Aside from using a good recipe and kneading adequately, the most important step in making pizza dough is the rising process. Most recipes call for a room temperature rising, but not all rooms are the same temperature. So what’s the best temperature for pizza dough to rise?
In most cases, the ideal temperature for pizza dough to rise is between 80°F-90°F, or 26°C-32°C. Temperatures much higher than this can kill the yeast in the dough and stop the fermentation process. Temperatures significantly lower than this can slow the yeast activity down and drastically increase the time it takes to rise.
But between the two extremes there is a lot of room for adjustments. Higher temperatures with a faster rise can have benefits just as lower temperatures and a slow rise can as well. Let’s go over how pizza dough rising is affected by temperature and how you can manipulate this to suit your needs.
How Does Temperature Affect Dough Rising
Variations in the ambient temperature of your room can affect your pizza dough just as much as the temperature of your oven when you bake it. The key to finding the right temperature for your dough to rise is understanding the basic chemistry behind what goes on during fermentation and applying it correctly for the type of pizza you’re looking to create.
So first let’s answer a question – how does pizza dough rise to begin with, and why is it necessary?
Pizza dough rises because the active yeast in the dough feeds on the sugars in the flour and creates CO2 and alcohol as a byproduct. The alcohol adds flavor to the dough while the buildup of gasses causes the dough to rise as it expands in volume.
But this process doesn’t always happen the same way in the same amount of time.
By changing the temperature of the the environment where the pizza dough rises, you can affect the chemical reactions that happen within the dough during the rise. This can have a dramatic effect on both the texture and the flavor of your pizza crust when you finally get around to baking it.
A Higher Temperature Means A Quicker Rise
When pizza dough rises at higher temperatures, all of these chemical reactions happen more quickly. This means more alcohol byproducts and more C02 gasses.
This results in a couple of things happening. Visually, you’ll see that your pizza dough rises much faster at higher temperatures because of all that extra CO2 gas being produced. From a fragrance perspective, you may notice that your dough has a stronger smell of alcohol and yeast.
This can be a good thing if you’re looking to use your pizza dough as quickly as possible. But pizza dough left to rise too long at higher temperatures can have unwanted consequences.
For example at temperatures too far above 90°F (32°C), C02 gasses can form too quickly and blow out the dough completely. This means that the gluten network will not form strong enough bonds and the resulting pizza crust will be flat and dense instead of light and airy.
But if you’re careful and simply want to have your dough ready sooner, you can absolutely take advantage of a quicker rising time at higher temperatures. Just make sure to watch your dough carefully and not let it rise past the point of doubling in size (as a rule of thumb).
You won’t get all the advantages of a slower and colder rise, but you shouldn’t see many disadvantages either. A common way to speed up your pizza dough rising is to put it in the oven (turned off, of course!) with the internal light switched on. This makes the temperature slightly higher than room temperature and speeds up rising without causing the yeast to go wild or die under extreme heat.
A Colder Temperature Means A Slower Rise With More Complex Textures & Flavors
When pizza dough rises at a lower temperature, all of the chemical reactions we’ve discussed happen much more slowly. And at temperatures too cold or near freezing, these chemical reactions won’t happen at all.
The biggest downside to a cold and slow rise period is simply time. Your dough won’t be ready for immediate use for many hours. This kind of a rise is best suited for pizza dough you plan on using the next day or even later.
But outside of letting your pizza dough rise at extremely cold temperatures and stopping the yeast entirely, there are actually very few downsides and lots of upsides to a slow and cold rise.
When pizza dough rises at lower temperatures, the yeast feeds much more slowly and as a result produces C02 and alcohols much more slowly as well. This means your dough will bake into a crust that is strong and nicely browned in texture but also soft and flavorful in the middle.
This happens because at lower temperatures, the yeast consumes less sugar from the flour because it’s not trying to quickly produce tons of CO2 like it would at higher temperatures. This also means less alcohol is produced as a byproduct which helps to prevent the alcoholic taste of pizza doughs that have risen too long or too fast.
Personally, I am an advocate for the slow and cold method of pizza dough rising. In fact, my no-knead pizza dough recipe requires that you let the dough rise for at least 12-18 hours before the final proofing stage.
I let my no-knead pizza dough rise in my kitchen overnight at room temperatures. But at night time, especially where I live in a northern climate, my kitchen can get quite cold. Usually when I wake up in the morning, my dough hasn’t even quite doubled in size yet. The pizza crust I make with this dough bakes into a soft and flavorful crust.
All of this is the result of the slow rise at a lower temperature, as well as a minimal amount of yeast added to the recipe to prevent it from going wild.
Which Temperature Is Best Depends On You
The real question you should be asking is: how quickly do you want this dough?
Time is really the only factor that matters when it comes to deciding what temperature to rise your dough at. This is because there are almost no advantages to a quick rise at a higher temperatures and lots of benefits to a slow rise at lower temperatures.
A colder pizza dough rise makes for a dough that is strong but pliable and a crust that’s perfectly chewable and full of flavor.
A warmer pizza dough rise will get your done risen more quickly but that’s about it. And while you can certainly make a decent dough quickly if you need to, it’s not recommended and won’t get the most out of your recipe.
Can Pizza Dough Rise In The Fridge?
Pizza dough can absolutely rise in the fridge, as long as your fridge isn’t cold to the point of freezing. Pizza dough that rises in the fridge will need extra time to rise before final proofing, however. Give the dough at least 24 hours for the initial rise and then additional time for final proofing.
If you plan on allowing your pizza dough to rise in the fridge, it may still be useful to let it rise initially at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour before doing so. This gives the yeast in the dough a chance to start feeding and multiplying before you slow that process down considerably by putting it in the fridge.
So if you have the time, or the foresight, to let your pizza dough rise in the fridge, it’s a great way to get an amazing crust with a slightly tangy crust that’s light and fluffy.
Where Should Pizza Dough Rise
The best place to put your dough to rise is in a cold room or the refrigerator, if you have time to wait.
But if you’re after a faster rise without wanting too much heat to ruin the pizza dough, here are a few options:
- An oven with the internal light switched on. This provides just a little bit of heat to get things going more quickly.
- On a high shelf near the ceiling at room temperature. Heat rises so that extra bit of warmth will help the dough rise faster.
- Near a sunny window. This works best on colder days when the sun is at its peak. The warm sunlight will heat the area near the window pane, but put your dough slightly away from it so it doesn’t get too hot.
- On a computer. This works well as long as your computer doesn’t get too warm. So, this probably isn’t the best idea if you’re a hardcore gamer.
Should You Punch Down Pizza Dough?
Once a dough has risen, it’s generally advised that you punch the dough down to “de-gas” before final shaping and proofing.
The theory behind this is that by punching down the dough, you release old gasses and redistribute oxygen and yeast. This allows the pizza dough to produce a fresh set of gasses as well as re-invigorates the gluten network to make the dough strong.
Personally, I usually skip this step since I use a small amount of yeast and my dough is minimally gassed as it is. I also typically use a no-knead recipe, which changes the chemistry a bit.
But if you’re using a same day pizza dough recipe with lots of yeast, it probably won’t hurt to punch down your dough once after its initial rise. The dough balls will have a chance to build up more gas and gluten during the final proofing stage anyways.
Common Pizza Dough Rising Mistakes:
- Too Much Yeast: I notice a lot of recipes call for an excessive amount of yeast without taking into consideration the length of time for the rising and proofing. Large amounts of yeast are best for a quick rise, while a long and slow rise should use substantially less. This will prevent your dough from over-growing and tasting yeasty.
- Temperature Too Hot: If you’re going for a quick rise, that’s fine, but don’t think that you can just blast the heat to get the job done quicker. This can overwork the yeast and disturb the gluten, making the dough weak. It can also leave an acidic flavor in the dough as well.
- Not Following The Recipe: It’s always important to follow your recipe as closely as possible to avoid problems. Your dough will not double in size if the hydration level is too high or the amount of yeast is too low, which makes it difficult to gauged its progress.
- Following Recipe Too Closely: Just because your recipe says to leave the dough out for 12 hours before refrigerating doesn’t mean you always should. Room temperatures vary, so if your room is warmer than the recipe author’s your dough might grow out of control. So always keep an eye on things and use your best judgement.
- Not Balling Dough Before Proofing: Not directly related to rising, but your pizza dough will not proof or shape properly unless it’s correctly divided up and shaped into balls. Check out my post here for more information and an instructional video on how to do it.
- Not Doing Final Proof: It’s temping to take your freshly risen dough and shape it immediately into a pizza, but your results will suffer greatly if you do. Take the time to ball up your dough and let it proof for an additional 1-2 hours before shaping. This will really improve the texture and taste of your pizza crust when you bake it.
There’s a lot of considerations when preparing your pizza dough and rising temperature is a very important one. It can make the difference between a dough that’s light and fluffy or dense and bitter.
A quick rise at a high temperature is fine as long as you don’t let it go on for too long. Keep this down to 4 hours at the max, and certainly not longer than it takes the pizza dough to double in size.