Water in Pizza Dough: A Beginner’s Guide To Hydration

When it comes to crafting the perfect pizza, there’s more to consider than just the toppings. The foundation of any great pizza is actually the dough, and one of the most crucial (yet often overlooked) ingredients is water.

If you’re looking to master the art of making truly groovy pizza dough, understanding the role of water is pretty important. In this beginner’s guide, we dive into the topic of water as it relates to pizza dough, all to help you create the perfect pie.

An Essential Ingredient (for Pizza Dough): Water

You might think that water is just water, but in the world of pizza, it’s anything but. Water works alongside flour, salt and yeast to bring the dough together and ensure even distribution of those key pizza ingredients. But besides that, here’s why water matters so much:

Hydration

Water hydrates the flour and the overall pizza dough, which determines the texture and consistency of the final pizza. The amount of water in the dough, otherwise known as the level of hydration, determines whether the pizza turns out crispy or fluffy (or both!) In other words, more water equals wetter dough, which results in a softer, more tender crust, while less hydration and a dry dough produces a crispier pizza.

Gluten Formation

Water activates the proteins in flour and enables gluten formation within the dough. This then gives your dough its structure and elasticity, which in turn gives yeast an environment in which to ferment nicely during the proofing process. Gluten is key to making traditional pizza, but without water, it wouldn’t exist.

Temperature

The temperature of your water plays a crucial role in controlling the yeast’s activity and the fermentation process generally. It’s important to understand that warmer water will speed up how quickly dough rises, whereas colder water can make better tasting pizza, but proofing will take longer.

Steam Production

It may seem obvious, but something you might not really think about is what the water in pizza dough actually does. Aside from developing gluten and helping the dough rise, the presence of water also creates steam during the cooking of pizza, which expands the dough and produces those groovy bubbles within the final crust.

The Need-To-Knows of Water (For Pizza)

So we’ve covered the very basics of water when it comes to pizza dough. Let’s now run through some more of what you need to know:

How Wet To Go With Your Dough?

Different styles of pizza have different textures to their dough, therefore they contain different amounts of water. For example, Detroit-style pizza should have a light and fluffy dough, whereas Roman pizza has a crunchy, cracker-like crust. Both the classic Neapolitan and New York pizza are somewhere in between.

The point being, you need to think about what style of pizza you want to make first, so you know how much water to use in the dough. Using our example, Detroit pizza (and other styles of soft, fluffy dough) need to contain a higher amount of water compared to the Roman pizza or other crunchy style pizzas, which need a much drier dough.

Measuring Water For Pizza 

For pizza dough, water is measured using what’s known as the baker’s percentage, which basically means you calculate the amount of water you need as a percentage of the flour amount (yeast and salt are measured in this way too). With water, this is also often referred to as your hydration percentage, i.e:

Pizza geek #1: “Yo, what’s your hydration percentage?” 

Pizza geek #2: “60%”

Pizza geek #1: “Groovy!”

In other words, if you’re using 500g of flour and 300g/ml of water, then your hydration percentage is 60% (300 / 500 x 100 = 60%). Getting the water-to-flour ratio right is essential if you want to eat a particular style of pizza, but by using the baker’s percentage principle, you can easily calculate the amount of water you need for your pizza.

Mixing in the Water 

To a degree, the way in which you incorporate water into your dough matters, but it also doesn’t matter too much when you add the water to the other ingredients (although traditionally, they tell you different in Naples). Water obviously needs to be mixed with the flour, salt and yeast sufficiently to ensure even distribution of everything, but whether you add water to the other ingredients, or the other way around, either method should work just groovy!

Water Temperature 

Pizza dough can be made using either cold or warm water (sometimes even ice cubes are used if the weather outside is hot enough). What you really need to know as a beginner pizza-maker is that water will kill the yeast if it’s too hot, usually around 45°C/120°F, so whatever you do, don’t go above that. As pizza typically tastes better when yeast is allowed to develop flavour in the dough slowly, it’s often a good idea to stick to colder water (although how cold depends on several things, including how quickly you want pizza), and definitely avoid going too hot.

Water Quality: Does It Really Matter?

Some people say that water needs to be of a certain quality in order to make the best pizza dough. We say, that’s groovy if you’re in a position to be picky about your pizza water, but it also doesn’t really matter. If you’re totally obsessed about pizza, its true that you can consider the science behind water when it comes to making your dough, but regular tap water works just fine (assuming it’s ok to drink).

Common Water-Related Dough Issues

The main problem that usually arises with water and pizza is the dough becoming too sticky and difficult to handle when you use a lot of water. This is typically the case when you’re wanting to make a super soft dough (like Detroit pizza), which is on the higher end of hydration percentages (70%+), or, if you’ve simply used too much water.

On the other hand, dough that’s too dry is also a problem, which occurs when you’ve not used enough water. Hopefully this guide will have helped you to avoid such pizza problems, but if you want to know more about producing epic tasting dough (including additional info on water), feel free to check out this even groovier guide on making pizza.

In Summary 

So, that’s all you really need to know about water when it comes to making pizza. The main things to remember are that water hydrates the dough, the amount you use will determine whether you get crispy or soft pizza (think in percentages compared to the amount of flour), and water temperature will impact how quickly your dough will rise.

Water is basically the unsung hero in pizza dough, which most people overlook, but now you’ve got knowledge of the basics, you can start experimenting with different hydration levels and water temperatures. Who knows, maybe some day this’ll lead you onto creating your very own signature pizza crust…