Let’s talk about dough!

Let’s talk about dough!

I often get asked about our dough and what flour we use. Answering this could easily turn into the longest thing I’ve ever written, so I’m going to split it into 2 parts - the short and sweet version for those who like our dough and just want a little info, and the long version for those with a deeper interest, or who might be starting something commercial and struggling to create a process that works consistently.

The Short Version

Our dough is made over 3 days. We first create biga over a period of 24 hours, this is an Italian pre-ferment, a little like a sourdough starter except that it’s made fresh for each batch of dough. The benefit of this is that it reduces the amount of yeast in the final dough by around 10 times, allowing you to create a very light dough.

Our final dough is then made using a combination of 2 high quality Italian flours, Le 5 Stagioni Oro (W390) and Le 5 Stagioni Semina (W360). The Semina is a Type 2 flour that maintains a lot of the healthiest part of the wheat, as opposed to using pure white flour that has most of the goodness milled out of it. This combination adds flavour and texture and is healthier for you. We’ve recently had a few supply issues with Semina so it hasn’t been used in our dough lately but will be back within the next couple weeks.

Once our final dough is made, it spends around 3 hours at ambient temperature to fully start the fermentation process before being individually balled and put into the fridge for 48 hours. We use the fridge to slow fermentation and allow the enzymes to convert complex carbs into sugars, creating a light, soft and very digestible dough.

Our dough should be taken out the fridge around 5 hours before you plan on making pizza, and should always be kept covered to prevent a hard skin forming on top.

Our dough is ready after 72hrs, but I feel it’s at its very best at 96hrs, is very good at 120hrs, and still perfectly usable at 144hrs, providing it stays in the fridge.

Look away now, this is the long and even more boring version

Okay, so you’ve decided to read on, well, I warned you twice, so you either have a deep interest in the subject, or you're a sucker for punishment 😂

Making dough commercially requires consistency, and that requires a process that works with your schedule, your space, and your equipment budget. Those factors will determine the type of flour you need to use.

The W Value

The right flour is absolutely critical for making good dough. You can choose a very good flour, but if it isn’t suited to your process, you’ll struggle. There are a number of important properties to look for, but to keep it simple, the most important to understand is the strength, or W value, as this dictates the length of fermentation the flour can tolerate. The lower the W value, the weaker the flour and shorter the fermentation. Generally, a W value below about 220 would be for same-day doughs. A value between 220 and 290 is perfect for 24-hour doughs, and values above 300 are ideally suited to longer, normally refrigerated, fermentation times.

If you don’t know the W value of a particular flour you’re considering, log onto the manufacturer’s website and you should be able to find its technical specs. If not available on their website, send them an email and ask for the tech sheets, they’ll be happy to email them to you.

The Process

When it comes to making dough, You have 3 basic choices (and a million versions within those 3).

  1. Same day dough. In this scenario you plan on making your dough on the same day as you make your pizza. This is fine if you’re making dough at home and need something quickly, but I really don’t think it’s a viable option commercially. Good pizza dough takes time. My father-in-law, on route to our house one day, decided he wanted pizza and that I needed to be more spontaneous and develop a 2 hour dough. 😂😂 Ah, no.
  2. 24-hour room temperature dough. I’m part of a group of over 550 pizza professionals and this is probably the most popular dough made in pizzerias. There is absolutely nothing wrong with 24-hour dough, it makes exceptional dough and superb pizza. The benefit of this method is that the dough is fermented in bulk so doesn’t require a lot of space, and it ferments at room temperature, so doesn’t require fridge space. You generally leave it in bulk until around 6 hours before service when it’s balled into trays, ready for service. The biggest downside to this method is that if you aren’t able to control the ambient temperature, you’re at the mercy of heat, which can be very challenging in summer, especially if working from a mobile unit.
  3. 48-hour and longer dough, normally at cold temperature. This is my category 😁 I’m a big fan of long cold fermentation as it creates complex, light and very digestible doughs. It allows you to use healthier wholegrains that are milled using modern techniques, producing flour fine enough for superb pizza doughs. The downside of this process is that it requires a lot of fridge space, so it’s expensive and you need the space for the fridges. A big benefit however, is that the dough is temperature controlled throughout the process, ensuring it’s consistent every time, and ambient fluctuations have no impact on your dough. In terms of the process for this method, there are a lot - you can refrigerate in bulk similar to 24-hour doughs, or like we do, you can have it balled throughout its time in the fridge (requires a lot of fridge space).

A Formula for Temperature

Okay, so you you’ve chosen a process, and know what flour you’re going to use, so what about the making the dough? Making consistent dough, time and time again, requires your parameters to be the same every time. To do this, you need to control the temperature of your ingredients, and the temperature of your final dough. I use a method and formula I learnt at an academy in Italy. I’ve also done a course with a fantastic technical master called Marco Fuso, who uses a slightly different formula, but results in temperatures within a couple degrees of each other.

The easiest formula to use is as follows:

Water temperature = 52c - (2 x flour temperature)
Final dough temp = 23c

So, if your flour temp is 20c, your water temp must be 12c. The one caveat is that the temps are influenced by the heat increase to the dough, created by your particular mixer. Generally speaking, the better the mixer, the less it will heat your dough during the mix, so be aware of this and adjust your temperatures if your mixer heats your dough too quickly ie. where you haven’t developed a strong gluten structure in the dough by the time it reaches 23c after 15 mins in the mixer.

If you’re struggling to be consistent, follow the formula above and let me know the affect it has on your results. You won’t be able to create the same dough if one day you’re using tap water at 20c and a couple months later, in the depths of winter, you’re using water at 3c. Temperature is critical to consistency, and good dough.

I’d be very surprised if anyone has reached this paragraph. If you have, hopefully it’s helped you a little. I won’t go into the basics of making dough, that’s available in loads of other places, and I’ve waffled on far too much as it is.

Yours in pizza,

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