All About Pizza Dough, Hydration And Other Bakers Percentages

Learning a bit more about bakers percentages and dough formulas is an important step in making better pizza more consistently. Hydration is one of these percentages and this affects the pizza dough the most.

This article has some information on how to formulate and read percentages. Also answering questions, What is the best hydration level? as well as a comparison of some popular recipes from online and in books.

What Are Bakers Percentages?

Bakers percentages are a common way to define the proportions of ingredients in a recipe by defining percentages of ingredients compared to the total amount of flour. While typical recipes will specify the ingredients in volumes, the bakers percentages allow the reader to quickly compare recipes, and scale the recipe by multiplying the proportions.

Flour is always stated at 100% and then the other ingredients can be worked out as a percentage of that flour volume. For example, if you have 340g of flour, then you would need 221g/ml of water to have a 65% hydrated dough.

If you take your starting flour and divide by 100, you get 1% of the volume. You can then multiple this by the percentage you need, for example to find one percent you do 340 / 100 = 3.4. And so to find 65% we take our one percent and multiply it – 3.4 * 65 = 221.

Remember that 1g of water equals 1ml of water, so if you get 221g of water as your result then you can use 221ml of water.

The Main 4 Ingredients In Dough

Pizza dough needs flour, water, yeast and salt for its key ingredients. This means that the variation of any of them, particularly water, has a large impact. The addition of sugar and oil is optional.

Sugar is optional but many recipes will include it. It is beneficial for the home cooked pizza as the oven isn’t hot enough so it will help with browning the crust. It also adds a slight sweetness to the dough. It isn’t needed in a pizza oven because the high temperatures will be enough to brown the crust.

Oil is optional and added to dough, more traditionally a New York or home baked pizza. It will add some flavor, make the dough smoother, and also help with the browning.

Weigh Your Ingredients

When dealing with bakers percentages, it is important to use a scales to weigh your ingredients. Especially for the salt, yeast and sugar, which use such small quantities around 1%. Errors can easily happen if using teaspoon measurements.

For these measurements, you can pick up a cheap digital scales online. Be sure to get one which is accurate enough (to the 0.1g) like this one I like from Amazon. Most scales don’t go to such accuracy so keep an eye out when buying.

Use The Pizza Dough Calculator

You can work it out yourself, but there are a few online tools to help you calculate your dough quantities, giving you clear measurements for each ingredient.

I like the tool at PizzaCreator.net which you can use to help you work out the numbers. Just input how many pizzas you require. The advanced option allows you to control the percentages of water, salt, sugar and oil. I always put my hydration higher then their default 60%.

http://www.pizzacreator.net

Pizza Dough Percentages Comparison

When I started out testing pizza dough, I wanted to see how different dough compared. Each different website or book will swear by different recipes and methods so its hard to know who to go by. It’s largely down to preference, so test a few ways out and see which one you like the best.

I’ve listed a few of my favorite resources for pizza dough. Tony Gemignani and Tom Lehmann are two of the most well known pizza experts. You should get a copy of The Pizza Bible by Tony (Amazon link), which has world champion-winning recipes for every pizza type from the USA and Italy. Tom Lehmann, aka ‘The Dough Doctor’ has many online articles for various pizza magazines, and also answers questions on the forum pizzamaking.com.

The following table shows some comparison dough recipes and where you can read more about the recipes which they came from.

RecipeStyleWaterYeastSaltSugarOilRecipe
Tony Gemignani – Pizza BibleNew York65%1%2%2%1%Book / Online
Tom LehmannNew York63%0.5%1.5%2%1%Here
Serious EatsNeapolitan65%1.5%2%Here
Serious EatsNew York67%1.5%1.5%2%5%Here
pizzacreator.netNeapolitan60%1%2%Here
pizzacreator.netNew York60%1%2%2%3% Here
Jamie OliverNew York65%1.4%0.5%1.3%6%Here
Jamie OliverNeapolitan70%0.7%1%Here

After trying all these out, the dough I currently work with has 65% water, 1% yeast, 2% salt, 2% sugar and 1% oil.

How To Mix Ingredients

I follow the same steps for every dough, and this specific sequence produced perfect, consistent dough.

  • Hydrate the flour with the water for 30 minutes (autolyse stage, but can be skipped)
  • Hydrate the dried yeast in a splash of water then add and mix for a minute
  • Add the salt and sugar and mix for a minute
  • Add the oil and mix for a minute
  • Transfer the dough to the worktop and knead for 3-5 minutes
  • Rest for 1 hour at room temperature to start fermentation
  • Bulk ferment in the refrigerator for 24 hours for flavor
  • Remove 250g dough for one pizza and ball
  • Rest for 2 hours before stretching to return to room temperature

Best Hydration For Pizza Dough

Aim for 63-% – 65% hydration then experiment higher

Pizza dough generally gets better with higher hydration. So you should aim to get your dough as wet as you can manage, without it becoming too much of a problem with handling and mixing.

This is because the dough is more extensible with more water, so can rise and produce a lighter, more pronounced crust. More water actually makes the crust more crisp which sounds slightly counter productive, but is true. This is because the extra water will turn to steam when the pizza hits the oven. It will rise up faster, and make more bubbles in the dough which will in turn, result in a less dense dough which crisps up better.

As a hydrated pizza dough will bake more efficiently, it will ironically stop your pizza dough from being soggy in the middle. You might have cooked some pizza and got a ‘gum line’ in the middle of the dough, where the outer parts have cooked well but the inner is still raw. It would be tempting to remove more water to solve this problem, but the opposite is actually better. By removing water it only makes the dough stiffer, denser, and with less rise. So by adding more water this should help the base rise and cook better to avoid a gum line.

Flour types will vary on how much water they absorb, so this is an important factor too. You probably know that Italian “00” flour is the finely milled grade. This fine milling affects its water absorption so results in it not needing as much water as normal bread flours – the “00” dough ends up a stickier dough. So try and be consistent with your flours when you are adjusting hydration levels.

Tips For Optimum Hydration:

  • Don’t add oil too early – it will coat the flour and prevent water from hydrating it properly. Always add the oil at the end of mixing.
  • Soak your flour in the water for 30 minutes before adding other ingredients. This allows the flour to hydrate fully before yeast and salt is added. It is called the autolyse method.
  • Don’t add excess flour on the work bench when you are mixing and shaping. It can all add up to interfere with your percentages. Use a small bit at a time, or some olive oil.
  • For help with wet dough, use a pizza scraper while you are kneading. Use one hand to push and fold the dough and the scraper to gather it off the bench.

Best Pizza Dough Yeast Percentage

Typically 1% – 1.5% for shorter fermentation (a few hours)
Typically 0.5% – 1% for longer fermentation (12 hours+)

How much yeast depends on how long you plan to ferment the dough. Most beginner recipes will use a fairly large amount of yeast and sugar to get the dough to rise quickly, so you can proof the dough for an hour or two before stretching and baking.

This isn’t the best method, as it takes time to develop flavor and better texture in dough. This happens through a slow fermentation process with the yeast, which is achieved by putting the dough in the refrigerator. The cold temperature slows yeast fermentation to allow it to develop flavor over time, but not to over proof.

So with this slower fermentation, you can actually use less yeast. This will avoid the dough having a overly yeasty and bready taste and aroma. Having a dough which tastes solely of this flavor is quite characteristic of an amateur bake. Drop the yeast to 1% or less, and slow ferment your dough in the fridge for a much better flavor and texture.

Best Pizza Dough Salt Percentage

Typical in the range of 1 – 2%

Salt is a crucial element, as without it, your dough will taste bland and floury. Salt inhibits the growth of yeast, so it is important to follow the recipe and use accurate amounts otherwise you might not get the rise you intended. By using a scales rather than teaspoons, you can get a much accurate measurement – especially if the salt has larger crystals.

In high concentrations, salt can kill yeast. So I always add the salt after the flour, water and yeast have been combined. Avoid mixing your salt and yeast directly in your bowl, and the yeast will have maximum fermentation.

You will notice when you add the salt to the flour, yeast and water mix that it tightens the dough. It strengthens the gluten network, making it snap back more. If you’re getting this problem then reduce the salt percentage slightly.

What Salt To Use?

It is best to use finely ground salt in dough recipes so you don’t end up with large chunks. These may or may not dissolve in your dough, and ultimately you want a nicely dispersed salt flavor in your dough. So avoid large crystals of kosher or rock salt.

Normal table salt will do but the flavor isn’t great – I like sea salt as the flavor is stronger and less bitter than table salt.

Best Pizza Dough Sugar Percentage

Typical in the range of 1.5 – 2%

Does pizza dough need sugar? No it isn’t an essential ingredient in the recipe. The starches in the flour will provide enough food for the yeast to feed on in the fermentation process.

So the amount of sugar depends on how much you want to dough to brown, and how sweet you like it to taste. Purist Neapolitan dough doesn’t contain any sugar, and has a cleaner, natural taste to it. It gets all the browning and flavor from the pizza oven because of its intense heat. It chars the outside for a smokey flavor, and leopard spotted surface.

How Much Oil In Pizza Dough

Typical in the range of 1 – 5%

This can vary quite a lot between recipes, so that signals one thing – the amount of oil doesn’t make or break a recipe. Unlike the other ingredients like yeast or salt which are more sensitive to small changes.

You can get some New York recipes with no oil at all and some with as much as 5%. So with many things to do with pizza – it’s simply down to your preference.

The oil adds some taste, some texture in the form of chewiness and tenderness, and also some browning. Experiment and see what you prefer.

Conclusion

You should get familiar with bakers percentages as they aren’t difficult to grasp. It just takes a little bit of simple calculation to get going – and then you can write down your best percentages and volumes needed for X pizzas in that ratio to use every time.

Remember that different doughs will work for different styles of pizza and oven, so pick one which is suitable. Experiment with recipes until you find one that works for you and your oven, and then you can replicate it with confidence every time you set out to make pizza.


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