Why Is My Pizza Dough Dry?

Here’s a tragic scenario: you’ve spent all week thinking about pizza, before deciding to actually make your own; only to end up with dough that’s drier than a Neapolitan’s flour bag. 

Not to rub salt in the pizza wound, but overly dry pizza dough is proper annoying. Almost as annoying as pizza puns being made at your expense.

But dry your eyes, because we’re about to explain the main reasons behind that dry dough, all so you can make some truly groovy pizza…

Dry Pizza Dough: Why Oh Why??? 

So what causes pizza dough to become dry? First, it’s worth pointing out that some pizza dough styles are meant to be drier than others. For example, Roman pizza should have a cracker-like crust, whereas deep-dish Detroit pizza should really be anything but dry. That said, all types of pizza can be made with different hydration percentages.

Aside from hydration levels, dough can become dry at different points of the pizza-making process. It’s perhaps most common for the dough to become dry during proving, but then again, it might be something to do with the way you’ve mixed the dough, or that the finished pizza just turns out drier than you’d like. 

Whatever the case, the problem is that the dough is too dehydrated. In other words, there’s not enough water present in the dough at a particular point in time. It’s usually either that not enough water has been added from the start, or the water has been allowed to evaporate from the dough.

Dough Dry After Mixing

As we know, it’s when the dough is too dry that’s the problem. The first stage at which you’ll notice a potential problem with dryness is when the dough ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water) have had their initial mixing. If you’ve got a good pizza dough recipe and you follow it correctly, this shouldn’t be an issue, but it still might be.

Too Much Flour / Not Enough Water

If the dough is too dry after you’ve mixed the ingredients together for a reasonable period (e.g. floury, crumbly or flaky), it’s likely a case of either too much flour, and/or not enough water. Excessive flour or an absence of water both essentially mean the same thing: dry dough.

Some pizza-makers and recipes say to gradually add the flour to avoid a dough that’s too dry, but this can just complicate things further (e.g. you end up with a dough that’s too sticky and there not being enough to make the right size pizza, plus you can get more confused as to what the dough should actually look like).

Far better is to first have a basic understanding of dough hydration (e.g. if a dough has 150g of flour and 75g of water, it’s 50% hydrated; 60% would be 150g flour and 90g water, etc) and the level of hydration that different pizza styles should be. That way, if you’re adding ingredients gradually, you at least have more of an idea of what you’re doing.

The ideal scenario is clearly just using an appropriate flour to water ratio for the type of pizza you want to make, although the flour’s absorption rate might also come into it (but this is more of an advanced pizza problem that goes against the idea of making pizza as simple as possible).

Aside from issues with flour, the other potential problem of not enough water basically has the same effect, i.e. causing the dough to be drier than desired, meaning it either doesn’t hold together properly (and therefore fermentation won’t happen effectively) or the dough is just dense.

Dry dough caused by not enough water being present can be resolved by gradually adding more water, perhaps a tablespoon or so at a time, before continuing to mix / knead the dough together until the ideal consistency is reached. Again, having a basic knowledge of dough hydration first should help.

The Need To Knead

Another reason that dough can seem dry is that it hasn’t quite been kneaded enough (to fully incorporate all the ingredients together). After kneading, pizza dough should appear and feel smooth, soft, supple and quite simply, satisfying to touch and play with. If it feels none of those things, more kneading could well be the answer.

Using Olive Oil 

The use of olive oil is especially encouraged when making focaccia-like pizza, because it does help to make a soft dough, but if that’s not the style of pizza you’re going for, yet your dough is dry, maybe try adding a tablespoon of oil at a time to see if that helps (rather than glug after glug). Or, just add more water.

Like anything else that isn’t flour, salt, yeast or water, olive oil isn’t necessarily needed to make pizza dough, although it can be a nice addition if you like the taste, or just the thought that it’s adding to the flavour of the final dough. It can also help the dry dough scenario by applying a light covering to the top of the dough before proving.

While a light coating of oil can help prevent a dry crust forming before you’ve cooked the pizza, it’s worth bearing in mind that the addition of oil gives dough the ability of becoming more crisp in the oven, a tad ironically, because it dries out. It’s also worth mentioning that the more oil added, the more the structure of the dough itself will change.

Dry Pizza Dough During / After Proving

Pizza Dough Dry on Top

Pizza dough becoming dry on top, during or after the proving phase, is another common problem (easily resolved with a quick fix). Whether it’s during the dough’s initial rest period, at bulk-fermentation stage, or when proving the balled-up pizza dough, a “dry top” is usually caused by insufficient covering of the dough.

In other words, allowing air to come into contact with the dough will simply dry it out (starting with the surface), even after a short period of time. This will depend on how humid the environment is, but to be safe, always get the dough covered.

How to keep pizza dough from drying out?

At the very least, a damp kitchen towel can be used, although there’s always the risk that this will dry out itself and not fully block air getting to the dough. So don’t just use a dry kitchen towel, thinking that because you’ve covered the dough, all will be ok (the dough really needs the humidity created by the dampness of the towel).

While a damp towel will probably keep your dough from drying out for a couple of hours or so (fine if you’re going for a ‘last-minute’ pizza), a less risky option is to use an airtight container, meaning the dough can be left to ferment and rise for much longer periods (creating better flavour).

By ‘airtight container’, this can refer to any container with a lid (e.g. tuppaware) that you might have laying around the kitchen, or perhaps a big enough bowl that can be covered with a plate, plastic wrap (cling film) or even tin foil if that’s all you’ve got (although foil’s ability to conduct heat may add to the risk of over-proving). The key to avoid dry dough is making sure that things are airtight.

Without wanting to over-complicate it, but also wanting everyone’s pizza to be perfect, you might find that using a large bowl is best (easiest) for the initial resting period and for bulk-fermentation (just place it over the dough on the worktop), followed by an airtight container for proving the shaped dough balls.

The size of the airtight container(s) you’ll need will obviously depend on how many pizzas you’re making, and if cold-fermenting, how big your fridge is. For several pizzas, and definitely if you’re throwing a pizza party, purpose-made pizza dough boxes are probably the best bet (for convenience at least).

Realistically, there’s loads of ways to keep pizza dough airtight, whether it’s with a kitchen towel, bowl, tuppaware, cake holder or any other type of container with a covering. Even a plastic bag or a (clean) shower cap over a container can work. As long as the dough is kept airtight. 

But, for the purposes of keeping pizza simple, you can also just use any airtight container. Whatever you do, once it’s mixed and kneaded, don’t leave your dough uncovered for any significant length of time. It will dry out. (Oh, and use a see-through container if you want the cheap thrill of actually seeing the dough rise).

Keeping Dough From Drying Out In The Fridge

You might think that because fridge doors are airtight, you can just plonk your dough inside and wait until it’s time to cook the pizza. But the conditions of a fridge can dry out the dough. If proving dough in the fridge, the dough will need to be covered with the same airtight principles as if it were proving outside of the fridge (a damp kitchen towel probably isn’t worth the risk). 

How To Fix Dry Dough After Rising

If you find that your dough is dry after proving, chances are, air has somehow managed to find the dough. This will hopefully just be a bit of a crust having formed on top of the dough, in which case, reasonably good pizza can often still be made by just shaping the dough as normal.

If you feel a fix is needed (because shaping the dough is too difficult), the surface of the dough can be wetted with a touch of water, before being left alone (covered up this time) until the crusty top has disappeared. This might take five minutes, or it could take over an hour – not ideal if you’re a fan of perfect pizza timings – but that’s how to fix it.

How long can pizza dough sit out before cooking?

Once you’ve proved your dough and are almost ready to eat some pizza, you’ll want to shape, top, and cook the pizza as soon as possible to avoid the dough drying out. It really shouldn’t be sat out uncovered for any longer than the few minutes it takes to shape it, sauce it, and top it.

Pizza Dough Dry After Baking

If your pizza dough is drier than expected once cooked, it’s likely that the dough hydration percentage you used wasn’t high enough (e.g. if you went for 65%, maybe try upping it to 70% next time). Note that it’s very difficult with a home oven to achieve pizza that’s not slightly dry, regardless of hydration level – which is why many people consider buying a pizza oven.

Other reasons of course include the possibilities that the dough wasn’t protected well enough during the proving phase, the ingredient quantities were off, or maybe the type of flour or the age of the flour are factors. Then again, maybe you bought a supermarket pizza, which are typically just a bit dry.

What Happens If Pizza Dough Is Too Dry?

When pizza dough is too dry, it can simply ruin the finished pizza through a lack of hydration, but besides the pizza being a bit dense, not much really happens, except that ruined pizza is about as bad as it gets. What you want is to learn how to make seriously groovy pizza.

Blame It On The Weather, Man

It’s worth noting that the weather (or just the general atmosphere in which you’re making pizza) can have an impact on how dry the dough turns out. For example, if it’s especially hot and sunny outside, this will increase the chances of moisture being drawn out of the dough. If it’s raining out, or particularly humid, using slightly less water in your dough might be appropriate.

While beginner pizza makers are probably best to just follow a basic dough recipe to start with, it’s good to understand how external factors such as the weather can alter the outcome of the dough. So pay attention to the weather when kneading, and after a while you’ll be instinctively making pizza that’s anything but dry.

High Altitude Can Affect Pizza Dough

There’s also a risk of pizza dough turning out dry when made at high altitudes, because the drier air naturally makes the flour more dry, and water evaporates more quickly, meaning more water will probably be needed. This won’t apply to most pizza makers, unless you’re on top of a mountain in Tuscany or some place similar, but useful to know if that’s the case.

In Summary 

Dry pizza dough is annoying, especially when you weren’t aiming for a Roman cracker-like crust. Reasons behind dry dough include not enough water (hydration) or too much flour, and remedies might therefore involve adding more water, or sometimes olive oil.

Another major cause of a dry pizza base is allowing air to come into contact with the dough while it’s resting or proving. This is easily fixed with the use of special dough containers or a number of other covering options, such as a shower cap, to keep the air away. 

Making sure the dough has the necessary moisture is the key, by considering hydration levels generally, with factors like the weather and altitude also affecting your ability to make groovy tasting pizza…