Have you ever wondered why some pizzas are soft and pizzas are crunchier, even if you’ve made them with the same ingredients?
There’s a good chance that this is because of the amount of water you’ve added to your pizza dough.
Within this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about pizza hydration so that you can get the most out of your pizza dough.
What Is Pizza Dough Hydration?
The hydration of pizza dough can differ based on the quantities of flour and water used.
When talking about pizza dough hydration, the amount of water within the pizza dough is described by using percentages.
If your pizza dough is made using 1000 g of flour and 700g of water, your pizza dough has a 60% hydration.
Baker’s Percentages are a really good, precise method of measuring ingredients based on the quantity of flour, allowing bakers to make both large and small batches of the same recipe without having to adjust the whole recipe every time.
Instead, recipe quantities can be expressed using a Baker’s Percentage, saving time, and also allowing another baker to easily understand your recipe if you share it with them!
Once you’ve gotten the hang of Baker’s Percentages, you’ll soon find that it was completely worth coming to grips with.
An example of using Baker’s Percentages can be found below:
If a recipe calls for you to add 5% of salt to your recipe, the recipe is asking you to work this amount of salt out based on the amount of flour you intend to use.
To make this simpler, you might choose to use 1000g of flour – this means that the amount of salt you need to add is 50g, as 50g is 5% of 1000g.
This is now easily adjustable – if you wanted to double this batch, you could use 2000g of flour. 5% of 2000g would be 100g of salt.
It’s always a good tip to measure by weight, using a kitchen scale, instead of measuring using volume (such as with cups).
This is because measuring using weight is accurate every time, whereas measuring by volume allows for you to measure it slightly wrong.
This can be seen when measuring flour using a measuring cup – sometimes you might pack your flour into the cup more other times, or leave a slight mound at the top.
This might not seem like much, but a small variation in your weights can change the outcome quite drastically, especially when baking in smaller batches.
If you’re finding Baker’s Percentages to be too difficult to understand, there are online calculators that you can use to help with this.
Just search for ‘online Baker’s Percentage calculators’ and there will be loads to choose from.
Pizza Dough Hydration
So, the hydration of pizza dough is calculated in the same way that Baker’s Percentages are.
This means that when a pizza dough recipe calls for a 60% hydration, what the recipe is actually asking for is 60% of water, based on how much flour you intend to use in the recipe.
This means that if you intended to use 1000 g of flour in your recipe, you would need to use 600g of water in order to give your dough a hydration of 60%.
This is the same for different amounts of hydration too, just adjust your recipe in relation to the amount of flour you are using and hydration you need!
How does the hydration of your dough affect your pizza?
The final product of your pizza is largely decided by the hydration level you choose for your dough.
This is because the dough will react slightly differently when it is cooking, depending on the amount of water you decide to add to your dough.
There are a number of factors that are affected by the percentage of hydration you decide on, including:
- The crispy-ness of your pizza’s crust
- The softness of the crust
- The airiness of the crust
The hydration can affect how hard your pizza dough is to work with, as hydration affects the elasticity and the stickiness of the dough.
We’ll go into these in detail.
How Stretchy Or Elastic Do You Want Your Dough To Be?
The elasticity of your dough refers to how stretchy your pizza dough is. The amount of water you add to your dough can greatly affect this.
A dough with a hydration of 70% will be much stretchier than dough with a 50% hydration.
Be careful with this – the more water you add, the softer your dough will be, so at a certain point your dough will start to break apart quite easily.
As a result, pizza dough with a high level of hydration can be much more difficult to handle without accidentally tearing it.
How Sticky Do You Want Your Dough To Be?
The stickiness of the dough can decide how difficult your dough is to work with, as well as the final result of the pizza.
The stickiness of the dough will increase with the amount of water that you add to it – this doesn’t mean that you should shy away from a sticky dough, though, as doughs with higher hydration can create the best pizza!
If you use a pizza dough scraper, you can get under the dough a lot easier, which will make working with this dough a far more pleasurable experience.
Another thing to work on with stickier dough is how effective you are with getting your pizza on the peel – the stickiness means that sliding the peel underneath the pizza is difficult, as well as placing it into the oven – so brace yourself for a couple of mistakes. It takes practice!
How Much Would You Like Your Dough To Rise?
The amount of water that you use in your recipe can also affect the amount that your dough rises whilst proofing.
This is because water aids in the biochemical reactions of the yeast that helps your dough to rise – so the more water you add, the faster this will happen.
If you have a higher hydration, you will also allow large air pockets to form – this is because the extra water softens the gluten strands within your dough, allowing air bubbles to gather and attempt to rise to the surface.
So the faster biochemical reactions, plus the ability for the dough to hold more gas from the fermentation process, equals extra air pockets.
This means that whilst in the oven, the air pockets will harden, and create a much more crispy and airier crust!
The dough will also soften, meaning that high hydration pizza is equally soft as it is crispy.
Low hydration pizza is not able to form air pockets in the same way, and the biochemical reactions between the water and the yeast take a lot longer, resulting in a much denser pizza crust.
Some Other Things To Think About
There are some other things to consider if you are experimenting with the hydration of your pizza dough.
These things can include how you measure, how much extra flour (or water) you might add while kneading the dough, as well as even the altitude and humidity you are working with the dough in!
Measuring by weight is incredibly important whilst in the kitchen.
As we’ve already mentioned – measuring in volume, such as by using cups, is far less accurate than using kitchen scales – this is because the amount of flour that you might decide ‘fills’ the measuring cup can differ each time – for example, if you measure without leveling off your measuring cup, the mound of flour at the top of the measuring cup can differ every time.
The same logic applies when it comes to packing a measuring cup full of something – certain ingredients might pack in tighter than other ingredients, and you might just pack your cups slightly looser on different occasions.
This can result in a considerable variation in your recipe, as with the Baker’s Percentage, you need to be accurate to these percentages in order to have the desired outcome.
Measuring by weight allows you to be accurate with the amount of flour or water you add to your recipe every time, meaning that experimenting with your dough is easy and attempting to troubleshoot what might be going wrong with your dough is even easier!
Extra Ingredients Whilst Kneading
Whether you decide to add any extra water or flour whilst kneading can also contribute to the hydration of your dough.
If your dough is a higher hydration, then it will be stickier – this will probably mean that it is difficult to handle without using some additional flour.
Whilst using flour to stop the dough from sticking to your hands and your surfaces is a good idea, you should still be careful about how much you add – if you add too much, all of the time and hard work you’ve put into kneading this dough might be wasted, as you’ll ultimately have a lower hydration pizza dough than you were expecting.
The same principle applies to water – if you find that your dough is a much dryer consistency than you wanted, adding water is a good idea (although, if you’re trying to avoid the finished pizza being crispy, too much water might be the problem).
However, without the use of the Baker’s Percentage to help you measure, you might find that you add too much water and have a far too sticky dough to work with.
You might also choose to use water to prevent a higher hydration dough from sticking, as with higher hydration doughs, water is more effective than flour – this could result in an even higher hydration than you initially wanted.
The key here is to add small amounts, slowly. This will help you to gauge where your dough is at, and whether it needs anything additional without getting out of hand.
It’s always a good idea to add some of one ingredient and then knead for a moment – with flour, for example, you need to fully incorporate the flour into the dough in order to be able to see how the amount you have added has changed the dough.
How Humid Is Your Environment?
Believe it or not, humidity is a factor that can affect the final product of your pizza. This is because the humidity of your environment can actually impact the hydration of your pizza dough.
If your environment has a lower humidity, you might find that you need to add slightly more water to your dough, as it won’t pick up any humidity from the air.
The same rule applies if you live in an environment with high humidity – if there is a higher humidity in the environment you are making your pizza dough, there is a larger amount of water that the flour in the dough can absorb from the air.
This might mean that you need to use slightly more flour if you are baking in an environment with higher humidity.
As a result, it’s important to pay attention to the humidity of your kitchen and adjust your recipe as necessary.
What Altitude Are You Baking At?
Similar to the humidity of your environment, you should also take your altitude into consideration when baking your pizza.
This is because flour tends to be a lot drier if used at higher altitudes, and as a result, it can absorb more water.
This means that if you would like to have the same outcome as you would if you were baking at sea level, you may very well have to add more water to increase the hydration of the dough so that it’s where you want it to be.
Best Hydration For Pizza Dough
For the most part, pizza dough tends to have a better texture and flavor with a higher hydration.
As a result, it’s probably a good idea to aim for a hydration level of somewhere between 63% and 65% hydration, and then add more or less hydration as necessary.
It should be noted that the method you choose to cook your pizza can greatly differ the recommended hydration level for your pizza dough.
Traditional pizzerias will use a wood-fired oven, whereas if you are baking at home or with a conventional oven, you will need to adjust your recipe because a conventional oven will not be able to reach the same temperatures as a wood-fired oven.
Wood-fired Neapolitan Pizza
Neapolitan Pizza, also known as the Naples style pizza, is made using the traditional ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt.
This style of dough is different compared to the type of dough traditionally made in Rome, as in Rome they add olive oil to their dough – the olive oil allows the dough to be stretched more, meaning that pizzas made with olive oil can be thinner.
An authentic Neapolitan pizza is typically made with a dough hydration of somewhere between 55.5% and 62.5%.
This is a low hydration, but it is necessary for Neapolitan pizzas as they are traditionally cooked in a wood-fired oven.
The hydration within a dough will attempt to evaporate during the cooking process.
Wood-fired ovens introduce a significant amount of heat to the pizza quite quickly, meaning that the pizza will bake quite rapidly.
This means that if you intend to cook a pizza in a wood-fired oven, you need to take the hydration of your dough into account – or vice-versa.
This is because rapid cooking means that if there is an excess amount of moisture within the dough, the water will not have enough time to evaporate during the cooking process, which is necessary.
As a result, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza will traditionally have a lower hydration.
Home Oven-baked Neapolitan Pizza
If you intend to bake your pizza in an oven at home, the hydration required for a good Neapolitan pizza is different.
Neapolitan pizza made in an oven at home needs a higher hydration, as the oven it is baked in will have a lower temperature.
This means that your pizza will need to stay in the oven for a longer time, so you don’t want the crust of your pizza to become dry and hard.
The longer cooking time allows for more time for any water to evaporate, so if you used a pizza dough with a lower hydration for this purpose, you will likely find that your crust is quite hard, as there isn’t any moisture left. The key to a good crust is for it to be crispy, not break your teeth!
This pizza dough is typically recommended to be made with a hydration somewhere around 65-70%.
This means that the dough is slightly stickier, so when picking it up and placing it onto surfaces, using some extra flour to help is a good idea.
Make sure not to add too much flour though, as this might alter the hydration of your pizza! You should find that your dough is quite stretchy, so it should be easy to knead and shape.
The higher hydration will allow bigger air pockets to form within the pizza, meaning that your finished pizza should be very soft and airy, as well as delivering on that satisfying crunch on your crust.
Other Things To Consider
Whilst the hydration you choose for your pizza dough will change your finished product, many other factors can also affect your pizza.
Pizza Steel/Pizza Stone
A great idea to try to transform your home kitchen into something more similar to a pizzeria is to use a pizza steel or a pizza stone.
As we mentioned before, using a traditional wood-fired oven will give you a much better pizza, as these types of ovens are able to reach much higher temperatures than conventional ovens.
Don’t worry though! If you aren’t able to get your hands on a wood-fired oven, pizza steels and pizza stones can act as brilliant alternatives, helping you to transform your home into your very own pizzeria with ease.
A pizza steel is a metal sheet that can be preheated in the oven before you place your pizza dough onto it.
Steel is an excellent conductor of heat, and preheating it before use allows you to ensure that the whole of the pizza will be cooked evenly, without any areas that are colder or hotter than others.
This means that your pizza will have a crisper base than a pizza cooked without one.
Pizza stones work in a very similar way to pizza steels. The main difference between the two is that pizza steels are made with steel, whereas pizza stones are made from ceramic.
Pizza stones are really good for cooking pizza, as they will mimic the effect of a wood-fired oven. Pizza stones will easily absorb heat, and then they will keep that heat for a long amount of time.
Using either a pizza stone or a pizza steel at a high temperature can help you to recreate the effects of a wood-fired pizza oven.
Types Of Flour For Hydration
As flour is the most substantial and important ingredient in pizza making, the type of flour you are using can greatly affect the hydration of your pizza dough as well.
Different flour types are better at absorbing water than others, meaning that doughs made with different flours will have varying levels of hydration, and different flours do not allow consistency.
This means that learning as much as you can about the flour that you intend to use is a good idea, as getting to know your flour will allow you to adjust your Baker’s Percentage slightly, depending on what your flour needs.
To learn about your flour and how much water you can work with, you will first need to understand water absorption.
Water absorption is different from hydration – whilst it is still given in percentages, similar to a Baker’s Percentage, the water absorption of your flour refers to your flour’s ability to absorb moisture.
Water absorption is a way of describing the amount of water you can expect a certain flour to be able to absorb in order to achieve a certain level of viscosity.
The ‘standard’ of viscosity is considered to be 500 B.U – this is the level of viscosity that can be used as a reference point for each type of flour – certain flours might require more water to reach this viscosity, whereas other flours might require less.
This is why you need to know the water absorption of the flour that you are going to use to make your pizza dough, as working with the hydration of pizza dough really means working to control the viscosity of your dough.
A flour that has a 65% absorption (and has been hydrated to 65%) will have the same viscosity as a flour with a 55% absorption (that has been hydrated to 55%), as the amount of water required to reach those viscosities differs based on the water absorption of that particular flour.
This means that certain flours will require different levels of hydration to reach the same viscosity.
Italian ‘00’ flour is finely milled, which means that they vary in how much water they can absorb.
As an example of how different flours can have different levels of water absorption, we can compare two flours: Caputo Farina di Grano Tenero, and Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napoletana.
The Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napoletana flour has a 55% water absorption, and Caputo Farina di Grano Tenero has a water absorption somewhere around 62%.
This means that if you were to attempt to make two different doughs from these flours, using the same amount of flour and the same amount of water, you would have two doughs with two different viscosities.
If you want to adjust your recipe to your flour in order to get the same level of hydration, you will first need to look at the water absorption of the flour that you intend on using, as by looking at the water absorption of your flour, you will have a good idea of whether you will need to add some extra water or some extra flour to reach the required viscosity.
This means that we can look at the difference in water absorption between Caputo Farine di Grano Tenero and Le 5 Stagioni Napoletana and assume that in order to reach the same level of hydration, the Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napoletana flour is going to require a lot less water than the Caput Farina di Grano Tenero flour.
These flours are finely milled because this means that they don’t require as much water as other bread flours would.
As a result, when using ‘00’ flour, you will often achieve a stickier dough than you would have before.
It’s a good idea to try to keep track of the type of flour you have used for each pizza dough that you make, especially when experimenting – this can help you to avoid inconsistencies and perfect your recipe so that your pizza is exactly the way you want it to be, every single time.
It’s always really helpful to get to grips with things such as Baker’s Percentages and hydration if getting into pizza making, or baking in general.
Experimenting with your pizza dough is the best thing you can do, as different recipes will work differently, depending on the flour being used, the kitchen that they are prepared in, and the oven they are being cooked in.