Is your pizza crust hard and dry? Almost like chewing a brick? Failed pizza dough can be really demotivating, I know the feeling. So I’ve put together the top reasons why you can’t get a pizza crust that’s crispy and nice on the outside, yet still soft on the inside like you get in Italian restaurants. And I will of course also show you how you can fix it!
The most common reason pizza crust turns out hard and dry is that the pizza has baked for too long at a low temperature. To get a good crust, the pizza has to be baked quickly at a high temperature. Other reasons the pizza crust gets hard are that the dough is too hard, didn’t rise properly, or the use of a rolling pin.
Pizza Crust Should Be Crispy, but Not Hard
A great pizza crust is crispy, and not hard. That’s an important difference.
You may ask, how can pizza crust be crispy, but not hard, and the answer is that that’s two completely different things.
What Is a Crispy Pizza Crust?
When we’re talking about crispy pizza crust, we’re referring to the outside of the crust being crispy, even charred. The center of the dough should still be soft, and airy. Just like when you deep fry chicken, you want it to be crispy, but still tender and juicy on the inside.
What Is a Hard Pizza Crust?
Dry pizza crust, on the other hand, is a pizza crust that feels like eating a brick. It’s dry, often compact, and does not contain any nice, large air bubbles.
This is not particularly desirable, and this article aims to fix it. But before we go through the reasons in detail, and how to fix them, we need to define what a good pizza crust is, and what we’re trying to achieve.
The Ideal Pizza Crust
When I’m looking for great pizza, I’m always going back to the birthplace of pizza, Naples, Italy. Some people may disagree, but this is in my opinion the ideal type of pizza crust. But what makes Neapolitan-style pizza crust different from your dry, hard pizza crust?
The secret is the type of dough and the method of baking.
Neapolitan-style pizza is thin, and crispy, with a raised edge, called cornicione in Italian. The crust of the pizza is crispy, on the outside, often with a leopard, charred pattern. But it’s still soft, and nice on the inside, often with large air bubbles.
They’re able to achieve this with long-rise pizza dough, often left rise for 8-24 hours, that’s baked in an extremely hot wood-fired oven. The heat from the oven bakes the pizza fast before it has time to try it out.
Okay, so now we know what we’re aiming for, let’s go through the different reasons your pizza crust is dry, and how we can make a proper Neapolitan-style pizza crust at home.
1. You’re Not Baking the Pizza Correctly
If your pizza crust is too hard, you’re most likely baking the pizza at a low temperature for too long. The opposite of how a Neapolitan pizza is baked – quickly in a very hot oven. But why does that make such a huge difference?
The problem is that at a low baking temperature, you need to bake the pizza for a much longer duration to get a nice, color on the crust. This gives the heat a lot more time to penetrate the dough. Something that will vaporize all the moisture, essentially drying out the pizza crust.
To fix this, what you need to do, is to increase the baking temperature. This will allow you to can bake the pizza faster. The most obvious thing to do is to simply turn up the temperature of your oven. I recommend going for the highest setting. But there are a few more things we can do to further increase the temperature to improve your pizza.
A wood-fired pizza oven bakes pizza with a combination of reading from the ceiling and a hot baking surface. There are therefore two things you need to do to improve your pizza: increase the heat from above and introduce a hot baking surface
How to Bake Pizza the Right Way
To get a baking surface in your home oven, I recommend using a pizza stone or pizza steel. They both retainer and conduct heat much better than a regular baking sheet. Something that will result in a much crispier, faster bake. Personally, I prefer pizza steels, simply because they conduct heat a little better, they’re more durable, and easier to clean and maintain. If you want to know more about how to use a pizza stone or steel, check out this easy step-by-step guide.
To increase the heat from above and speed up the baking, you can use a broiler or grill element. Most ovens have this mounted in the ceiling. A broiler gets really hot, and is therefore perfect to bake pizza faster!
2. The Dough Is Too Dry
Another reason the pizza crust gets hard is that the dough is too dry. This happens when you use too much flour compared to water. This is what’s called low hydration.
Pizza dough hydration is simply the amount of water compared to flour in the dough. This is usually stated in percentages. E.g 60% hydration. That means the amount of water in the dough is 60% of the amount of flour. So a 60% hydration dough can have 1000g of flour and 600g of water.
The lower the hydration, the amount of water compared to flour, the dryer the dough will be. Which again will result in a harder crust when you bake the dough. The reason is that the water will evaporate faster, drying out the dough. In a home oven, longer baking time is inevitable, this is a bigger issue than in a wood-fired oven, which can reach 1000°F.
The way to fix this is to try a higher hydrated though. I recommend starting at 60- 65%. But you can always experiment with higher hydration as well.
Check out our complete pizza dough hydration guide, if you want to know more.
Adding Too Much Flour During Kneading
A common mistake is to add too much flour during kneading. People usually do this because they feel the dough is too sticky. What’s important to remember is that the hydration of the dough is the final amount of water compared to flour. So even if you measured the flour perfectly when mixing the dough, the hydration will be lower if you add additional flour during kneading.
You should, therefore, measure all the flowers beforehand. Baking is science, not guesswork, so you’ll get a much better, and consistent result if you’re accurate.
Baking is science, not guesswork, so you’ll get a much better, and consistent result if you’re accurate.
I recommend measuring all the ingredients beforehand in a mixing bowl. Then work the flour slowly into the water until you run out. This way you know the hydration will be accurate.
I also strongly recommend measuring the flour by weight using a kitchen scale, rather than by volume. The reason is that measuring flour using a measuring cup is a lot more inaccurate. Inaccurate measurements in baking can result in a huge difference in the final result every time you bake, even if you follow the exact same recipe.
If you’re still worried that the pizza dough is too sticky, just keep needing it. It will get less sticky when the gluten develops properly. A dough scraper is a useful tool to work with high-hydration, sticky doughs if you’re struggling.
3. The Dough Doesn’t Rise
A third reason your pizza crust gets too hard is that it didn’t rise. The main reasons are that the yeast is not working properly or the lack of gluten development due to kneading.
The pizza dough is rising when the yeast eats sugars in the flour and converts them into CO2. When the yeast is working, the CO2 will slowly fill small pockets inside the dough, and this is what increases the volume.
If the yeast is dead or doesn’t work, it’s not going to be able to fill the dough with gas. The result will then be a flat, dense, and dry crust. You should therefore a good quality yeast. And make sure it’s still working.
Yeast dies when you expose it to high temperatures. It also slows down at low temperatures, meaning rising will take more time. You, therefore, have to let it rise at the right temperature. Room temperature, or slightly lower, is a great starting point. But cold fermentation also gives a delicious pizza crust if you want to experiment with more complex flavors.
We can’t talk about the rising of pizza dough without mentioning kneading. Kneading is what creates the small pockets in the dough that will trap the gas from the yeast. These small pockets are actually made by the gluten in the flour. When you need gluten, it forms a network of gluten strands that grow stronger the more you need the dough. This means that the more you knead the dough, the stronger the walls, and pockets will get. They will then be able to hold onto the gas longer.
Different types of flour will also have different strengths, meaning some flours will develop stronger gluten strands, that will hold on to the gas longer. These are ideal for longer fermentation times.
Some people claim that too much kneading can create a dry pizza crust because the gluten strands develop too much. but this simply isn’t true. If you use high-quality pizza flour, it’s virtually impossible to over-knead so much by hand that this is going to cause any issues.
4. Using a Rolling Pin
The last reason your pizza crust gets hard is that you’re using a rolling pin to shape the dough. Using a rolling pin will ruin that great dough you spent the better half of your Saturday making. The reason is that you squeeze out all that CO2 that makes the pizza crust nice and airy. The result will be a flat hard crust.
You should, therefore, stretch out the dough by hand. You can easily do that by pressing the dough down in the middle, leaving, a nice edge of around 1 inch. Then simply stretch the dough to your desired shape and size. This is going to make a much better pizza crust than the rolling pin can do!
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