After the Mix
Dough making is an art unto itself and every pizza maker does it slightly differently. When to add certain ingredients, how long to mix and overall hydration has drastic effects on the final product. But what happens after the batch of dough is done mixing is just as important.
The mixing process itself is important because it helps distribute the water and other ingredients evenly throughout the flour so that gluten can form and fermentation can begin. Gluten development is a characteristic we are all looking for before we pull our finished dough out of the mixer. The windowpane test is a tool a lot of bakers use to test for gluten development but is a technique that pizza makers are also beginning to employ. When you think your dough is finished mixing, take a small piece out of the mixer, and begin to lightly stretch it between your hands. If you can stretch your dough enough to where you can see through it or even read through it without the dough breaking, then you know your dough has developed enough gluten. If your dough tears easily or is unable to stretch, then it has not developed enough gluten and could use a little bit more time mixing.
When I am mixing a batch of dough, I am always thinking about what is going to come afterwards. What happens in the mixer and how high the percentage of hydration will normally determine if I am going to bulk ferment my dough or not. Bulk fermentation is when after you pull your dough out of the mixer, instead of cutting and balling your dough, you divide the mass into smaller pieces and place those portions into containers in bulk form and let them ferment inside or outside of the refrigerator as is.
If my dough is high in hydration and I am using a planetary mixer, it can be hard for the dough to reach full gluten development purely because of the style of mixer and the way it is constructed. This is not necessarily a flaw by any means. Planetary mixers are great work horses and for some operations the best choice because it can accommodate attachments for cutting and shredding. Knowing that this mixer is not as well suited for high hydrated doughs, bulk fermentation as well as incorporating a few folds before refrigerating the dough will ensure that the dough absorbs all the water and develops to full gluten development. A good rule of thumb when using bulk fermentation is the shorter the mix time the longer the bulk fermentation and vice versa.
Autolyse is another technique used by bakers and pizza makers to make sure flour is well
hydrated and to ensure full gluten development. Autolyse is a rest period during the mixing process. After mixing flour and water together till it forms a shaggy mass, a rest time is performed. After the pause the remaining ingredients are added and the mixing is finished. The length of the pause as well as if yeast and salt are added before the rest period varies from baker to baker. Depending on the operation, the autolyse method may not be smart. Although it may shorten the active mix time, the total mix time is lengthened because of the rest period. For operations with one mixer or making multiple batches of dough, monopolizing the time spent making one batch is extremely important especially when everyone is concerned with payroll in addition to the quality of the product.
I have worked at many operations where a rest period and bulk fermentation is just not feasible. For large operations with small prep areas cutting and balling after mixing is the best choice just to keep things moving. The one thing that is always employed is a rest period after mixing and before balling. This rest period allows the enzyme activity within the dough that helps build gluten to continue before shaping. This rest period varies and is normally not any longer than 20 minutes at most.
When a routine is put in place, the first batch is mixed and then pulled out to rest. While resting, the next batch is mixed and so on and so forth. If one person is balling dough, this rest period may be very short as the first ball of dough will receive the shortest rest period and the last dough ball will receive the longest. How much yeast in your batch as well as how warm your area is will influence how fast your dough will begin to rise. This is something to keep in mind as you do not want to risk over proofing your dough before it even makes it into the refrigerator.
Bread bakers aim to mix a batch of dough, shape, bake and sell their product within a matter of hours. Most bread flours contain a far lower percentage of protein as compared to that of pizza flours.
Because of this, pizza dough can instead take days to ferment before baking. Low protein pizza flours can be ready within 24 hours, and if utilizing the right methods and temperatures, can be pushed even as quickly as 18 to 20 hours. Neapolitan flours contain around 12-percent protein and are considered low on the pizza spectrum. High protein flours can contain 14 to 15 percent and even as much as 16 percent and are normally used for New York style and pan pizzas. For higher protein flours they can ferment for as long as five days or more if held at the right temperature in a refrigerator. Slowing down the fermentation process can increase flavor as well as ensure a good crumb structure.
Mixing a batch of dough properly is important when it comes to making great pizza but how you handle your dough after the mix is just as important. Utilizing different techniques like bulk fermentation,
autolyse and rest periods will ensure a properly mixed dough will become a great tasting pizza that stretches well and bakes beautifully.
Laura Meyer is Chef at Capo’s and Administrator and Teaching Assistant at the International School of Pizza in San Francisco