I decided today to test out some of the principles offered up by Foccaciaman on how I might introduce moisture and humidity into my proofing box. I usually don't have a need to use the proofing box during Texas summers, since my normal room temperature is plenty enough warm to rise any dough. But, since Foccaciaman piqued my interest and curiosity with his tantalizing and provocative theories on quantum physics
, I decided to devise an experiment that might prove out Foccaciaman's theories while producing a dough that I could actually use to make an edible pizza.
I decided to use a 50/50 mix of 00 and KA Sir Lancelot flours, about a half-teaspoon of active dry yeast (proofed in about 1 T. of warm water), a little bit of salt, and the remaining water (with about a 60% hydration value) at about 70 degrees F. I figured that a dough made from these ingredients and the cool water (and no added sugar) wouldn't rise too fast and would allow me to count on a single rise of about 6-7 hours before I could use the dough to make a pizza.
After I processed the dough in my stand mixer, I weighed the dough (15.35 ounces) and put it into a plastic bowl. I then took a small, dry towel, weighed it (0.95 ounces), dampened it with tap water, weighed it again (3.35 ounces), draped it over the bowl, secured it to the edges of the bowl, and covered everything with a plastic shower cap with a rubberized band. I then placed a length of insulated wire with a few inches of exposed copper at one end into the bowl and passed the other end of the wire, also with a few inches of exposed copper, through the opening in the side of the proofing box where I normally insert the stem of the instant read thermometer. I connected that end to the probe of the thermometer.
I turned on the dimmer switch to establish a proofing temperature of about 82-84 degrees F, with the objective of keeping the temperature fairly constant for the several hours rise of the dough (I didn't want the dough to blow). I had made up my mind that I wasn't going to open the proofing box for the next 6 hours, because I didn't want any of the moisture in the box to escape or for the temperature to drop. I somehow was able to contain my enthusiasm. From time to time, I would play around with the thermometer to see if it was measuring temperatures correctly (which it appeared to be doing), but that was about it.
At the end of the 6-hour period, I opened up the proofing box with the same anticipation and excitement of opening up gifts on Xmas morning and removed everything from the bowl to observe the dough. I had no idea of what to expect, except to say that I thought the dough ball would still look like a dough ball but bigger. What I found was a flat, wet, flaccid, bubbling, sinking and sticky mass (mess may be more accurate) of dough. Before allowing a few minutes to pass before I would panic and bring the neighbors running with my screams, I decided what was most important to the experiment at this point was to keep my wits about me and reweigh the damp towel (3.15 ounces) and the dough mass (15.10 ounces) before those measuments would be forever lost to the ages.
When I looked at the before and after measurements, the differences said that I had lost 0.20 ounces of water from the towel and that I had also lost
0.25 ounces from the dough. I could understand the loss of water from the towel, but not the dough, unless one theorized that part of the water in the dough, which contributes to the total weight of the dough, somehow had left the dough and gone into the ethers somewhere, much like what happens, I suppose, when one goes into a steam sauna. But that didn't explain why the dough was moist, limp and shapeless (although, I guess, some people coming out of a sauna look like that too). And I still don't have a plausible explanation. I invite Foccaciaman to consult with his colleagues in the quantum physics community on possible explanations and the preparation of a white paper on the phenomena I observed
Not to be deterred or discouraged, I kneaded the wet dough mass gently, and saw that it was alive and offering up some promise of a successful ending. The dough tightened--without having to add any additional flour--and returned to pretty much normal form, smoothness and texture. While I was readying the sauce and toppings, which I had deferred pending a comprehensive clinical review of the dough situation, I let the dough ball sit in the bowl for about a half hour to recover from my many thoughtless expletives. When it came time for shaping, it handled beautifully, from an extensibility and elasticity standpoint, and I was able to easily stretch it to fit a 16-inch pizza screen. I couldn't have asked for a better dough. I dressed the dough round and baked the pizza. There was little to fault with the dough and the resultant crust. It was better than the last one made with basically the same dough formulation. The crust was crunchy and chewy at the same time, it had nice browning on the rim and bottom, and it had the flexibility characteristic of a Neapolitan style pizza.
I still can't fully explain what the physics is that guided my pizza dough to a successful conclusion but one thing I do know: It didn't hurt the dough, and quite likely helped it. In due course, I will ponder the results more carefully to see how I might change the experiment the next time. In the meantime, I am planning to put Dr. Foccaciaman's name in for a Nobel prize for his innovative work in Pizza Quantum Physics, to be shared with his mother if he is really a good son