The Art of Kneading Pizza Dough: Unlocking the Perfect Crust

Behind all the science of achieving that perfect pizza crust, lies the art of kneading the dough. And you need to know about it, because kneading is a fundamental step in the pizza-making process, which involves working the dough with your hands, to develop its structure and texture.

Here at the Groovy Pizza Co, we’re all about giving you all you need to know, so you can  make the best pizza possible. This is where we explore the significance of kneading, learning how to do it properly, and the consequences of both under-kneading and over-kneading.

The Role of Kneading in Pizza Dough

Firstly, kneading helps to evenly distribute the ingredients within your pizza dough (flour, water, salt, yeast), ensuring uniform texture and flavour throughout the dough. Beyond that, kneading is the process of manipulating the dough in order to develop gluten, a protein network that gives pizza dough structure and elasticity (which starts to form when flour comes into contact with water). 

So kneading encourages gluten formation, aligns what we call the gluten strands, and strengthens them. This helps to trap the gases produced by yeast during fermentation, within the dough. This then results in all those puffy pizza bubbles you crave in your dough, otherwise known as a perfectly light and airy crust. Assuming that’s how you like your pizza.

When To Knead Pizza Dough 

Kneading pizza dough should occur after the ingredients have initially been combined and mixed (although you might choose to let the ingredients rest for a bit first, e.g. see the autolyse method). Once the dough is in a shaggy mass, transfer it to a clean, floured surface and begin the kneading process.

How long should dough rest before kneading?

Before kneading, it’s important to allow the dough to rest for a short period, typically around 10 to 15 minutes. This resting period, known as the autolyse or relaxation period, allows the flour to absorb the liquid fully. It can also make the dough easier to work with and improve gluten development during the subsequent kneading process. The resting time can vary depending on the recipe you’re using, or your own personal preference. 

How to Knead Pizza Dough

Now that we understand the importance of kneading, let’s delve into the process itself. Here’s a simple three-step guide which covers the kneading of pizza dough:

Step 1: Gather your ingredients, per your pizza dough recipe. You’ll need flour, water, yeast, salt, and optionally, olive oil or sugar. In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients (in whatever order you want). Mix with a spoon or your hands until a shaggy dough forms.

Step 2: Transfer the dough onto a clean surface. Begin kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand. Fold the dough back over itself and rotate it a quarter turn. Doing this repeatedly will bring all the ingredients together to be fully incorporated.

Step 3: Repeat the pushing and folding process until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. It’s usually advisable to continue kneading for about 8 to 10 minutes (but ultimately you’ll need to use your pizza expertise to judge when you’re happy with the consistency).

Kneading dough with a machine is also an option, although you’ll need to consider the added temperature that this creates (this isn’t really a problem by hand). Once kneaded, the dough should be formed into a ball and placed in bowl or container and covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, before being left for bulk-fermentation to take place (let it rise until roughly doubled in size).

How long should you knead pizza dough?

The general guideline usually given for kneading pizza dough is around 8 to 10 minutes (assuming you’re kneading by hand). Such a duration should allow enough time for gluten development, resulting in a smooth and elastic dough. However, the exact time can vary depending on the recipe, ingredients, and the kneading technique used, so focus on the dough’s texture and elasticity rather than strictly adhering to a specific timeframe.

How do you tell if pizza dough is kneaded enough?

To determine if pizza dough is kneaded enough, perform the “windowpane test.” Take a small piece of the dough and stretch it gently with your fingers, while holding it up in front of you. If you can stretch it thin enough to see light passing through without the dough tearing, then the dough has been kneaded adequately. This test indicates that the gluten has developed properly, resulting in a dough with good elasticity.

Should pizza dough be sticky when kneading?

Unless you’re going for a very low hydration, pizza dough should usually have a slight tackiness to it when kneading. The dough should stick to your hands and the working surface slightly, but ideally it shouldn’t be overly sticky (although high hydration doughs do have their benefits). Adding too much flour can result in a dry and dense crust, so it’s important to strike a balance. 

If the dough is excessively sticky to the point where it’s seriously affecting your ability to knead, you can lightly dust it with flour during the kneading process if you really must, but be cautious not to add too much. This will ultimately increase the total amount of flour in the dough and reduce the percentage of water in the recipe compared to the flour, i.e. altering the hydration.

Can I knead pizza dough after it rises?

It is generally not recommended to knead pizza dough after it has risen. Once the dough has undergone the rising process, it has developed the desired structure and texture. Kneading the dough at this stage can deflate the risen dough and disrupt the gluten network that has formed. It’s best to knead the dough before the rising stage, then allowing it to ferment and rise properly.

Consequences of Over-Kneading 

While it’s essential to develop gluten adequately, over-kneading pizza dough can have negative consequences. Excessive kneading can cause gluten strands to become too tight and lose their elasticity. This leads to a tough and rubbery crust rather than a tender and airy one. Over-kneaded dough may also rise too quickly during fermentation, resulting in an uneven texture and large air pockets in the crust.

Consequences of Under-Kneading

Under-kneading pizza dough can also lead to several undesirable outcomes. Insufficient kneading prevents gluten from developing fully, resulting in a dense and chewy crust. The dough may not rise properly during fermentation, leading to a flat and lackluster pizza. Additionally, under-kneaded dough is more difficult to stretch and shape, making it challenging to achieve the desired thickness and texture.

Troubleshooting Kneading Issues

If you find yourself facing issues with kneading, here are some troubleshooting tips:

Under-kneaded dough: If you suspect your dough is under-kneaded, simply give it some extra time and attention. Continue kneading until it reaches the desired consistency, ensuring the dough is smooth and elastic before you consider moving onto the fermentation stage. You could be kneading too softly with your hands, so consider pressing on the dough slightly harder.

Over-kneaded dough: 

Over-kneaded dough usually only happens with a machine (it’s difficult to do by hand), but if you suspect your dough is over-kneaded, one option is to allow it to rest for a longer period before starting to knead again, giving the gluten a chance to relax and regain some elasticity. Alternatively, you can incorporate a small amount of additional liquid, such as water or olive oil, to help hydrate the dough and make it more workable.

If you find yourself consistently encountering kneading issues, consider adjusting your recipe or technique. You can try using a different type of flour, such as bread flour or tipo “00” flour if that’s not what you started with, which have higher gluten content. Alternatively, experimenting with different hydration levels, yeast amounts, or incorporating the autolyse method (a resting period after mixing just the flour and water) can also impact the kneading process.

Top Tips for Kneading Pizza Dough

Here’s a recap of the top tips to help you master the art of kneading pizza dough:

  • Maintain a clean surface to help avoid the dough from sticking excessively while kneading.
  • Use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you, applying firm and consistent pressure.
  • Fold the dough back over itself and give it a quarter turn with each kneading cycle to ensure even development.
  • Don’t rush the process. Kneading takes time, and the dough needs to be worked thoroughly to achieve optimal results.
  • Pay attention to the dough’s texture and elasticity. It should feel smooth, supple, and slightly tacky. Understand your dough recipe before you start!

What is the Secret to Kneading Pizza Dough?

Kneading isn’t exactly the most complicated part of making groovy pizza (for example, when compared to understanding all you need to know about yeast). The ‘secret’ to kneading pizza dough simply lies in achieving the right texture and elasticity. The key is to gradually work the dough by pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand, folding it back over itself, and rotating it a quarter turn with each cycle. 

Consistency and patience with kneading are crucial. By the time you’ve kneaded for long enough, the dough should feel smooth, supple, and often slightly tacky. You could say the secret is just knowing your dough (ingredient quantities, etc) before you even start thinking about kneading, so you don’t feel the need to add extra flour during kneading, which can result in a dry and tough crust.

No-Knead Pizza Dough 

With all that said about kneading, there’s also the option of the no-knead method when making pizza. Rather than spending your time kneading dough, the no-knead technique involves simply combining the flour, water, salt and yeast before allowing the mixture to rest for a long period, say, around 12-18 hours (although duration ultimately depends on temperature of the room, style of pizza you want, etc).

Afterwards, you portion the dough into balls, give it a final proofing, and it’s ready for use. The beauty of the no-knead method lies in the long resting period, resulting in a flavourful crust, but it also avoids the hassle of messy hands and dealing with potentially sticky dough. For an even better outcome, you could consider placing the dough in the refrigerator for an additional 24 hours of cold fermentation, if time allows.

Conclusion

Kneading pizza dough is a crucial step in achieving the perfect crust. By understanding the role of kneading, following a good technique, and being aware of the consequences of under-kneading and over-kneading, you’ll at least have the kneading part of pizza-making figured out. Practice is definitely needed when it comes to making the perfect pizza, so don’t be afraid to experiment and adjust your kneading technique as you continue that pizza-making journey of yours…