You may be asking yourself what in the world is long fermentation pizza dough? Well, let’s go through why you may want a long fermentation period with your dough, and explore how you can do it at home.
You may notice on a pizzeria’s menu, something about their dough is 48 hours or 72 hours fermented, etc? It could be 48 hour proof which is one I saw recently. It doesn’t mean they’re slow at making pizza dough, quite the contrary, they are being purposefully slow and for good reason.
What is long fermentation pizza dough?
Long fermentation pizza dough is basically pizza dough that has spent a long time fermenting away, before being used. There’s no specific time limit, however anything over 24 hours in my mind is long fermentation. Other bakers may differ in their opinions.
So what is fermentation and why does it matter?
We all understand that dough rises, thanks to the presence of yeast. There is introduced yeast like most recipes, or natural yeast, like in sourdough. Along with flour and water, yeast is an important element in dough. The yeast feeds on sugars that are naturally occurring in flour and that creates carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide creates little air pockets, which is what makes dough light and fluffy.
Benefits of long fermentation pizza dough
If you get a great batch of long fermentation pizza dough, you can taste the benefits immediately.
A long fermented pizza dough usually has an improved texture. This longer fermentation period allows enzymes within the flour to bind properly with the gluten (a process called autolysis) and create a richer structure in the pizza dough.
We end up with a particularly flavorful dough that creates a light, airy and chewy crust.
So the longer the fermentation, the better?
This isn’t necessarily correct. Whilst it’s great to have a longer fermentation, you can go for too long and destroy your dough. Most people seem to report that there’s a 3-5 day maximum. After that, your dough starts failing.
I tend to ferment mine using cold fermentation (putting it in the fridge for majority of the time) for 2-4 days. I don’t believe I’ve kept it longer than four days, but that’s probably also due to my poor planning ahead than willing tto risk a batch for experimentation.
Your refrigerator temperature should be around 38F (3-4C) to allow the dough to still
The power is in the flour
There’s a bunch of variables to consider with long fermentation pizza dough. The absolutely vital one here is the flour that you are using.
Short version: get great flour. Italian made 00 flour is best.
Now for the long version, which may seem like notes from a science lecture. It’s more interesting than that, I assure you!
When we are choosing flour, what matters is the strength of the flour in creating gluten, the building blocks for a good dough. A stronger flour creates dough with a stronger gluten structure, which means that it keeps its shape for longer.
We have a measurement for the strength of flour, it is measured in “W”. For example, Plain flour has a W index of between 180 and 250 and absorbs up to 65% of water. Now, a Naples created famous pizza dough such as the Caputo Tipo 00 Pizza Flour, has a W rating of 280-290 W.
Flour “strength” indicates the strength of the dough and its resistance to leavening. The higher the W index, the longer the leavening time. The strength of flour is measured using a Chopin Alveograph, a machine invented in France in the 1920’s.
So if you are in a hurry to make that pizza, you should choose a flour with a low W. However, if you’re making dough for a pizza dinner the next day or day after, you should use a flour with a higher W, such as the double zero flour mentioned earlier.
These strong gluten ‘walls’ so to speak, are what traps the gases that are produced during fermentation, which makes the dough rise. The stronger these gluten walls, the more gases get caught, the more the dough rises and the longer the walls will last.
So what flours have what W index scores?
Sadly, flour packaging doesn’t include the W index, however you can typically search for most pizza flour brands and find the W score easily. I have collated some of the most popular flours here in a table, for you to hopefully shortcut the flour hunting process.
|King Arthur “Italian Style” Flour||W 210||4-24 hours|
|Caputo Classica||W 220-240||4-24 hours|
|La Molisana Farina 00 Di Grano Tenero||W250||4-36 hours|
|Caputo Pizzeria||W 260-270||12-36 hours|
|Caputo Nuvola||W 260-280||12-36 hours|
|Cento Anna Napoletana Tipo 00||W 270||12-36 hours|
|Molino Grassi 100% Italian Organic 00||W 290||12-36 hours|
|Caputo Chef’s Flour||W 300-320||24-48 hours|
How to make your own long fermentation pizza dough
Now that you know why long fermentation pizza dough is so good, and probably know more about flour than you wanted to, are you ready to try your hand at making it? It’s no harder than making pizza dough normally, just instead of same day pizzas, you need to plan ahead. Let’s say you want to cook pizzas on Saturday. You can start this process on Thursday night.
Now fermentation time is not something you just decide, of course. If you already have the flour, then use the suggested fermentation times above to work out when to start. These don’t mean your pizza will be terrible or fail if you do it too fast or too slow either; it’s amazing how pizza dough will last if you create it well.
All we need to do with your pizza dough recipe is to ensure you have a high strength dough. Make your dough as your normally would, however instead of doing it hours before cooking pizza, do it let’s say, on the Thursday night.
You make the dough like you would, and allow it to rise on your kitchen bench for a few hours. Then you punch it down (gently), wrap it well and place it in your fridge.
On Friday morning, take it out, check on it, and return to the fridge.
During Friday evening, take it out, let it warm up a little, punch it down, return to the fridge.
Then on Saturday, pizza day, remove the dough from the fridge a few hours before you start cooking, and let it warm to room temperature.
Easy! You’ve just made your first ever long fermentation pizza dough. Congratulations!
Long fermentation FAQ
I have received some questions over time from friends and family when discussing long fermentation pizza dough and the whole process, so here they are – with my answers – in a nutshell.
After cold fermentation, how long should I let the pizza dough warm up?
This depends on what your season is, and how warm your kitchen or house is. You want to return it to room temperature. Normally for me, that means about 2-3 hours. If I am cooking at say 5-6pm, I will take the dough out of the fridge just after I eat lunch.
How to make pizza dough with long-fermentation flour?
As we’ve seen above, there’s really no such thing as long fermentation flour, however there is high strength flour which survives a longer fermentation process.
How long for extended fermentation time for pizza dough?
How long is a piece of string? I have heard before about some pizza chefs who have managed cold fermentation pizza dough for up to a week, however that would be the maximum I imagine. However, I’d be happy for someone to test and document that theory for me.
How do I keep dough from drying out while rising?
Ideally, you should keep your pizza dough in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Make sure there’s enough room for the dough to at least double in size. Another excellent way is to place it in a large bowl and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Always make sure you keep an eye on it as it rises, to ensure it doesn’t escape the container you have it in.
Can you knead dough after it rises?
There is very little benefit in kneading dough once it has risen. The whole purpose of that initial kneading is to kick off the gluten development. Once your pizza dough has risen, it has already done most of that gluten production. If you knead vigorously, you’ll risk removing most of the benefits of rising in the first place.
Can I poke holes in pizza dough?
Absolutely. You can do whatever you like to it, however be aware the more you poke holes or flatten it, the more you are removing those air and gas pockets, which give pizza dough it’s famous crispiness and stretch.
Have I convinced you to try making long fermentation pizza dough at home? I hope so!
There’s a certain joy in watching a dough take days to get itself ready, and then your dinner guests being amazed how long the dough took and the amazing rich taste in the base.