To understand pizza dough hydration, and how it affects the dough, is fundamental knowledge you need to make great pizza. By understanding baker’s percentages and hydration, you will make much more consistent pizza dough, and be able to adjust it exactly to your liking! This article will present everything you need to know to master pizza dough hydration.
What is Pizza Dough Hydration?
The hydration of the pizza dough is the amount of water in relation to the amount of flour, expressed as percentages. If a dough contains 1000g of flour and 600g of water, it has a hydration of 60%. The hydration will affect the properties of the dough, such as elasticity, stickiness, and rise.
Hydration is expressed using baker’s percentages, so to fully understand what dough hydration is, you should be familiar with baker’s percentages.
Baker’s percentages might sound complicated, and a lot of explanations I’ve seen are overcomplicating the concept. Therefore a lot of people find it hard to grasp baker’s percentages. But it’s actually pretty simple!
Baker’s percentage is a notation for the portion of an ingredient in the dough, compared to flour. Ingredients are expressed as a percentage of the amount of flour in the dough.
This can be expressed as a mathematical formula:
If we want to calculate how much of an ingredient we need, the formula is:
Let’s look at a practical example. If a recipe states 2% salt, it means that the amount of salt you want to add is 2% of the amount of flour. So if you have 1000g of flour, you need 20g of salt.
The reason you want to use baker’s percentages instead of pure weight is that it makes it a lot easier to scale a recipe.
It’s also important to use a kitchen scale when you measure ingredients, because measuring by volume (using a measuring cup, for example), is much less accurate. And to just be a few percentages off, can result in a vastly different end result.
Hydration is simply the amount of water in relation to the amount of flour, expressed as a baker’s percentage.
How to Calculate Pizza Dough Hydration
You calculate hydration the same way you calculate any other baker’s percentages. If you have a dough that’s 60% hydration, it means that the amount of water is 60% of the amount of flour. For 1000g of flour, 600g of water will result in a dough that has 60% hydration.
How Pizza Dough Hydration Affects the Dough
The hydration level is perhaps the single factor that affects dough and crust the most. By adjusting the hydration of the dough you get a completely different result. Some of the properties dough hydration affects are:
- How elastic the dough will be
- How sticky the dough will be
- How fast and how much the dough will rise
- How much the edge will puff up in the oven
- How soft and airy the crust will be
- How crispy the crust will be
Elasticity – How Stretcky the Dough Is
When you increase the hydration of the dough, it will get more extensible and stretchy. It will also get softer, which can make it harder to open and form the pizza.
One thing to be aware of is that it can be challenging to move a high hydration, sticky dough from your working surface to the oven because it easily sticks to the peel.
Higher hydration will make the dough rise faster and more because the extra water will speed up the biochemical reactions of the yeast. In simpler words, the extra water lets the yeast move more freely throughout the dough, something that results in a faster rise.
High hydration will also soften the gluten strands, the network of gluten within the dough. This allows larger air pockets to form, something that gives more rise because the dough can hold more gas from the fermentation process. Check out my in-depth gluten article, if you want to know more about how gluten affects the dough.
These larger air pockets will form bubbles, that results in a more open, lighter, softer, and airier pizza crust (cornicione), which will puff up in the oven.
A lower hydrated dough will rise less, and you’ll end up with a more dense pizza crust.
Factors That Will Affect Hydration
There are also a few things you need to take into consideration when working with hydration. Inaccurate measurements, adding additional flour or water during kneading, humidity and altitude are factors that will affect the hydration of the dough.
I’ve already briefly mentioned this, but I can’t emphasize the importance of measuring your ingredients accurately!
Measuring your ingredient by weight using a kitchen scale is much more accurate than measuring by volume, e.g. using cups. The reason is that it’s extremely hard to level ingredients like flour, precisely in a measuring cup. In addition, the volume of flour can vary several percentage points, depending on how the single motes of flour are positioned in the cup. This is not the case when you measure by weight, then you know you’ll have the exact same amount of flour every time.
When you’re looking for a kitchen scale, you want something that supports grams, because the smaller units will give less room for error than measuring for example ounces. In addition to that, grams are the most used unit of measurement in baking and what you’ll find in in most professional recipes. So I recommend just getting used to measuring ingredients in grams.
Adding Addional Flour During Kneading
One thing worth mentioning is that the hydration of your dough is the total amount of water compared to flour at the end of the baking process. So if you use a lot of flour during kneading, you will effectively reduce the hydration. The reason is that your amount of flour in the dough has increased, making the percentage of water lower. I, therefore, recommend measuring all your flour you plan to use beforehand, and not add any additional flour. This will result in a more consistent dough.
Adding Additional Water During Kneading
When dealing with high hydration doughs, such as 70% and beyond, it’s easier to dip your hands in water rather than flour to prevent sticking during kneading. But be aware that using a lot of water when you’re kneading the dough will increase the hydration of the dough. The reason is that the total amount of water will get higher compared to flour.
Another factor that will directly impact the hydration of the dough is the humidity in the environment you’re baking pizza. The higher the humidity, the more water the flour will absorb from the air, thus increasing the hydration. You may therefore have to lower the hydration if you live in a very humid place. Likewise, low humidity will decrease the hydration, so you may want to add more water to the dough if you live in a dry place.
If you’re baking pizza dough in high altitude, you may also take into consideration that flour generally is drier at higher altitudes. This means that it will absorb more water. You, therefore, need to increase the hydration at a higher altitude to get the same result, as at sea level.
What Is the Best Hydration for Pizza Dough?
What the best hydration is, depends on what properties you’re looking for in your dough, how you want to bake it, and what flour you’re using. There are many factors that affect the dough, so these suggestions are just just a starting point. You have to experiment to find the optimal hydration level for your dough.
Best Hydration for Neapolitan Pizza Dough Percentage
According to The True Neopolitan Pizza Association’s (AVPN) International Regulation, an authentic Neapolitan pizza should have a dough hydration between 55.5-62.5%.
The reason you want fairly low hydration for Neopolitan pizza dough is that you bake it in a wood-fired oven. In a wood-fired oven, the pizza will bake very quickly in the high temperature, and there isn’t much time for the moisture to evaporate from the dough. The high heat will also contribute to a better oven spring.
A lower hydration dough is also easier to open and shape compared to a very high hydration dough. And it’s also less sticky, making it easier to transfer from your working surface to the oven without sticking.
Best Hydration for Neapolitan Pizza in a Home Oven
To get the best possible crust in a home oven, I recommend a hydration of 65-70%.
The reason you want higher hydration for dough baked in a home oven is that at a lower temperature, the pizza needs to stay in the oven for a longer period of time. That means more water will evaporate from the dough during baking, compared to a piping hot wood-fired oven. If you use a low hydration dough, the crust will dry out, making it hard. A good pizza should have a crispy crust, not a hard, dry crust!
Dough in the 65-70% hydration range is also okay to work with, it shouldn’t get too sticky. It will result in an extensible, stretchy dough, that’s easy to work with. In addition to that, it will also make a soft, airy, and crispy pizza crust when you bake it.
I strongly recommend baking your pizza at the highest setting, using a pizza stone or pizza steel. And if you have a broiler, use that too, to make the oven and baking surface even hotter. The closer you can get to a wood-fired oven, the better your pizzas will be!
You can of course experiment with higher and lower hydration, but 65-70% is good starting point.
Different Hydration Requires Different Types of Flour
Unfortunately, pizza dough hydration is not universal, it depends on the type of flour you use. Or to be precise, it depends on the flour’s ability to absorb water. This means that not every dough will be the same at the same level of hydration. You, therefore, need to know the absorption of the flour you’re using, to know which hydration level you should be aiming for to get the right dough properties.
What Is Water Absorption?
Water absorption of flour should not be confused with hydration. It is also given in percentages, but it says something about the flour’s ability to absorb moisture. Water absorption is defined as the amount of water needed to attain the standard of viscosity (500 B.U), which simply means standardized dough consistency.
Because flours are different, they all need a different amount of water to attain the same consistency. This is what we call absorption, how much water is needed to get a certain consistency.
To get to the desired hydration, you, therefore, need to know the absorption ability of the flour you’re going to use. The reason is that flours with different absorption abilities will have different properties at the same hydration.
A flour that has an absorption of 55% will have the same properties at 55% hydration as flour with 65% absorption at 65% hydration. In other words, the doughs will be equal when it comes to consistency at different levels of hydration.
The absorption of the flour depends on several factors, but the most important when comparing pizza flour is the gluten content and strength of the flour.
Tipo 00 flours can also differ hugely when it comes to water absorption because Tipo 00 is a category of flours, not a specific flour. And the absorption of the flour depends on what grain it’s made of, and what part of the grain it’s made of. In addition to how dry the flour is. The absorption is defined by the starch and gluten content, amongst other factors, which may vary a lot between different pizza flours.
Absorption and Recommended Hydration for Different Types of Pizza Flour
In the table below, you can see the flour absorption of some common pizza flours.
|Pizza Flour||Water Absorption|
|le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napolitana||55%|
|Caputo Chef’s Flour||55-57%|
|le 5 Stagioni Manitoba||60%|
|Caputo Farina di Grano Tenero||61-63%|
Pizza Flour Absorption Example
As you can see from the table above, e.g. Caputo Chef’s Flour and Caputo Nuvola has different water absorption. This means that if you make two pizza doughs, with the same hydration, one with each of these flours, the result will not be the same. To get the same dough using these two flours, we need to adjust the hydration level.
Let’s say you have a great experience with the Caputo Pizzeria at 65% hydration, and you want to try the same dough with Caputo Nuvola. Then we need to adjust the hydration based on the absorption.
Caputo Pizzeria has an average absorption of 59%. 65% hydration is a 10.2% increase in viscosity.
Caputo Nuvola, on the other hand, has an average of 61% absorption. To get the same viscosity as Chef’s Flour at 65% hydration, we need to increase Nuvola’s viscosity by the same factor: 10.2%. Then we will get 67.2% hydration ( 61×1.102 = 67.2%).
That means Caputo Nuvola will have the same consistency at a 67.2% hydration as Caputo Chef’s Flour at 65% hydration
Here is a picture that shows the difference after 8 hours of fermentation if both flours use 65% hydration.
As you can see, Caputo Nuvola (on the left) has a larger volume from the rising process. The reason is that it effectively has higher hydration, which makes gluten softer. This in turn allows larger air pockets in the dough, and the result is a larger volume.
When I baked the pizza, you can also see Nuvola made larger air bubbles doe to the higher hydration.
To fully master pizza dough hydration, may take time, but it’s important to understand. When you have this knowledge you’ll be able to understand why your dough turns out as it does, and how you should adjust it to get the perfect pizza dough!