Pizza Dough From Scratch

Like photography, making pizza dough from scratch can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. 

Do you want your pizza in a little over 2 hours? Later today? Tomorrow? 

Patience can be rewarded. If you can wait several days, the dough will improve greatly AND so will your final baked pizza. It’s up to you.

I’ve been told my pizza tastes like the ones my Italian grandfather had made many, many years ago. So apparently, I must be doing something right. I may use different techniques and have different ingredients available than he did (times change and so do companies), but the respect is still the same. 

So here’s a breakdown on what I do and why I do it…

It begins with asking: Do I need a same-day dough, or one that can be in the refrigerator for a while?

A same-day pizza will require a fair amount of yeast for the warm fermentation period, while being in the refrigerator for a cold fermentation will have us dialing down the yeast amount quite considerably. I’m afraid that one-size-fits-all does not apply here.

How am I going to be baking the pizza? That’s another question that I will ask myself.

We have a Blackstone Pizza Oven that reaches temperatures in excess of 700° F, but we don’t always use it. If we are, I will want more water in my dough recipe to get a more desirable baked crust. With a regular consumer oven, we’d be lucky to reach its highest setting of 550° F, so I will want to cut back on the amount of water I use.

Those 2 questions will guide me as I go about creating a dough formula.

Personally, we prefer the taste and texture from a long, cold fermentation, rather than a room temperature one and at present, we don’t use the Blackstone. (Sad, I know.)

So, I’m thinking 3 days in the refrigerator and a low hydration will fit the bill.

To create a dough formula, I use 2 websites. 

The first one is a Dough Fermentation Calculator

This page will give me the yeast percentage I should be using based on the combined fermentation times and temperatures I provide. The other website will help me to create the actual dough formula itself.

Here’s the deal, the big-chain pizza restaurants do not make their pizza dough on-site. Their doughs are created in a large facility, then shipped frozen to the individual locations to be (ahem) thawed and made into their signature pizza.

If they DO make their pizza there, most places will give their dough, at most, a 24-28 hour cold fermentation rise. The sweet spot really comes in around 48-72 hours. After that, the final baked crust will lose foldability (the ability to be folded without significant tearing of the pizza crust), but it will gain dramatically when it comes to flavor

I prefer the 48-72 hour window, and have even gone as long as 11 days once with delicious results.

So at the Dough Fermentation Calculator website, I will include ALL the different time-periods of cold and warm fermentation that my dough will undergo. In the first field, I enter the following: 72 hours (that’s 3 days) @ 38° F.

In the second field, I enter: 1 hour @ 75° F. On the right of my screen, I will set the yeast type to Instant Dry, then click the “Calculate Yeast Percentage From Resting Times” button.

Afterwards, I will be presented with the exact Baker’s Percentage for the amount of yeast I should be using based on the different cold and warm fermentation periods. In this case, it’s 0.117%, not a whole heck of a lot.

NOTE: I am a stickler for verification and certainty. 38° F is a good, safe temperature to have a refrigerator set to. I used a digital thermometer with probe to measure the temperature of a bottle of water. I went through each setting on our refrigerator’s dial, waiting 12 hours in between each measurement, to take a reading. This way I know where to set the dial for 38° F, or for any other temperature. Also, the 75° F is an average for the room temperature in my house right now, at this time of year. I will enter in something like 70-72° F for winter OR use a proofing box and set a temperature of my choosing. When it comes to temperature, be accurate and be consistent.

While still keeping this website open, I open a new tab in my browser and go to Lyman's Dough Calculator website and begin entering in the following information...

I calculate using “Thickness factor” and I like 0.098. The independent pizzerias may go a bit lower, to around 0.08 (or lower), while the chain-establishments like their pizza much thicker, at around 0.13. I am nowhere near as skilled as the professionals, who personally make HUNDREDS in a day, so I go with something that suits me. You can go lower or higher, just do so in insanely small increments.

I usually make 2 doughs for 14” round pizzas as they are great for leftovers. (Pizza is also a required breakfast after moving into a new place.)

Hydration is important. I’ll be baking this in our regular oven at a temperature of 500° F, so I will set the Hydration to 58%. If I were using the pizza oven, I would increase hydration to 63-66%.

I will verify the yeast percentage given to me at the Dough Fermentation Calculator website and enter it in.

I’m not using a preferment (Biga, Poolish or Stater) in this recipe.

I come down to salt and enter in 2.5%. DON”T FORGET TO ADD THE SALT!!! Salt is added not so much for taste, but to keep the yeast in check. However, if you don’t add any salt, I hope you like a bland tasteless crust. (Don’t ask me how I know this)

I am given the option to add extra ingredients if I choose and finally, I won’t factor in bowl residue because I find the final dough weight to be quite sufficient.

Flour, Water, Yeast and Salt. Those are the only ingredients I use and they define artisan pizza, the one me grandpappy would have made.

Classic olive oil can be added (at 1-2%) for dough texture and handling, while sugar or diastatic malt (at 1-2%) can also be added to help improve baking. NEVER use diastatic malt when using a high heat oven. (Sorry, no experience on this one, I just know it’s BAD)

And just like that, I have a dough formula.

I prefer a recipe in grams, not cups. Measurements are just far too inaccurate, but weighing flour in grams is always exact.

Now armed with this dough formula, it’s time to make the pizza dough.

Currently, I am using an Ankarsrum spiral mixer as my primary machine and I just love it. 

A spiral mixer gently massages and kneads the ingredients together, so long and slow is the key here. I can also use a KitchenAid mixer (which if not careful, is like beating the ingredients together with a sledgehammer). There’s also a food processor (think of the Tazmanian Devil whirlwind) that does the job in 30-60 seconds, though it also means making only 1 dough at a time. And of course, the ever popular bread machine on the "Dough Cycle" setting which can do a damn good job, too.

Without any doubt though, nothing beats the process of mixing and kneading by hand. 

The tactile interaction between fingers and dough allows us to feel the dough slowly coming together. This is great for a single or double-dough batch, but can be especially problematic for those who suffer from wrist or shoulder problems.

When I am using the Ankarsrum, I am very mindful of the look and feel of the dough mixture as it slowly comes together with the roller and scraper attachments. If using a KitchenAid, I will stop the machine regularly to scrape off the dough hook so everything mixes evenly.

When making pizza dough, I utilize a rather long and slow process.

In the mixer’s bowl, I add the water first.

Temperature suggestions are tricky because we want a finished dough temperature between 80° F and 85° F. The disadvantage of a KitchenAid is its high "Friction Factor." This means it heats up the dough as it creates it, so try 72° F. A spiral mixer has a minimal friction factor and mixing by hand is even more negligible. So depending on the season, 79° F would be a good choice. The food processor is the worst of them all, requiring the use of refrigerator-cold water.

If it’s during the cold winter months, I will add warmer water to the mixing bowl, then wait as it slowly comes down to the desired temperature.

AP flour is good, but Bread flour is better. 

Bread flour has a higher gluten protein count, giving a nice chew to the final pizza. A step above bread flour is the appropriately named, High-Gluten flour, but those are really for the high-heat pizza ovens.

After adding the water, I add ONLY 75% of my total flour weight to the mixing bowl. I am going to start the mixer on Low and let it run until no raw flour remains, about 1-2 minutes.

I stop the mixer and remove any accessories, giving it an air-tight covering and letting it rest for 20 minutes. This is called an autolyse and is a secret weapon for pizza and bread doughs. An autolyse helps relax the gluten strands and dramatically improves a dough.

After the autolyse is concluded, return the accessories and turn the machine back on Low, then add the yeast (and sugar/malt if used).

Give it about a minute to fully mix before adding in the salt.

Give it another minute to integrate.

Very slowly, over a 5 minute period, I will add HALF the remaining flour. I add a little, wait for it to incorporate, add a little more and wait for it to incorporate and so on. If I am using oil, I will add it after this 5 minute period has concluded, giving it another minute to be mixed in. 

Here’s where things get very important for our dough…

On my Ankarsrum, I may have to increase the mixer’s speed if I feel it’s needed, but only slightly. I move the dial from a 12 o’clock position to 12:30. I find this very slight adjustment is all that’s required. With a KitchenAid, I may have to go from Speed 1 to Speed 2 if it starts to stress the machine.

Once again, I slowly add the remaining flour over the next 5 minutes BUT as I do, I will be pulling and stretching on the dough mixture to see how it’s coming together in this final mixing stage. I don’t want to see any residue on my fingers, and it should allow me to pull on it without tearing, almost like Play Doh.

Once I reach this point, I have a decision to make. 

One school of thought is that I no longer need to add any more flour, it’s not necessary. Some people make a dough for THIS day’s conditions, at THIS particular time. Right now is when a dough has reached its absolute peak, based on factors like dough hydration, air temperature, humidity, dew points and all that jazz.

Sometimes I will end up using less flour than is called for in a recipe, sometimes I actually need to use more.

The other school of thought is to make the recipe as stated, so slowly keep adding in the rest of the flour.

Either way, now that the dough has been mixed properly, I set the machine’s timer for 8 minutes and knead the dough, still staying on that slow speed.

When my mixer turns off, the dough will be be done. Maybe. I'll take a look, tearing off a piece and seeing how well it stretches before tearing. So it may be done in 8 minutes or it may need some more kneading time. 

To prepare for the long, cold fermentation period in the refrigerator, grab a large sealable plastic container that will house the dough. Don’t worry, it won’t rise much at all during this time.

Inside the refrigerator it goes, to begin a 72 hour cold fermentation slumber.

Leave the cover slightly askew to allow for ventilation as the dough slowly comes down in temperature. About 2 hours and 30 minutes will do, but I guess an hour will suffice if rushed. The thing is, we don’t want to trap condensation inside the container with our dough, so leave it open for as long as you can. Now seal it up.

After 72 hours, I grab 2 new sealable plastic containers.

In a small bowl, I add only a few drops of vegetable oil and with a brush, use that little amount to coat the plastic container’s interior bottom, and only a little ways up the side. A little oil goes a long way here. After it’s done, add a few drops back to the bowl again.

I move on to prepare the oven, making sure my Baking Steel or Baking Stone is placed on the appropriate rack AND that it’s cleaned from the last bake.

Once these things are done, I remove the dough container from the refrigerator and transfer it to my cleaned and sanitized work station.

I weigh the dough mass and divide it equally using a scale, I prefer digital scales.

I will ball them up (look on YouTube for Dough Balling), then transfer them to their individual containers. I grab the oil brush again, coating the top and sides of each dough ball, then seal the containers.

Now begins the 1 hour @ 75° F room temperature, warm fermentation period. At this moment, I also start the oven, setting it to 500° F. We don’t want just the air to be hot, we want the entire inside to radiate all that wonderful heat.

When the hour is concluded, it’s time to stretch, dress, then bake the pizza…

Like before, Dough Shaping  is best explained by watching a few good YouTube videos. 

So there ya go, that’s how to make great pizza dough from scratch.

If I wanted to make a pizza like my grandfather would have, with no refrigeration, I’d create a different formula for a single dough, where the room temperature fermentation stage would be: 2 hours @ 75° F, and we’d be able to enjoy a delicious pizza in about two and a half hours. I may also use active dry yeast instead of instant dry yeast for this.

I can also do an all-day dough: 2 hours @ 75° F, then degas and fold and rotate 90° about 5 times. 2 more hours @ 75° F, then weigh, divide and ball, followed by 1 hour at 75° F. After that, it’s bake time.

Bulk fermenting the dough, giving it that long rise as one single uncut mass before being divided and balled later, is very convenient and it’s how the pizzerias would have made it during the early days of pizza in America. 

You don’t have to do a bulk fermentation like I described though, you can weigh/divide/ball just after the kneading process is done if you want. You’ll just have a bunch of plastic containers in the refrigerator, instead of only one. Dividing so early is a good idea when making multiple doughs and you’ll be giving some away.

Pizza made at home is a reward everyone can enjoy. It’s more affordable (and of better quality) than what you will get at your local cookie-cutter chain and the hands that made it were your own. Just give it a few times and you’ll be hooked.

I got my real education in making pizza from the fine people at the (appropriately-named) PizzaMaking.comforum.

Before that, I lumbered along following recipes and they were... okay, but they were nothing special at all. When I found this website, I found they spoke a whole other language. THIS is where many of the professionals discuss the trade and I had a LOT to learn.

It took me a while to get up to speed on things but once I did, that's when I really started making better pizzas. What is being read here on this page is my updated pizza dough workflow.

So as I make improvements and update the pictures, it will be shared here.

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