This is probably oddest question you’ve ever been asked and I fear one that may have no answer. The scenario is this; I use a pretty standard dough formula the same as most that I’ve read in your columns. I am careful to measure everything accurately and get consistantly good pies as a result of this. I shoud mention that I use a low yeast retarded mix for use in days 2,3 & 4. About a month ago my cooler quit at an unknow time over night, so the dough in it slowly warmed, the cooler was at 65 deg. F or so when I came in the next morning. Faced with the prospect of no dough and it being a friday, I did the only thing I could - called the repair man and made room in my other cooler for the warmed dough. The repair took only about 2 hours from our phone call to completion. We then set about making a couple of batches of high yeast dough to get us through. It got busy early and I had no choice but to use some of the dough that had warmed up in that days pies. Sad to say, the ones from the “spoiled” dough were the best pizzas I’ve ever made. The dough was a little hard to work with, wetter and stretchier than usual but the end results from the oven were nothing short of amazing, we were making fantastic pies not just good ones! The crust had its usual nice flovor but was much crisper than usual not only that but as you chewed your way to the outer edge it got even more crispy and more important, the whole pie retained that crispness, even in a box, for a far longer time than usual after baking. I’ve spent the last number of weeks trying to duplicate this error and have had dismal success with it, little more than twitches in the right direction. I’ve made dough, cooled it and then brought it up to almost room temp, then back to the fridge. I’ve varied the out of the cooler time between 2 and 8 hours in one half to one hour increments and have never been able to get back to that perfect dough that I was able to sell for all of a day and a half. At the time, I was sure I’d have to throw out the dough from the cooler, instead I ended up throwing out some of the high yeast dough that I made to get me through. I’m at wits end with this and have seriously considered putting a time clock on my cooler so that I can schedule it to go off each night for an amount of time that I can change until I find out the perfect amount of warm up time to duplicate the “mistaken” results. This is a workable step and would eliminate the variable of the dough warming up too quickly at room temp versus the slow warming that it got because of the effect of the cooler walls insulation. Before I do that I thought I’d ask you for any insight or advice that you might have on this. Your opinion will be well respected because my wife was quite impressed with you when she and Tracey took the pizza tech course at AIB. Ivan MacInnis, Old World Brick Oven Pizza.

What you saw was an excellent example of what I’ve been saying for years. “Fermentation is an integral part of achieving a crispy eating finished crust.” I’n not so sure that I’d really want to go so far as t install a timer on my cooler to shut if off at a pre-determined time (this would send your food safety/health department inspector into orbit), but I think it is something that can be persued if you don’t mind stepping outside of the box. Think about it for a minute, does this sound like something that might have happened? You made your dough in the normal manner, finished dough temperature in the 80 to 85F range? Then scaled and balled the dough, boxed it, and maybe wiped oil on the top of the dough balls, cross-stacked the dough boxes in the cooler for about 2 hours, then down-stacked and nested the boxes. At some point during the night, the cooler went down and things began to slowly warm up, until when you came in to the store in the morning the dough had warmed to 65F. You then moved the dough to your other cooler (this really didn’t cool the dough down as the change in dough density (it was more gassy/less dense) would have effectively insulated the dough from the cold and prevented it from cooling down to any extent. Now that we have an idea of what might have ACTUALLY happened, we can devise a way to replicate the conditions. Make you dough in the normal manner as you had on that fateful day. Suggestion: Make the dough in the evening, say…during the 7 to 9:00 p.m. busy period ( I know, It’s a real pain to do it then, but remember, we’re working outside of the box, and you really DO want to replicate what happened DON’T YOU?) Process the dough into the cooler in your normal manner, now…by the time you are ready to close, this time the dough has been in the cooler will hopefully be close to the time that the cooler went down, now transfer some of the dough boxes from your walk-in cooler to a reach-in cooler that has been operating normally during the day, but you wil lnow shut it off AFTER you have put several boxes of dough into it. Kiss it good night and check it when you come in the following morning. Check the temperature of the dough, if it comes close to matching the temperature you found with the “other” dough (65F.) you should expect to get similar performance. If the temperature is lower, you will need to wait a bit for it to continue warming to 65F before you transfer it to your walk-in cooler where you will use the dough from during the day. If the dough temperature is above 65F. you will need to either put the dough into the walk-in cooler earlier in the day (maybe 5 or 6:00 p.m.) or you will need to transfer it from the walk-in to the reach-in later (maybe an hour or two after you close) Remember, we’re still working outside of the box, so please don’t say you’re tired and want to go home. Just think of the potential rewards!
Now, get some sleep, you’re going to need it.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor