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How Much Yeast to Use in Pizza Dough: Factors Affecting Fermentation Rate

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Determining the precise amount of yeast to use in pizza dough is crucial for achieving the perfect texture and flavor. In this article, we will explore the factors that affect the fermentation rate of pizza dough and guide you on how to determine the optimal yeast amount for your dough

Introduction: The Influence of Yeast Activity on the Rate of Fermentation

To fully understand this article, it is highly recommended that you read the following article: Why Long Fermentation is Essential for Pizza Dough: A Deep Dive into Dough Fermentation.

Now that we have a clear understanding of what “fermentation” is, what happens during this process, and why it is essential for the dough to rise in sync with its maturation process, we can ask ourselves an important question: What factors influence the rate/speed of fermentation, how can we control these factors, and why does it even matter?

Simply put, the rate of fermentation is determined by the activity level of the yeast in the dough (or lactic acid bacteria in the case of sourdough).

The principle is straightforward: the more active the yeast, the more by-products of fermentation it produces (such as CO2, acids, alcohol, enzymes, etc.), and therefore, the faster the fermentation process. In other words, when the yeast is more active, the dough ferments faster.

But what exactly affects the activity level of the yeast in the dough? Let’s find out.

Factors Influencing Yeast Activity in Dough and the Rate of Fermentation

There are three main factors that directly affect yeast activity and, consequently, the rate of fermentation. These factors are:

1. The amount of yeast
2. The temperature at which the dough ferments
3. Acidity (the pH level in the dough)

We have control over the first two factors – the amount of yeast and the fermentation temperature; As for acidity, in most cases, we consider it as a given factor that cannot be controlled (and usually does not need to be).

Our goal is to always use the optimal amount of yeast for the desired fermentation conditions. In other words, we need to adjust the amount of yeast:

– Based on the duration of time we plan to let the dough ferment
– According to the temperature at which the dough will ferment

To illustrate this principle, see the following graph:

A graph illustrating the relationship between the amount of yeast at different fermentation durations and temperatures

Note how different combinations of fermentation durations and temperatures yield varying amounts of yeast. It can be observed that as the temperature increases in each ‘column’, the quantity of yeast decreases, while in each ‘row’, the amount of yeast decreases as the fermentation duration increases. Additionally, note the diagonal trend line, which shows that identical amounts of yeast are used for different combinations of fermentation duration and temperature.

In other words (and this is crucial – try to remember the following points):

– The lower the temperature, the more yeast is required.
– The higher the temperature, the less yeast is required.
– The longer the fermentation time, the less yeast is required.
– The shorter the fermentation time, the more yeast is required.
– Each combination of the above factors (long fermentation at low temperature, short fermentation at high temperature, etc.) will result in a different amount of yeast.

Later on, we will explore how you can easily adjust the amount of yeast based on the fermentation duration and temperature.

There is a misconception that the higher the dough hydration, the higher the yeast activity and the faster the fermentation. However, this is not entirely accurate.

While dough hydration can indeed affect yeast activity, adding more water to the dough after the flour has reached its maximum ability to absorb water (usually at around 58% hydration) will only have a marginal effect on fermentation. The confusion arises from the fact that doughs with higher hydration display more visible signs of fermentation compared to doughs with lower hydration. The dough becomes more extensible and appears to gain more volume, which is especially noticeable when comparing relatively stiff doughs with 60% hydration or less to more liquid doughs with 80% or more hydration.

The Amount of Yeast in the Dough

In terms of the amount of yeast, the explanation is very straightforward: the more yeast we use, the higher its concentration in the dough, which leads to increased yeast activity and faster fermentation (but not necessarily faster maturation).

In other words:

More yeast = shorter fermentation time
Less yeast = longer fermentation time.

The Temperature of Fermentation

Temperature significantly affects all processes that occur in the dough. Generally, when the temperature is higher, the processes in the dough occur faster (and vice versa).

Firstly, a higher temperature increases yeast activity, while a lower temperature decreases it. This means that dough fermented at a higher temperature will rise more quickly.

Secondly, temperature directly affects the enzymatic activity of all enzymes in the dough. Enzymes act as “biological catalysts” and are primarily responsible for the biochemical processes that occur during fermentation.

Specifically, enzymes are responsible for two main processes: breaking down starch into simple sugars, and breaking down proteins into peptides and amino acids. These processes directly and indirectly impact the flavor, physical rising, and maturation of the dough.

Enzymes, in general, are influenced by temperature (as well as acidity, but we will focus on temperature for now). Most baking-related enzymes work faster at higher temperatures (up to the point where heat neutralizes them). In fact, a 10°C increase doubles the enzymatic activity in the dough, while a 10°C decrease reduces it by half or more.

In summary:

Higher temperature = faster rising and maturation of the dough
Lower temperature = slower rising and maturation of the dough

The Acidity Level (pH) in the Dough

Yeast is an organism that thrives in an acidic environment with pH levels ideally between 5.0-6.5. Like any organism, yeast creates an ideal living environment for itself to survive. This involves producing organic acids that not only benefit the yeast, but also enhance flavor for us.

This process takes time and is part of the dough’s maturing process, as explained in the article Why Long Fermentation is Essential for Pizza Dough: A Deep Dive into Dough Fermentation.

The initial acidity of the dough is primarily determined by the water used. The water can have varying levels of acidity, ranging from more acidic (pH < 7) to more basic (pH > 7), or it can be neutral (pH = 7). For optimal yeast activity, it is preferable to use acidic water rather than alkaline water (pH less than or equal to 7). To check the acidity of your water, you can use litmus paper.

Final Dough Temperature (The Temperature of the Dough at the End of Kneading)

The final dough temperature (FDT), which is the temperature of the dough at the end of kneading, is crucial and greatly affects the rate of fermentation. Achieving an optimal FDT is one of the most important factors to consider when making dough, and is key to achieving consistent fermentation results. Click here for more detailed information on final dough temperature in the Encyclopizza.

In general, a lower FDT will result in slower fermentation, while a higher FDT will lead to faster fermentation. This can be explained by considering the yeast’s preference for a warmer environment: when the FDT is higher, the yeast’s “starting point” is more favorable, resulting in a faster fermentation process. Ideally, we aim for an FDT between 23-27°C / 75-80°F.

So why is it crucial to maintain the FDT within this range? By keeping a constant FDT, we ensure that we always start from the same “starting point”, which allows us to achieve consistent fermentation results. Additionally, adjusting the FDT enables us to either speed up or slow down the fermentation and maturation of the dough – a higher FDT will result in faster fermentation and maturation, and vice versa.

In the context of this article, it is important for you to understand that even if you have used the ideal amount of yeast for a specific fermentation duration and temperature, it is still crucial to maintain the proper FDT within the mentioned range. This is because it significantly affects the rate of fermentation.

The Amount of Salt in the Dough

Among the various effects of salt on the dough, it also acts as a “regulator” of yeast activity.

Generally, a dough with less salt will ferment faster than an identical dough with more salt, all other things being equal (for instance, a dough with 2% salt will ferment faster than an identical dough with 2.5% salt).

The Amount of Sugar in the Dough

Sugar has a “double” effect on yeast, depending on its concentration in the dough. When it is present in an amount of up to 5% of the total flour weight in the recipe (in baker’s percentage), sugar serves as food for the yeast and speeds up fermentation.

However, if the amount of sugar exceeds 5% of the total flour weight, sugar has a negative impact on yeast activity and causes it to become “stressed” due to osmotic pressure. This stress slows down yeast activity and fermentation.

The only exception to the effect of sugar in the dough is lactose, which comes from milk or milk powder. Yeast is unable to metabolize lactose, so adding lactose to the dough will not affect the rate of fermentation.

In the context of sugar, it is important to note that adding up to 4-5% of sugar to the dough (based on baker’s percentages) will not have any effect on the flavor. This means that when sugar is used in up to 5% of the flour’s weight, it will not make the dough taste sweet.

In summary:

  • The addition of sugar in amounts up to 5% will accelerate yeast activity and fermentation.
  • When the amount of sugar reaches 5% or more, it will start to slow down yeast activity. Furthermore, the more sugar the dough contains, the greater the impact on yeast activity. For instance, a dough with 10% sugar will ferment at a slower rate compared to a dough with 5% sugar.

How to Determine the Amount of Yeast for the Dough and Why It Matters

So how do we determine the proper amount of yeast to use, and why is it important?

To understand this, let’s consider the three factors that influence the rate of fermentation: the amount of yeast, the fermentation temperature, and the fermentation duration.

Among these factors, the amount of yeast is the most easily controlled. Therefore, we can use the amount of yeast as a tool to regulate the rate of fermentation and adjust it according to the other two factors: the fermentation temperature and duration.

In simpler terms, if we know the temperature at which the dough will ferment (a given variable), and the desired fermentation duration (a variable of our choice), we can determine the optimal amount of yeast based on these specific conditions.

For a clearer visual representation, refer to the graph below. It illustrates how manipulating the amount of yeast (in a scenario where the temperature remains constant and known) enables us to guide the fermentation process and achieve the ideal state of dough fermentation for various durations, using different amounts of yeast.

A graph illustrating the relationship between the amount of yeast at different fermentation durations, given a fixed fermentation temperature

If we assume a temperature of 20C/68F for the sake of this example, the required amounts of yeast for different fermentation durations are as follows (please note that the numbers below are arbitrary and solely for illustrative purposes; they do not reflect actual values):

– For a 2-hour fermentation, 5 grams of yeast are needed.
– For a 5-hour fermentation, 1 gram of yeast is needed.
– For an 8-hour fermentation, 0.5 grams of yeast is needed.
– For a 12-hour fermentation, 0.1 grams of yeast is needed.

To summarize, at a given and constant temperature, the longer the dough ferments, the less yeast is required, and vice versa.

The Importance of Precise Yeast Measurement

It is crucial to be precise with the amount of yeast in the dough in order to achieve the desired fermentation point for baking. If the dough is over-fermented or under-fermented, it can (and will) have negative consequences for both its handling properties (excessively stretchy or resistant) and the final product (resulting in a dense, flat dough with limited oven spring).

An in-depth article on over/under-fermentation will be published in the future.

Calculating Yeast Amount using PizzaBlab’s Pizza Dough Calculator

So, let’s talk practically: how do we actually determine the amount of yeast? It’s very simple – by using PizzaBlab’s Pizza Dough Calculator.

PizzaBlab’s dough calculator allows you to determine the proper amount of yeast based on the fermentation duration and temperature.

All you need to do is enter the desired fermentation duration and temperature into the calculator, and it will provide you with the required amount of yeast. It’s as simple as that.

Concluding Remarks: Controlling the Rate of Fermentation

Understanding the relationship between yeast activity and fermentation rate is crucial for creating perfect pizza dough. We have explored several key factors that influence this process, including yeast quantity, fermentation temperature, dough acidity, final dough temperature, and the amounts of salt and sugar in the dough. Each of these elements plays a vital role in determining how your dough will ferment and ultimately affects the quality of your pizza.

Precise yeast measurement is essential for achieving consistent results. By using PizzaBlab’s Pizza Dough Calculator, you can accurately determine the ideal amount of yeast based on your specific fermentation conditions. This precision allows you to control the fermentation process more effectively, resulting in dough with optimal flavor, texture, and rise.

Remember that the key to great pizza lies in understanding and controlling the delicate balance of yeast activity and the rate of fermentation and maturation of the dough. By mastering these concepts and utilizing the right tools, you can elevate your pizza-making skills and consistently produce high-quality dough.

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