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Cold ferment pizza dough

cold ferment dough

What is cold fermentation Pizza dough ?

The act of producing a great pizza involves many stages and techniques. One of the most important stages is fermentation. Fermentation is one of the core factors of the success of pizza dough.
Fermentation is the process when the yeast in your pizza dough recipe, reacts with the sugars, flours and water when they are combined to create your pizza dough.

So how does fermentation actually work?

The first stage of pizza dough making involves the mixing of ingredients. Commonly pizza dough recipes contain salt, flour, water and yeast.

Once combined, wheat flour and water create a chemical reaction. This chemical reaction causes the protein in the flour to begin to interconnect creating a elastic network called gluten.

When you start mixing and kneading a dough, the action helps the gluten structure stretch itself into a elastic network of gluten bonds.

As soon as yeast comes into contact with flour and water, the fermentation process starts to begin Fermentation is an anaerobic biological process where the yeast used in a pizza dough reacts to the sugar and starches present in the recipe.

Yeast starts to consume the sugars, starches and carbohydrates in the dough and converts it to carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

As the yeast begins to ferment and release bubbles of carbon dioxide gases into the dough, the gas bubbles become trapped by the gluten bonds, causing the pizza dough to rise and the gluten bonds to stretch. The longer you allow your dough to proof or rise, the better your pizza doughs gluten structure.

To create a nice crispy thin pizza base, the development of the doughs gluten, is one of the most important factors. A pizza dough that contains a great gluten structure, is stronger, more pliable and stretchy, allowing the dough to be stretched thin. Perfect for thin and crispy pizza bases. 

There are a number of factors which influence the fermentation of yeast in your pizza dough.

These include:

  • Temperature
  • Time
  • Sugar
  • Strength of Flour
  • Amount of yeast

Temperature of an environment, greatly influences the fermentation of a pizza dough. The warmer the environment, the faster the yeast will ferment and rapidly produce more carbon dioxide. This may seem like a good idea, and if you’re in a hurry, a couple of hours of fast fermentation can result in a pizza dough ready to use in a couple of hours, that means eating Pizza faster. However doughs which are fermented fast at high temperature have undesirable yeasty flavors when cooked, can be biscuity in texture and dense in structure.

Length of time is one of the most important factors in the fermentation process of pizza dough.  Generally pizza dough is given 8 – 24hrs at room temperature, and many pizzaiolo’s will argue that the longer the fermentation the better the pizza dough. Longer fermentation time allows the enzymes present in flour to cleave proteins and link to create gluten, and hence create a stronger gluten structure.

To create fermentation, yeast needs sugar to react and produce the carbon dioxide gases that causes your pizza dough to rise. When your pizza dough doesn’t contain enough sugar, it will rise very slowly or not rise at all. Since there are not enough natural sugars found in flour, we add sugar to the recipe. Addition of sugar dramatically increases the chemical reaction of fermentation. However adding to much sugar can slow down or even inhibit your yeast from fermenting. So getting your sugar levels right in your recipe is crucial for good fermentation.

A flours strength, is its ability of the flour proteins to strengthen the dough, develop, and form stronger gluten walls.  Stronger gluten walls enable the dough to retain the carbon dioxide bubbles during the fermentation of the yeast.  Millers of flour class the wheat they grind to create flour, as either “hard” wheat or “soft” wheat. This is measured by the amount of protein in the grain. Wheats which are hard, are high in protein, whilst softer wheats are lower in protein.  Hard wheats when processed, create strong flour, and softer wheats create weak flour.

The amount of yeast that you use in your pizza dough, will effect how quickly it will rise. When you reduce the yeast in your pizza dough, it will take longer for it to rise, a dough which takes more time to rise, is stronger, and able to be stretched thin.  However adding more yeast to your dough, will make it rise faster, however the yeast produces carbon dioxide, alcohol and organic acids quicker. To much alcohol in your dough, will weaken the gluten structure of your dough, makes the dough more porous, and can even inhibit your dough from rising. 

pizza dough.

So now we have explained the process and fundamentals of fermentation, you can now create great tasting pizza, but wait, there is another way to ferment your dough, this method is cold fermentation.

Cold fermentation is called by many pizzaiolo’s as the pizza of the future. It turns away from many of the traditional methods used for centuries in pizza making and adopts a more modern approach to making a pizza dough.

Simply, cold fermentation is the process of placing your pizza dough in a cold environment after it has been mixed. By placing your dough in a cold environment the rising action of the yeast is retarded “slowed down” , the yeast behaves differently, and produces carbon dioxide more slowly. All these actions combine to create a pizza dough that has more complex flavors, has a improved gluten structure and enhanced final texture.

As with standard fermentation, cold fermentation also has a number of crucial factors to ensure a fantastic pizza base.

These factors include:

  • Temperature
  • Time
  • Strength of Flour
  • Amount of yeast

The optimal temperature for cold fermented pizza dough is around 59-64°F, or 15-18°C. If the environment is to cold, you can slow down the yeast reaction to much. This can result in a very flat pizza dough, or a dough which has not risen at all.

The ideal time for allowing your cold fermented the pizza dough to rise is between 24 -72 hours. (Some pizzaiolos will leave it even up to 5 days – But these doughs become tricky to work with and takes a lot of practice to develop the skills to work with these doughs.).

It is suggested that for your pizza dough to develop a more complex flavor and stronger structure, at least 24 hours should be allowed for cold fermentation pizza dough. However leaving it longer to cold ferment wont improve the dough. Doughs left to ferment six plus days become sour, and the levels of alcohol content and acidity in the dough rise to levels that will cause the fermentation process to cease. When cooked, cold fermented pizza doughs left to ferment to long create a pizza base which will barely rise and is dense.

You need to use strong flour for cold fermentation pizza dough. The strength of the flour used in your recipe determines the protein’s ability to strengthen the dough, develop, and form stronger gluten walls. These stronger gluten walls will contain the carbon dioxide gases produced by the fermentation of the yeast in the pizza dough for longer fermentation. Flour strength is measured in “W” factors, this factor ranges from 100W-350W. Flours with a “W” factor of 260 -340 are perfect for a medium to long fermentation process. These factors are usually printed on the flour packet, however if your flour packet does not have this information, you can also go by the protein content of the flour. Flour with a protein content of between 12.5-15% is ideal for long cold pizza dough fermentation of up to 3-5 days.  Italian fined milled flours (00) are perfect for long fermentation. These flours are high in protein and are milled very fine, which is perfect for hydration of the dough.

Flours with a low protein level are classed as weak. If you use weak flour for a long fermentation the lower levels of protein creates a weaker gluten structure. When the yeast ferments, the weaker gluten structure is not able to contain the carbon dioxide bubbles released during fermentation, causing the dough to collapse. This will cause a flat dense pizza base when it is cooked.

As with any fermentation process, cold fermented pizza dough needs yeast to proof the dough. However as we are trying to slow the proofing process, you do not need to use as much yeast. You can either use fresh or dried yeast when measuring your yeast remember this simple guide.

pizza ingredients

10g of fresh yeast is roughly equivalent to 5g of dry yeast, and 3g of dry active yeast.

Cold Fermented Pizza Dough Recipe

WeightBaker’s Percentage
Bread 250g 100%
Instant Yeast 1g 0.4%
Water 162.5ml 65%
Salt 6g 2.4%

To make the dough, add the flour to a large mixing bowl and make a crater in the center.

Dissolve the yeast in the water and pour it into the middle of the crater. Using your hands begin to mix and combine the flour into the water.

When it reaches the consistency of thick glue, add the salt, continue mixing the flour, scaping the sides and bottom of the bowl for any loose flour until it comes together as a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured kitchen bench. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough into a ball shape, make sure you tuck the dough underneath itself. Allow the dough to rest for 2-3 minutes. Return dough ball to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen cloth and allow the fermentation to begin. Let dough rise for 1-2 hours to start the fermentation process.

Then place the dough ball in an lightly oiled air-tight container with a well secured lid. As this dough is going to be left to proof over 1-5 days one of the most important things to remember is to create an air free environment. This will prevent the dough from developing a hard outer surface whilst proofing.  

Place the dough in your refrigerator for 1-5 days.

Allow the dough to ferment slowly, do not remove the lid at any point during the fermentation.

Leaving your dough to ferment using this cold fermentation process will radically change the flavor and texture of your pizza base. Your doughs flavor will natural  earthy flavors. The crust “cornicione” develops a much chewy yet crispier texture, and the base is airier then traditional pizza methods.

When you’re ready to cook your pizza, it is best practice to remove your cold fermented dough from the refrigerator a couple of hours before using. Remove your dough from the refrigerator and place it at room temperature onto a lightly floured bench top, and shape into balls.

Cover the dough balls with a lightly wettened kitchen cloth and allow the dough to rest for at least 2-3 hours before using at room temperature (This will allow the dough to warm and make it easier to stretch). Once your dough does not feel cold to touch, and has spread into a circle rather then the ball shape, your ready to go. But don’t let your dough sit around too long before you use it, this will over proof your dough, and cause it to become flat, dense and will become difficult to work with.

pizza dough

Now you’re ready to stretch and form your pizza base.

Cold fermented pizza dough has divided the pizza makers of the world. More traditional pizzaiolo’s will argue that the flavor and texture is not what a traditional pizza should taste like. The flavors generated are much different from traditional methods, and the pizza base is too airy. However modernist and imaginative pizzaiolos will argue that they are enhancing the classic style and creating a pizza base which is more suited for the modern more sophisticated tastes of their customers.

Many lovers of pizza will agree that cold fermented pizza dough taste much different from regular fermented pizza bases. However if you are a lover of food and wish to try a new way of cooking, my suggestion is this, give it a go. Experiment with this technique, you will find that flavor which suits your tastes.