January 15, 2013

Respecting The Craft: Gemignani talks yeast and dough stacking

Q: What is the purpose of cross-stacking?

A: The purpose of cross-stacking dough trays or boxes is to allow the dough to cool down slightly after it has been cut and balled and before the dough is sealed. While mixing, dough heats up as a result of the friction put upon it by the machine. The yeast in dough is more active when warm, causing the dough to rise and ferment. Cross-stacking the dough trays in the refrigerator allows the air to flow through the trays slowly, thereby retarding the fermentation process until you are ready to pull out your dough again. If you were to put your dough directly in the fridge, already sealed, right after cutting and balling, the heat from within the dough ball would be trapped and would cause the dough to continue rising. As a result, your dough could be over-fermented by the time you want to use it. You never want to keep your dough trays or boxes cross-stacked for more than 10-20 minutes. If left open too long, the dough will form a dry layer on the surface of each ball. A small amount of water massaged on the top can easily counter any small portion of dryness, rehydrating it and making it smooth again. But this should only be used if necessary.

Q: Do I change the percentage of yeast in my batch if I live in Colorado?

A: Yes. At high elevations the amount of yeast in your recipe generally needs to be lowered. Because of the high elevation, the increase in air pressure makes yeast act faster — which causes your dough to rise more quickly. The amount of malt/ sugar in your recipe could be lowered as well since the yeast will not need as much to consume. Since the dough is going to rise quicker it is important to cut and ball your dough and get it into the refrigerator as soon as possible after mixing. Another important tip is to make sure you cover your dough appropriately. The air at higher altitudes is very dry, so covering your batch is critical to maintaining quality.

*The information in this answer was enhanced by Jeff Smokavitch of Brown Dog Pizza in Telluride, Colorado (elev. 8750 ft.).

Respecting The Craft is a new column featuring World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony respects the craft of pizza making daily. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail jwhite@ and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony. This month, Tony addresses pizza dough topics.