Pizza for dinner always sounds like a great idea—until I come home and realize someone never put the dough in the fridge to thaw. (Alright, it was me, but never mind that.) Don’t change your dinner plans, and don’t get the microwave involved. The quickest way to safely thaw frozen pizza dough is with a cold water bath.
Don’t thaw pizza dough in a microwave
You don’t have to worry about rampant bacterial growth while thawing pizza dough, but there is another risk you have to mitigate when thawing yeast doughs: over-proofing. Thawing frozen dough in the microwave will unevenly warm the dough. This can result in some sections of the dough thawing and moving on to the proofing stage, while other parts are still frozen. Even if you knead the dough while microwave thawing in short bursts, it’s impossible to squeeze and mash the frozen sections with the softened ones. By the time the center of the dough has become pliable, you may have spent much of the yeasts’ proofing power before it even hit the oven.
You could try the less radical thaw of simply placing the icy blob on the counter—but depending on how warm your house is, you may still run into the problem of uneven thawing, and possibly proofing the outside of your dough while the center is frozen. Furthermore, this method also takes three to six hours.
Thawing pizza dough overnight in the fridge
If you’re good at planning ahead, the easiest, chillest way to thaw frozen pizza dough is overnight in the fridge. It’s hands-off, and the dough can slowly return to a pliable state safely. Since it won’t get warmer than 41°F, there’s no fear of rapid proofing and blowing all that leavening power. That being said, the fridge-thaw takes ten hours or more. When you’re short on time, the ways to warm something up without applying aggressive heat are limited: That’s where the cold water bath comes in.
Since water is a better conductor of heat than air, this chilly dip in the pool will thaw the dough notably faster than the fridge ever could. The risk of uneven thawing is significantly reduced with cold tap water hovering around 50°F to 60°F. Thawing with a cold water bath also takes very little time, which is why this method works for frozen meats as well.
How to thaw pizza dough with a cold water bath
Wrap the frozen ball of dough in a plastic bag and push the air out before you tie it off. If your dough is already in a plastic bag, you’re one step ahead. Forcing the air out before you seal the end will keep the dough from floating in the water bath. Fill a large bowl with cool tap water. The bowl should be big enough for the dough to sit inside. Put the bag of dough in the water, and leave the tail of the bag outside the bowl to prevent water from getting inside.
Sit a small pot or another bowl on top of the dough and fill it with water. This will act as a weight to keep the dough from floating. A one pound disk of pizza dough will thaw in about 45 minutes. If you’re thawing more than that, add 15-45 minutes to that time. Occasionally come around and prod the dough to see how it’s thawing. If you’re having trouble keeping it submerged, just give it a flip every 15 minutes. Once the dough is pliable through to the center, dry the bag and use your dough.
This cold water bath technique will ensure the outside of the dough does not begin proofing significantly faster than the center of the dough before it’s ready to use. Keep that in mind before you ask yourself, “Why don’t I use boiling water to make it thaw even faster?” Remember the goal is to keep the dough from heating unevenly. Use the 45 minutes of thaw time to mise en place your toppings, and get the oven preheated. Then once your dough’s ready to sling, you’ll be ready for it.