Science of Pizza Dough Rising


Fermentation is the conversion of carbohydrates to alcohols and carbon dioxide, by yeast or other bacteria. It happens in alcoholic drinks, bread, and pizza dough! It gives breads and doughs the light, airy texture and a slightly sour taste. So what happens to pizza dough during this process?

  • Mixing/Kneading
    During this stage, you mix together ingredients such as water, flour, yeast, and salt. Two proteins in the flour (gliaden and glutenin) begin to connect together and form an elastic network called gluten. Some flours have a higher ‘gluten’ content which supposedly make for a great texture and taste in the dough. But it also means it is very elastic and hard to roll or stretch out.
  • First Rise
    After kneading, the dough is left to rise for about an hour. This is when fermentation occurs, creating carbon dioxide bubbles, and the dough may double in size. The gluten network continues to develop.
  • Second Rise/Proof
    The dough can be punched down and shaped into a ball or loaf for a second rise time. This allows fermentation to continue and gluten structure to develop further. This process should take place in a cold place such as a refrigerator, because higher temperatures allow the carbon dioxide to develop too quickly and produce undesirable flavors. Although you don’t need a second rise for a basic pizza recipe, it may result in a more floury or bread-like taste. This process of placing the dough in a cold environment is called retardation.
  • Baking
    The dough is then rolled out and put in the oven. When it hits the warm temperature, the air bubbles start to expand, making the dough inflate. At some point the dough reaches maximum expansion and the structure solidifies and you can see the bread-like structure.

Source: Slice Serious Eats – how long to let dough rise

As there are so many variables to consider, it can be hard to get a consistent pizza every time you make one. I think the biggest challenge for me is the variable temperature of my electric oven. It’s also frustrating to try to roll out the pizza when it shrinks back so much. What are your suggestions?

The Foundation of Pizza – How to make the dough!

There is both an art and science to making pizzas, especially concerning the dough. Two people could follow the same recipe and still come up with vastly different results.  I’ve recently started making my own dough at home, and I’m lucky to even see the same result twice!  Things you’ll need to think about are: the type of flour, yeast/flour/water ratio, method and duration of kneading, duration of rising, retarding and proofing, method of rolling out the dough, type of pan used, temperature of oven, and baking time.

First, here is a basic recipe for a 14″ pizza dough.

3/4 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F)
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. regular olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. active dry yeast
2 1/4-3 c. flour

Mix the sugar, olive oil, salt, and yeast in the warm water. Let sit for a few minutes for the yeast to activate.
Add about 2 1/4 cups flour and mix with a spoon until everything starts to hold together.
Knead by hand or stand mixer for 15 minutes, adding flour or water as necessary so that it is somewhat sticky but does not stick to your hands (your hands should remain relatively clean).
Form dough into a ball and place in bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
When it is about doubled in size, punch back down and form into a ball.
Place in fridge, loosely covered, for 1-2 days. This is called retarding the dough. You can use a tupperware container, or put in a plastic bag and fold the open end underneath the dough ball. If pressed for time, you can skip this step.
It is now ready to be rolled out, covered with toppings, and baked.

Things to consider:

  • If you use Instant dry yeast instead of active dry, it does not need to be activated and you won’t need as much – about 3/4 tsp.
  • It’s less laborious to use a mixer to knead, but it’s been my experience that it’s hard to monitor the consistency of water/flour ratio, and seems that it takes more flour to prevent it from being too sticky. Occasionally you’ll need to stop the mixer to re-form dough into a ball and scrape the sides, especially if you don’t mix the water and flour before adding to the mixer.  A fair amount of the flour seemed to stay on the side of the bowl. I would almost recommend mixing it by hand for a little bit until you get close to the right consistency, then use the mixer to do the heavy kneading.
  • You can place the dough in a gallon size ziploc bag and fold the open end underneath itself as it rises for an hour to hour and a half. Keep in a warm place (cover with a towel).
  • The length of time the dough is in the fridge can affect the amount it rises in the oven. 6-8 hours should work well to allow the gluten to strengthen and develop, but not exhaust it. See this article at for an excellent explanation.
  • After retardation, you can let it defrost at room temperature for up to an hour before rolling out and baking.

Please comment with your advice on the first step of making dough!