There are recipes which use no kneading, other recipes which ask for 20 minutes of kneading. There is obviously some big differences here so let’s get to the bottom of this. I tested two doughs and left them rise for three hours – one kneaded a long time and one not kneaded at all.
So what was the verdict – should pizza dough be kneaded?
Gluten develops by itself when flour and water come into contact, and this is usually adequate for pizza dough. Using a short knead of a few minutes is best as it prevents clumps in the flour, and ensures a consistent dough structure every time.
After testing many approaches out, I have settled on kneading for just 1-2 minutes. I have found that letting the dough rest for 25 minutes after mixing lets the flour absorb the water. You have then skipped the “sticky” phase and can give the dough a quick work so that some gluten is built up. Most of the gluten strength is then formed by the extended rest used which also lets flavor to develop from the fermentation. Check out my pizza dough recipe for my approach.
Here is what happened in the testing and what I learned – it was not what I expected!
Testing: The Effect Of Kneading On Two Doughs
To make a point I did a test by making two doughs and kneaded them at complete ends of the spectrum to see what the outcome would be. I thought I would keep the rise times fairly short – I gave them both an hour for the first rise, balled them and then 2 hours for the second rise. I wanted to keep it short so that it wasn’t swayed too heavily with a natural gluten build up that would happen over a longer period.
The first dough I did not knead at all. I combined the ingredients and used my hand to mix and squeeze the ingredients together for about 30 seconds until all the flour was wet. After the first rise I balled the dough very gently and didn’t make any folds to the dough.
The second dough I kneaded for 10 minutes solid (much longer than I usually knead for). I also gave it a good few stretch and folds after the first rise. It was safe to say the ball was TIGHT!
So what were the outcomes? Well initially the kneaded dough was very smooth, while the unkneaded dough remained shaggy as expected.
After the first rise, as soon as I started shaping the unkneaded dough, it transformed quickly into a very smooth ball. It felt weak, but it had no lumps anymore.
The kneaded dough was very strong and tight. It actually sat up more as a taller ball than the unkneaded, which flopped flatter as it didn’t have as much gluten strength. I can see how a well kneaded dough would help bread making to form a well shaped loaf.
When it came to shaping, as expected, the kneaded ball was harder to stretch with more elasticity and “snap back”. It could have probably had another few hours for the gluten to relax and become more extensible.
On to the finished pizzas… baked in a preheated oven for 45 mins, with a pizza steel.
I would say the pizzas turned out about 95% the same. The kneaded dough had an ever so slightly larger crust, and felt very slightly less dense. I don’t think I could have differentiated in a blind test consistently.
That was an interesting result because I always thought that more kneading would produce a pizza crust that was more tough from all that gluten network build up. Also the dough which had ZERO kneading actually turned out just fine.
What does this prove? That kneading isn’t all that important when making pizza. You can probably stop following those recipes which ask for 10-20 minutes of kneading.
Kneading Vs No-Knead Explained
When flour and water come into contact, the gluten network will start to form by itself (the stringy network that gives dough it’s stretch). The kneading process helps this along, and also organises the strands so that the dough is stronger, with a more uniform interior.
There is a popular book called “My Pizza” by Jim Lahey. In the book he introduced a recipe called the “No Knead” dough. This dough uses a lot of water, a lot of salt, a small amount of yeast, requires no kneading, and is left for 18 hours before balling up and baking. It works because the long rest and high water content allow the dough to form gluten by itself, rather than the activity of kneading. The extra salt slows the small amount of yeast down so the dough doesn’t ferment and blow out wildly over this long period.
You might have made bread before too. Bread recipes will advise a kneading time of 10-15 minutes before baking. What this does is really build strength in the dough. It will allow it to rise high and evenly. And make a nice crumb for the interior loaf.
Pizza doesn’t really require this lengthy kneading. We aren’t making a bread that rises up and needs to hold that structure uniformly. Pizza just needs a small rise of the crust, and it looks more appealing when its a bit wavy and rustic.
Remember that you can freeze your pizza dough as I explain here – how to freeze pizza dough.
Should You Knead Pizza Dough After Rising?
So you’ve kneaded the dough and let the dough rest for an hour or two until it has grown in size. The dough has risen because CO2 gas has been produced, and the gluten network holds on to these bubbles. If you were to knead now, then the gluten network may be broken up, and all that work to develop it is lost. That is why I think you should never tear your dough or work it too hard by kneading in this stage.
What I recommend is using your fists and knuckles to push the air out of the dough gently. This breaks up the bubbles and allows for a second rise with no extra large bubble gaps. Then take the sides of the dough, stretch out slightly, and fold into the center a few times. This lightly works the dough to give the yeast more sugars to continue, and also folds the gluten strands to improve the structure.
What Happens If You Under Knead Pizza Dough?
I think under kneading pizza dough is a very low risk problem. As long as just enough gluten development has been made, the lack of kneading is usually unnoticeable. With bread, an under kneaded dough will be much worse as it will result in a flatter loaf with a dense texture. With pizza, under kneading means you may struggle to stretch the dough out into the thin base. That can be solved by leaving the dough to rest longer.
If you have managed to stretch or roll the dough out thinly then you don’t have much else to worry about. The crust may be a little dense if it can’t rise. But as long as some kneading has taken place and the right flour has been used, then I doubt you would see this problem.
I started this article with the idea that a dough not kneaded and left for a mere few hours would lack strength and extensibility to make a good crust. I also thought that kneading for longer than required would give you a tougher dough. I was wrong about these assumptions!
Finishing the article I feel a lesser importance in kneading when making pizza. I think pizza making generally has rules that people swear by that have much less impact than they think. Going forward I will probably knead my doughs for a few minutes, mainly because it’s good fun, and always makes good pizza.