Ask Tom Lehmann a Question

Submit your questions here.

After working in a pizzeria for a few years 14 years ago, I always wanted to own my own pizzeria and I’ve finally decided to actually open a small pizzeria tavern. We will actually be opening next week :slight_smile: I have been baking at home for quite some time now with several different methods but after following a ton of info offered by home and commercial bakers online and networking with friends, family, etc… I’ve gotten to the point with my home baking that I can make a consistent dough, baked in a variety of ovens, resulting in a fairly consistent pizza crust the way I like it.

Two very common procedures that I have adopted at home is the autolyse period and a bulk rise/ferment (prior to scaling and balling for a 2nd and final fermentation period).

The autolyse procedure I’ve used is usually the same… simply a 15-20 minute resting period after a few minutes of mixing 75% of the total flour weight with 100% of the hydration, yeast, salt and whatever else I may be using (except oil). Then I add the remaining 25% flour (and oil if so), mix additionally, knead, etc. As I understand it, it assists in the development of gluten structure… I’ve just rolled with it LOL.

The bulk rise varies… I have done everything from a 1 hour to a 12 hour bulk rise, cold and at room temperature, sealed in a container or covered with a towel. I’ve paired a bulk rise usually with a 24-48 hour cold fermentation after scaling and balling. All basically the same, i.e., mix/knead dough, bulk rise, knock down, scale/ball, retard, then acclimate to room temp and bake … all resulting in (what I would consider) a great flavor and texture and crumb (using ADY btw). As I understand it, it helps in developing the flavor character of the crust… again, just rolled with it.

Why do I not see these procedures performed in commercial applications?

Is is unnecessary?
Is it too difficult to manage? (bulk rise)
Are they more of an artisan bread bakers procedure to have crossed over into pizza dough commercially?
Is it just a procedure commonly used when baking within a few hours of dough batch prep to help develop a flavor when a long cold fermentation is unavailable? (bulk rise)
Is it replaced by a proper long cold fermentation? (bulk rise)
Are there physical and chemical properties of a larger commercial batch of dough that prevents these from functioning beneficially?
Has the internet Neapolitan pizza popularity and blogging highlighted these procedures to be of biblical importance out of thin air? (joke mostly…)

I’ve just been researching so many dough procedures here lately that I’ve noticed the omission of them in the commercial world and the importance of them in the home bakers world.

Care to share your take on these?

The correct answer to your question is: All of the above. They’re more popular with artisan bread bakers, especially those who really push the dough absorption limits of the dough to get that popular, very open crumb structure, but pizza doughs preclude using that much water, so there is no logical reason for doing it, unless it makes you feel good, then of course, do it. When you are a one person dog and pony show, as well as the chief cook and bottle washer, you really want to have a process that is as streamlined and as easy as possible (see my Dough Management Procedure), as well as being as close to bullet proof as possible. Bulk fermenting the dough just doesn’t work very well as the dough is constantly changing (fermenting) during the night/day, and as the fermentation changes, so does the flavor, rise, color, and crispiness of the dough. Then, is it gets to be a bit long in the tooth, the dough can get to be sufficiently weak so it doesn’t support the toppings as it should, and you get a little collapse in the center of the pizza during baking with the end result of a wonderful gum line just below the sauce that refuses to go away until you start with a fresh/fresher dough.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Im having issues with my new (2yr old) prep table from frosting and sweating, It is very humid and hot in the store I keep a fan on it and keep the lids open to try to stop it but nothing helps. Any Advise???

I know enough about the equipment side to be dangerous to myself and others, so I’ll ask that you please re-direct your question to our resident equipment expert, George Mills. I’m willing to bet you two free toppings that he can answer your question. George has been around equipment as long as I’ve been around the dough.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Tom can you get me in contact with George Mills?

You can reach George in the Think Tank as he is a regular contributor, or you can call him at 734-649-5681.
Tom Lehmann/the Dough Doctor


Our pizza dough performs well, it is easy to stretch, proofs and bakes up perfect just as long as it is used within two days of mixing. By the third or fourth day the dough is almost blown and does not get enough lift even with a extended proof our enough spring in the oven.

Our issue. We could live with 1 to 2 day dough window and love our crust. We want to maintain the same finish but we need a bit more time in the oven (about 45 seconds) to allow the cheese to brown more. As it is now, if we finish the cheese to perfection we will overbake / brown the crust. If we could just speed up the cheese it would be great.

We use ConAgra bread flour 57% water, ADY .79%, 1.5% Salt, Sugar that was 1.5% backed off to .7% (wich increased our oven time a bit but made the pizza just a bit chewier) we use 1% canola oil. We place salt & sugar in a dry 30 quart mixing bowl and top with the bulk of our water, holding back only about 1-1/2 cups. We run the mixer perhaps a minute to blend the ingredients a bit. Meanwhile 1/2 cup of the remaining water is microwaved in a pyrex measuring cup to 110-115, ADY is weighed into the cup with a couple grams of sugar and all stirred together. After about 10 min we pour the yeast mixture on top of the now resting dough blend and use the remaining water (about a cup to rinse the measuring cup of any yeast mix pouring it into the bowl with the resting mixture. The mixer is started again at low. While the mixer is running, we use the measuring cup again and weigh in the oil. We stop the mixer add the oil and about 6 ounces of old dough and restart mixer for the remaining 10-11 min. Total mix time about 12-13 minutes. We move quckly to scale, ball, oil and refrigerate the balls in open cambro boxes (about 15-18 minutes from yeast addition to refigeration). Finish dough temp is between 76-80 deg. We close the boxes after about 25 to 35 minutes. Out of the bowl the dough when balled feels great not to tacky yet not dry, firm and cool to the touch when scaled and balled.

We use a sheeter to sheet a cold (right out of the fridge) doughball to about 60% of finish size then hand toss and stretch the 25.6 ounce doughball to fit a 17 inch screen. We proof in a proofer for about 8-12 min, pull, top and add a second screen under the first. We bake it in a bakers pride deck at approx 550-590 for about 5 to 5.5 min. The last 10-20 seconds the pizza is removed from the two screens and placed in direct contact with the stone deck. Crust is nicely browned has a nice crumb, the rim has a somewhat soft feel in the mouth while the underside has a definate crunch when rocker cut.

Any suggestions

I think I found the problem. You’re not allowing the boxes of dough to remain uncovered long enough. Try leaving them uncovered for 2-hours if the dough ball weight is 16-ounces or less and 2.5-hours if the dough ball weight is more than 16-ounces. You are just getting too much fermentation taking place during those two days in the cooler. By leaving the boxes uncovered for a longer time, you will further cool the dough, allowing for slower fermentation, thus preventing the yeast from burning-out. This will also help to reduce the acidity of the crust at the time of baking, making it easier to brown and crisp during baking.
Let me know how this works for you.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Hello Tom,
Is there any advantage to using fresh yeast Vs IDY in pizza production?
i have access to both & would choose the better option hence the question.

Without hesitation, IDY is the best way to go. Just add it dry to the flour. Keep it in the original bag, then just roll the bag down tightly against the yeast, and secure with a rubber band. If you will use the entire bag within several days, there is no need to refrigerate it after opening.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Thanks tom. thanks very much.

Thanks Tom,

May I follow up?

We will try leaving the trays open longer… We already oil them but will still have to watch carefully for excessive drying. I will let you know early next week.

Is the reduced acidity a result of less fermentation?

How does that acidity effect the finished pizza?

Assuming the same oven temp, would the lower acidity tend to allow the bread more time in the oven, allowing the extra time the cheese on top needs?

Any drawback in using 70 degree instead of 115 degree water for our yeast mixture? My thought being to reduce the overall starting dough ball temps a couple degrees ot the time of placement in fridge?

Acidity, as in more acid (lower pH) makes it more difficult for the crust to brown during the baking process. This is why sourdough bread is always so light in color. The fact that it is more difficult to brown the crust, results in the need to bake it a little longer, thus drying it out a little more, resulting in a more crispy finished crust characteristic. Yes, the reverse is also true too, with less fermentation, thecrust will brown faster during baking, similar to adding more sugar to the dough formula, so in that case, you end up baking the pizza less, so the finished crust has a higher finished moisture content, and is both less crispy, and it turns softer, faster after baking.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Hello Tom,

I have adjusted my dough formula to a point that it is just perfect, however it currently uses 4% sugar and i found that it makes the dough a little too sweet, can i reduce the sugar to about 1%, will it then have an adverse impact on the dough, i have read that sugar makes the dough tender, i am using oil at 4.17% . Any disadvantage of lowering the sugar level?
my IDY level is at 0.44%. Please advise.

You should be able to reduce the sugar down to 1 or 2% without any change in dough performance. The same will hold true for the oil content.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Hi Tom,

I saw this video on another forum the Pizza Making forum where you appear to be fairly famous; lots of references to your expertise.

Here is a video:

It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything that smooth.

I would like to know if it is remotely possible to achieve this by hand. If so how many years do you have to knead the dough?

I’ll confess that I’ve kneaded dough from 1 minute to more than 1 1/2 hours; used a variety of rest periods, autolyse and other things I’ve read and never got a dough to look anything close to that. If that dough is a 10 then my best effort so far is about a -3? Lets say about a 6.

I am poor so I can’t get the mixer in the video but I might be able to swing an old kitchenaid planetary mixer; Could that make dough like that? But first I need to see if I can do it by hand.

He didn’t give %'s but his formulation was this:
2250 grams of flour
1330 grams of water
3/4 tsp of IDY
58g salt
23 grams of oil


The truth is that you can never get the dough that well developed or smooth by hand mixing/kneading.However, when making pizza, it is normally not necessary, nor desirable to mix the dough to that level of development either. That is unless you’re looking to make pizza with a tight grain and small cell structure (think white pan bread). When I think about the internal characteristics of a pizza crust, I typically have visions of large holes, and a fairly rough, or rustic appearing crumb structure. This type of crumb structure is what provides the finished pizza with the crispy, yet chewy characteristics we’ve all come to expect in a quality pizza.
A well developed dough characteristic like you saw in the video is just what “The Doctor Ordered” for making white bread and rolls, as it will provide the soft and tender eating characteristics that we look for in these products.
You can get a dough with all of the same stretch properties as seen in the video though and still make great pizza. You can do this through bio-chemical gluten development. If you go to the RECIPE BANK (use the search word dough) you will find my home made pizza dough “recipe”. When following the procedure given, you will allow the dough to ferment for an extended period of time, thus allowing for bio-chemical gluten development to take place. If you store the dough balls in the cooler overnight, you will find, on the following day, that the dough has excellent stretch properties, what we call “extensibility”, this is due to the bio-chemical gluten development. With this type of glutern development you will still get the desired open and coarse crumb properties in the finished pizza crust, but if you achieve the gluten development through mechanical development (in a mixer) you end up with something totally different in the finished crust. We will be demonstrating this to our Practical Pizza Production class coming up next month. We will take a 16-ounce dough ball, mixed to very little gluten development in the mixer, manage it overnight in the cooler, then allow the dough warm slightly on the following day. We then have three or four participants gather in a circle and hand stretch the dough ball out to something close t o36-inches in diameter with great ease… Just goes to show what fermentation can do.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Docto

Thanks Tom,

That was the perfect answer.

I learned many new things. I do want to make a good smooth dough for bread / rolls at some point in the future and it’s nice to know that it’s nearly impossible to do by hand … well that is unless you’re these guys.

I spent time in Japan and never witnessed that first hand.

But remember, they’re not mixing the dough by hand. You could probably achieve the same level/amount of gluten development using a bread machine. I’ve even seen some pretty good gluten development achieved using a food processor, but like I said, that’s important only if you’re making a soft type of bread where a fine, close knit internal crumb/cell structure is important.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor