Proofing Pizza Dough: Ultimate Guide, Tips And Advice

Whether you are just a beginner or a more advanced pizza maker, this article will give you some guidance on what proofing is, and how to get the best out of your dough with some more advanced tips.

Proofing is a stage in the pizza making process where dough is left to rise, to allow yeast to ferment which adds to the flavor and texture. Pizza needs this proof to fill the dough with small bubbles of carbon dioxide. This leaves empty pockets when baked, to give the dough a light, airy texture. Without it, the crust will be thin, dense, and cracker like and also lesser in flavor.

Proofing creates:

  • Flavor from the byproducts of fermentation.
  • Texture from CO2 bubbles in the dough.
  • Better rise and holes in the pizza from the gluten relaxing.
  • A dough easier to stretch and roll out that won’t shrink back.

How Does It Work?

Yeast eats sugars in the flour to give off carbon dioxide gas which form bubbles throughout the dough, held in by a network of gluten strands. It also develops flavor in the same way beer is left to ferment and develop flavor – there are byproducts produced in the process including alcohol.

So how should you do it, and what is the best way?

The answer depends on how much time you have available. Do you need a quick dough for a meal in a few hours time, or are you prepared to plan ahead and put some extra time in to produce a better dough?

If you want a quick fix then read method 1 or if you want a more substantial answer then use method 2.

The Basic Overview

Proofing comes after you have mixed and kneaded your ingredients together. It’s a good idea to give your dough one fermentation stage as a bulk, then knock the air out, split into balls and give it a final proof before you stretch or roll it out.

You can split the balls all at once, or you can keep the bulk of dough in the refrigerator and cut off amounts for pizzas as you need it.

Degassing the dough after the initial proof knocks out any large initial bubbles which could burst later, it creates lots of small bubbles for a great texture, and also distributes the sugars to the yeast again for another round of flavor making.

I have outlined two popular methods later on for more in depth details.

What Happens If You Don’t Proof Your Dough?

It can be tempting to rush the proofing process, as after all it does take up a considerable amount of the pizza making time. But simple put, as the fermentation creates flavor and CO2 bubbles in the dough; less fermentation means less tasty pizza, and a denser crust texture.

You can’t rush it if you want the best results – so plan ahead and you will create a much better pizza.

What Temperature And For How Long?

Fermentation happens faster at higher temperatures. More CO2 will be released at a faster rate, but it takes longer for the flavor to develop and the dough to relax. The gluten network needs more time, and can’t easily be sped up like the yeast can be.

If you want to develop the flavor you need time. But supercharging the dough with warmth and leaving it for a long time will cause it to over proof. It will become floppy and sour tasting. So you must control this by turning down the temperature, as colder temperatures slow fermentation.

So with that being said, you can either do a quicker rise at a warmer temperature but have a pizza with less flavor and denser texture. Or a slower rise at a colder temperature, and generally speaking, a better pizza.

Good things come to those who wait, and so cold proofing your dough will produce the best results, but I understand time is not always on your side.

Method 1: Quick Proof Dough

As the dough needs a helping hand to get going, you need to make sure you are using enough yeast and a touch of sugar in your recipe. Ensure you are leaving your dough in an environment which is warm enough to get the yeast working faster.

The extra yeast is fairly obvious, and the extra sugar is some extra food for the yeast – it will make sure it is feeding and producing gas as an outcome.

Temperature wise, warmer temperatures speed up the process until around 95F/35C before it starts slowing. You will kill your yeast above 122F/50C and anything under 68F/20C is slowing down fermentation rapidly. So a nice warm temperature just above room temperature is ideal.

Method:

  1. Knead the dough until smooth.
  2. Proof the dough for an hour, covered so it is air tight.
  3. Split the dough into individual balls.
  4. Proof the balls on the work top for 1-2 hours, covered with upturned bowls.
  5. Stretch and bake.

Outcomes:

  • It is fast and convenient.
  • It will have very little taste apart from yeast.
  • It will be dense and chewy.
  • It will snap back when stretching or rolling.

Method 2: Cold Proof Dough

Here the essential things are getting the dough to a lower temperature to slow down fermentation. Because we don’t need such rapid fermentation, we can also use less yeast and skip the sugar, and avoid that taste of an overly yeasty crust which you might associate with amateur home baking.

The sugars in the flour are enough for the yeast to get to work so you don’t need to add any. And less yeast doesn’t mean smaller bubbles, as you are giving it much more time to develop.

Cold temperatures won’t kill yeast but just slows fermentation, so an airtight container or plastic wrapped dough in the fridge works well. Proofing for 24 hours is a good minimum, but the taste will develop for days to come. Around 2-3 days is the optimum before it starts deteriorating.

Method:

  1. Knead the dough until smooth.
  2. Proof the dough for an hour, covered so it is air tight.
  3. Transfer to the refrigerator as a whole piece and bulk ferment overnight (24-48 hours is better).
  4. Remove quantity of dough needed. Around 250g for 12″ base.
  5. De-gas the dough and form into balls.
  6. Proof for 2 hours to allow to return to room temperature, under an upturned bowl.

Outcomes:

  • Depth of flavor improved.
  • Air bubbles throughout for lighter, crispier texture.
  • Relaxed dough for bigger rise and crust holes.
  • Easier to stretch out.

Advance Tips On Cold Proofing

Just because the dough gets better with time, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a cut off point.

From day 1-3 I find that the dough develops more flavor, and the texture gets better. As the days go on it gets more bubbles, and also the gluten relaxes more so that when it hits the hot oven, you get a good crust spring. It produces those lovely large charred, bubble areas on the crust which are typical of a good pizza or ciabatta – you can’t get this on the shorter proof times.

Day 3 is a good peak, and I find that it goes a bit downhill from here. It starts getting an overly sour taste from the alcohol, and the texture worsens from deflating. The yeast also runs out of steam and stops working, so when you put it on counter to bring to room temperature, it doesn’t proof any more.

Practising in this area gives you a good feel for it. Cold ferment a large bit of dough and make a pizza each day to compare your results – then it’s just down to your preference.

Over Proofing

Be sure to keep it in the refrigerator to proof for long times. But even some times the dough can smell quite alcoholic when you open the lid – this is fine as the air is just concentrated from fermentation.

Just make sure you cook dough long enough that has been fermenting a long time, as undercooked dough doesn’t taste great when it has got this complex, raw flavor.

How To Store The Dough

For proofing in the refrigerator, you can buy proofing containers online which are useful as they have airtight lids and fit neatly. Especially useful if you have pieces of dough that you are splitting up to proof individually.

I usually use bowls turned upside for resting dough on the worktop. It works well as you can use the mixing bowl you just used and it is completely air tight.

Plastic wrap over a container is another option, but plastic wrap does get fiddly to get it airtight some times. It isn’t great for the environment using single use plastics all the time either.

Related Questions

How do I know if it is proofed properly?
If you poke the dough with a finger and it springs back like elastic, then the gluten is still tense and it is under proofed. You will notice that a proofed dough has air pockets, and it has gained size. If it has lost its shape completely, smells of strong alcohol and yeast then it’s over proofed. 

How do I proof it in the refrigerator?
You can bulk ferment the dough in the refrigerator or in individual dough balls. Place dough balls on a tray, several inches apart and wrap with plastic wrap to keep it air tight. You can use an airtight container also. Just make sure you place it level so that it proofs evenly.

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