Master the Dough and You’ll Master the Pizza
The most challenging part of pizza making is getting the dough right.
A good dough relies on precisely weighed ingredients that are properly combined, good dough-shaping technique as well as optimal baking conditions.
When any of these factors is off, the dough is likely to be too.
For the best chance of success at home, we highlight below the most common problems when making pizza dough and how to avoid them.
Common Pizza Dough Problems and How to Avoid Them
One of the keys to making good pizza dough is knowing how to tell if it is bad. Texture is one key element that will reveal whether the dough will taste good when baked.
Bad dough is usually the result of a dough recipe not followed, the introduction of too much cold, heat or water during preparation or problematic mixing.
To avoid such issues, get the ratio of dry ingredients to wet ingredients correct.
Keep in mind that the ambient temperature of your kitchen will affect the activity of the yeast.
Symptom: Sticky dough
Cause: If your dough ends up sticky, chances are it contains too much water.
Solution: Parchment paper. Add more flour to the outside and let it rise on parchment paper. If you’re worried that your pizza dough will stick to parchment paper, fear not, this isn’t likely to happen.
Symptom: Stiff dough
Cause: If you’re wondering why does my pizza dough keep shrinking, it could be stiff and dense because it hasn’t had enough time to ferment.
Solution: Fermentation will happen faster in a warmer space and more slowly in a cooler room.For consistent results ensure your kitchen is evenly heated and at the same temperature, each time.
Tips for Making the Best Pizza Dough
With every pizza you make, you’ll gain new insights about how to fine-tune your technique. Keep in mind the following tips to produce great dough.
No need to knead
When it comes to kneading your dough, allow the recipe to guide you.
Some recipes, like Jim Leahy’s No Knead Pizza Dough are popular precisely because kneading isn’t required.
If, on the other hand, the recipe calls for kneading, don’t worry about overdoing it, if you’re kneading by hand. It’s unlikely because you’ll probably get tired before you reach that point.
If you’re using a machine to knead, over kneading can happen. Though letting the dough ferment longer can improve over kneaded dough, it’s not necessarily a fix. In some cases it’s best to just start with a fresh batch of dough
Know your oven
Your oven plays a crucial role in the success of your pizza.
If you’re making a style of pizza that needs to be baked at a very high temperature for a brief amount of time, chances are your home oven won’t get hot enough for you to properly follow the cooking instructions.
Be realistic about what you have in terms of equipment. While some restaurants use a wood-fired oven that heats to 900F and bakes dough super fast, not everyone has access to one. But don't worry, there are plenty of great pizza recipes that can be made in a conventional oven at home.
Embrace the use of helpful tools
Pizza stones or baking steels as well as thermometers are a few great tools to consider to help hone your pizza making at home.
Pizza stones and pizza steels absorb heat, which allows your pizza to cook faster and more evenly. While the pizza stone can be an attractive way to serve your pizza directly on the table, a pizza steel gets hotter and produces a faster cooking time.
Follow the recipe instructions
We encourage you to be creative and artful with your pizza making, but do so once you’re confident you’re working with a good dough.
To create one, allow the recipe to guide you. The chef who wrote it will have tested it many times before sharing it and is sure to have included thoughtful tips that will ensure your success.
Different Styles of Pizza Require Different Dough Making Techniques
You must first decide what style of pizza you’re making. There are many to choose from:
Italians from the city of Naples are credited with inventing pizza. Beginning in the 1880s, a cooked flour-and-water dough, topped with local ingredients of olive oil, oregano, garlic, grated cheese, salt and lard became a popular lunch among fishermen.
Today, restaurateurs claiming Neapolitan pizza on their menu should technically be following the recipe and cooking instructions laid out by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN).
Authentic Neapolitan pizza should include dough with specific measurements of flour, water, salt and yeast, mixed and let rise for a specific amount of time, cooked at up to 900F for less than 60-90 seconds.
At home, of course, these traditional methods are a guide rather than a legal requirement.
New York-style Pizza
Made with a stiffer dough containing less water and a fat such as olive oil, this type of pie is about 12-18 inches in diameter.
It tends to have a chewier crust and is often topped with a combination of cheeses as well as cured meats like pepperoni.
Pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping. It's so delicious because it has among the highest fat content of any cured sausage in the world. For this reason, some people prefer other toppings like Italian sausage because the pepperoni is what can make a pizza greasy.
A popular choice for home cooks, the pan pizza has a thicker bread-like texture and a rectangular shape owing to the half sheet pan on which it’s baked.
It can tolerate more sauce and cheese and, in general, is considered a good style of pizza for beginner pizza makers to experiment with.
The global popularity of pizza means there’s an ever-expanding range of alternative crust styles – from gluten-free to plant-based.
Thin crust pizza takes many cues from Neapolitan pizza, but is made with less dough. It often contains less water so ends up being crispier and lighter.
Gluten-free pizza refers to crusts made with flour that doesn’t contain gluten, such as almond flour or rice flour. This type of dough doesn’t tend to stretch well so it can be cooked in a skillet into which it has been pressed.
Plant-based pizzas are, as you’d expect, often made with doughs that include shredded vegetables – cauliflower is an especially popular choice. Egg as well as some alternative flours for binding may also be ingredients.
As you fine-tune your approach to pizza making, you’ll zero-in on the techniques that help produce the best results for your tastes.
When the results are great, it’s largely because you’ve honored the ratio of dry ingredients to wet ingredients that is suggested in the recipe.
Enjoy experimenting and keep a log of your steps and observations about what worked and what didn’t. Take comfort knowing that patience and practice will help you master some of these common mistakes. The end result? Great pizza.