Time and Temperature: The “Secret Ingredients” to Perfect Pizza

When it comes to crafting the perfect pizza, you’ll often hear pro pizza chefs stress the importance of two “secret ingredients”: time and temperature. And it’s true, these seemingly simple concepts play a crucial role in making the best pizza possible.

From the warmness of your water and how long you knead for, through to your dough’s fermentation conditions and pizza oven settings, understanding how time and temperature affect the various stages of pizza creation is essential for achieving that perfect balance of crispy crust, melty cheese and tasty toppings.

Here we expose these so-called “secret” pizza ingredients (time and temperature), by explaining their importance throughout the pizza-making process, while giving you hints and tips on how to use them to your advantage, all so you can make some seriously groovy pizza.

The Art of Time in Pizza

Kneading Time

The first stage of the pizza-making process where time plays a key role, is the kneading of the dough. More specifically, how long you knead that dough for. Kneading for long enough, but not too long, should mean you achieve optimal gluten development. With time, the proteins in the dough (otherwise known as gluten) undergo structural changes, resulting in a more elastic and extensible dough. This helps to create the desired thinness (or thickness), while maintaining strength in the dough.

Fermentation Time

The fermentation process is where time takes center stage, impacting the final flavour, structure and digestibility of the dough. It’s common knowledge in the world of pizza that the longer you leave your dough to ferment or proof (within reason), the better your pizza will taste (longer fermentation allows the yeast to consume more of the starches in the flour). Between 24-72 hours of fermentation is really groovy. Proofing dough can be done for shorter amounts of time if you want pizza sooner, but you’ll have to be happy accepting a less flavoursome crust.

Cooking Time

Timings can vary when it comes to cooking your pizza, depending on factors such as the style of dough you’ve opted for, your choice of toppings, and the oven you’re using. Aside from the obvious point that you need to keep a close eye on pizza to avoid overcooked dough or burnt toppings, the main things to remember are that shorter cooking times (with higher heat) are usually used to make puffy, fluffy pizza like the classic Neapolitan, which takes just 60-90 seconds; whereas cooking for longer durations (with less heat) will typically produce crunchier pizza (the oven has more time to evaporate the water, therefore creating a dry dough).

The Magic of Temperature in Pizza

Water Temperature 

Probably not something that a complete beginner pizza-maker would automatically think about, but the temperature of your water when making dough is an important thing to consider. Both warm water or cold water can be used to make pizza dough, but you need to be aware of the surrounding environment’s temperature before deciding on how hot or cold to go with your H2O. Colder water will allow longer fermentation (which you’ll remember means more flavour), whereas warmer water will get you pizza quicker. But too hot (above around 45C/120F) and the water will begin to kill the yeast.

Fermentation Temperature

In the same way that the fermentation process is where time takes centre stage, the temperature at which you ferment or proof your dough is critical in deciding just how groovy your pizza turns out in the end. As we already know, longer fermentation is best for more flavour, but it’s also important to know that the dough will be able to withstand these lengthy proofing durations when the temperature is cooler (because this controls the rate of the yeast activity). Hence fermentation in the fridge being so popular, although proofing at room temperature is also perfectly acceptable.

Oven Temperature

It’s no secret that to make “proper pizza” you need an oven which reaches a high enough temperature to enable the crust to quickly puff up into the perfect cornicione, while at the same time cooking the dough right through, and achieving the ideal level of charred-ness (traditional Neapolitan pizza is typically cooked above 400C/750F). Then again, pizza can absolutely be cooked at lower temperatures, but be aware that this’ll mean longer cooking times and normally a crispier, crunchier crust.

In Summary

There’s not one single correct way to make pizza, mainly because the “secret ingredients” of time and temperature play a huge part in deciding how your pizza actually turns out. Mastering the art, science and magic of time and temperature is the gateway to creating exceptional tasting pizzas. And now you know the essentials of time and temperature, you’re well on your way to doing just that, mastering pizza.

So, go away and start making some pizza. Witness the power of time when kneading, proofing and cooking your dough, while learning how the temperature of your ingredients (especially water), your environment and your oven impacts the final dough. Practice and experimentation will help you find the sweet spots between time and temperature, hopefully helping you to create the grooviest pizza ever tasted…