Pizza Dough From Scratch

Making pizza at home can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. Here is a basic 2-hour pizza dough recipe anyone can follow:

3 to 3-1/2 cups of AP or Bread Flour

1 cup Water, lukewarm 

1 envelope Active Dry Yeast

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Sugar

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Just bloom the yeast with most of the lukewarm water, reserving the rest to swish around the container to get the last bit of yeasty-goodness. Then mix and knead as you normally would, either by hand or machine.

This recipe makes a single 14" pizza dough and it is listed in the simple cup, teaspoon and Tablespoon in measurements.

Measurements are not accurate though, especially when it comes to flour, but it certainly gets the job done and for years, it's what I used.

Now, here is another recipe. This one goes in the refrigerator for 3 days and then take it out  1 hour before you start making the pizza, so it can warm up a little.

Bread Flour (100%): 274.01 grams

Water (58%): 156.84 grams

Instant Dry Yeast (0.12%): 0.32 grams

Fine Sea Salt (2.5%): 6.76 grams

Sugar (2%): 5.41 grams

Diastatic Malt Powder (2%): 5.41 grams

Olive Oil (2%): 5.41 grams

It's not listed in measurements, but in grams. Weighing your ingredients is far more accurate, you know exactly the amount you are using.

We won't need to bloom this yeast and as an added bonus, I've added Diastatic Malt Powder if I have it available. If not, no worries. 

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

I take the extra steps to make my dough fit the situation and it all begins with asking a few questions.

Do I want pizza in a little over 2 hours? Later today? Tomorrow? Or can I wait a few days?

The longer a dough cold-ferments, the better the final baked pizza will be in both taste and texture. It's the difference between a good pizza and a great pizza.

So the question of time, determines how much yeast I will be using.

A same-day pizza (2 or more hours) will require far more yeast for its warm-fermentation period, but being in the refrigerator for a cold-fermentation will have us dialing back the yeast amount quite considerably.

How will I be baking the pizza?

A high-heat pizza oven can reach temperatures in excess of 900° F. If I'm using one, I will use only flour, water, yeast and salt. I usually bake it in under 3 minutes and the final crust is light and airy on the inside. It's that good.

The regular consumer oven is lucky to reach its highest setting of 550° F and this limitation is a reality we must accept, but there are ways we can work around this shortcoming. To even the odds, I add olive oil, sugar and/or the real secret weapon: diastatic malt powder.

To create my dough formula, I use 2 websites. 

The first one is a Dough Fermentation Calculator

This page will give the exact yeast percentage I should be using, based on all the different warm and cold fermentation periods my pizza dough will be undergoing.

The other website will help me to create the actual dough formula itself.

Here’s the thing, the franchise pizza restaurants do not make their pizza dough on-site. Their doughs are made in a large factory, then shipped frozen to the individual locations to be thawed and then made into their signature pizza.

If they DO make their pizza on-site, most places will give their dough either a room-temperature rise or at most, a 24-28 hour cold-fermentation rise.

I personally find that the sweet spot for cold-fermentation is really between 48 and 72 hours. After 72 hours, the final baked crust begins to lose its 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 this 48-72 hour window, and have even gone as long as 11 days once with delicious results. (When I want to return to my family roots or make a Sicilian or Grandma's pizza (yes, that's the name), I will go with a room-temperature rise.)

So at the Dough Fermentation Calculator website, I may enter the following in the first field: 72 hours (that’s 3 days) @ 38° F for the long cold-fermentation.

In the second field, I enter: 1 hour @ 75° F for when I take the dough OUT of the refrigerator and let it come to room-temperature. On the right of my screen, I will set the yeast type to the type of yeast I am using, 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. In this case, it’s 0.117%, not a whole heck of a lot.

Now, I am a stickler for verification and 38° F is a good, safe temperature for food in a refrigerator. 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 another reading. This way I would 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 during summer. In winter, I will enter in 70-72° F, OR use a proofing box and set a temperature of my choosing. When it comes to temperature, be accurate and be consistent, lest ye end up with a blown-out dough with a great big gas bubble. 

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

I like a Thickness factor of 0.102. The pro's use 0.09 (or less), while the chain-establishments like their pizza much thicker, at around 0.13 and up. 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.

This recipe will be for a single 14” round pizza.

Hydration is incredibly important to your dough.

I’ll be baking this in our regular oven, set to a temperature of 550° F, so I will set the hydration to anywhere from 58% to 64%. If I were using a pizza oven, I may have a hydration of 65% to 70%.

I will verify the yeast percentage previously provided to me by the Dough Fermentation Calculator website and enter it in the appropriate field. (The amount may be rounded off)

I’m not using a preferment (Biga, Poolish or Stater) in this recipe, but if I were, I will enter that in, usually at 20%.

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). A good salt range is between 2% and 3%. After that, you can really start to taste it.

I am also given the option to add extra ingredients if I choose. Since I'm using the home oven, I will employ Diastatic Malt Powder at no more than 2% to give my pizza a very well-baked crust. NEVER use diastatic malt when using a high-heat pizza oven. Sorry, no experience on this one, I just know it’s BAD.

Sugar is at 1-2%. I can use it instead of the Diastatic Malt Powder OR to really help the baking, with the powder.

If I'm using it, Olive oil is also added at 1-2%. Sometimes I add it, sometimes I leave it out. I don’t usually factor in bowl residue because I find the final dough weight to be more than sufficient.

And just like that, I created a dough formula tailor-made for 3 days in the refrigerator and 1 hour on the counter.

(On the other hand, Flour, Water, Yeast and Salt are the only ingredients I will use if I'm making an artisan pizza like the ones me grandpappy would have made.)

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

For years, I used our KitchenAid Artisan mixer. It did a very good job, but I saw more and more bread makers being critical of it, comparing it to beating the ingredients together with a sledgehammer. I didn't know about that, all I knew was that it worked for me.

I also used the ever popular bread machine on the "Dough Cycle" setting which can do a damn good job, too. 

A food processor is also a viable option, which does the job in as little as few minutes. 

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.

A few years ago, I was gifted the opportunity to upgrade the mixer. I seriously considered the KitchenAid Pro, but then I saw a video demonstrating an Ankarsrum spiral mixer. To me, this made perfect sense. 

Powered by a motor in the base of the machine, it's the mixing bowl that turns. Dough tools (scraper, free-spinning roller and dough hook) attach to a swing arm on top. The swing arm can be locked into place so as a dough develops, it gets a nice gentle massage as the dough passes between the roller and the rotating bowl or around the dough hook. The scraper attachment helps keep the inside of the bowl clean. I saw this machine, and it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, it does have a learning curve, but I'm getting the hang of it.

When making pizza dough, I utilize a long and slow process AND I am always keeping an eye on how the dough looks and feels.

When using a KitchenAid, I will frequently stop the machine after every ingredient was combined to scrape off the dough hook so everything mixes evenly.

I have several different ways of making dough, but they all follow a common theme: Water is added first.

The water temperature should give us 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 79° to 82°F would be a good choice. If it’s during the cold winter months, I will probably use 90° F to compensate for any heat-loss.

The food processor is the worst of them all because it really heats the dough up, requiring the use of refrigerator-cold water, right around 40° F.

Next, I add ONLY 75% of my total flour weight to the mixing bowl, plus the drastic malt powder if it's being used. AP flour is good, but Bread flour is much 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 this is really for the high-heat pizza ovens or for people who like a really chewy pizza when baked in a home oven. (Like me)

I now start the mixer on Low and let it run until no raw flour remains, about 60-90 seconds should do it.

Stop the mixer, cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes.

This is called an autolyse and is another secret weapon for pizza and bread doughs alike. An autolyse helps relax the gluten strands and dramatically improves a dough's extensibility: the ability for the dough to stretch without tearing.

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

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

Give it another minute to integrate.

Now, very slowly and over a 6 minute period, I will add HALF the remaining flour. I add a little at a time, 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 6 minute period has concluded, giving it another minute or so to be mixed in. 

Here’s where things get very important for the 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 or 1 o'clock. 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 the additional ingredients causes it to bog down, but I want to be wary of when speed begins to stress the machine. (This is a big problem for the KitchenAid as the machine may overheat.)

I add the remaining flour (holding back about 1/3 cup) and let it continue running on Low for about 4 minutes. As I near that time, I will be pulling and stretching on the dough mixture to see how it’s coming together. I don’t want to feel any sticky dough residue on my fingers, and I should be able to pull and stretch the dough without it tearing, almost like Play Doh.

When that moment arrives, I can stop.

There is a decision to make. 

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

So I will continue mixing for another minute or two and then I'm done.

All I need to do now is give it another final 20 minute rest.

Sometimes we will end up using less flour than is called for in a recipe, sometimes we actually need to add the flour I held back in reserve and maybe even a little more. 

The other school of thought is to make the recipe exactly as it's stated. So don't hold back that 1/3rd cup of flour, add it all and once it's fully incorporated, give it that extra 1-2 minute finishing mix and then the same 20 minute rest.

After the 20 minute rest, I'll test it by doing a Windowpane Test. Tear off a piece and roll it into a little golfball. Stretch and form it into a small disc, kind of like a mini-pizza. Keep stretching the middle until it becomes a sheer, thin translucent membrane without any tearing.

If I've reached this stage, I'm done and can prepare my dough to go in the refrigerator.

If the dough tears, I need to keep kneading for say... 5 minutes, then do another test until I get that membrane.

To prepare for the long, cold 3-day fermentation period in the refrigerator, grab a large sealable plastic container that will house the dough. Put in a VERY small amount of vegetable oil and use a brush to coat the interior bottom and wall, up to about 3 inches.

Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and hand-knead it for a few minutes, before dividing (if necessary) and then balling the dough. After placing it in the plastic container, lightly brush the ball with oil.

(Please do a YouTube search to get a good visual display on hand-kneading dough and forming dough into a ball, along with Windowpane Test.)

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

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

After 72 hours, remove the dough and let it rest on the counter to begin the 1 hour @ 75° F warm fermentation period, which had previously entered in the dough fermentation calculator.

After taking the dough out, I will open the oven to verify the Baking Steel or Baking Stone is placed on the appropriate rack AND that it’s cleaned from the last bake. For a steel, it's 6" from the broiler element, with a stone, it's placed on the bottom rack. If you don't have either, just flip a baking sheet upside down and place it on the lowest rack.

Now I start the oven, setting it to 550° F. We don’t just want the air to be hot, we want the entire inside to radiate all that wonderful heat.

When the hour is up, I remove the dough from the container and form a rough disc, then dredge it in a plate of flour to counteract the wetness from the vegetable oil. I do one side, then another, then roll it on the edge so I get the sides. I don't want to see any wet areas on the dough.

There will be a noticeable difference between the two sides of the dough. The drier side is the one which was exposed to the air during the entire fermentation period, while the moister side was protected.

Dry-side down, I place the dough on a clean and sanitized work station, coated with a little bench flour (a 50/50 combination of AP flour and Semolina flour).

Now it's time for me to shape the dough into a 14 inch round shape. Just like with hand-kneading and dough balling, something like dough shaping is best learned by watching others.

After the dough is worked into a round shape, it’s time to dress, then bake the pizza.

There are two major preferences: Sauce first, then cheese OR cheese first, then sauce.

I'll admit, sauce is still a work in progress for us, and I will be posting our unfancy sauce recipe soon.

Some pizza recipes call for a sauce that is cooked while being made, they're good but it will be double-baked when all is said and done. We prefer a sauce made at room-temperature, then chilled for 24 hours and removing for 1+ hours prior to making the pizza. 

As for cheese, do NOT use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese or thou will most greatly offend the pizza gods. Seriously, they coat that stuff with cornstarch so it doesn't clump together in the bag, and it just does not melt well.

Use whole-milk mozzarella cheese instead.

If it's wet coming out of the package, sandwich it between several paper towels and several dish plates to squeeze out the excess liquid. Along with mozzarella cheese, we also have added Provolone, Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheese (fresh, not the ones in the cans!). If you are combining cheeses, mix them together instead of layering them on the pizza.

Shred the cheese beforehand, then freeze it for 15 minutes before placing it on the pizza. 

Vegetable toppings go under the cheese, while meat toppings go on top.

As for baking, well... that's a unique experience specific to each of us.

No two ovens bake the same. Instructions I give may not work with your oven. You're just going to have to bake some pizzas and find out for yourself. Oh, darn.

With a baking steel placed on a rack 6" from the broiler element, I find that 4 minutes, rotate, 4 minutes and anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds on broil delivers a killer pizza with only flour, water, salt and yeast.

When using diastatic malt powder, I will go 3 minutes, rotate, then 3 minutes and judge the results. Sometimes I need the broiler, other times I don't.

As for the baking stone, place it on the lowest rack, anywhere from 8 to 13 minutes should do the trick. Just remember, a baking steel and baking stone MUST be put in a cold oven BEFORE turning on the heat.

Always, always, always keep an eye on your pizza as it is baking.

Remember, you are baking both the bottom crust AND the cheese and toppings on top. So this is something you're just going to have to learn concerning how well your specific oven bakes the pizza. The bottom should have a nice golden brown color to it OR in a pizza oven, some nice char. The top should have a nice browning of the cheese, but not excessive.

Often times, people remove their pizza from the oven before it is really done. Another minute or so can have a significant impact on taste.

So there ya go, that’s how to make great pizza dough from scratch, one that is tailor-made just for YOU!

Now, if I wanted to make a pizza like my grandfather would have, with no refrigeration, I’d do it a little different. I may do a bulk fermentation, doubling the recipe for 2 or more doughs, and I'd probably use active dry yeast to get things going.

Since I'm doing an all-day fermentation, that would need a new formula for the yeast amount. I'd mix the dough just like before and in the plastic container it would go. 

90 minutes @ that day's temperature, then degas and fold, rotating 90° and then repeating the folding process about 5 times. Another 90 more minutes @ that day's temperature, then weigh the dough, divide and ball each one. Followed by 1 hour at that day's temperature.

After that, it’s bake time. (I can also just give it a single 90 minute rise if I want it ASAP)

Bulk fermenting dough, giving it a long rise as one single uncut mass before being divided and balled later, is very convenient and it’s also how the pizzerias would have made it during the early non-refrigerator days of pizza in America. A bulk fermentation can also be employed for cold-fermentations to save room in the refrigerator.

You certainly don’t have to do a bulk fermentation like I described though, you can weigh/divide/ball each dough just after the mix/knead process is done if you want. You’ll just have a bunch of plastic containers in the refrigerator, instead of only one. Dividing early is a good idea when making multiple doughs where 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 pizza 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) forum.

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 quickly realized 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 and I feel like I am just hitting my stride.

I hope these words help you to make your own great pizza at home...

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