I think that kneading pizza dough often has a lot of bad instructions in recipes. After trying out countless recipes I now know that the lengthy times that most recommend just aren’t required. Kneading for 10 – 20 minutes is just tiring, time consuming and not needed for pizza.
How much kneading does pizza dough actually need?
Pizza dough requires less kneading than bread as pizza doesn’t need the structure to form a large loaf or interior crumb. It needs just enough to allow it to be stretched thinly, and strong enough to hold some air bubbles while rising – about 1 – 2 minutes of kneading with a good technique.
My best tip is to mix the ingredients until they are just combined and let them rest for 20-25 minutes – this allows the flour to absorb the water fully. When you start kneading you have skipped the “sticky” stage, and it will only required a minute of kneading until the dough is very smooth. Try it! My recipe for dough uses this technique and can be found here.
Read on for my full instructions on kneading.
Why The Short Knead Time Works
So why do we knead? You can see first hand of your efforts with kneading. When the ingredients are combined, the dough is just a mixture of powder and liquid and it breaks up if you stretch it. As you begin to work it, the dough changes consistency to being stretchy and smooth, and also contracts back into shape.
When the flour meets water it actually starts forming gluten by itself. As you push and fold the dough, it builds more gluten and organises it into strands. This network allows the dough to hold on to bubbles of gas as the dough ferments. It stretches but it still has strength to not break which are two very important qualities of dough.
With most bread doughs it’s quite important to knead for longer periods. This builds up a good structure of the dough so it can do things like rise uniformly into a loaf, hold its shape, and then bake well. The interior needs good uniform structure too when you cut it open – especially if you are making something like sandwich bread.
But with pizza this isn’t so important. You need the dough to be extensible to be stretched out thinly to make a base. Then you need the crust to rise an inch or two when baked. This comes from the strength of holding on to gases without breaking. You don’t require a nice uniform crumb, and its best you avoid this. Pizza should be light, airy and crispy – not dense and bread like. That’s why I recommend kneading for just a few short minutes – that is all you need. These recipes which recommend kneading for 10-20 minutes are just a waste of your time! It’s hard work to keep going that long, and is only going to put you off making pizza next time.
Stand mixer or by hand?
I always mix dough by hand. You get a good feel for the dough which is a good skill to build up – you know when it is just ready. It’s also fun and therapeutic. You can use a mixer if you want though – especially useful if you have a particularly large amount of dough.
Using a stand mixer typically requires less time than by hand if you are going for a lengthy period of say 10 minutes. But as we are already using just a short time, a similar amount of time with a stand mixer is required as by hand.
When is the dough ready?
This question used to drive me crazy when I was starting out. Most recipes didn’t have much indication. But what I will say is that practice makes perfect with this one. Here is my take:
It is ready as soon as the ingredients have mixed to form a smooth ball with no more lumps. You may have heard of the “window pane” test where a piece of dough is stretched between your fingers to see if you can see light through it. I don’t think you need to go as far as this, as long as the dough stretches a little bit without breaking is good enough. The rest of the gluten development will happen by itself – remember that the contact of flour with water will produce gluten over time.
In summary, the dough is ready when it is:
- Smoother and not lumpy
- Springy and stretchy, but doesn’t quite need to pass the “window pane” test
- Less sticky than when you started
Perfect Kneading Instructions
Here is my kneading method I’ve settled on after many different attempts. I like it because it’s easy, has a short kneading phase and is very consistent.
Add the ingredients to a mixing bowl. I like to start with water, dissolve the salt and yeast, then add the flour, then the oil if using. Then do something called “mixing to combine” – basically get all the flour wet to start things off, which should take 30 seconds or so with your finger tips. Then leave it rest for 25 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water and begin gluten development. Returning to the dough, it is no longer sticky. Now knead it for about a minute on the worktop. It should be smooth, and you should be able to feel the dough push back on you slightly when you fold and knead it.
It will be tight and snappy at first, unable to being stretched or rolled out. I recommend rising the whole piece for at least an hour, then shape into balls and rest the balls for at least another hour, preferably overnight. The dough relaxes and becomes easier to stretch with longer time held in the dough ball phase.
Negative Effects Of Kneading For Too Long
Can you over knead pizza dough? You can’t over knead dough by hand so much that it is unusable, but can do so in an electric mixer as it works it harder. By kneading too much with both hand and mixer can make a dough have qualities which aren’t desirable for pizza.
Kneading for too long can cause a dense crumb (the interior of the cooked dough). This is because the gluten structure is so well developed. Also, because the dough is so strong, it might not expand and so holds on to the gas.
There is evidence to show that excessive kneading affects the flavor and texture from overworking the dough. The general consensus is that you should only work the dough as much as you need to. The stage where you leave the ingredients to absorb before kneading helps this. It is called the autolyse phase if you want to read more, I wrote an article about it.
The final negative effect is that you are just wasting time. Making pizza dough is a lengthy process already, and spending 20 minutes kneading dough on a worktop is just not a great experience. Recipe writers have so many unnecessary hoops to jump through which I think are passed down to the next person with no valid reason. Once you start testing things out for yourself you realise that many things aren’t needed at all. I want people to enjoy making pizza and come back time after time.
Effects Of Kneading Too Little
If you knead for a short time then less gluten is made up front. If you were to use the dough straight away without resting to allow more gluten to form then it would have problems. Firstly, you wouldn’t be able to get it thin enough for a pizza base without it tearing. It would also turn out thin and dense because the gluten strength allows the dough to rise up and create pockets in the crust.
But because we are resting the dough in the fermentation step, the dough will create more gluten from the natural reaction of flour and water. We also need to dough to be rested to allow the gluten to relax. If we don’t, the dough will snap back and be very hard to stretch into a thin base.
The natural build up of gluten is made possible with time and water in the dough. So if your dough is very dry or you are rushing the dough, then you may have problems.
No Knead Dough Recipe
In 2012 a baker called Jim Lahey published a popular book called “My Pizza”. The book outlined a no-knead dough recipe. The dough is simply left for a fairly long period – 16 hours or so – so that natural gluten builds up. It is then shaped and baked. I would recommend getting the book for a read, it has a no-nonse approach to pizza making and has some interesting recipes. You can buy it on Amazon.
It’s an example and proof of how kneading isn’t that important for making dough if you are prepared to let time do the work.
There is my take on kneading. After many hours in the kitchen making pizza I can say with confidence that long kneading isn’t needed for pizza. I like to keep things simple, and like a quick routine to get my dough mixed up and ready for the next round of pizzas. Once you get in tune with a method, practice it and stick with it – you can then really hone your dough technique.
Give my pizza dough recipe a try here, I promise you won’t be disappointed!