One of the things I love about home cooking is that, in your own kitchen, you get to set the rules. As long as you know what you’re doing, you can take the occasional shortcut here and there—and your meals will still come out tasting great.
When it comes to pizza, that occasional shortcut for me is store-bought pizza dough. Yes, I mean the same kind you typically bring back home from the grocery store’s frozen dough section.
Talking to my friends and exchanging emails or comments with my readers on the topic, I’ve seen that one question frequently comes up.
How long does pizza dough last in the fridge?
When kept in a large bowl that’s covered tightly with plastic wrap, fresh pizza dough will typically stay good for 3-4 days in your fridge. Don’t extend that time too much, or you risk overproofing your dough.
To understand why the storage time of refrigerated dough is not really all that long, you need to know how yeast makes it rise—and the limits to that process are.
Yeasts are tiny living creatures, each made of a single cell, that thrive on food, warmth, and moisture (all of which are abundant in dough).
When we make yeast dough, we typically do three things:
- We mix the ingredients, by hand or in a stand mixer, for consistency;
- We knead the dough to strengthen its protein structure (the protein in flour is called “gluten”), which gives it its elasticity;
- We rest the dough, ideally for an extended period of time, giving the yeast enough time to make it rise.
How does the rise work? How do you take a freshly kneaded dough ball that consists of flour, water, yeast, and salt and make it airy and light?
During the rise, the yeast cells feed on the sugars and starches in the dough, farting out alcohol (called “ethanol”) and gas bubbles (called “carbon dioxide”) as waste. Those bubbles can’t escape from the thick and dense dough, so they build up inside it. This creates small pockets of air that end up making it rise.
The term food scientists use for this process is “fermentation,” which you’ll come across every now and then. Bakers, on the other hand, call the time that it takes yeast to fully ferment a dough “proofing.”
So far, so good. We’ve established that mixing the dough combines the ingredients, kneading gives it elasticity by developing the gluten strands, and proofing makes it rise by allowing the yeast to work its magic. The alcohol produced during the rise also enhances the dough’s flavor.
To understand why you can only keep dough in the fridge for that long, you need to know how temperature affects yeast’s activity.
Generally speaking, yeast will die in the heat of your oven, thrive in the warmth of your kitchen, feed and replicate slowly in the coldness of your fridge, and put its activity on pause to survive in your freezer.
When you store dough in your fridge, you’re actually slowing down its proofing.
In fact, this is a great way to improve frozen pizza dough from the store (and one of my all-time favorite, low-effort pizza hacks). Simply put it in the refrigerator in its original packaging and let it rest for 3-4 days before baking.
Your pie will come out airy and light and taste just as good (dare I say better) than its takeaway counterparts from most pizza shops.
Mind the rising time: you can overproof your dough.
Eventually, the dough’s gluten structure will weaken and it will no longer be capable of holding on to the gas bubbles. In other words, it will collapse—which is why you want to use it before that moment.
This means that your pizza won’t puff up in the oven and, when you poke the crust, it will never spring back up (which many pizzaiolos consider as the litmus test for a good dough).
Telling exactly when that moment will come is impossible. There are simply too many factors that affect the rise of your dough. As a general rule of thumb, doughs made with more yeast will rise faster, especially when left out in a warm room. Conversely, the less yeast and the colder the air, the slower the rise.
For most doughs, it’s reasonable to assume that four to six hours at room temperature and up to three to four days in the fridge is enough.
How to Freeze Pizza Dough
Made a big batch of dough and can’t use all of it up in one go? To preserve pizza dough for more than a few days, store it in the freezer.
Mix the ingredients, knead the dough, and proof it for 1-2 hours at room temperature as you’d typically do. Shape the dough into balls, sealing each in a freezer bag. Label with the date of freezing and consume within 5-6 months.
Ensure that the bags are sealed perfectly. As cold air circulates in your freezer, the dough can pick up an unpleasant odor and flavor from the other foods you’ve stored in it. Been there, done that—and it isn’t something that you want to happen to an otherwise good batch of dough.
To thaw frozen pizza dough, transfer it to the fridge the night before you plan to use it. As we’ve already established, you can leave it in your fridge for up to 3-4 days before using it.
The longer the thaw, the airier the dough (from the gas bubbles) and the richer its flavor (from the ethanol).
Here’s a photo of an artichoke and tomato pizza I recently made with this method. I thawed frozen pizza dough from the supermarket for 48 hours before baking the pie:
How long does pizza dough last in the fridge?
Determining the exact time is impossible because of all the factors that affect yeast’s fermentation (from the nutrients in the flour and type of yeast to the humidity level and temperature inside your fridge).
In my experience, I’ve seen that 3-4 days is more or less the maximum storage time for most doughs. You risk overproof your dough from that moment on, which will cause it to collapse and not come out nice and airy.