I will not string you along with another boring, pointless intro. Pizza dough can go bad, but when this happens, it’s not always the end of the world. You’re not going to get ill! The dough will just dry up or tear when stretched so badly that it becomes unusable. But you’ll still want to avoid it, so what makes pizza dough go bad?
Pizza dough can’t go rancid. If left in the refrigerator, it will easily keep for days, sometimes a week. Actually, pizza dough stored in the fridge for a couple of days can make the best pizza! Particular effort should be made to understand the W-value of the flour. A pizza dough made with a low W-value will not last very long in the fridge.
The best way to save pizza dough for another time is to put it in an airtight container in the fridge.
Authentic pizzerias take time to make their dough. They take 2, 3 or sometimes 4 days to slowly ferment their pizza dough. This gives the gluten a lot of time to become nice and elastic.
When baked quickly in a hot oven, the mature pizza base will have dark caramelisation on the crust. This is provided by an extensive breakdown of starches into sugars. Time is what makes real pizza taste so great!
To tell if your pizza dough is bad, remove it from the fridge and inspect it. If it has turned grey, or has specks of grey, it is too far gone. Throw it away. Pizza dough that’s just spoiling turns dry and crusty. This is because air exposure dries it out, alongside the starch reforming back into its original state.
What to look out for in bad pizza dough:
Mould is very tricky; once it’s set in, you should just ditch the dough and make fresh. The mould spores, despite not being visible, will have spread throughout the dough. Throw the dough away, and be sure to wash your hands and equipment thoroughly afterwards.
If your pizza dough starts smelling rancid, it’s time to start again. A long fermented dough develops acidity and alcohol, which will be present when eaten. A hint of this is quite pleasant, but too much is overpowering! The dough hasn’t gone bad. It’s just an unwelcome flavour in your pizza.
Has your pizza dough changed colour? If so, just throw it out. It could be mould setting in. If it’s just hard and dry, you can try rehydrating it. To fix a dried-out pizza dough, run the dry areas of the dough under the tap for a few seconds and place it in a bowl for 30 minutes. This will let the dry flour soak up the water, and you should be able to make a pizza with it!
You’ll make much better pizza if you use specialist pizza flour. These flours contain gluten proteins that are specifically chosen for long fermentation.
You can tell how long pizza dough can be stored in the fridge by looking at its W-value. This information is not available on the labels of bread flour, but you’ll usually find it on bags of pizza flour.
The W-value is a metric provided by flour mills after testing the flour. It determines how long the gluten proteins can withstand stress. A flour that performs well in the test will make a pizza dough that remains usable after a couple of days. One with a low rating will tare when stretched after a few hours.
Note: High protein flour naturally has a higher W-value, but this is not the case for every type of wheat flour.
Keeping your pizza dough warm or at room temperature is great for increasing yeast fermentation. But if we don’t want to bake it right away, we want to slow down its development.
Placing the dough in the fridge lowers the yeast’s ability to respire, meaning the dough will last longer. See can dough go bad in the fridge, to learn about chilling bread and pizza dough.
Sugars in the dough provide food for the yeast. If a sweetened dough is stored in the fridge, there may be too many sweeteners to be absorbed. This means you are likely to see them appear as flakes which tarnish the look of the dough.
A long-fermented dough will break down plenty of complex starches that naturally exist in the flour. This sweetens the bread naturally, so there’s no need to add extra sweetness unless you are making a quick dough.
To prevent your dough from drying out, it is essential to keep it covered. A cover will reduce the airflow around the dough’s surface.
Exposure to fresh air blows away moisture from the surface. After time, the outer perimeter of the dough becomes dry and forms a hard crust. See why does dough need to be covered.
Pizzaiolos prepare pizza dough with a tiny amount of yeast. This supports slow dough fermentation. Let’s face it.
We don’t need the pizza to rise much. In fact, it’s only around the crust area that we want to see major growth.
A small amount of levain to mature the dough over a long period is the perfect solution.
Pizza dough will contain 0.1-0.5% yeast based on the total flour weight used in the recipe. In comparison, yeasted bread uses around 2%.
Kneading increases oxygen in the dough and provides the necessary strength to the gluten initially. But after intense kneading and a long first rise, we can get problems. In this case, the dough is likely to suffer from over-oxidation or the gluten getting so tired and weak that it loses strength.
Over-oxidation is where the carotenoids in the flour are washed away, making the dough whiter yet tasteless.
If you are planning to leave your dough in the fridge for several days just gently knead your dough and allow cold fermentation to do the work for you.
If the dough remains dry, you might be able to bake them as dough balls and smother them with garlic butter as they come out of the oven… yum!
Focaccia bread is a pretty forgiving dough. Cover all sides of the dough with olive oil and stretch it out in a deep baking tray. Leave to rest for 30 minutes and stretch again when you return.
Cover with some toppings, drizzle some olive oil and bake at high heat (220C) for 20-30 minutes, depending on size.
We’ve covered everything on the topic of, can pizza dough go bad. Hopefully, you’ve got a clear answer to your questions, but if you have more queries, please drop a comment below. For more tips on making the perfect pizza, take a look at why my pizza dough won’t stretch.
Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baker, bread baking coach and college lecturer. I’m here to help you make better bread and learn about the baking industry.
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