Making pizza at home isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are so many key differences between a home oven and a professional pizza oven that the end result often comes out completely different following the same recipe. The most common complaint I hear has to do with the pizza crust coming out hard and tough. Why does this happen and how do you fix it?
Your pizza crust is too hard because either your dough wasn’t hydrated enough, you knocked out all the air with a rolling pin, you cooked it too long, or you didn’t let it proof long enough. In fact, it’s very likely that your pizza crust is so tough due to a combination of all of these things.
Fortunately, I have years of experience baking pizzas in a home oven and can help you avoid hard and tough pizza crust and get you the soft chewy crust you’ve been dreaming of.
Your Pizza Crust Is Too Hard Because You Cooked It Too Long
This tip almost seems too simple to take seriously, but it’s actually quite common.
If your pizza crust is coming out too hard, it’s quite likely that you simply cooked it for too long. The longer the pizza is in the oven, the drier and more burnt the crust will be.
I think the reason for this being such a common problem is because there is a common misconception on most internet recipes that says you should bake your pizza until the cheese is golden brown. This is wrong and will not work in a home oven for several reasons.
When you buy pizza at a pizzeria, especially in the United States, you will often see little brown bubbles on the cheese while the crust is still soft and chewy. This is because pizzeria ovens cook at a much higher temperature than home ovens, sometimes by a factor of 2x or more.
Most normal home ovens only reach a temperature of 500F, while professional pizza ovens usually reach between 700-800F in NYC and up to 900-1000F in Naples.
What this allows a pizzeria to do is keep the pizza in the oven long enough to brown the cheese but not long enough to dry out the crust. This simply won’t work in a home oven.
In a home oven your pizza will bake for at least 5-10 minutes. This is compared to just a few minutes or less for a standard NYC pizza in a professional oven.
Any longer than 5-10 minutes for a standard pizza in a home oven will bake out all of the moisture and result in a brittle, hard crust.
Your Pizza Crust Is So Hard Because Your Dough’s Hydration Level Is Too Low
As I mentioned in the last section, hydration plays a key role in determining how soft your pizza crust will be.
So if your pizza crust loses moisture the longer it’s in the oven, it stands to reason that you should be preparing your pizza dough with as much moisture as possible.
As a result, a poorly hydrated pizza dough that is too low in moisture will result in a crust that is hard and tough to chew.
Many pizza dough recipes online call for a 50-55% hydration level, and while that might be standard for a pizzeria pizza it’s just too low for a home oven. For home oven pizzas I recommend a pizza dough hydration level of at least 65-75%
I personally find a hydration level of 68% to be the perfect amount of moisture to bake a soft pizza while not making the dough too wet and sticky to work with. You can find my super easy and delicious Neapolitan pizza dough recipe here that’s perfectly hydrated enough for a home oven.
So try adding some extra moisture to your dough and I think you’ll find your pizza crust is much softer after baking.
Your Pizza Crust Is Too Hard Because You Knocked All The Air Out Of It
One of the hallmarks of a good pizza is being able to gently squeeze the crust down between your fingers and watch it slowly rise back up again. This happens because the crust is full of air pockets that make it light and fluffy.
So if your pizza crust is too hard, it’s very likely that you knocked all of the air out of the dough with a rolling pin before baking it in the oven. Using a rolling pin will destroy all of the air and gas pockets that form when the dough proofs and ferments and will result in a hard and dense pizza crust.
The rolling pin method can be good for thin crust pizzas, but for standard Neapolitan or NYC style it’s best to stretch the dough by hand.
When stretching the dough, you want to gently press down starting from the middle and going out to the sides, but don’t press the edges. What you’re trying to do, essentially, is push the air from the middle into the outer crust so don’t press beyond a 1 inch margin around the pizza.
When you press and stretch the dough by hand like this what you’re doing is collecting all the air and gas that built up during the proofing process and pushing into the outer crust. This moist and airy pockets of gas get super-heated during the cooking process and puffs up the crust.
So be gentle and don’t roll your dough if you don’t want your pizza crust to be hard and tough. Use your hands (gently) instead.
Your Pizza Crust Is Hard Because You Didn’t Let It Rest Long Enough
All that hot air and gas so necessary to make a perfect pizza we talked about in the last section doesn’t just come from nowhere. Well, actually it kind of does.
This is what the proofing stage of making pizza dough is all about. The longer the dough rests after being kneaded, the more gas and air will build up inside the dough.
If you don’t let your pizza dough proof long enough, there won’t be any gas built up and the crust won’t rise. When pizza crust doesn’t rise it will come out tough and hard to chew.
Sometimes it’s worth remember that dough is not just a mixture of ingredients in your kitchen, it’s the creation of a living breathing thing. The life of a pizza dough comes from the yeast we add during the mixing process. When the dry yeast is hydrated it comes to life and feeds on the natural sugars in the flour.
When yeast feeds on sugar is lets off gasses, just like animals do when they eat. These gasses are what fill up the air pockets inside the pizza dough and cause the crust to rise up when baked.
This is why it’s so important to allow your dough time to proof. When you’ve got your dough shaped into a ball, you can’t just start immediately shaping it into a disc. Instead, let your dough ball rest in an air tight container at room temperature for at least 1-2 hours. This will give the yeast in the dough enough time to produce enough gas for a puffy crust when you bake it.
You might even want to consider preparing your dough balls the night before and keeping them in the fridge until 1-2 hours before you make your pizza.
How To Make Pizza Crust Softer
Now that you know what makes pizza crust too hard, let’s go over a process you can follow to make sure your next pizza has a softer and airier crust.
You can apply these methods to any pizza crust recipe, but if you need a fool-proof starter you can follow my pizza dough recipe here. This method is no-knead and can be prepared the night before you start making your pizza for optimal convenience.
Add Extra Hydration To Your Pizza Dough
As I mentioned earlier in the post, you want as much moisture as possible in your pizza dough for it to be soft. For this, I recommend aiming for a 65-70% hydration level. Some pizza doughs can even be as high as 80% hydration similar to a traditional focaccia bread.
But the downside to using such a wet dough is the fact that they can be extremely difficult to work with, especially during the kneading process. This is why I suggest you follow my no-knead pizza dough recipe instead.
My no-knead pizza recipe will allow you to make a dough with as much hydration as you need without having to worry about kneading an extremely wet dough. This pizza dough is nearly 70% hydration and only requires a stiff spatula for about 10 minutes worth of the mixing wet and dry ingredients together.
Kneading is simply the process of manually creating the gluten bonds from the flour and the water. This works well, however the gluten bonds will form on their own if we allow the dough to sit long enough.
This way, we let time create the gluten bonds for us, allowing us to have a wet pizza dough without the mess of kneading it.
Obviously a dough mixer will solve this problems as well, but if you don’t have one you can use my method instead.
Let Your Pizza Dough Rest For As Long As Possible
Now that your pizza dough has extra moisture, it’s time to let it sit for as long as possible.
If you’ve just kneaded your dough by hand, you can form it into a ball and let it sit at room temperature for at least 1-2 hours. This is the minimum amount of time necessary to produce gas pockets within the dough and create a softer crust.
But if you want to take your pizza crust to the next level, you really want to let it rest for longer than that. In fact, all of the best pizzas I’ve made have been the result of a 24-48 hour cold ferment right after a 12-18 hour rise.
I always prep my dough balls the night before and let them sit in the fridge. This allows the dough to ferment longer and means I don’t have to disturb the dough at all before finally shaping it into a disc. Just remember to take the dough balls out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for about 1.5 hours beforehand to let the gluten relax before you shape it.
Always Shape Your Pizza Dough By Hand
Once the pizza dough has rested and built up pockets of gas, it’s time to shape it. Shaping the pizza correctly is the most important part of the final pizza baking process.
For a softer pizza crust, always shape your dough by hand. You can do this by using the flat part of your fingers and gently pushing the air out from the middle of the crust and into the outer edges. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but will become easier over time and with practice.
Remember, you’re not really stretching the dough, rather you’re pressing it. Once the air has been moved into the edges you will need to slightly pull and stretch, but by then the dough will be much flatter and more pliable.
Use plenty of semolina flour on the counter surface you’re working on so the dough doesn’t stick.
Always leave an untouched 1 inch margin around the crust. This will allow plenty of room for the air to collect while you’re pushing it out from the middle.
Don’t Bake Your Pizza For Too Long
It’s tempting to follow advice online that your pizza is done baking once the cheese is golden brown. More often than not, following these kinds of instructions will result in a hard crust.
The truth is, your pizza is done baking once the crust is a very light brown/beige on top and a slightly darker brown on the bottom. You may see some small darker brown spots as well. This is the sign that your pizza is finished baking and will ensure a puffy crust that is soft but also slightly crispy as well.
I like to par-bake my pizza crust and put the toppings on incrementally during the baking process. This allows me to take care that the dough is shaped properly without worrying about it sticking to the peel with sauce on it. This step isn’t totally necessary but can be helpful.
Par-baking without sauce is also useful because it let’s the crust rise slightly in the middle without the weight of wet ingredients on top. This helps ensure a softer crust.
I let the crust par-bake by itself for about 30 seconds – just long enough for it to slide easily back onto the peel. Then I add sauce and place it back in the oven again for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Just enough time for the crust to puff back up again in the heat but before any browning occurs.
I prefer fresh mozzarella so I add it on last. Fresh mozzarella only needs to be melted to the point where it’s gently bubbling so 2-3 of minutes cook time is plenty. But if you’re using regular low-moisture mozzarella and like a more well-cooked cheese, you can put it on with the sauce.
Whatever kinds of pizza you’re making, as long as you take the pizza out of the oven before a deep browning occurs all over, your pizza crust should be delicate and soft.
Does Too Much Gluten or Kneading Cause A Hard Pizza Crust?
In my experience, the amount of kneading or gluten that’s been built up in the crust will not affect how hard or soft the pizza crust will be once baked.
If you dough has been over-kneaded it may be more difficult to work with, but as long as you have the proper hydration and resting period it should remain soft when baked. This is because the gluten bonds simply affect how elastic the dough is and not necessarily the hardness of the crust.
Your pizza may be slightly chewier with a high gluten content, but it should still remain soft as long as it isn’t baked for too long.
Does The Flour Type Make Pizza Crust Hard Or Soft?
In my opinion, the flour type does make a difference in the consistency of the crust, but not necessarily how soft it is.
If you compare Tipo 00 flour with bread flour or all-purpose flour, the Tipo 00 will create a much more delicate pizza crust. But that doesn’t mean all-purpose or bread flour can’t have a nice soft crust as well.
The differences in flour mostly comes down to the fineness of the milled grain and the protein content. Both larger grains and a high protein content can still make for a softer pizza crust if the moisture level and proofing is done correctly. But these less refined grains will produce a heavier and less digestible crust compared to Tipo 00.
There’s nothing worse than a pizza with a crust that’s hard and dense instead of soft and fluffy.
Pizza crust is supposed to be the crown of the slice not the stuff you leave behind on your plate.
Don’t worry too much about the flour you’re using or brushing the dough with water halfway through the bake like you see recommended on some other blogs and forums. Instead, just focus on the basics – a highly hydrated dough, ample rest, gentle shaping and a shorter bake time.
Follow my advice and you will be cooking the softest and airiest pizzas right in your home oven.