A lot goes into creating the perfect pizza dough. It should be thick enough to hold the weight of the toppings but thin enough to be crispy. It should sag in the middle, but not so much that the toppings slide onto your plate. And it should be chewy, but not overly so.
How, then, do you create a pizza dough that ticks all the right boxes? The secret is in the dough. When we think of pizza dough, we think of pizzeria cooks flipping the dough extravagantly and stretching it preposterously long. But that’s not just for show.
Knead your pizza dough too much, and the crust is too dense to eat. Knead it too little, and it can’t build up enough gluten. Gluten is what gives your pizza elasticity and enables those chefs to stretch the dough so much. Without it, you’re looking at a much crumblier pizza than you planned.
In other words, while kneading pizza dough isn’t rocket science, it is a science.
The Peculiar Alchemy of Pizza Dough
When you knead pizza dough, you’re triggering a chemical reaction in the ingredients. A gluten-based pizza dough uses wheat flour, which has a composition that involves gliadin and glutenin. Before kneading, these proteins combine at random.
When you start kneading the pizza dough, you force the glutenin and gliadin proteins to interact deliberately; this creates amino acids, which creates an internal molecular matrix in the dough. It is this matrix that allows your pizza dough to rise.
Rising is essential for good pizza dough, not only because it ultimately improves the taste but because it traps the gasses released by yeast.
Tip: For the best possible pizza dough result, use bread flour. It has a higher gluten count than ordinary dough and will lead to a more complex molecular matrix, and therefore, to more pliant pizza dough and optimum dough texture.
How to Make Pizza Dough
Before we get to how to knead pizza dough, it’s first necessary to establish what goes into making it. Recipes differ, but whether you want thin crust or thick, several ingredients are constants.
Yeast is integral to making your pizza dough rise. How much it rises and how thick your pizza dough ultimately is has a lot to do with the amount of yeast you put in. While you can curate your own yeast, fast-acting yeast packets are the easiest, both for first-time and seasoned bakers.
Flour is the ingredient most affected by recipe type since choosing to try for a gluten-free dough necessarily means finding an appropriate flour type. Standard bread flour, which is wheat-based, is critical to developing the protein chains that give your pizza dough structure, elasticity, and texture. For a more authentic pizza Neopolitan style, I use 200g 00 flour with 300g bread flour.
If you’re trying to bake pizza dough quickly, water cuts down on rising time, especially if you cover the dough with a damp cloth. You don’t need much, either; 1/3 of a cup is more than enough.
Remember that water quantity will be affected by flour type since some flours absorb more water than others.
Warm water is ideal, but anything with a temperature over 130°C will kill the yeast and must be avoided.
Oil in pizza dough helps to give a little bit of color when baking, but for beginners, I always recommend adding a good quality olive oil as it can make high hydration doughs easier to handle.
Primarily you add salt to pizza dough for flavor. But since taste is as important as texture and density when it comes to pizza dough, it’s as necessary as any other ingredient.
You wouldn’t anticipate sugar featuring in a savory recipe like pizza dough. Still, a little helps activate the yeast and makes a surprising complement to the oil. You only need a little; 1 tablespoon will set your yeast going perfectly.
Unlike other ingredients listed, cornmeal isn’t something you mix into the pizza dough. Instead, you brush the surface of your pizza dough with it before baking. The result is a crisp, flavorful crust that is irresistible.
Gluten-Free Pizza Dough
Not all pizza dough relies on gluten. Celiac conditions, gluten intolerance, and gluten-free diets are increasingly common, and the pizza industry has evolved to take notice. That means not every dough is made from wheat flour or even involves gluten. It also means the process behind the dough is different.
The important thing to remember when making gluten-free pizza dough is that gluten-free doesn’t mean fewer ingredients. If you’re taking out wheat flour, then you have to swap in a gluten-free alternative that gets the same job done.
Popular flour substitution options when making homemade, gluten-free pizza are:
- Rice Flour
- Garbanzo Bean Flour
- Millet Flour
To mimic the matrix in wheat-based flours, gluten-free bakers combine these with:
- Whey Protein
- Potato Starch
- Xanthan Gum
While combinations of ingredients vary from recipe to recipe, all these listed items are popular contenders to help create a gluten-free pizza dough with an excellent taste and texture.
And remember, even a little gluten can aggravate certain conditions, so wiping down all baking surfaces thoroughly before-hand is a must.
No Need to Knead
As counterintuitive as it seems, experts recommend against kneading gluten-free dough. Gluten-free pizza dough is stickier than standard pizza dough, and kneading sticky dough is challenging at the best of times.
Instead of worrying about the hassle of kneading, focus on meeting the specifications of your gluten-free pizza dough recipe.
Other tricks that will help you create a delicious gluten-free pizza dough include:
- Leaving your pizza dough to rest
- Oiling baking surfaces
- Selecting a thin-crust recipe
- Pressing your dough
Your final but crucial consideration when preparing gluten-free pizza dough is to understand the value of yeast. Since there’s no gluten to help the pizza dough rise, any gases the yeast releases help provide the internal structure gluten would typically give your pizza dough.
How much yeast you use will vary depending on the recipe, but whatever the combination of ingredients, yeast has a vital role to play in the creation of your gluten-free pizza dough.
Avoiding Easy Pizza Dough Mistakes
Kneading isn’t the only consideration when you’re preparing pizza dough. If you’re new to making pizza dough from scratch, we’ve put together a list of frequent pizza dough-related problems and how to prevent them.
Kneading your dough is key to the pizza-baking process, but if you never let your dough rest, the crust might tear.
This happens when your pizza dough doesn’t have enough time to develop gluten. As discussed, gluten plays an integral role in shaping your pizza dough, especially in determining its elasticity.
An easy way to determine if your dough has enough gluten is by stretching it. If the pizza dough tries to bounce back into dough-ball status, then you need to give it more time to prove.
When gluten is still developing, it is strong and resists stretching, causing your pizza dough to tear. The longer you let the dough sit, the more it relaxes, and the less likely it is the crust will tear. A few hours should be ample time to let the gluten relax. It also gives you time to plan the rest of your meal and choose your toppings.
Stretch Your Dough Evenly
When it comes to stretching your pizza dough, always stretch from the outside in, not the other way around. If you stretch pizza dough from the middle outwards, you will end up with a dough that is both too thin and insufficiently stretched.
For the same reason, it’s also best to avoid a rolling pin. While it might distribute cookie dough evenly, attempting to roll out pizza dough leads to cracked and thin crust. While thin crust can be tasty, make it too thin, and not only will it bake badly, but it won’t have the integrity to support your pizza toppings.
However you stretch your pizza dough, you must do it evenly. Uneven pizza dough risks cooking unevenly, which may lead to partially burnt crust on one side and raw dough on the other.
The best pizza dough aims for a consistent thickness of 1/3 of an inch.
Choose the Right Flour
Whether you opt for gluten-free or wheat-based flour, your choice is critical to creating good pizza dough. For superior pizza dough, you need to find flour that is high in protein.
Protein is what forms gluten, and gluten informs the texture of your pizza dough. Without it, you may be looking at structural problems.
It’s also noteworthy that the higher the protein in your flour, the longer your dough will need to prove since the percentage of protein present similarly informs the gluten count. That, in turn, gets reflected in how long your pizza dough needs to rest.
Suppose you do choose gluten-free flour. In that case, you’ll need to compliment it with a suitable substitute with the ability to take on the gluten’s function in shaping your pizza dough’s texture and molecular matrix. While this is easily achievable, the right choice of flour helps the process along.
How to Knead Pizza Dough
Whether you’ve previous experience bread baking or seen it on the cooking channel, the average person has a basic idea of how to knead pizza dough. You alternately press and roll it between the palm of your hands. Simple.
There’s a little more to it than that, though. For instance, while it’s not a long process, how long to knead pizza dough depends on how you choose to knead it. Kneading your pizza dough by hand will take 10-12 minutes. Knead it with a suitably equipped mixer, though, and it only takes 8-10 minutes.
Kneading on tv, whether in movies or the cooking channel, looks easy and uncomplicated. But flour isn’t only valuable for the structure of your pizza dough. It also stops it from sticking to everything.
Few things are stickier than pizza dough. A well-floured work surface stops your pizza dough from sticking to your workspace, saving all kinds of time, effort, and mess both in the kneading and clean-up processes. You’ll also want to flour your hands for the same reason. And sticky, doughy hands rapidly lose the ability to knead effectively.
In worst-case scenarios, not flouring work surfaces properly can lead to uneven pizza dough. So flour hands and surfaces liberally and as needed.
How to Tell You’ve Kneaded Your Pizza Dough Enough
While pizza dough starts lumpy and shapeless, you’re working to change that. So, how can you tell when you have kneaded your pizza dough enough?
Your Pizza Dough Feels Smooth
There are signs that indicate your pizza dough is sufficiently kneaded and ready to bake. One of the most obvious is the change in the feel of the pizza dough.
Unbaked pizza dough starts out feeling rough and even lumpy. Once your dough is thoroughly kneaded, it will feel smooth. The dough should also feel tacky where it absorbed the flour from your hands and surrounding surfaces.
Your Pizza Dough Holds its Shape
Another sign your pizza dough is ready is that it holds its shape. There are several ways of testing the shape of your pizza dough. If you can hold it up without it sagging or oozing, that shows the gluten chains are well-formed, and the pizza dough has the structural integrity in addition to a suitable internal matrix to start baking.
The other fast and easy way to test your pizza dough’s shape is to prod it with your finger. If the dent created bounces back promptly, then you’re all done kneading and ready to start choosing toppings.
The Windowpane Test
The name might be unlikely, but many bakers find the windowpane test the litmus test of good pizza dough. To test your pizza dough this way, break off a piece and stretch it between your fingers. If you can stretch your test piece of pizza dough to a fine, filmy sheet without it breaking, then there’s no need to keep kneading.
Recipe for the Perfect Pizza Dough
Now you know how to knead pizza dough, all you need to get started is a good recipe. Here’s a basic pizza dough recipe for you to try.
To start, you’ll need:
- 3 ½ to 4 cups of flour
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 packet of fast-acting dry yeast
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 ½ cps water at 110 degrees
- 2 tbsps. plus 2 tsp olive oil
- In a large bowl, combine bread flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Blend thoroughly, either using a mixer or sturdy spoon.
- Add water and two teaspoons of olive oil, mixing until the pizza dough forms a ball.
- If the pizza dough becomes sticky, mix in a tablespoon of flour at a time until the pizza dough has a workable consistency. If it becomes too dry, add 1 tablespoon of water, likewise.
- Gather pizza dough into a ball and place it on a well-floured surface. Knead until the pizza dough becomes smooth.
- Grease the now-empty bowl with the remaining tablespoons of olive oil and place kneaded pizza dough inside. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside for dough to prove. For best results, place the bowl in a warm, dark space.
- Leave the pizza dough proving until it doubles in size. Allow approximately one hour for this to happen, more if necessary.
- Once the pizza dough has doubled, divide it into two even pieces and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Set both pieces aside for a further 10 minutes’ rest.
Note: while bread flour will give you a crispier pizza dough crust, all-purpose flour also works and creates a chewier but similarly tasty pizza dough.
While kneading pizza dough is straightforward enough, there are a variety of other factors to consider. What flour you use and the type of crust you want for your pizza dough will affect your pizza dough. Also, remember to let the dough rest. There’s nothing worse than a pizza that falls apart coming out of the oven.
The texture of your pizza dough will also affect its long-term taste, so give this careful consideration when or if you try your hand at gluten-free pizza dough.
But whether you opt for thin crust, thick crust, gluten-free or not, the important thing is that your pizza dough.