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I am relatively new to pizza making... I've made 10 pizzas or so. I am having trouble understanding the process the yeast makes it my dough...

I see recipes ranging from 1/2 TS to 2 TS of yeast, the time the dough must sit before going in the oven varies, and all that seems to be insignificant to me compared to the heat and time it will spend in the oven...

Can anyone explain the science of it to me?

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It depends on other amounts. You say you put 1/2 to 2 TS of yeast, but on what amount of flour? –  Ska Dec 23 '13 at 4:35

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Kenji over at Serious Eats gives some of the best "pizza science" lessons on the Internet. Here's a good article on the role of yeast and fermentation in pizza dough: http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2010/09/the-pizza-lab-how-long-should-i-let-my-dough-cold-ferment.html

In short, time and kneading cause proteins in dough to form an elastic network of fibers called gluten. Yeast consumes starch and emits carbon dioxide. Gluten traps the carbon dioxide which causes the dough to expand or "rise".

The amount of yeast and time may vary based on the intent of the cook. More time allows the cook to use less yeast (the yeast organisms will multiply) and allows for a greater development of the proteins in the wheat flour.

A longer, slower rise will allow for the greatest flavor to be developed. In his tests, Kenji found the optimum rise time to be 2-3 days in a refrigerator. However, this must be balanced against the cook's desire for an expedient dinner :-)

In my personal pizza cooking, I usually use 1 packet of yeast (2.25 tsp) for approximately 13 cups of flour. I will typically allow this to rise for around 24 hours on my kitchen counter-top (my house says cold at around 55-60degF). If the dough will not be used right away, I will put it in the fridge but will allow it to warm to room temperature for several hours before cooking it.

Good luck with your pies!

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Yeast is a fungus. Yeast eats some of the carbohydrates that are in the dough and turns them into tiny bubbles of gas, which go into the dough and make it rise. A lot of dough uses yeast to make it rise so it's less hard, easier to roll out, and easier to chew.

The kind of yeast that comes in the packet needs a little time to activate (it sort of hibernates in there) and warm up, but too much heat will kill it, which is why it needs time to rise before you put it in the oven.

edit: I fixed grammatical errors.

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To add to Tim's comment. The references at the bottom of the wikipedia article on yeast are a wonderful resource you can learn as much or as little as you would like... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeast –  Feltope Apr 4 '11 at 14:44

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