When a recipe says to get the dough smooth and elastic, what has happened when it stays a rough ball that tears easily? You’ve kneaded it for well over the recommended time but it is still a lumpy mess.
Why isn’t my pizza dough smooth and elastic?
A dough that does not become smooth and elastic is typically a problem with the gluten development. Either the wrong flour with too little protein was used or you did not knead the dough for long enough.
So how can we fix the problem, and where do we go from here?
Why Is It Not Becoming Smooth?
When flour meets water, the proteins start to form gluten. This is a stretchy network of strands which helps hold the dough together and give it elasticity. When we knead, we speed up this gluten development and organise it by folding the dough on itself.
When the dough is first mixed, the mixture has the consistency of what you would expect a powder and a liquid to have. It’s sticky, bumpy and you can tear a piece off with ease. After gluten has formed, the dough noticeably changes to have a smooth surface. It had elasticity which can be seen when you push a finger into the dough, which springs back. Or when you stretch it out, it snaps back into it’s original position. This is the inner strands of gluten holding things together. If this hasn’t happened then gluten hasn’t formed in the dough, and that is the main problem.
What forms gluten?
As I mentioned, the proteins in the flour form gluten when coming into contact with water. If you want more gluten, then you need more protein in the flour, you need water, and you need movement.
Not all flours are the same. They have different purposes which affect the properties of the cooked dough. A cake flour needs to be light and fluffy, and have a crumbly texture – what you might call “the crumb”. Pizza and bread need a different texture – stronger and more chewy. It needs larger holes and larger rises. This comes from more gluten strength which holds the dough together as it rises.
But even with the correct flour, you need to build and develop this gluten. That either comes from more kneading or with more time resting. Remember I said the gluten starts forming on its own with water? If you rest a dough for long enough then it will form the same amount of gluten. A few times folding the dough in on itself helps the gluten organise to become better structured – but the gluten is all there.
My Best Tips To Get Smooth Dough
How long to knead dough?
You shouldn’t have to knead the dough for a huge amount of time. Pizza dough doesn’t need the lengthy build up of a very strong structure like you need with bread. Bread needs a tight crumb and large rise to be a good bread, while this isn’t so important with pizza.
A medium knead is all that is required. I tend to give my dough a 25 minute rest once I’ve combined the flour and water together in the bowl. This let’s the flour absorb the water, and some gluten to start forming. It then only needs 1 minute of kneading to become smooth.
If you don’t want to do this resting phase, and want to get stuck in with kneading, you should knead for 2-3 minutes. It’s ready when it turns from a lumpy blog to a smooth ball. If you are a beginner then it may take a little longer.
How to knead properly
Use the heel of you hand to push the dough away slightly, then pull it back and fold on top of itself. Kneading firstly pushes around the flour to get the water absorbed, and secondly gets the gluten strands aligned into a stronger network. As long as you are stretching and folding, then you are doing it right. You don’t need to be too rough with it, a gentle touch can make a more tender dough.
What flour is best?
Essentially you need a flour with enough protein content. About 12% or more protein is best. A lot of flour brands don’t show the protein content but you can work it out if it has a protein content per 100g – that is your protein percentage. Many flour brands display their protein content online, so do some research before you buy.
Another sure way to pick a good flour is just use the designated type. A bread flour is suitable for making pizza. All purpose can sometimes be on the low end of the protein scale. Cake, pastry or plain flour does not have enough protein to make the best pizza, although it isn’t impossible.
Some go to brands are the Caputo pizzeria flour which is available worldwide. King Arthur’s bread flour in the USA, or Allinson’s bread flour in the UK. Generally speaking, any well known brand of bread or pizza flour will work well.
Can I Still Use The Dough I’ve Made?
Yes you can still use the dough but you should be aware of the limitations.
The dough probably won’t stretch. So if you are used to stretching by hand then it may not be possible. You will probably be able to roll out the dough with a rolling pin, but it may tear in places.
Another way to get the pizza into shape is to press the dough into an oiled tray. Just use your finger tips to press the dough to the corners for a fool proof way to shape the pizza. Just give the baking tray a good coat of oil otherwise it will stick. You can bake it in the tray for around 10 minutes in a preheated oven at around 430F/220C.
What will the pizza be like with this dough?
The pizza crust that comes out won’t rise very much. We need good amounts of gluten to allow the pizza to rise up tall. It holds on to the bubbles of CO2 as it bakes. So the crust will be smaller, and filled with smaller air bubbles. It will still work out OK for a beginner pizza, but it won’t be the best one you’ve had. But at least you now know the correction for next time.
Hopefully you are now aware of what is holding back your dough to become smooth and elastic. With the correct flour and proper technique you should be able to make a great pizza dough at home with ease.
My pizza dough recipe is a good starting point, and is suitable for the beginner or advance pizza maker alike. Check out my pizza dough here.