts the fermentation process. It consumes starches in the flour, and the by product is carbon dioxide, alcohol and acids. Secondly, the flour and water react to start forming gluten, the stringy network that holds dough together.
The dough now has a lifespan. Dough can become over fermented, making it unusable. When too much fermentation happens, the dough has given off too much gas. There are large bubbles which might have burst, deflating and flattening the dough. And the acidic byproducts produced can give a strong sour taste which goes from interesting to unpleasant quickly.
Long fermentation is actually a benefit if not taken too far. The process builds up a more complex flavor and tender texture. A bit like brewing beer, the fermentation can’t be rushed if you want a great tasting crust. So by making the dough in advance you are actually doing yourself a favor by adding some depth to your dough.
1. Refrigerate Your Dough
Temperature is a huge factor that any baker can change easily to affect their dough. By increasing the temperature then you increase the rate of fermentation.
If you let the yeast ferment at high temperatures then it works too quickly and your dough becomes weak, floppy, deflated and sour tasting. By cooling the dough the yeast acts slower. This allows you to not use up all the yeast’s work too quickly, and keeping your dough in a usable state.
By slowly developing flavor, it actually makes the dough taste much better. This is because the flavor still develops but the dough quality doesn’t degrade.
2. Freezing Dough
Yes you can freeze dough balls and the results have little affects on the final pizza. At these low temperatures the yeast becomes dormant, but it is still alive. Bringing it back up in temperature kick starts it again.
It is best to freeze individual dough balls after the initial fermentation phase. Ball up the dough and place them in individual freezer bags or plastic wrap with a little oil. Keep them flat in the freezer to maintain their shape.
When needed, let the individual ball defrost in the freezer overnight. When ready to make pizza you can bring it to room temperature covered with an upturned bowl or plastic wrap. It’s then ready to shape and bake.
3. Use Less Yeast
An obvious one is yeast content. More yeast means more fermentation, as the yeast can break down the starches faster. Yeast is usually measured in bakers percentages – the percentage of yeast compared to the total flour amount. Some recipes will be higher at 1.5% yeast and some will be as low as 0.02%. Lower yeast levels allow you to ferment the dough outside of the fridge without it puffing out too much.
In Naples, refrigeration is not traditionally used and so very small amounts of yeast are added to the dough. American pizza often uses more yeast and is put in the fridge to control fermentation.
So by reducing yeast, you can extend your dough shelf life. I’ve included one recipe with less yeast, and one with more yeast, and the conditions to store them.
4. Use More Salt
Salt inhibits yeast activity. By adding more salt to the recipe then you slow down the fermentation process. Recipes which don’t go into the fridge usually have slightly more salt content – it can be a tool used instead of lowering the temperature. It’s a lesser used tool because generally speaking, temperature and yeast percentage have more impact. But still, it is a traditional method used in Naples, along with less yeast, which allows the dough to have a longer life outside of the fridge.
I like the flavor salt gives to dough so I like these recipes, but if you are avoiding extra salt then perhaps this one isn’t for you.
How To Store The Dough
An important factor is keeping the dough in an airtight environment. The dough is moist, which keeps it supple and flexible. If it dries out then it won’t rise, and instead will be dense and hard. The surface will also crack when you try and shape it.
This dehydration happens with air contact. You can use air tight boxes to store dough. If you don’t have these then try some trays or plates which have plastic wrap covering them.
You can store in a bulk or you can store in individual balls. You usually have a shorter bulk phase and a longer balled phase. Storing as individual balls is what a pizzeria would use and has a better outcome. Generally speaking, dough that has had more fermentation in a ball than in the bulk makes better pizza. It gets into its tightened shape and then relaxes, ready for flattening out.
How Long Can You Store It
Storage time is dependent on the yeast and the methods used to slow down. Lots of yeast and warm temperatures will see your dough last a few hours. Small amounts of yeast, more salt and chilled will keep the dough for days.
A dough with a 0.5-1% yeast quantity, stored in the fridge will be optimal after ~2 days. After this point the alcoholic, sour tastes start to become strong. Around 4 days is the absolute maximum for me.
Dough which uses around the 0.05-0.1% yeast quantity mark can last 16 hours or so outside of the fridge. Then it starts over fermenting. If you make this dough and can’t use it within the time period then you can extend it by putting in the fridge.
How To Prepare Stored Dough
When dough goes into the fridge to chill down it causes the gluten network to become tight. The gluten network gives dough its strength and elasticity. More gluten strength means it is harder to shape the dough without it springing back into its original shape.
When you take a dough ball out of the fridge, it is pretty much impossible to work with straight away. To prepare it, you should leave it out of the fridge for 1-3 hours. This depends on the temperature of the room – in summer when its warmer it’s on the lesser end. Just ensure it gets to room temperature, and the dough will be so much easier to flatten and stretch.
Dough that has been left out of the fridge to ferment is extremely easy to work with as it is so relaxed. Usually you would have had the dough balled up and ready to go, so all you need is to flour it and stretch it out. If you are finding it difficult to stretch without it snapping back then try fermenting at room temperature.
Further Technical Reading
With yeast and temperature being two main factors, here is a great chart which shows how much yeast (active dry yeast, instant dry yeast or compressed yeast) to use with a certain temperature and fermentation time. The time stated in the chart is when it is ready to be baked. Remember it is just a starting point guide and other factors can contribute.
For example, a recipe with 0.06% yeast will take around 12 hours at 72F/22C degrees before it is ready. A recipe that gets put in the fridge with 0.3% yeast has an hour at 68F/20C degrees (5 hour ready time) and then 24 hours at 40F/4C (50 hours ready time). So it’s a mix between the two fermenting temperatures.