Question: We are just a small tavern pizzeria and we would like to make our dough once a week and freeze it rather than making it fresh during the week. Is this possible?
Answer: Yes, it is possible, and it makes a lot of sense to do so, too. Freezing dough, or dough balls in this case, is really quite easy when the frozen shelf life expectations are something less than 15 days. In this case, I’m assuming we’re looking at a frozen shelf life of a week so we are well within the limitations of our frozen dough shelf life. When making dough for freezing there are a few things that we recommend to improve the overall quality of the dough as well as the performance of the dough after slacking it out (thawing). Use your regular dough formula with these changes incorporated into your dough management procedure:
- Dough absorption. Frozen doughs perform best when the dough absorption is within the range of 58 to 65 percent. Frozen doughs tend to become slacker (softer) due to the release of glutathione, a reducing agent/amino acid contained within the yeast cells as a result of cell damage due to the freezing process. If dough absorption percent is too high this can lead to dough balls that are overly soft and difficult to work with. If you should find that the dough balls are softer than desired after thawing adjust the dough absorption to correct the condition.
- Dough mixing. Mix the dough until it takes on a smooth satiny appearance and then mix it three additional minutes. This additional gluten development will improve the handling properties of the dough as you are opening the dough balls into skins.
- Finished dough temperature. For most consistent results and dough performance it is suggested that the finished dough temperature be targeted between 65 F and 70 F with 75 F as the upper limit. The idea is to limit fermentation and get the dough frozen or at least to an internal temperature below 45 F as quickly as possible.
- Scaling and balling. Get the dough balls into the freezer as quickly as possible. Immediately after mixing, take the dough to the bench for scaling and balling. The entire dough should be subdivided into dough balls and into the freezer within
20 minutes of mixing.
- Efficient freezing. Lightly oil the dough balls and place onto sheet pans for freezing, allow the dough balls to remain undisturbed in the freezer for three hours, then place into individual plastic bags (bread bags) and close by simply twisting the open end into a pony tail and tucking it under the dough ball as you place it into a box or storage carton. Ideally, this should be done in the freezer but if room will not allow for this make sure the dough balls are bagged and placed back into the freezer as quickly as possible to prevent any possibility of thaw or condensation forming on the dough balls. Leave the storage container open for the first 24 hours in the freezer, then close or cover the container. Mark the date of manufacture on the storage box and you’re good to go.
When using your frozen dough balls, leave the container in the freezer and remove the number of dough balls you plan to use and bring them out to room temperature. Place onto sheet pans with about a two-inch separation between the dough balls, place into the cooler for slacking-out (thawing) 12 to 24 hours prior to use. It’s best to bring the dough balls out of the cooler and allow them to warm up to 50 to 60 F prior to opening them into skins for making your pizzas. But in a pinch, they can be used directly from the cooler. Keep an eye on them during baking, as there will likely be some bubbling that will need to be addressed with a bubble popper.
My preferred way to use the frozen dough balls is a little different. I like to remove the dough balls from the cooler after the slacking-out period and allow them to remain at room temperature for 60 minutes and then place them back into the cooler for use later in the day or on the following day. This procedure allows for some fermentation to take place which improves the overall quality of the pizza made from the frozen dough balls. Any dough balls not used during the planned day should be able to be held over for use on the following day. Do not attempt to re-freeze the dough balls as this will just result in more yeast damage and a dough which will be more difficult to open after slacking-out for the second time.
Since freezer space is at somewhat of a premium in many smaller pizza establishments a small chest or reach-in type freezer can be purchased for freezing and storing the dough. Keep in mind that we are using a process referred to as “static” freezing of the dough, meaning that we are employing temperatures in the 0 to 10 F range with little or no air circulation. Our maximum suggested shelf life of the frozen dough is going to be something on the order of 12 to 15 days during which we will have a reasonably high expectation of dough success. After that time dough performance can become “iffy” at best and since failure is not an option in a commercial application it’s best to hedge our bets and stay within a 10-day frozen shelf life period. Do not confuse this frozen dough with the commercial frozen dough that you can buy from your distributor. It is a totally different animal from the stand point of formulation, processing, freezing and shelf life expectations.
Most frozen dough manufacturers will recommend that the frozen dough be slacked-out in the cooler overnight in preparation for use but just like our own frozen dough, it too can be improved upon by removing the slacked-out dough from the cooler and allowing it to warm for an hour at room temperature and placing it back into the cooler for later use.
Frozen dough can be a viable option for those who want to use it. It can be a convenience and it can provide consistency to the finished product. It does have a cost associated with it if you purchase commercially made frozen dough, but then what convenience doesn’t come with a cost?
Tom Lehmann is a former director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas and Pizza Today’s resident dough expert.