Cross stacking - I don't get it

I have a process for making dough. Maybe it is an old method, but it works for me. However, I’m always looking for better and faster methods.

I see cross stacking mentioned often, but it just seems like a lot more work than what I do. I am more than willing to admit that I’m totally wrong. That’s just the price of improvement! Here’s what I do now. How is cross stacking better?

  1. Make a starter (night before)
  2. Mix my dough (18 hours after making starter). Between 30 and 45 pounds (flour weight only) on any given day.
  3. Put finished dough ball on stainless steel table. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  4. Divide and roll by hand. Place on sheet pans. 6 to 12 balls per pan, depending on size of balls.
  5. Paint dough balls with oil.
  6. Tightly cover sheet pan with plastic wrap.
  7. Place sheet pans in rollable dough rack
  8. Roll entire rack into walk in
  9. Dough ferments for two days
  10. Ready to bake

Things about cross stacking I don’t yet appreciate (help me out!)

  1. Cleaning the bins seems much more difficult than cleaning pans
  2. Stacking the bins seems to make getting at dough more difficult. I have my smalls at the top of my rack, mediums in the middle, and larges at the bottoms. Whatever size I need, I get. It seems to me that if they were stacked, I’d need to keep three stacks, which takes up a lot more footprint.
  3. Cross stacking and down stacking are extra steps

What am I missing? Please correct my ignorance!

We cross stacked bins when we were slower but have since switched to the method you are currently using for all the reasons you mentioned. We have not noticed any difference in the quality. More importantly the customer hasn’t noticed any difference as we were steadily increasing business before the current situation we are in happened.

My system is close to yours except

  1. I dont use starter. I dont know anything about it. Just Tom Lehaman dough.
  2. I dont let it rest for 30 minutes, I roll right away.
  3. I dont paint dough balls. I paint the sheet pan, but not the top, I dont see the need…

I agree with you about using sheet pans. Bins take up to much room. My store is 550 sqft. Cleaning sheet pans are a snap. Just let them soak 10 minutes in hot soapy water and the practicably clean themselves. Also I use a reach-in instead of walk in, so no choice. I could see If I had a commissary and multiple stores, I would need to swicth to bins.

Also a neat system I have is
1, small dough is 9oz 10 per half sheet pan 5.65 pds
2. med dough is 11.3 oz 8 per half sheet pan 5.65 pds
3. large 14in dough is 15 oz 6 per half sheet pan 5.65 pds
4. XL dough is 18 oz 5 per half sheet pan 5.65 pds

then I figure how many half sheets I need, then go to Toms dough calculator and get the %s

550 sq ft? My god I can’t imagine! Both of our locations are just under 3500 sq ft. We had one that was 1100 sq ft and that was rough

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I cross stack for an hour in the walk-in this keeps my dough from over proofing. I let my dough cold ferment for 2-3 days before use so they can grow a decent amount in those days. Cross stacking keeps them from over proofing. I can also put 8 20oz dough balls in each bin because they don’t over proof. If you don’t have those issues then I don’t think you have much to benefit. If you don’t mind me asking do you use a poolish starter? Is it 100% hydration? Do you use all or half the yeast in it? Also do you leave it in the fridge for 18 hours or outside?

I do not have any problems with overproofing.

My starter is derived from this:

I leave it on the counter overnight. I try to time my dough mix for 18 hours later, but I have gone as long as 24 hours and it has turned out fine.

It is very important to maintain room temperature or better at the location you use to grow the starter. We have had quite a few starters die during the winter months when they ended up in a cold spot overnight. Therefore, during the winter, we have designated starter spots where we know the temperature is reliable.

We used to do the cross-stacking concept when we first opened. After about the third time of knocking over our stack of dough balls in the walk-in I decided to figure out a different approach.

We mix our dough batch, and then cut/shape immediately. We use 20oz dough balls and can get 10 on a full size sheet pan. We put the pan on a rolling rack and have tarps have zip-up openings. It has been a life-saver. We leave the rack unzipped for a couple of hours and then zip-up until they are needed for production. We occasionally need to do an extra batch at the end of the night and I’ve left the rack unzipped until the following morning and the dough came out just fine.

The tarps are pretty cheap on Webstaurant and it sure beats having to deal with cross/down stacking.

Best of luck to everyone’s dough dealings. One of the most challenging parts of the business for sure!

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Cross-stacking is used only when dough boxes are employed. This is because the dough boxes are, by themselves, pretty good insulators and when stacked the seal forms a sufficiently tight seal to form a dead air space which further insulates the dough ball. What this all adds up to is that the dough becomes more variable and is significantly more affected by even slight temperature changes is the finished dough temperature. By cross-stacking the boxes until the internal dough ball temperature reaches 50F we are setting a consistent base line to begin the long term cold fermentation period, be it 18-hours or 5-days. The end result is improved dough consistency and performance.
Using sheet pans instead of dough boxes changes everything. The sheet pans are not good insulators and they are not stacked to create a dead air space but they are wrapped (which can/does create a dead air space). While wrapping the pans of dough balls with stretch wrap is OK, a much better option is to place the pan inside a plastic bag, pull the bottom of the opening up over the dough balls and pull the top of the bag down over the edge of the pan and tuck it under the pan to secure it. This will prevent drying of the dough balls while not creating a dead air space which can/will impede consistent cooling of the dough balls.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Thank you Tom! This is the kind of info I was looking for! Now I have more questions :slight_smile:

My main objective with the stretch wrap is to prevent the drying of the dough balls. I find that when my stretch wrap has even the slightest of tears, the balls start to get crusty, starting at the edge and eventually the entire ball.

Your bag approach doesn’t seem to to tightly wrap the dough balls at all, yet the dough balls do not dry out. This makes me think I don’t understand what really causes the dough to dry out. Wrapping the sheets costs money and takes time, so if there are alternatives, I’m interested. Similarly, coating the dough balls in olive oil is very expensive. What really causes dough balls to get dry?

MSG, let’s back up the wagon a little, who ever said to coat the dough balls in olive oil? “Not I said The Dough Doctor” In fact I’ve said many times that all you need to use to coat the dough balls at this stage is just plain common, low cost salad oil or if you want to go for broke use a blended oil consisting of that same low cost salad oil along with 15 to 20% olive oil. While on the topic of olive oil, I don’t ever recommend using EVOO in the dough, instead use a Pomace grade olive oil in the dough and save the EVOO stuff for salads, dipping oil or for post baking application to the pizza.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

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I have been using the same method for the last 15yrs. I have many dough boxes in my basement that I gave a try but could not figure out any benefit in them so I never implemented it. When you say tarps I am assuming you mean bun pan rack covers but I agree this is the way to go for efficiency…l cannot fathom using plastic film for each sheet pan when you make 6 batches of dough.

How long do you keep your dough under the bun pan covers before it is used? I keep mine in the fridge for two days under the plastic wrap and find that it gets crusty with even the slightest tear. What am I missing? Believe you me, I’d love to stop using the plastic wrap.

Why not? Due to the cost of the film?

That plastic stretch wrap is not exactly cheap and it can provide an air tight seal over the dough balls which creates the dead air space which in turn slows the cooling of the dough balls. Plastic bags on the other hand can usually be reused, many stores just remove then and place in a clean pail for reuse. the seal provided by the bags is not air tight but it does effectively prevent drying of the dough balls. Some of you might remember Big Dave (Dave Ostrander), this was his preferred method for storing dough balls.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

the hassle really…not the cost of the film, but the cost in the time involved to wrap each tray individually instead of using a rack cover

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We bag each dough ball

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Agreeing with Tom here, Cross Stacking is mainly needed when you’re doing extended fermentation in dough boxes. If the dough is room temp going into the box and sealed, it’ll be ruined by the 3rd or 4th day. But if you can get that temp down to 50F before you seal it up with a lid, you’ll get amazing dough 4 days later.

We use sheet pans.
Spray the pans with pan spray. Place dough balls. Spray tops of dough balls with pan spray.
I have tried brushing with pomace oil in the past. IIRC, the dough tended to bubble up more than when we spray them.
Use 24"x2000’ plastic wrap. Costs $18 at the depot (which is much cheaper than my vendors). We use maybe 1 per month.
Making over 500# worth of dough per week.
After you roll all your dough balls on the pan, press every dough ball down. Spray the tops of the balls. Wrap the plastic wrap under the dough balls. This is the most important part! If you scrunch up the plastic wrap and crinkle it - throw it away! You can even press the dough balls down again after you get them wrapped. Push out any excess air.
when I make larger sized dough balls (12", 14" and up) I leave an empty space on the dough rack to help the trays cool faster. Also, I will leave them pulled out from the wall about a foot to help the cooling. Then a bit later I will rotate them back up and push them into the wall.
If properly wrapped you will never have dry edges and it can be done in about 10 seconds. Webstaurant store sells a film cutter that can be reused and moved to multiple boxes of plastic wrap. Get one of these to help cut the plastic wrap.
We are talking about thin thin thin plastic wrap here. The cold air is going to permeate through the wrap and cool the air inside it. Probably faster than through a thicker plastic bag. Plastic bags are also going to rip as you slide them onto the dough rack. Making it harder to reuse them. I really cannot see any reason why bags would be better than plastic wrap.
A rack cover might be a route to try. But I would be concerned about a few things:

  • it is thicker than a bag / film. Causing the dough to take longer to cool
  • It is not going to create as good of a seal at the bottom of the cover. Causing air to get in and dry out the dough balls, making them crusty.
    -not sealing it back up again will cause all your dough balls to get ruined!

Here is a youtube video of our rolling / wrapping.


Good Tip on the spray. so much faster. I have been painting with canola. Which takes more time, plus if you get to much , the bottom gets soggy. I was curious how well it would release the dough, but I just tested a patty I made yesterday and it easily released. Great.

I just dont understand why you spray the top of the dough.

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