Pizza Dough Proofing: The Best Practical Guide

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Pizza Dough Proofing

Have you ever heard the phrase the proof is in the pudding?

In this guide, you will learn that the proof is really in the crust.

This guide goes over every aspect of pizza dough proofing and why this step in the pizza-making process makes the difference between regular, plain pizza, and the best pizza!

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This guide focuses on Step 4 of the pizza dough fermentation process discussed in our Ultimate Guide to Pizza Dough Fermentation.

Also, in this cornerstone guide, we developed these sub-guides for each of the methods, so you have a better understanding of the whole fermentation process.

Don’t forget to check all the other components of this series.

Let’s start things off with a quick review of the basics.

Is it “proof” or “prove”?

The words “proof” and “prove” both originate from the Latin word “probo” or “probare”, which as a verb means to test or examine.

Despite the common origin of these two words, they have different meanings and uses in modern English.

proof

– can be a noun, an adjective, and a form of a verb.

prove

– is a verb that means to verify.

The word “proof” is typically used as a noun meaning “evidence”, but when used as a verb means to “verify.” Accordingly, both “proof” and “prove” have the same meaning when used as a verb, to verify.

Therefore, you can use either “proof” or “prove” as they are both acceptable.

The use of the word “proof” or “proofing” is more commonly used when it relates to baking, meaning the process of verifying if the fermentation process has occurred.

For purposes of this article, we are going to spell the word “Proofing” as is commonly known and focus on this fermentation step process.

Enough with the English class. 

Let’s learn about pizza dough proofing!

What is Pizza Dough Proofing?

Pizza dough proofing most commonly refers to the final stage of the dough fermentation process.

In this stage, the pizza dough is set to rise for a second time after the dough balls are shaped but before the pizza is shaped.

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

This last fermentation stage or proofing is done primarily to develop:

  • Flavor – As the yeast in the dough is allowed time to ferment, acids are formed through yeast activity and contribute to flavor development, and it will yield an end-product with more complex flavors. The flavor is undoubtedly the one factor that will make or break your pizza.
  • Volume –  Pizza doughs need to undergo a final proof after shaping to regain volume and extensibility before being baked. The yeast activates and releases carbon dioxide gas, which creates small holes in the dough and eventually causes the dough to rise and appear more substantial in volume. Adequate proof time is needed; otherwise, the dough pieces are unable to relax sufficiently, resulting in reduced volume and dense texture.
  • Texture –  The yeast consumes the starches in the dough during the pizza dough proofing process and leaves behind protein in conjunction with water and energy from kneading for the gluten network that ultimately creates the chewy texture that’s sought out in pizza.

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Why Do You Need to Proof Pizza Dough?

Proofing is a crucial step in the pizza-making process. The key benefit of proofing your dough is flavor. The fermentation process during proofing will give your crust an incredible taste.

You want your crust to taste good, but you also want it to look good.

Pizza dough 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.

Pro Tip


Use proofing containers that allow the dough space to rise. The container should be at least two or three times the size of the dough ball.

Variables You Need to Control for Optimal Pizza Dough Proofing

There are three factors or variables that you need to control to get the best result when proofing your dough. They are presented in order of importance.

Time

Pizza dough proofing time should be no less than 8 hrs., but not more than 72 hrs.

  • Over-proofing – results in a crust with a pale crust color, coarse grain, poor texture, and a flavor with acid overtones.
  • Under-proofing – yields flat crust volume, no flavor, inadequate structure, and bursting.

Temperature

  • A range of (36–38°F) is recommended for proofing pizza dough.

Humidity

A relative humidity (rh) of 85–95% is recommended. This one is a little more difficult for the average home baker. But, with a simple Temperature/Humidity gauge, you can easily find what is the humidity in your refrigerator.

  • If humidity is too high, moisture condensation could form on the dough, resulting in a tough crust and the creation of surface blisters in the finished crust.
  • If the humidity is too low, dry skin will form on the dough, restricting expansion and causing crust discoloration.

Pizza Dough Cold Fermentation

(Retarding Dough) Proofing Process

Pizza Dough Proofing (retarding dough) fermentation process Infographic
Pizza Dough Proofing

When Do You Proof Pizza Dough?

The pizza dough proofing process, also known as “retarding”, is done after folding and dividing the dough into individual dough balls but before shaping and baking.

How Does Pizza Dough Proofing Work?

During the final proofing stage, starch is converted into sugars. The sugars feed the yeast, and the yeast utilizes the carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol.

The carbon dioxide is retained in the cells formed in the protein or gluten network, causing the cells to grow and the dough to expand.

Retarding Dough or “Cold Fermentation”

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

Why Do We Retard Dough?

Retarding the dough at the correct time and temperature allows the dough to develop more complex flavors over time without the risk of over-proofing.


Also, retarding the dough allows you to make the dough ahead of time. You can ferment the dough, save it, and use it at a later date.

Why Proof Pizza Dough at Cold Temperature Instead of Room Temperature?

If you were to proof the dough at a warm temperature, like for the first rise at 80°F, the dough would double in size in about 1 – 1 /2 hours, which is not enough time for the dough to develop flavor and the structure of a good crust.

Temperatures from 33°F to 40°F are ideal for slowing down the yeast’s fermentation process rate for a slow and prolonged fermentation process.

Pizza Pun


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We said proof it!

How to Proof Pizza Dough

Commercial pizza bakers use sophisticated equipment like dough proofers to ensure consistent results and manipulate the speed and qualities of fermentation.

But for home use, there are simple things you can get or use what you already have.

The typical home refrigerator is the best place to accomplish this kind of fermentation

Shape pizza dough into small dough balls

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.

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

We are absolutely in love with this dough proofer. Why?

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What not to do When Proofing Pizza Dough

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

Place your dough balls into a proof box or a sheet pan, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator covered with a lid or plastic wrap and away from air drafts for about 8 to 72 hrs.

At the end of the pizza dough proofing period, the dough will be about twice its original size and have developed rich yeasty flavors.

An extended proofing period will result in a better flavor, crust, crumb, and overall appearance, however, it’s also essential to make sure over-proofing doesn’t occur.

If the fermented dough has rested for too long, the surplus of carbon dioxide in the dough will lead to large air bubbles that can pop and deflate the dough.

Better if you do this to Proof Pizza Dough

It is best to place the pizza dough to rise in a proof box for a better rise 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 with a tight seal will do.

doughballs in proofing box
Pizza Dough Proofing Box


Benefits of Using a Pizza Dough Box

The following are the  benefits of dough boxes:  

  • Proof boxes offer a clean and convenient place for your dough to cool, rest, and rise before baking.
  • Proof boxes help control temperature and humidity and create an ideal environment for the yeast to leaven the dough.

Why Do You Need a Lid for your Proofing Container?

You don’t necessarily need to buy a proofing box, but having a container with a lid is a must! Cling film, or a towel does not always do the best job.

A container with a sealed lid:

  • Protects the dough from contamination while it rises.
  • Helps maintain an appropriate humidity for the dough to proof.
  • Helps contain moisture, keeping the dough from crusting and prompting the yeast to grow better.
  • It is also best practice before adding the dough balls to the container to spray your bowl with non-stick cooking spray for easy cleanup.
  • Proof box substitutes

If you don’t want to invest in a dough proofer, just use a sealed container with a lid instead of just cling film.

The humidity of the refrigerator may unseal the container allowing air to come in, and the dough balls will dry up; they will develop a crust and adhere to any smells that may be in the refrigerator.

Here are some proof box substitutes you can get

Komax Biokips Extra Large Food Storage Container

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Rubbermaid Brilliance Pantry Airtight Food Storage

Stack and store pantry items while keeping them fresh with the Rubbermaid Brilliance Pantry Airtight Food Storage Containers. These BPA-free plastic containers are guaranteed not to leak and are built with an airtight leak-proof seal with secure latches. Bases and lids are crystal-clear so it’s easy to see what’s stored inside. The modular design helps save space in your pantry or kitchen cabinet. Perfect for storing pasta, cereal, sugar, dried fruit, and more.

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Over proofed dough
Proofing Pizza Dough

How long do you proof pizza dough?

The recommended amount of time pizza dough should be 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.

How to Know When Pizza Dough is Fully Fermented

testing pizza dough

So, how do you guarantee your dough gets just the right amount of proofing time?

Throughout the rising process, occasionally gently press the dough; if the dough rises back into place slowly or remains in place, the dough has been fully proofed.

However, if the indent immediately rebounds back into place, the dough still needs more time to rise.

Measurement of the height of the dough is often used to determine when the dough is sufficiently proofed. To achieve its final volume, the dough expands by a factor of three or four during proofing.

Pizza Dough Proofing Resting Period

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.

How to Proof Pizza Dough Faster

Different proofing dough stages

Speeding up the fermentation process is not always recommended, as it could have an adverse result on 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 pizza dough proofing process.

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

Yeast

  • Use instant yeast instead of active dry. Instant yeast will give you similar results in a little less time.
  • Use rapid-rise yeast. If you really need to speed things up, a rapid rise will significantly decrease your proofing time, but the results will also be affected. Thus, this is not a method we would recommend.
  • Add more yeast to your flour. You can safely add yeast to your flour up to 5% of your total flour.
  • Add sugar or honey to the yeast mixture – Sugar is a food source for the yeast, so the more sugar the yeast consumes, the more carbon dioxide it will produce. Don’t go too far with the sugar a pinch of sugar will do the job.
  • Add a bit of vinegar to your dough mixture – Vinegar creates the same reaction as sugar, it’s a food source.

Add ¼ teaspoon per cup of flour. However, this will change the flavor of your crust.  We do not recommend this method.

Here’s the Instant Yeast the PRO’s at Homemade PIzza Pro Use and Recommend

Temperature

  • Set the dough in a warmer place in your kitchen. This could be inside your turned-off oven; you can use your oven light as a heating element or next to a window.  The best temperature to proof the dough is 80F.  We keep an infrared thermometer to keep track of the temperature of the dough.

Humidity

  • Moisture will accelerate the pizza dough proofing process – you can place your dough over a pan of warm water in the oven. Note the oven must be turned off. The humidity created by the water will get things going.

Dough Handling

  • Lightly coat your dough with vegetable oil so it won’t create a crust due to heat exposure.
  • Tightly cover the bowl or container with a lid or cling film. You need to restrict the amount of air surrounding your dough.

What Happens If You Don’t Proof Pizza Dough?

Not proofing pizza dough will result in a flat crust with little to no structure and no flavor.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be that this wants you to want to achieve, depending on what kind of pizza you want to make, this could be your desired effect.

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.

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Pizza Dough Proofing Best Practices

  • 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 container for easy cleanup.
  • Shape the dough into smaller dough balls before placing them in the refrigerator.
  • Proof the dough at the correct temperature of 36 to 38°F for the final rise in the refrigerator.
  • Proof the dough for the recommended period of time from 8 to 72 hrs. for the final rise.
  • Check the humidity of your refrigerator; the best is 85–95% (rh).

The Last Slice

We certainly hope that this guide will help you learn more about dough proofing and the steps that fall into the whole pizza-making process.

Now, we want you to do something. When making your pizza, check your crust and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it have a nice flavor?
  • Does it have a well-balanced structure?
  • What about the texture? is it soft and chewy?

If your answer is YES! to the above questions, and we have not to doubt that it will; look no more, that is your proof that you are the best pizza baker!

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

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