You’re the host of the next pizza party. You’ve pre-made the dough, you’ve gathered your toppings, you’ve divided all your sauce into bowls.
Your friends have arrived and it’s time to crack open that vino and start being creative. But when you make your way to the kitchen to grab those all-important dough balls, you find they haven’t risen.
Now you might find they cook ok but it will only make for a very dry, flat, tasteless pizza crust and you know you’ve ruined your chances of being the host again, so how do we fix this for next time? Luckily we’ve written this article to help.
We hope by reading this article you’ll start to understand how dough works, the reasons it might not be rising as you’d like it to and how you can fix it. So let’s get to it!
How Do I Make Pizza Dough?
It’s always best to start fresh and revisit the basics. That’s why before we head straight into the reasons your dough might not be rising, we’re going to remind ourselves of how we make the perfect dough.
To make pizza dough, we need to ensure we have four essential ingredients. These include yeast, water, flour, and salt, and these are what makes the dough rise.
When the dough rises, it begins its fermentation process and the dough can only begin this when the yeast eats the sugars from the flour and converts it to CO2, which inflates the dough and gives it more volume.
We do however want to remind you that although you might be frustrated at your dough not rising at the moment, you also don’t want to rush the process.
A dough that’s slowly fermented will have more flavor, have a better consistency and even digest easier. To take an example, the famous Neopolitan pizza usually takes 8-24 hours to rise.
However, depending on your personal preference, we want you to understand how you can make your dough rise faster, or slow it down, and this depends on a number of factors.
So let’s dive in and look at those ingredients in more detail.
Yeast is a fungus which as we just mentioned, has the ability to eat sugar. A byproduct, as a result, is CO2 and alcohol.
When the yeast eats the sugar, it starts to produce this byproduct, inflating the dough and making it rise.
This can only happen however at a certain temperature. As you bake, the yeast prefers working at room temperature, yet if it’s any hotter, the yeast will work twice as fast and vice versa.
So, the key to controlling how fast your dough rises lies in how much yeast you’re using or adjusting the temperature.
Other factors that will affect the fermentation process however are the quality of your yeast, the dough’s hydration, or even the salt quantity.
Water lets the yeast move around in the dough and access the flour to eat. Therefore, a dough that’s more hydrated allows the yeast to move faster and speed up the fermentation process.
Simply put, the more hydrated your dough is, the faster it will rise and the less hydrated it is, the slower it will rise.
Flour And Gluten Development
The main ingredient, just like bread, in pizza dough is flour. The is essential for the yeast to work and during the fermentation process, the flour gets broken down into sugars that the yeast can eat.
Therefore to ensure a good quality pizza dough, you need to feed your yeast good food, which means buying good quality flour.
When purchasing your pizza flour, ensure you do your research. We find the best flour to use is double zero flour.
This flour is used in Italy and is often much more pleasant to use than all-purpose or any coarser flour.
It also promises to make your crust light and crispy so is worth investing, not only to make good quality pizza dough but also if you want a real taste of Italy.
Salt slows down the yeast as it starts to absorb the flour. This means the more salt you add to your dough, the longer it takes to rise.
Not only this, but it enhances the flavor and ultimately controls the fermentation of the pizza dough which is why Neapolitan-style pizzas use so much and we would say it’s something you don’t ever want to forget to add.
You must measure how much you put in accurately though as too much salt will affect the dough’s elasticity. Always use a measuring scale and aim for around 2.5-3% salt in your next batch of dough.
To break this baker’s percentage down, if you want a dough with 3% salt and you use a kilogram of flour, use around 30g of salt.
Some other benefits of salt in pizza dough include its ability to strengthen the gluten and the way it makes your crust golden and crisp!
It doesn’t matter the type of salt you end up using either, just ensure it’s pure sodium chloride.
Neapolitan pizza dough tends to use traditionally fine sea salt yet finely ground salt will dissolve easier so that might be a preference you need to figure out after you’ve mastered the dough first.
So Why Won’t My Dough Rise?
Simply put, it’s down to a small number of key reasons. Your yeast is either too old or the water is too hot for it, you might even just not be using enough yeast, the temperature is too low wherever you’re letting your dough rise, or you need to rest it longer.
It could even come down to the fact you’re not kneading your dough enough.
So how do I know which one you’re doing wrong? Well, we’re hopefully going to go into enough detail for you to recognize which one you’re struggling with, so let’s begin.
Killing your yeast can be a result of several things. The water can be too hot, it’s too old or it’s not active anymore.
The Water Is Too Hot
Yeast is a living microorganism. Living microorganisms can die if left in temperatures that are too hot. This temperature depends on the yeast you use but most will often end up dying at around 120-140F.
This means if you mix the yeast with water that’s too hot, you will end up killing it and your dough won’t rise.
The Yeast Is Too Old
If the yeast is too old, your dough won’t rise as it just won’t do what it’s supposed to do.
Fresh yeast often has a shelf life of only 3 weeks, so bear in mind before choosing this over dry yeast and this tends to have a life of 12 months.
To check your yeast hasn’t died, fill a glass up with warm water, add about a teaspoon of yeast and a teaspoon of sugar, as remember, the yeast eats up the sugar, and leave it for around 10-15 minutes. This should then start to foam if the yeast is active.
Not Using Enough Yeast
Using dead yeast is just as bad for your dough as not using enough. The more yeast you use, the faster it will rise and so if we’re using too little, this will slow this process down and you might even end up with a dough that hasn’t risen at all.
So how much yeast should you use? As we previously mentioned, this depends on how long you want your dough to rise and at what temperature you will be leaving it in to rise.
A dough that has around 0.2% yeast for example will rise for around 8-24 hours yet a pizza with around 3-5% yeast will have a much shorter rising time of around 1-2 hours.
The slower the rising process, the slower the fermentation process will be and the more flavor you’ll get in the result, so how much yeast you use will depend on your end goal.
Time or flavor? The amount you end up using will also depend on the temperature you let your dough rise in. If you use colder water, increase the yeast and if you use hot, decrease the amount.
Using Water That’s Too Cold
This is another common mistake among pizza makers everywhere and it will end up slowing down the yeast.
It will seem to work as normal eventually, yet won’t begin to unless the dough reaches the right temperature.
This means if you begin with cold instead of room temperature water, it will only take longer for the dough to rise.
It’s also worth noting how the temperature of the dough will rise naturally when you begin kneading. So actually, starting with cold water isn’t always a bad idea.
The True Neopolitan Pizza Association recommends using water that’s around 68-70F and this should allow the dough to reach a perfect resign temperature after kneading.
The Rising Temperature Is Too Cold
An important reason your dough is not rising as it should do could be that the room you’re using to let it rise is too cold.
As we have mentioned, the lower the temperature a room is, the slower the yeast will work. Even if you use warm water at the start, it will cool naturally whilst left in a cold room.
This will for sure mess up how your yeast works its magic.
We know that the quality of water will depend on where you are based in the world but hard water, pH, and other nasty chemicals can affect how long your dough takes to ferment.
If you know you live in an area with bad water quality, opt for using bottled water to be safe.
Not Kneading The Dough Enough
How your gluten develops will rely on this step so it’s important to get it right.
Your yeast converts sugar into CO2 because the gas needs to be trapped. This is what makes the dough rise and is where gluten is introduced.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein. It can be found in wheat flour and when you give it hydration before kneading it, it will develop its own network of strands that grow stronger as you knead.
This network traps the CO2, increasing the volume of the dough as the gas fills it up and makes it rise.
Therefore, if you don’t knead your dough properly or you don’t knead it enough, the network of walls in the dough will be weak and won’t be able to hold the gas. The gas will then leak which causes deflated dough.
We recommend kneading the dough for around 15-20 minutes to avoid this problem and ensure your dough rises each time without fail.
The Rising Time is too Short
The final reason you might find yourself with flat dough is that you weren’t patient enough. Any good dough requires time and if you’re baking it Neopolitan style, ensure you give it the time it needs.
So, How Do We Fix It?
Let’s face it, that’s why we’re all here. You want to save that embarrassment at your next dinner party, you want a tasty flavorsome dough that’s actually risen as it should. Luckily, these next few steps should help.
Increase The Temperature
This should be your number one priority and is something you should double-check to achieve the best results when making your dough.
You should always aim for a temperature that reaches around 73-75F. If you want to increase the temperature, a simple trick is to place your dough in the oven with a cup of boiling water.
This will trap any heat and give your dough a warmer environment to rise in.
Check Your Yeast
Active yeast is key. If you choose to use dry yeast, to check it is still active, you can place a small amount in a glass with lukewarm water and leave it a couple of minutes until it starts to develop.
You should know it is working when you start to smell it. If you can smell it ok, go ahead and make your dough. However, if you choose to use fresh yeast, you can simply tell by looking at it if it’s still active.
If it gives off a bad odor, the outside seems dry or is a darker color than unusual, this will indicate it has gone bad and it won’t work properly in your dough recipe.
Add More Yeast
Remember yeast is our friend. It is the key to the fermentation and rising process so never be afraid to add more!
If you feel your dough does not have enough yeast, you can always dissolve some more with some warm water and mix it in with your dough.
However, if you do decide to do this, bear in mind your dough will be more hydrated and you may need to add more flour accordingly.
Knead The Dough More
As we explained earlier in the article, for gluten to develop, you must knead the dough for around 15-20 minutes.
If your dough isn’t rising, and you’ve been cutting this step short, you now know why, so get kneading!
Give The Dough More Time
Impatience sometimes is all it comes down to. We know you’re eager to get adding your sauce, adding your toppings, and popping your pizza into that pizza oven to get that taste of Italy as soon as possible, but dough takes time.
If you’ve followed all our advice and your dough still hasn’t risen, just give it more time. Time and practice are two of life’s wonders that if you get just right, you’ll be sure to have a successful outcome.
Where you decide to bake and make your dough will depend on how well it rises.
Temperature, humidity, and altitude are just a number of factors that come into play, which means controlling your climate is key.
If you’ve moved house, or are using someone else’s kitchen, for example, your previous loved dough recipe might not give you the same results as before.
In higher temperatures, the dough rises faster than it does in lower temperatures. Henceforth, if you live in a hot climate, you will find yourself with relatively fast-rising dough.
To alter this, simply use less yeast and increase the yeast if you live in a cold climate. Another way of fixing this problem is by regulating the temperature by using a heater or air conditioner.
The dough will also rise faster in climates that have higher humidity levels. This is because a higher humidity environment will hydrate your dough more than an environment with lower humidity levels.
The dough will end up absorbing water from the air and cause your dough to rise even faster than before.
To combat this, all you need to do is adjust the hydration of your dough manually by adding that bit more or little bit less water.
The final environmental impact on your dough will be the altitude. If you’re in an environment with a high altitude, your dough will rise faster due to the low air pressure.
Sounds complicated right? Well, not really. To break it down into an example, at 3000 feet or 900 meters, your dough will rise around 50% faster than if you made it at sea level.
Therefore, like fixing your temperature levels and humidity levels, all you need to do is adjust your yeast content.
Try dropping it around 20% for every 3000 feet or 900 meters above sea level you find yourself.
We hope by reading this article, you’ve got all the information you need to fix your flat dough and get it rising again in no time.
We’ve talked about reasons it might not be rising to how to fix each of these reasons so you’re prepared for anything, even if it’s the environment you’re trying to work against.
Once you’ve perfected that dough, you’re ready for anything!
Whether you’re making 100 pizzas for a big party or just the one after work on a Friday night, you know you’ve mastered the hard part and it’s just the important question left.
What toppings will you use?!