How To Handle Wet Pizza Dough: Avoid Sticky Hands


Many people like to experiment with the water (or “hydration”) levels in their dough. But when you add more water, it can get harder to handle and shape. In summary, these are by best tips for handling wet pizza dough:

  • Use a dough scraper to gather and move around the dough between kneads instead of using your hands.
  • Learn some better kneading techniques like the “pincer” method and “stretch and fold”.
  • Be quick and just use your finger tips. This avoids dough sticking to your palms.
  • Some oil and a light dusting of flour help maneuvering the dough.
  • If your dough is extremely wet, you can dip you hand in water before you touch it so it doesn’t stick.

In this article I will explain in a bit more depths the methods mentioned above. Also looking into the reasons why we add more water to our dough and all the tricky problems it brings.

How Wet Should My Pizza Dough Be?

Pizza dough should be very wet and sticky when the ingredients are first combined. Over time, the flour absorbs the water and the dough becomes much less “wet”. You can give it a 3-5 minute knead or let it rest for 20 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the water. It then just needs 1 minute of kneading. I prefer the resting method as it avoids a sticky mess – give it a go.

The simple answer I would say is to make it as wet as you can handle comfortably. You get better at handling wetter dough with practice. But how much water does it actually need?

To understand the answer to this, lets first answer the question of what water does in dough. Firstly, it hydrates the flour and kicks off some chemical reactions so that the dough starts transforming into a new state.

When it’s being cooked, the dough goes into a very hot oven. Heat kicks off yeast activity and the dough rises, and at the same time the extreme heat will make the water turn to steam. The dough goes from a raw state, to fluffy and airy, then to a crisp state once the water has dried up.

So more water actually helps to make a better crust. That’s because it helps it rise better, with the steam loosening up the dough. The end result actually comes out more light and crispy, as opposed to flat and dense. If you want to nerd out more on pizza hydration levels I have an in depth article here on best pizza dough hydration and other ingredients.

But too much water means that the dough gets harder to handle. You need to find a sweet spot. You pizza making should be fun, easy and repeatable! I use a 66% hydration which I’ve found is perfect for me – you can follow it in my pizza dough recipe.

Remember that different flours can handle different amounts of water. So the best thing to do is to test some variations and then stick to it. I have an article on pizza flour that you can read here.

What Do I Do If My Pizza Dough Is Too Wet?

If it seems too wet when you’ve just incorporated all the ingredients together then this is normal. The flour hasn’t yet absorbed the water, so it feels very sticky to the touch. I recommend combining the ingredients, covering it and leaving it for about 20 minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the water and when you return, you are left with a smooth dough that is not very sticky and requires much less kneading. If it’s still wet and sticky at the stage then you can take action.

How do you fix too sticky dough?

If you’ve rested your dough for 20 minutes and it still feels very sticky, then there are a few remedies. The obvious one is to add more flour. But you should do so sparingly – you don’t want to overload your dough with flour as it will become dry and tough. Try a light dusting of the work surface, or by a spoonful at a time.

The second option is to use oil. Drizzle a little olive oil on your worktop and use this to knead and shape the dough. This way you can avoid a sticky dough but not adjust the quantities of the flour, which can have bad affects to your pizza. Oil is a fairly low risk addition to dough – it will actually soften the texture slightly to give it a nice chew.

How To Handle Wet Pizza Dough

One of my best tips is to use a dough scraper. This gives you a firm edge that you can maneuver dough quickly and avoid anything sticking to your hands and worktop. You can buy these very cheaply on Amazon.

Firstly make sure your equipment is oiled. The bowl you are using needs to be oiled, and the dough itself needs to have a thin coating of oil. The bench needs to have a dusting of flour, or some more oil to allow you to work with it without it sticking.

If your pizza dough is too sticky to knead, then you need to use some other tactics. Firstly there is the “pincer” method. This is where you use your thumb and forefinger to pinch dough and cut it through. It’s actually a really good technique to get right to the dough’s center and mix all the flour in. You can use a bowl of water to dip your hand in first, the water helps avoid any sticking to your hand.

Secondly there is the “stretch and fold” kneading method. You do this with your fingertips and the very heel of your hand. By not touching your palms on the dough, you avoid it sticking to your hands. Pull an edge of the dough away from you and quickly fold it back into the center and press with the heel of your hand. Do this a few times and rotate as you go. Being quick with your hands is the key here. After the dough has had several folds, it might start to get more sticky, so you will need to use a bench scraper to gather the dough together from the worktop. You can then give it a slight dusting and repeat. The folding builds up the gluten structure. you can physically feel it getting tighter.

How To Stop Dough Sticking To Hands

There are a few tricks that can help avoid dough sticking to your hands that you will pick up with practice. Try some of these tips:

  • Use a slight dusting of flour
  • Use olive oil on your hands
  • Use your finger tips and avoid your palms
  • Dip your hand in water before touching the dough

The first two are fairly straight forward. Just don’t go drenching your dough in flour as that will affect the recipe. Using water on your hands is an interesting one. You only need to do this if you are working with a dough that is so wet that it is almost impossible to handle. You dip your hand in water, give the dough a pinch or fold and then dip it in the water again for the next touch. As your hand is so wet, the dough has no chance of sticking.

How To Clean Your Hands Of Dough

For any larger bits I rest my fingertips on the dough and use the other hand or a spoon to scrape down the fingers to the dough. If you make contact with the dough ball then the bits of dough tend to stick to the big sticky bit of dough rather than staying on your hands

Then the smaller bits, the best is to rub them together. If they are too sticky then add some flour to your hands and then rub them together – the flour adds a bit of friction.

Remember to do this over your mixing bowl or your trash. If you do it in your kitchen sink then the balls tend to go glutinous and get stuck in the plug hole or drain.

Conclusion

You should try and experiment with wetter doughs and see what works best in your home set up as each oven is different. For me, I’ve found that 66% water weight to flour weight works best. It is not too wet so that it becomes difficult to handle, but it creates perfect pizzas. You can find the recipe on my blog here – Crust Kingdom Pizza Dough.

4 thoughts on “How To Handle Wet Pizza Dough: Avoid Sticky Hands

  1. Hey Tom,

    Thank you for the tips. I’ve been making pizza at home every weekend for quite a while and have been working on getting better every weekend. I tried working more water into my latest dough and was successful up until it was time to shape the dough to throw it into the oven.
    The dough was still very tacky and difficult to shape. I weighed my ingredients. Substituted molasses for sugar. Was there too much water? I weighed everything out and used 66% on the dot. White lilly bread flour was the flour I used.

    1. Hi Kris,

      Just checking you do an important step when shaping – getting lots of flour involved. I use a bowl of flour that I dip the dough into before shaping and this makes sure the dough is fully floured and no longer tacky. You can also use as much flour as you want on the worktop – just make sure to pick it up on your fists and dust the excess off before you put it on the peel.

      1. Thanks Tom, I will work do that next round. I was still trying to limit the amount of flour during the shaping step as well so sounds like that might be my issue.
        Sub note: thank you for all your content. It’s been extremely helpful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Content