There are a number of taste and texture issues that you will encounter when starting to make pizza. This list is set of common pizza dough problems and some ways to improve next time.
How To Make Pizza Crust Crispy
To get a crispy crust you need several things. Heat, a thinly stretched dough and enough water in the dough.
Yes that’s right, you need more water in the dough. It may sounds counter intuitive to add more water to your dough to make it more crispy, but i’ll explain why it works. More water means more steam when it hits the hot oven, so it springs up and makes it lighter and crispier. I would advise making your dough as wet as you can handle in the kneading phase, as more water makes it stickier and harder to work with. If you are into hydration percentages, then 63-65% water to flour is a good place to start and then you can push it higher.
Next you need heat in the form of a hot oven and a pizza stone. You can use a pizza stone, pizza steel, or at least a thick baking sheet. Heat it up for at least 30 minutes before putting the pizza on, using a thin sheet or peel to transfer.
Aim to stretch the pizza as thin as you can without breaking. This comes with practice, and with a dough that is well rested and extensible. Stretching by hand is better than using a rolling pin as you don’t deflate it.
How To Keep Pizza Crust From Getting Hard
You might find that your pizza is too dense, too tough or too dry.
This is probably due to cooking your pizza in an oven which is not hot enough and so you baked it for too long. If you are using a baking sheet which isn’t pre-heated, your cooking time ends up around 10-15 minutes – this just causes the pizza to dry out and get hard.
Instead, you should fire up your oven as hot as it can go and leave a pizza stone to heat up for at least 30 minutes. The pizza will cook in 5-8 minutes, with a crust that has a crisp exterior and a chewy, tender interior.
It will also cause the crust to spring up more rapidly as the dough expands in the extreme heat, leaving a lighter and more airy crust. Making sure your dough is not too dry is key, as a more moist dough will spring better. Try not to add too much extra flour when kneading.
You shouldn’t roll out the dough with a rolling pin either – this will squash the air out and leave you with a crust that resembles a cracker. Stretching by hand will ensure it stays nice and light.
Stop Pizza Dough Sticking To Hands
Simply put, your pizza dough is very wet. You can add small dustings of flour to help, or rub some oil onto your hands to prevent sticking.
At the start of the kneading process the dough is more likely to stick to the hands. It will change from a shaggy lump into a smooth, stretchy ball and become less sticky. If you can get through the initial part then you should be fine.
A wet dough cooks better than a dry dough, so don’t go drowning it in flour. Instead you should sprinkle small amounts of flour, or olive oil when ever you require it – just enough that it doesn’t become too sticky to work with. A dough scraper is a good tool for very sticky dough, as you can knead a few times then gather together with the scraper.
Pizza Dough Too Elastic
A dough that is too elastic is displaying its high gluten content. Gluten is this stretchy network which builds up from kneading and proofing.
Gluten also degrades over time and loses strength, so allowing your dough to proof for longer will relax the dough enough to stretch it out easily. Try giving it 24 hours in the fridge.
Another big problem is a dough that is too cold. You need to wait until the dough ball is up to room temperature before you open it. Try a 2 hour rest on the worktop before you start stretching the dough. If the dough springs back, leave it rest for 10 minutes more and then return to it and it should have relaxed.
Once you get better at stretching, you can find a few tricks to get the dough open. I find that draping the dough over your upturned fists and pulling apart always works, even with the tightest dough. The gravity and the stretch should start easing the dough open – just move around the circle as you go.
Pizza Dough Not Rising
A pizza dough that hasn’t risen indicates that there has been a problem with the yeast activity. It could be dead, or have been inhibited.
You can test the quality of your yeast by activating it in water before you add it to your flour. If you add water, whisk it for 30 seconds and then give it a few minutes to activate. If the yeast dissolves and foams slightly on the surface then you know it is ready to use, if not then its probably dead so don’t use it.
A low proofing temperature can slow yeast activity. Make sure that you place your dough in a warmer place to promote fermentation. If you are proofing the dough in the fridge then it will naturally take longer to rise.
Heat can kill yeast – make sure when you activate the yeast the water isn’t too hot. Around 130F/54C will kill yeast, so aim around 110F/43C. If you don’t have a thermometer then you can gauge it roughly by touch – you want water that has had the coolness taken off, just make sure its not hot.
Too much salt can inhibit yeast activity. Make sure your recipe doesn’t have excessive amounts, and ensure the yeast doesn’t come in direct contact with the salt before the other ingredients.
Pizza Not Cooking On Bottom
If your pizza is still doughy on the bottom, when the toppings are all cooked, this indicates that there hasn’t been enough heat coming from the bottom.
If you put your pizza on a cold cooking tray when you put it into the oven, then this is a big indicator. You need to heat up the surface that you are cooking on before the dough arrives.
Invest in a pizza stone or steel and pre-heat. This gives the crispiest crusts on the bottom, cuts your cooking time, and produces consistent results every time. At the very least, you need to get a thick baking sheet and pre-heat it for at least 30 minutes.
Get a pizza peel to transfer your pizza easily to the hot surface.
Pizza Dough Won’t Brown
Browning happens either when extreme heat almost chars the dough when cooked rapidly or when you use sugars in your dough, which caramelise when cooking.
If you aren’t using a wood fired pizza oven, then your temperatures in a home oven will never compete. You should add some sugar to your recipe, around 1.5-2% of the total flour added, and this should brown up the crust nicely. At this amount, it won’t add a noticeable sweetness.
Always try to get the most heat from your oven by pre-heating and using a pizza stone or steel. And remember to always cook your pizza long enough – when you think it’s done you can probably go a minute or so more and get a browner, more flavorful pizza.
Pizza Dough Tastes Bland
Pizza can taste like cardboard if you’re not careful. Its usually down to using a recipe that is too simple, and too quick. Like quite a lot of food, flavor in pizza takes time to develop.
Pizza dough ferments when yeast consumes the starches in the flour. This fermentation process adds more complex flavors to the dough, and this is why it is important to give your dough a long, slow fermentation.
Allowing your dough to proof in the fridge slows the fermentation process down and allows flavor to develop without it over fermenting. I recommend 24 hours as a minimum, and up to 3 days.
Recipes which state to rise for an hour should only be used in an emergency. If you can proof for 4 hours at room temperature that is a much better dough to use on the same day.
Another factor for lack of flavor is too little salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer and really allows the flavors to punch more. Try upping the salt to around 2% of the total flour used. You will need an accurate scales to measure this – it’s worth it.
Pizza Dough Tastes Like Flour
Pizza dough can end up with a floury, starchy taste even if you followed the recipe to plan and allowed to rise for a lengthy period. This might be because you didn’t have enough salt or oil in the recipe.
Salt enhances flavor, bringing out the good flavors and ensuring it doesn’t taste a bland, raw floury taste. Try upping the salt to 2% of the total flour weight of the recipe.
Extra virgin olive oil adds some nice flavor and chewiness. Maybe your recipe didn’t include oil because it was a Neapolitan pizza recipe – New York style which is best for a home oven, usually has the addition of oil.
Neapolitan pizza dough doesn’t usually have oil in the recipe, but because it is cooked in a wood fired oven, you get all the benefits of the wood smoke and charring to add flavor.
Pizza Dough Tastes Like Yeast
Pizza and bread baked at home often has this yeasty taste which is typical of an amateur home bake. Why doesn’t a bakery have it?
The answer lie in the ingredients and time. If you want a quick pizza, then recipes usually call for a large amount of yeast which is kick started with some sugar. This rises rapidly and ensures the pizza appears to cook well – but the flavor isn’t great.
The key a more advanced baker would use, is to use less yeast and allow it to ferment slowly over a day or so. This avoids the overly yeasty taste, and the extra time fermenting when rising adds other flavors.
Try reducing the yeast to 0.5-1% of the total weight of flour, or using a starter like poolish, and then fermenting over 1-3 days in the fridge.
Pizza Dough Tastes Bitter
A bitter taste on your pizza is probably from flour than has gone rancid, or something that has burned while cooking such as excess flour, or other debris in your oven.
Check that your flour is not rancid. You are probably familiar with a raw flour taste and smell – rancid flour will be much more unpleasant. Be careful with anything that could make you ill.
Flour also burns to become bitter. Too much flour or semolina could have been used on your pizza peel while transferring to the oven. This burns quickly on the underside of the base as it touches the hot pizza stone directly. Ensure you have enough flour to stock the pizza sticking but not excess amounts.
Pizza Dough Smells Sour
You might have left your dough to slow proof for a day or two in the fridge. Upon removing the cover you get hit with this strong sour smell. It’s the same reason people might ask why their pizza tastes like alcohol or their pizza tastes like beer. The dough is fermenting.
The yeast you added consumes the starches in the flour, and produces by-products of carbon dioxide and, yes, alcohol. This fermentation adds to the texture and flavor of the dough.
A smell of sourness doesn’t indicate the dough is rancid. Dough can be stored in the fridge for days (I find 3 days is optimum, and then it starts actually tasting overly alcoholic). Be careful not to leave dough in warmer temperatures where bugs could grow, and always cook it thoroughly.
The alcohol produced mostly evaporates when it is baked, so if you still taste this strongly, you might have under baked or fermented for too long.
Pizza Dough Too Dry
You simply need more water here. You might be confused because you followed the recipe exactly – but the thing is, different flours will absorb different amounts of water, sometimes drastically.
A flour like fine ’00’ Italian bread flour needs less than high protein bread flour, which needs less water than a wholemeal flour. My advice is to find a brand of flour which works well and stick to it for consistent results.
If you feel your dough is too dry when you’ve mixed the ingredients in your bowl, then you can add a small amount of water before you move to the worktop. A tablespoon at a time is a good amount – you can easily go too far and make your dough too wet very quickly. If you find it hard to incorporate water without a sticky mess, then you can use a spray bottle and go slowly.
Pizza Dough Too Soft
This is likely down to the flour that you used in your recipe or if referring to the cooked crust – the temperature you cooked it.
The protein content in flour dictates how much gluten will be present in the dough. A lower protein flour means less gluten, and less stretch. That is why bread flour is often labelled ‘strong bread flour’ – that extra gluten gives strength to work with. If you use ’00’ grade flour then this is very soft, as its ground fine and uses the softest wheat. It is harder to work with, so perhaps go for a stronger bread flour or make a blend if you find it too soft.
If the pizza crust is too soft then it could be down to how you cooked it. You need to have a pizza stone or steel preheated in the oven, with the oven on the highest setting.
Pizza Dough Too Bready
If you are going for a fairly thin crust pizza, you don’t want a thick, heavy and indigestible crust. You want to aim for a base that is thin, crisp and holds its shape as a slice. And a crust that is light, with open holes like a good ciabatta.
The first thing would be to use a good recipe. Lower the yeast content to around 1% of the flour, and proof the dough overnight at least. This makes the dough more digestible as the starches are being broken down and consumed by the yeast.
If you knead the dough for longer like bread, it will produce an internal crumb structure that is similar to bread. Instead of kneading until passing the ‘window pane’ test (see pizza dough looks lumpy), you should knead until the dough is just smooth, and this should make the crumb less bread like.
Finally, ensure you stretch out the dough thinly enough. This takes practice, but you should aim to stretch it pretty much as thin as you can go without tearing it. The thicker it is, the more bready it will be when it rises up. Stretch right out to the crust, and leave a 3/4 inch of thicker area which is enough to get a nice rise around the edge.
The the pizza tastes too much like bread or yeast – see my paragraph for ‘pizza dough tastes like yeast’
Pizza Dough Looks Lumpy
A lumpy pizza dough probably hasn’t had enough time to knead. When you knead, you turn this shaggy ball of flour and water into a nice smooth dough ball, and it takes a few minutes.
Incorporate all your ingredients and give your dough a firm knead for 3-5 minutes until smooth. You will feel the dough’s state change as the gluten is developed from the movement of kneading. It will firm up slight, become more elastic, and the surface will visibly become more smooth.
You can test that it is done by poking a finger into the ball – it should spring back slightly when finished. Another test is the windowpane test. Tear off a golf ball sizes piece and try to stretch it thinly – if you can stretch and see some light through it then you know you are done. If it tears then give it a few more minutes. You don’t have to knead pizza dough to the extent of bread dough, as we don’t need such a strong crumb structure.
If you used a stand mixer then it might be that your dough hook isn’t doing its job very well. Finish it off by hand for the last few minutes, and always make sure to scrape down the dough hook periodically.
Final Key Tips
As you can see from most of these tips, there are some common themes running through. Following a good recipe is a good start, and then these pizza tips should ensure you make the best pizzas every time:
- Use a flour with at least 12% protein content for better gluten strength and texture.
- Avoid dry dough – the stickier and wetter the dough you can handle, the better the pizza.
- Use a weighing scales to accurately measure ingredients.
- Add the correct amount of yeast, salt and sugar. Around 1%, 2% and 2% if being technical.
- Knead your dough for just long enough to develop gluten (around 3-5 minutes).
- Cold, slow ferment your dough for at least 24 hours to develop flavor and texture.
- Make sure your dough, toppings and sauce are not cold when assembling.
- Do not use too many toppings – it will overload the cooking process.
- Cook with the highest temperature your oven can go.
- Cook on a pre-heated pizza stone or steel.
- Finish the pizza with a sprinkling of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.