Pizza Dough Fermentation: The Ultimate Guide to Perfection

“The Proof is in the Dough”

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In this guide, you’ll learn everything about pizza dough fermentation, what it is, and why it is essential when making pizza at home.  

So, stick around to discover the pizza dough fermentation process, learn tips, and best practices to ferment your dough, and how pizza dough fermentation will give you an unforgettable pizza!   

Pizza-Making Process

In this guide, we are only discussing the pizza dough fermentation process, which is only a segment but an integral part of the complete pizza-making process.  

If you are starting, we recommend that you read our article on how to get started making pizza at home. 

Step Process to Make Homemade Pizza


Making pizza at home is a multi-step process.  This process entails planning, gathering equipment, ingredients.

Followed by making and shaping the dough to finally bake your pizza. 

Although it might seem a complicated process,  it’s not difficult but it sure does take dedication and a particular time. 

Once you get familiar with what you need to do, you will get better at it, you will perfect your recipe and your skills. You will be more consistent, and the results are going to be phenomenal.

Why Do We Need to Ferment Dough to Make Pizza?

There are two important reasons why you need to ferment pizza dough.

  • When making pizza, you need to build a base to hold the sauce, the cheese, and all your toppings.  Given the number of items you will add, this base needs structure to hold all that weight.

Think of it as the foundation of your house, it has rebar and concrete or wood to hold all the weight of the house.  In pizza, that base is what we called the “crust”. 

  • You need that base to taste good or even better than the toppings you will be adding.  So, we need to build flavor in order to accomplish this task.  Fermentation will help us reach these two goals.

Pizza Dough Fermentation

What is Pizza Dough Fermentation?

In its simplest form, fermentation in pizza dough happens when yeast cells consume sugars contained in the flour and convert them into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

The yeast needs oxygen to complete this process, but the oxygen is limited because the container where the dough is placed is covered, so gluten proteins trap the dough’s gas.

These gas bubbles expand inside the mixture, causing it to rise or appear larger. 

Pizza Dough Fermentation Process

The alcohol produced by the yeast during pizza dough fermentation and other chemicals produced in the process gives the crust its flavor and aroma. The ethanol produced mostly evaporates from the dough during the baking process.

The dough also gains structure as the carbon dioxide inflates the gluten network.

As you can see, the star ingredient of the pizza dough fermentation process is yeast!

Yeast is readily available in supermarkets, you can find fresh, instant, or active dry yeast.

Best Yeast for Pizza Dough Fermentation

Which yeast you should you use to ferment your pizza dough?

Making pizza at home is different from making pizza commercially. In a pizzeria, they use yeast every single day. Some of them even use fresh yeast to make the dough, which unarguably will give spectacular results.

Most commonly, they use instant yeast due to the convenience and ease of use. 

But, to make pizza at home is not recommended to use fresh yeast because the live span of fresh yeast is minimal. Within days the yeast dies.

So, to make pizza at home, you can use either active dry yeast or instant yeast. You can use them interchangeably at a ratio of 1 : 1. 

For example, if your recipe calls for 10g of instant yeast, you can substitute it by 10g of active dry yeast.  

instant yeast in metal spoon
Instant Yeast
Active Dry Yeast
Active Dry Yeast

We prefer using active dry yeast because it gives us a sense of security. Once you mix it with water within 15 minutes, you will see the yeast is alive, and you will be sure you will get good results. 

With instant yeast, you mix it with the flour, then add the water and let ferment. If it doesn’t rise, the yeast is dead. You would have to start all over, and you wasted all that precious flour. 

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wheat sourdough starter

Sourdough Starter

A starter such as sourdough can also be made with flour and water that is left to rest over time so that it ferments appropriately before making the pizza dough.

Pizza Pun


Pizza dough is a lot like the sun

It rises in the yeast and sets in the waist.

Pizza Dough Fermentation Step Process

The pizza dough fermentation process consists of the following steps:

pizza dough fermentation process infographic

Mix the Dough

To make homemade pizza, you need to start with the dough. To learn more about how to properly mix pizza dough check our article How to Mix Pizza Dough.

Learn More About How to Mix Pizza Dough

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Rising vs Proofing Pizza Dough

Is rising the same as proofing?

The terms rising and proofing refer to two different stages of the dough fermentation process. During the pizza dough fermentation process, the dough goes through a first rise.

After deflating, the dough releases all the accumulated gases and is shaped into smaller dough balls that are set to be fermented again in a process called “proofing.”

Rising and Proofing Pizza Dough

Does pizza dough need to rise twice?

For best results, pizza dough needs to go through the complete pizza dough fermentation process, which includes rising the dough and proofing the dough.  

Both processes result in rising the dough by different methods. 

For pizza dough, you rise the dough at a warm temperature and proof the dough at a cold temperature.  Therefore; Yes, you need to rise the dough twice.

What is the purpose of rising the dough twice?

Each of these rising stages has different purposes.  

– The first rise will develop the gluten network, which will give the pizza dough structure.

– The second rise will develop flavor and define the texture

It might seem like a lot of work, but in reality, it is straightforward, the critical element for success is time.  Your success will be determined by how long you let the cold fermentation process take place.

How to know if the gluten is fully developed

When you are mixing the dough, you have to be careful not to over mix the dough as it will make it tough and rubbery, thus very difficult to handle. 

So, to know if the gluten has already developed in your dough, you need to perform a windowpane test.

Pro Tip


It is best practice to check the temperature before setting the dough to rise.

– If it’s too hot, the dough will rise too fast, and you run the risk of over-proofing.

– If it’s too cold, it will take longer to rise.

Pizza Dough Rising

The dough’s first rise, also known as bulk fermentation, first fermentation, or the first rise, is the dough’s first resting period after the yeast has been added. 

dough set to rise image

Pizza Dough Bulk Fermentation

Dough rising or bulk fermentation is typically the first step of the fermentation process.

After the dough is mixed with yeast, it’s allowed to rise before the shaping of the dough balls occurs. This process causes the dough to stretch and relax as the strength of the gluten develops.  

If you want your pizza to look and taste good, this is a crucial first step. It’s called bulk proofing or bulk fermentation because the entire batch of dough is fermented before it’s divided and shaped into doughballs that will be later shaped as pizzas.

The bulk fermentation is complete when the dough has doubled in size or when it’s substantially larger. 

 

Pizza Dough Bulk Fermentation

How can you tell if the pizza dough has risen enough?

You can visually attempt to figure out if your dough has risen enough by just looking at it.  With experience, you will get there, but if you are just starting, here are some things you can do to know when your dough is ready.

Fermenting dough image

Perform a Time Test

The first test is time; the first rise is typically from 1 to 1 ½ hrs., so keep track of your time.

However, if you set the dough to rest in a cold place, it will take a little longer.  

Palpable Test

To make sure your dough has risen enough, use your finger to make a small dent in the dough.

Do not attempt to deflate the whole mass, gently push down with your finger. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready.   

How to check if your pizza dough is has completed the first fermentation period or first rise.

Sometimes it is difficult to determine if your dough has doubled in size by just looking at it and without having any guidelines. 

So, to know if your dough has completed the first fermentation period or first rise, you can physically check the dough by sightly denting it with your finger. 

Don’t poke the dough or make a hole, just lightly tap it with your finger.

Raw dough and ingredients on kitchen table

Test the fermentation of your dough, and check the results of your test:

Required Tools:

-Your hands

What you need?

– Dough after the first fermentation period

Unfermented doughball

Result 1: Dent Springs Back

If the dent springs back to its initial form, the dough is not ready.

dough ready for shaping image

Result 2 : Retained indention

Slightly dent the dough with your finger if it retains the indentation the dough is ready!

collapsed dough image

Result 3 : Collapsed Dough

If after making the indention the dough collapses, it has fermented too long. Don’t worry!

Just knead for 1 minute and form it into a ball and set it to ferment again for the correct time.

Pizza Dough Rising – Best Practices

What is the best type of bowl to rise pizza dough?

When it comes to dough rising, size matters. You need a bowl that is big enough to hold at least double the size of your dough.

If you place the dough in a small bowl, the dough will overflow, and you might end up losing some of the dough. So, bigger is better; your dough will need space and confined air to rise appropriately.

For a better rise, it is best to place the pizza dough to rise in a metal or glass bowl as these types of bowls retain heat better than plastic bowls. If you don’t have a metal or glass bowl, the plastic bowl will do fine, just leave it to rest a couple more minutes.

It is also best practice before adding the dough to the bowl to spray your bowl with non-stick cooking spray for easy cleanup. 

What is the best temperature to rise pizza dough?

During this stage of fermenting the dough should be kept at a temperature of 70°F to 80°F (21°C to 27°C), covered with a lid or plastic wrap and away from air drafts. 

Where is the best place to let pizza dough rise?

The best place to let dough rise is in a warm place. On a sunny day, your kitchen counter will probably do fine. But if your kitchen is cold, your oven is a great place.

Check your oven; sometimes, people don’t realize the oven has a “Proofing” setting or button. This setting heats the oven to 80°F, which is perfect for the dough to rise.

If your oven does not have this setting, then preheat the oven to 200 degrees for 1-2 minutes, then turn it off and let the dough rise in the oven while it is turned off.

Another alternative is to turn on just the oven light and not the oven. The heat from the light bulb will help the oven reach an adequate proofing temperature.  

Can you let pizza dough rise in the sun?

Depending on where you live, you can place your bowl next to a window where it’s hit by the sun or place the container outside with indirect sunlight.

If you live in a place where the overall temperature is about 80°F, that is fine. But if you live in a hot area where the overall temperature is over 85°F, then it will be too hot.

The same applies if you live in a cold place; it will take longer to rise. Just make sure the dough is covered; if not, your dough is set to get a suntan causing a thick crust to develop on the outside, which will make your dough unusable. 

What happens if you don’t let the pizza dough rise?

If you don’t allow the pizza dough to rise and try to bake it immediately after mixing it, your pizza will have a flat doughy crust that will not have any flavor.  

The baking process will kill the yeast in the dough before the yeast can develop structure and flavor. 

In pizza baking, time will be your best friend, so give the dough time to turn into your best creation.

Pizza Dough Rising – Troubleshooting

Why your pizza dough isn’t rising?

There might be several reasons why your dough is not rising:

  • Make sure you added yeast to the dough. It happens, sometimes you forget.
  • The yeast might be dead. If you didn’t activate the yeast before mixing, there is a good chance the yeast is dead. Make sure the yeast is not expired; if so, you will need to start a new batch with fresh yeast. (Fresh as in not expired, not baker’s fresh yeast).
  • Check the temperature; if it’s too cold, it might take longer for the dough to rise.
  • Check your time. The rising period should be from 1 to 1 ½ hrs. If the dough has been resting for less than that, give it a little more time.

Degas Pizza Dough

Why do you punch dough down?

Degassing or punching down the dough with your fist removes some of the gas bubbles formed by the yeast during the rising process.

Degassing Pizza Dough

The purpose of degassing the pizza dough is to:

  • Relax the gluten.
  • Make the dough easier to shape.
  • Redistribute the yeast cells, sugar, and moisture so they can ferment and rise the dough again during the proofing stage.
  • Produce a finer grain.

How many times do you punch down pizza dough?

After your dough doubles in size, with your fist gently punch it down so that the gasses are released from the dough.

Usually, 1 to 2 gentle punches are enough to degas the dough. 

Do you knead pizza dough after it rises?

After the dough has risen, and you have degassed it, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it by hand about 1-2 times.

If your dough has a perfect consistency, you don’t even need to flour the surface.

Don’t overwork the dough; you are just going to reshape it into a big ball of dough that you can start dividing into smaller dough balls.

Shape into Doughballs

After your dough has risen, the next step will be to turn that big ball of dough into smaller dough balls. The benefit of dividing the dough is that it makes it easier to portion each doughball that will later be shaped into a pizza.

yeast dough on wooden board

Weigh the Doughballs

When shaping dough balls is better if you weigh them so they are all the same size.

Dough Proofing

Proofing or “Cold Fermentation” most commonly refers to the final rise a pizza dough undergoes, which takes place after the dough balls are shaped but before the pizza is shaped. 

During the proofing stage, the yeast produces gas, which imparts a level of aeration to the dough just before the baking stage.

Refrigerate Dough Balls

Dough Proofing

The best place to proof your dough is in your kitchen refrigerator at 38°F from 8 to 72 hrs.

Pizza Dough Fermentation Process

The pizza dough fermentation processes and chemical reactions during both the first rise (Bulk Fermentation) and the final rise (Proofing) are the same. 

These pizza dough fermentation processes are done primarily to:

  • Allow the dough to achieve a more exceptional flavor.
  • Develop gluten strains to trap in carbon dioxide, leaving a light and airy final product.

In pizza making, we proof the dough by retarding or slowing down this last pizza dough fermentation process. 

Pizza Dough Retarding

What is retarding pizza dough?

Retarding dough or “cold fermentation” reduces the dough’s temperature to delay or prolong the pizza dough fermentation process rate.

The temperature has a direct effect on yeast as heat accelerates the rate of fermentation. If the dough is placed in a warm place, the dough will rise faster. 

What is the best temperature to cold ferment dough?

Temperatures from 33°F to 40°F (1°C to 4°C) are ideal for slowing down the fermentation process rate of the yeast for a slow and prolonged pizza dough fermentation process.  

retarding dough image

Retarding Dough

By retarding the dough, your dough will have more complex flavors, and it allows you to make the dough ahead of time.

You can ferment the dough, save it, and use it at a later date.

Cold Fermentation Best Practices

  • It is best practice to shape the dough into smaller dough balls before placing them in the refrigerator so they will be ready for future use and are already portioned.
  • After the dough is fermented, before you shape it into a pizza crust, take them out of the refrigerator for at least 1 hr. This resting period will make the dough easier to shape. 

Why do we need to proof pizza dough?

Proofing is a crucial step in the pizza-making process. The fundamental benefit of proofing your dough is flavor.

The pizza dough fermentation process during proofing will give your crust an incredible taste. 

You want your crust to taste good, but you also want to look good. Proofing allows the dough to develop its gluten strains giving the crust structure so your pizza can stay level when you grab a slice, and it doesn’t bow down to you. 

When you check the crust, it should have a visible hole structure that will make your crust lighter and tender. 

How to proof pizza dough?

So to get started:

  1. Place the dough balls in a dough proofer or any container to proof and cover with a lid or cling film.
  2. Leave the dough to proof in the refrigerator for 8 to 72 hrs.
  3. When you are ready to shape your pizzas, take the dough out and let it sit for 1 hour before starting to shape it.

To proof the dough at home, you need a container that is big enough to hold all the doughballs and that they don’t touch each other.

If you place the dough balls in a small container, the doughballs in grow and stick to each other. So, bigger is better; your dough will need space and confined air to rise appropriately.

For a better rise, it is best to place the pizza dough to rise in a proof box as these types of containers are air-tight and specially made for this purpose.  However, if you don’t have or want to get a proof box any container that has a tight seal will do. 

Is best if the container has a lid instead of just cling film.  The humidity of the refrigerator may unseal the container allowing air to come in and the doughball will dry up, they will develop a crust and adhere to any smells that may be in the refrigerator.

It is also best practice before adding the doughballs to the container to spray your bowl with non-stick cooking spray for easy cleanup. 

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Required Tools:

Proofing Box or

– A bowl or any container big enough to hold the dough balls

What you need:

– Pizza Doughballs

Pizza dough balls

Step 1 : Dust or Spray Doughballs

Take each dough ball and lightly dust it with flour or spray it with non-stick vegetable oil spray.

You can save any extra dough balls that you are not going to use in the freezer by placing them in a freezer bag or freezer container. They should be good for up to 3 months.

Refrigerate Dough Balls

Step 2 : Set Dough-balls in Container

Set all dough balls in a covered container. Make sure they don’t touch each other or they will stick during proofing.


Refrigerate dough balls from 8 to 72 hrs.

pizza doughball image

Step 3 : Rest the dough balls

After the dough is fermented, before you shape it into a pizza crust, take them out of the refrigerator for at least 1 hr.

This resting period will make the dough easier to shape.

Pizza Dough Proofing – Best Practices

What is the best type of container to proof pizza dough?

To proof the dough at home, you need a container that is big enough to hold all the doughballs and that they don’t touch each other.

If you place the dough balls in a small container, the doughballs in grow and stick to each other. So, bigger is better; your dough will need space and confined air to rise appropriately.

For a better rise, it is best to place the pizza dough to rise in a proof box as these types of containers are air-tight and specially made for this purpose.  However, if you don’t have or want to get a proof box, any container that has a tight seal will do. 

It is best if the container has a lid instead of a cling film.  The humidity of the refrigerator may unseal the container allowing air to come in, and the dough ball will dry up; they will develop a crust and adhere to any smells that may be in the refrigerator.

It is also best practice before adding the doughballs to the container to spray your bowl with non-stick cooking spray for easy cleanup. 

What is the best temperature to rise pizza dough?

During this stage of fermenting the dough should be covered with a lid or plastic wrap and away from air drafts and kept at a temperature from 33°F to 40°F (1°C to 4°C).

Where is the best place to let pizza dough proof?

The best place to let dough proof is in a cold place. The most accessible place would be your refrigerator. 

The typical temperature of your fridge is 38°F, which is perfect for this kind of proofing.
If you leave it in a cold place, you can also let it sit outside.

However, it would be best if you made sure the container is completely sealed no matter where you proof your dough.

How long do you proof pizza dough?

The least recommended amount of time pizza dough should proof in the refrigerator is 6 to 8 hrs.

So, if you wake up early, you probably can have pizza that same day. 

A couple of days, proofing in the refrigerator is excellent, from 24 to 72 hrs., this will enhance the crust’s taste.

However, any more than three days, the yeast will start to eat up all the sugar in the dough and convert it into alcohol. The excess alcohol production will adversely affect crust flavor.

The best place to let dough proof is in a cold place.

The most accessible place would be your refrigerator.  The typical temperature of your fridge is 38°F, which is perfect for this kind of proofing.

What happens if you don’t proof pizza dough?

Not proofing the dough will result in a flat crust with little to no structure.

Depending on what kind of pizza you want to make, it could be that that kind of pizza is what you want.  

For example, let’s say that you want to make a cracker-style pizza base that will look more like a flatbread. In this instance, you avoid the proofing process. It will probably still be a delicious pizza, but it will be quite different from the traditional pizza. 

If your goal is a flat cracked-style pizza, make sure to roll your dough with a rolling pin and make it as flat as possible because if you leave a thick dough to make the crust, it will end up dense and chewy.

Pizza Dough Proofing – Troubleshooting

Can pizza dough rise three times?

Most pizza dough recipes call for letting the pizza dough rise twice. Here is how it works, if you prefer a dough that will have larger bubbles after it is baked, let it rise just once.

But, if this is your desired effect,  the rising period should be longer to somewhat more than double in bulk. 

On the other hand, if you want a fine-textured pizza crust, let it rise three times.

Pizza Dough Over-Proofing

Over-proofing occurs when the dough has been proofed for an excessive period. You can perform a visual check of your dough by inspecting if the dough’s air pockets have burst. 

Or, you can perform a palpable test by gently tapping your dough with your finger, if it springs back it’s perfect, if it doesn’t spring back it’s over-proofed.

How do you fix over-proofed pizza dough?

Using your fist or your fingertips, gently punch down the over-proofed dough. 

Gently punch it down, knead 1 to 2 times, reshape it, and let it proof again for 1 to 1 1/2hrs. Your pizza crust will probably be a little less airy, but it will still be acceptable in both texture and flavor.  

How to proof pizza dough faster

Speeding up the pizza dough fermentation process is not always recommended, as it could have an adverse result in your final pizza crust. However, sometimes due to unexpected circumstances, you might need to boost things a little bit. 

Here are some alternatives you can do to accelerate the proofing process.  

You can control the following factors to reduce the pizza dough fermentation rate and proof your dough faster:

Yeast

  • Use instant yeast instead of active dry.
  • Add more yeast to your flour.
  • Add sugar or honey to the yeast mixture.

Temperature

  • Set the dough in a warmer place in your kitchen.

Humidity

  • Moisture will accelerate the proofing process.

Dough Handling

  • Lightly coat your dough with vegetable oil
  • Tightly cover the bowl or container with a lid or cling film.

Pizza Dough Fermentation Best Practices

For the best homemade pizza results, try to implement these best-practice guidelines. 

  • Mix your dough properly – Try not to have any lumps.
  • Rise the dough in the correct bowl or container. Containers should be the right size and material, metal, or glass for the best results.
  • Spray your bowl with non-stick cooking spray before adding the dough to the bowl to for easy cleanup.
  • Shape the dough into smaller dough balls before placing them in the refrigerator.
  • Rise and Proof the dough at the correct temperature. The first rise is 80°F and 38°F for the final rise in the refrigerator.
  • Rise and Proof the dough for the recommended period of time. The first rise is 1 to 1 ½ hrs. and 8 to 72 hrs. for the final rise.

We certainly hope that this guide helps you learn the difference between dough rising and pizza dough proofing and the steps they fall into the whole pizza-making process. 

If you have any questions, please contact us, and we will be glad to help.

Enjoy!

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