Why Your Pizza Dough Didn’t Rise – Can You Still Use It?

Mixing up a pizza dough and finding it hasn’t risen is a confusing moment that every baker has come across. I get the question in comments regularly on this blog, and it can usually be answered by one of these simple reasons.

Why didn’t my pizza dough rise?

  • Yeast was dead to begin with
  • You killed the yeast from too much heat
  • You didn’t activate your yeast properly
  • Your dough temperature was too low
  • You didn’t give it enough time
  • You killed or slowed down the yeast with salt

I’ll give some more information and fixes for each problem. If you are looking for a good pizza dough recipe to follow then check out my best pizza dough recipe.

Yeast Was Dead To Begin With

The first place to check with a dough that doesn’t rise, is the quality of your yeast. If the yeast is past it’s use-by date then you should replace it. Also, if you have opened the yeast and kept it for several months then you are running the risk of it being dead or damaged.

Yeast has a shelf life which is usually stated on the packet or container. Dried yeast is still active, but it is just so dehydrated that it is very inactive – so even this will die over time.

You can check if yeast is alive by mixing a teaspoon of yeast in a small bowl of water and a teaspoon of sugar. If the yeast bubbles after 10 minutes or so then you know it is alive.

Keep yeast alive longer

By putting the opened yeast in the fridge you will extend the shelf life as colder temperatures slow down yeast. It should last 4 months in the fridge, and 6 months in the freezer. It can of course last much longer, but it’s best to keep your yeast in date.

You Killed The Yeast From Too Much Heat

If you use water that is too hot, then you can kill the yeast. Many recipes recommend using warm water to speed up yeast activity. Remember that warm water isn’t needed to get yeast started, it will activate with cool water from the tap too. But warm water will speed the activity if you want the dough to ferment faster.

Water that is over 120F/50C will start to kill yeast cells. At a temperature of 140F/60C the yeast will completely die. The ideal temperature is around 95F/35C. If you don’t have a thermometer to accurately measure the temperature, then this temperature feels warm but not hot to the touch on your skin.

On a similar note, make sure the environment in which you proof the dough is correct. No room temperature will be hot enough to kill yeast, but don’t try and speed things up by putting the dough in the oven.

You Didn’t Activate Your Yeast

Of all the commercial yeast varieties, there is active dry, instant and fresh yeast. Active dry is probably the most common. It is larger granules and needs to be activated by being dissolved in water first. If this didn’t happen, then the yeast might not have chance to activate, especially if your dough is lacking water.

Instant yeast is different because it is smaller granules which are designed to dissolve fast. It can be mixed straight into the dry ingredients with no problems. A type of instant yeast is “rapid rise” and this speeds things up even more.

I use instant yeast in my dough as it’s very easy to use. I still dissolve the yeast into the water, along with the salt and then add the flour. This keeps things consistent every time.

Fresh yeast can be used at a ratio of 3x the weight of dry yeast. I don’t tend to use fresh yeast because its shelf life is much shorter, and it’s harder to get hold of.

Your Dough Temperature Was Too Low

Yeast activity is affected heavily from the temperature of the dough. Higher temperature speed things up, and lower temperatures slow things down greatly.

Two things which will affect the dough temperature is the temperature of the ingredients used, mostly the water, and the temperature of the surrounding environment.

Firstly the water temperature used in the recipe should be around 95F/35C as mentioned already. Secondly the room temperature is important. It should be a normal room temperature around 70F/21C to see a normal rise of dough. If your room is colder than this, then expect to wait longer to rise. It will get there, it just needs more time.

Some recipes recommend putting the dough in a warm spot. While you can do this, it isn’t needed – and I don’t recommend it. The extra time to rise gives the dough more time to ferment and build better flavor and texture. Speeding things up actually makes a worse pizza.

If you want to be super accurate with your dough temperature you can use a probe thermometer if you have one. The target temperature should be around 80F/27C if you mixed with water that was 95F/35C.

You Didn’t Give It Enough Time

This is pretty relative to the other factors in this article such as heat. If you have colder dough, or saltier dough then things will be slowed down. But that doesn’t mean things won’t get there.

Yeast multiplies as it eats so you’ll notice things happen exponentially. Once the yeast is kicked off and gets going, you notice a big spike in activity. You might have waited some time and seen nothing, but check back in a relatively short amount of time and the dough might have doubled unexpectely.

So if the dough hasn’t risen yet after the recommended time, give it another 30-60 minutes and return. If you see no movement after that, then the yeast might be dead.

You Killed Or Slowed Down The Yeast With Salt

Salt causes yeast to slow down its fermentation activity by sucking out water through osmosis. If you have the yeast in direct contact with salt for too long (most people claim 5 minutes or so), then you will actually kill the yeast.

The quantity of salt in the dough will affect how much it rises. Some people use this as a tool to slow down fermentation to allow the dough to be kept at room temperature for longer without “blowing out”. It is possible that if you accidently added a large amount of salt to your dough, then this could have stopped it from rising as you would have expected.

The usual percentage of salt in a recipe would be around 2-3%. For a recipe that has 500g flour, that would amount to 1.5g salt. Check my recipe for an example pizza dough recipe.

Can I Still Use The Dough?

You can still use the pizza dough to make thin crust pizza. It won’t rise so the crust will be small, and because no yeast fermentation has occurred, the dough will lack in flavors developed from this process.

My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below as a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter, and are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite.

To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment check out my essential pizza equipment list.

Another option is to make flat breads or tortillas. You can take normal dough balls, roll them out and bake for the flat breads. Or take golf ball sized dough balls, roll them thinly and fry in a hot pan for tortillas.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to save the dough, because trying to mix water into an already formed dough does not work out well.

Conclusion: Ideal Conditions For Yeast

So in summary, the ideal conditions for yeast are to use warm but not hot water (around 95F/35C). For active dry yeast, you need to activate the yeast first in water before adding flour. Mix and knead the dough and then leave it at room temperature. As yeast likes humid environments, the best practice is to cover it with a damp cloth, but an airtight lid works fine too. Sometimes the dough just needs a little longer. I recommend doing a long fermentation to improve the flavor of the dough.

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