Cold fermented pizza dough

When making pizza, rise time or fermentation is essential for a good taste. It’s what gives pizza that lovely bubbly texture and amazing flavor. But there seem to be many contrasting opinions in regards to fermentation.

One of the most common questions asked is whether It’s better to let the dough ferment at room temperature or in the refrigerator?

We decided to tackle this dilemma and answer your burning questions about cold fermenting pizza dough.

According to many, cold fermented pizza dough produces a chewy and airy crust which tastes better than regular pizza dough. Hence the reason why many pizza restaurants take it pretty seriously and even advertise it.

This is because slow fermentation in a cool place slows down the yeast action and allows for more complex flavors to develop. Enzymes activate and release the sugar in the starches thus changing the dough structure. 

Can Dough Rise in the Refrigerator?

Yes, it can. Cold fermentation only slows down yeast growth but does not stop it. This allows the dough to develop a very different taste compared to the dough you knead and bake the same day without cold rise.

Slow fermentation in the refrigerator helps the yeast break down the molecules in the flour and the enzymes to bind to gluten.  The result is improved flavor and texture of the dough. Besides, your refrigerator is a more stable environment that provides consistency needed for proper flavor development.

The process of cold fermentation is also referred to as retarding the dough.

So how do you cold ferment your dough?

Step 1. Knead the dough using quality ingredients (this too is a very important factor for quality dough). Or form the dough into the desired shape.

Step 2. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl to prevent sticking and cover with plastic wrap.

Step 3. Place the dough in the refrigerator to rise. This is considered to be the first rise.

Step 4. After one hour, take the bowl out and punch the dough. Return to the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to bake your pizza, take the dough out and leave it to rest at room temperature. This is the final rise before baking.

Tip: When refrigerating the dough, we recommend that you punch it every 24 hours.

How Long Should You Cold Ferment Pizza Dough for the Best Flavor?

If we want to make mouth-watering pizza from cold-fermented dough, we should learn from the professionals, right?

Slow, cold fermentation has become such an important factor when determining the quality of pizza that some pizza places actually tell you how long they ferment their dough.

However, you’ll notice that not all pizza makers ferment their dough for the same amount of time. Fermentation time can be as short as 5-10 hours and as long as 72 hours. In some cases, the dough ferments for up to 5 days.

So how to know how long should you ferment your dough?

According to what Daniel Leader, president of Bread Alone Bakery, said for The Takeout, 24 hours is ideal. Leader finds that the dough loses some of its elasticity and crumb after 24 hours and the dough becomes slightly acetic.

Leader believes there is no need to ferment the dough longer than that. Other pizza makers believe 24-36 hours is the sweet spot. At this point, all the lovely flavors have developed and the dough is still elastic.

Baker Jonathan Davis of La Brea Bakery, told HuffPost that he always leaves his pizza dough to ferment for 24 hours in order for the flavors to develop.

Beyond that point, the dough starts to lose some of its elasticity and the texture changes too. We’ve found that 24 hours is enough time to get perfectly elastic dough with just the right amount of bubbles. 

We kneaded the dough and placed in the refrigerator for 24 hours. After a while, we checked on the dough and noticed a tremendous amount of air bubbles which don’t usually form when you knead and bake the dough on the same day. 

After 24 hours, we shaped the dough into a ball and left it on the kitchen counter to rest for a few hours. Pizza crust came out chewy and wonderfully browned. 

How Long Is Too Long?

Leaving the dough to ferment in the fridge for too long (beyond 3-5 days) will result in altered flavor as the sugars in the dough convert to alcohol. This results in a rather sour aroma. You don’t want that.

Fermenting the dough for too long can also lead to over-proofing which results in a flat and somewhat dense dough. Once again, the best way to determine how long is too long is if you experiment with cold fermentation and judge by the final result.

To conclude, we’ve learned that fermentation time somewhat depends on your personal preference. Even though some pizza makers strongly support the contrary, there is no need to ferment the dough for more than 3 days.

In order to discover exactly how long should you ferment pizza dough in the refrigerator, feel free to experiment with fermentation time because you can’t go wrong here. Hopefully, you will be able to discern slight differences in the pizza crust that will help you figure out how much time is enough.

After all, taste is your biggest clue. Whichever pizza you like best is the one that has fermented for the right amount of time.

The Benefits of Cold Fermentation

Needless to say, one of the major benefits of cold fermentation is the improved rich flavor of the pizza crust. You’ll be able to notice the difference as soon as you take a bite.

But fermenting pizza dough also improves the texture which results in a chewy and light pizza crust.  Slow fermentation in a cool place gives the yeast more time to digest carbohydrates and release the flavors.

Plus, you know that lovely bubbly structure a great pizza is recognized for? These are also the result of cold fermentation. Slow fermentation in a cool place results in a better gluten structure. This leads to the formation of big bubbles.

To put it simply, when the dough is cold, fewer air bubbles escape the dough which results in a thin, light, and delicious crust.

A 24-hour fermentation will produce a slightly denser pizza crust when compared to a dough that has fermented for 3 days. Dough that has been left to ferment for 3 days in the fridge will cook fast, and it will feature air bubbles that brown beautifully.

Room Temperature Fermentation vs. Cold Fermentation: What is the Difference?

The difference is in flavor. When you leave the dough to ferment at room temperature, the yeast acts faster whereas cold fermentation slows down its activity.

A dough left to ferment for several hours at room temperature will not be as flavorful as a cold fermented dough (24 hours or more). There will be a noticeable difference in both taste and color.

If you want to achieve that brown color as they do in professional pizzerias, slow fermentation is the way to go. It allows for more time to break down the complex starches which results in a dough that browns much better.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t make delicious pizza with room temperature fermentation. In fact, many people prefer to use this method as it is quicker and they enjoy the taste it produces. Your choice depends on the amount of time you have at your disposal as well as your preference.

In addition, you can also leave your dough to ferment for up to 24 hours at room temperature. This will also result in a great-tasting pizza crust you will certainly like.

Suggestion: In order to experience the difference between cold and room temperature fermentation, you can form two loaves of dough leaving one to ferment in the fridge and the other at room temperature.

What Kind of Yeast Can You Use for Cold Fermentation?

Most people baking at home use active dry yeast or instant yeast to make pizza. However, professional pizza makers usually use a sourdough starter for long fermentations. This is why pizza from restaurants sometimes tastes so much better than homemade pizza.

Sourdough starter is a mix of living organisms (yeast and bacteria) and it can easily be prepared at home using flour and water. Basically, you’re adding bits of flour and water to a small container over and over again until it becomes bubbly.

However, while the process is not that difficult at all, you do need time (it can take up to a week or more) so this is not a great option if you’re in a hurry.

But you can make cold fermented pizza dough using instant yeast or active dry yeast too. You are not likely to notice a difference as the dough will have plenty of time to develop all the desired flavors.

Can You Cold Ferment Bread Machine Dough?

Yes, you can. The kneading part is not that relevant here, it’s the cold fermentation that determines the quality of the dough.

Using your bread machine to make the dough will save you some time and you won’t make such a mess in the kitchen so feel free to use it. Once the dough cycle is completed, remove the dough from the pan, shape it, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it in the refrigerator.

Final Word

Most pizza lovers will agree that cold fermented pizza definitely tastes different from regular pizza. But as we pointed out earlier, it depends on your tastes too so you won’t know for certain until you try.

While there is no fixed time frame when it comes to cold fermentation, we suggest that you start with the recommended 24-hour cold rise. After that, you can experiment with longer fermentation time to see which flavor you like best.