When you’ve left your dough to rise, you come back to uncover the container and are hit with a boozy aroma. It might be beer-like, or slightly sour. Is this normal? You are probably wondering if your dough has gone bad.
Should pizza dough smell like alcohol?
Pizza dough can smell like beer after it has risen. The yeast has started fermentation, which produces alcohol as a by product. This is normal, although too much fermentation will give the dough a sour, alcoholic taste when baked.
Below I’ll give some more information on how to tell when dough has over fermented, and if you should discard it or rescue it. First, a bit more information on what is happening with the yeast.
What’s Happening To My Dough?
When yeast hits moisture and warmth, it starts to ferment. Flour is full of simple sugars that the yeast cells eat, and the outcome is carbon dioxide and alcohol. This process starts happening as soon as you mix the ingredients, and continues until the dough is baked and the yeast cells die in the higher temperatures.
More yeast in the dough, and warmer temperatures mean that the fermentation rate is faster. This means that more alcohol is produced. You might have a strong alcohol smell with dough that is left in the warm for too long.
Fermentation gives the dough it’s flavor and aroma. You might notice how cheap bread is tasteless and “floury” but artisan bread has depth of flavor. This is built up from a longer fermentation, which is skipped in cheaper bread and amateur bakes.
Too much fermentation pushes the flavors too far though, and the finished product will taste sour from the excess alcohol and acids built up. So finding a point where the dough is mature, but not over fermented is the key – and it’s not hard to achieve with a good recipe. Follow my pizza dough recipe which has perfect quantities of yeast and recommended fermentation times (for both short and long fermentation).
Over Fermented Dough
Dough can over ferment when the yeast has done too much work. The dough has become weak from gluten deterioration, and too much gas is given off. It “blows out” and deflates, and can no longer hold itself up. As there is nothing left to consume, the yeast won’t produce CO2 to rise when baked. And the alcohol and acidity in the dough is now strong. The interesting flavors built up from fermentation are now overpowering and it won’t be pleasant to eat so you want to avoid this.
The rate at which dough will over ferment will depend on the quantity of yeast in the dough and the temperature it is stored. You can keep a dough with a very small amount of yeast at room temperature for up to 18 hours. To extend things longer then you need to put dough in the fridge. In the fridge it can be stored for up to 5 days, depending on the yeast quantity. Dough stored in the fridge typically has more yeast so that it ferments enough in the colder temperatures.
If you want to store your dough for longer but are worried about over fermentation then check out my article on making pizza dough in advance. I go into detail a bit further and I also add two fool proof recipes to follow which will make excellent dough.
Should You Discard Your Dough?
Is It Safe To Eat?
Firstly this is the most important – you don’t want to make yourself ill. There is a difference between over fermented dough and dough that has gone “off”. If your dough shows any signs of bacteria such as discoloration or a foul smell, then do not eat this. Always maintain good cleanliness standards so you do not contaminate your dough.
Over fermented dough doesn’t necessarily mean it is unsafe to eat as you are OK to eat the natural occurrence of alcohol in the dough, but over fermentation won’t make good pizza. Depending on temperatures, dough can be kept for a day or so out of the fridge, but any longer and it should be moved to the fridge.
Will The Crust Rise?
Proofing is the final rise before cooking. If your dough is over proofed then the crust won’t rise in the oven. This isn’t such a problem as it is for bread but you might have a dense pizza crust on your hands.
A general test for over proofed dough is to press a floured finger into the dough for 1/2 an inch and pull it out. If the dent doesn’t spring back at all then your dough is likely over proofed.
You can put some life back into the dough by degassing it by pressing it down completely. Then knead it for 30 seconds and shape again. This introduces some more food for the yeast to work with, so you will get another rise out of the dough.
Will It Taste OK?
It depends on how fermented it has gone. If you open your dough container and can smell a strong smell on opening then this is normal. If you can smell a stale beer smell even when handling then you might have a problem. The stronger tasting dough will persist their sour taste even when baked. The only way you can tell is to stretch a pizza and give it a test. I would try baking the pizza and seeing the results, as the experienced gained is helpful for next time.
How To Stop Over Fermentation
Basically, reduce yeast or reduce temperature. To be extra sure, it pays to be more conscious of exact ratios in your recipe and the temperature of the dough.
Bakers percent allows you to compare recipes by working out ratios compared with the total flour (divide the ingredient against the flour and multiply by 100 for a percentage).
Use the right temperature storing for the right dough. A dough with 0.06% yeast can last for 18 hours out of the fridge at a normal room temperature. A dough with 1.5% yeast will last only a few hours. But this dough can be put in the fridge and it was last 3-5 days there.
Try lowering your yeast percentage. Most recipes online will have you add a sachet of yeast for convenience, but this is usually way more than you need. A 7g sachet with 500g flour is 1.5% yeast – try using a third of this or even less.
You can also pay attention to the water temperature used in the recipe. Some recipes will have you hydrate the yeast with a small amount of water around 85F/30C and then add ice water for the rest of the mixing. This really ensures the yeast slows down its fermentation before it goes to the fridge. You only need to do this ice water step if you are using higher levels of yeast, but it might be something to try if your yeast is very active.
Emergency Pizza Dough Recipe
If you think your dough has fermented too far then you might want to use an emergency dough recipe. This can get your dough on the table faster, but it won’t taste very good because longer fermentation is key to better taste and texture in pizza.
Here, extra yeast is used to kick start the dough. Also an increase in the water it is mixed with ensures a slightly higher dough temperature for increased fermentation.
I recommend taking your pizza recipe that you are familiar with and adding an additional 50% yeast to the recipe that you usually would. The temperature of the water should be increased to 100F/38C. This will speed up the initial fermentation rate.
Hopefully I’ve alleviated your concerns about alcoholic smelling dough. Usually it is nothing worried about, and is a natural part of the fermentation process.
After building up some experience you should be able to tell when pizza dough is ready to bake, and when it has over fermented. If you are making a big quantity of dough, you can store the dough in the fridge and test it out on consecutive days and see the difference for yourself. And you get to eat a lot of pizza which is never a bad thing.
My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below like a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter and they are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite. To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment then see my essential pizza equipment list.