There are so many pizza recipes out there online and so few of them discuss hydration levels. Maybe that’s the reason why I receive so many questions asking me how hydration relates to pizza dough and which is the best one to use for a home oven.
The best hydration level for homemade pizza dough is 68% as this will give you a soft yet crispy pizza crust that’s still easy to stretch. Hydration simply refers to the ratio of water to flour in the pizza dough. For example, 700ml of water mixed with 1000g of flour will create a dough with a 70% hydration level.
But this doesn’t mean hydration levels are one-size-fits-all. In fact, different types of pizzas baked in different sorts of ovens often require very different hydration levels in the dough.
Let’s go over how hydration works, why it’s so important for home-oven pizza makers and how pro bakers deal with highly hydrated dough.
Homemade Pizza Dough Should Have A 65% Or More Hydration Level
At the end of the day, the hydration level of your pizza dough is going to be equal to however much water is left after it’s been kneaded and rested.
Generally speaking, the longer a pizza is going to be in the oven, the higher the hydration level you’re going to need. This is because lower hydration pizza doughs will completely dry out, even at lower temperatures during longer bake times.
In a practical sense, this means those of us with regular home ovens should probably opt for pizza doughs with hydration levels above 65%. However if you have a professional pizza oven that goes above 700°F, then you can get away with hydration levels as low as 50% while still baking a moist crust.
So while the difference in max temperature between a home and professional pizza oven is only a factor of 2, that doesn’t mean you can simply bake the pizza for twice as long and have everything turn out the same. The chemistry of the pizza dough changes too much when exposed to heat for that long even though the temperature is 2 times lower.
To counteract this effect, we add a higher hydration level for pizza dough intended to be baked in a home oven at 550°F or lower. This allows the dough to bake for longer and get nice crispy exterior while preserving a moist and chewy interior.
Pizza Dough & Bakers Percentages
The world of pizza making can often be very inward looking. So much so that it’s easy to forget that making pizza is much more like baking bread than it is cooking a lasagna.
This is because baking is more like a science than simply cooking to your own personal preference. Very small percentage differences in one ingredient vs another can yield wildly different results when it comes to baking.
The very same thing is true when it comes to making pizza dough. Pizza toppings are more or less a matter of personal taste, but the pizza dough really has to follow a recipe to the letter if you want suitable results for your oven and type of pizza.
This is where a common baking concept known as baking percentages can be so helpful when making pizza dough.
Baking percentages is method of understanding the ratios of ingredients in your pizza dough. This method allows you to easily scale down or up a recipe and know exactly what kind of pizza dough and crust you’ll wind up with. Bakers percentages also allows you to add or subtract ingredients while still maintaining the hydration or yeast level you need.
Baker’s Percentages Calculate The Weight Of Ingredients Relative To The Total Amount Of Flour
Baker’s percentages are based on weight, so you’re going to need a weigh scale to start benefiting from this method. But I always recommend weigh scales anyways since they allow much more precise results regardless of the time of year or humidity, etc.
Weighing your ingredients using the same measurements, in this case grams and milliliters, let’s you visualize the percentages of each ingredient in terms of the total of the whole recipe. For example, 680ml of water combined with 1000g of flour will give you 68% hydration, though of course the yeast and salt will affect this number as well.
This is where baker’s percentages math comes into play. As you can see from my example above, the hydration percentage we came up with is based on a total amount of flour. This is useful because flour forms the basis of any baking recipe and it gives us a central point of reference to base our math off of.
Baker’s Percentages Are Calculated By Dividing The Ingredient Weight By The Total Flour Weight And Multiplying By 100
Baker’s percentage math is very simple and will go a long way towards improving your pizza making skills. It’s also just a great skill to know in general for any type of baking.
The baker’s percentage equation goes as follows:
As you can see, it’s very simple math and can often be done in your head.
You’ll recall my previous example of 680ml of water and 1000g of flour equaling a 68% water level. But if I want to keep this same hydration percentage with only 300g of flour, I can simply reverse the math and multiply it by 68% (0.68). This very quickly will give you a water weight of 204ml.
This is method can be really empowering because it allows you to make any kind of pizza dough you want without relying on a recipe. All you need to know is the percentage each ingredient should be relative to the flour you’re using.
So, for the kind of pizza I recommend making, which is based off of Neapolitan standards, you’ll want roughly a 65-75% hydration level, a 3% salt level and less than 1% yeast (just a pinch).
So keep these concepts in mind when figuring out what kind of hydration level you prefer and which one works best for your oven.
Below is a table of some common pizza dough ingredient combinations for a 500g standard pizza dough at different hydration levels:
How Hydration Affects Pizza Dough
We’ve talked a lot about pizza dough hydration and how it can affect the softness of the crust and dough, but what exactly is going on inside the dough to make the difference?
Pizza dough hydration has to do with how much water there is compared to the amount of flour. When water mixes with flour, gluten bonds begin to form turning the mixture into a dough that can stretch and maintain it’s shape. However, the higher the hydration level, the weaker these gluten bonds become and the softer the crust is after baking.
The pizza dough needs water to form gluten and become strong, but the more water there is the weaker these bonds become. So, as you can surmise there is a fine line between too much water and just enough.
A dough with too little water will be dry and brittle and will tear apart when pulled due to an underdeveloped gluten network. Add a little bit more water and the pizza dough’s gluten will strengthen more and become too stretchy, like an elastic, and and spring back into a ball each time you try to shape it.
Add a bit more water, and push the hydration level over 50%, and suddenly you’ll have a dough that you can shape relatively easily, but will become hard and tough when baked for more than a few minutes.
On the flipside, if you push the hydration over 80%, the gluten network will get flooded out by excess water and will be too weak for most people to work with.
The sweet spot for most pizza dough, especially those made in a home oven, is between 60%-70% hydration. This will minimize dehydration in the oven but also preserve enough of the gluten network to be strong and relatively easy to handle.
Neapolitan Pizza Dough Is Usually 55%-65% Hydration
A classic Neapolitan pizza is made in a super-hot, often wood-fired, professional pizza oven. These ovens are often made of brick and have a domed roof especially designed to get a hot as possible, or around 900°F.
Because these ovens are so hot, they can bake a pizza extremely quickly – sometimes in 90 seconds or less. This means the hydration level can be lower since, as we discussed earlier, the less time a pizza is in an oven the more hydration is retained in the baked crust.
Neapolitan pizza dough is usually around 55% hydration for a professional pizzeria, but for a home oven the hydration level should be 65% hydration or above. This difference has to do with the maximum heat of home vs pro pizza ovens.
So in a classic, professional setting, a Neapolitan pizza dough can be quite dry and still remain moist after baking. This also gives the advantage of being able to slap and pull the dough since the lack of excess hydration will make the gluten bonds strong.
This is why you will often see Neapolitan pizzerias using hydration levels that are relatively low at around 50%. It’s simply easier to work with drier dough, and if the end result is still moist and soft there is no reason not to.
But this changes in home ovens that rarely exceed 500°F even at the maximum settings. For this environment we need a dough that is as hydrated as possible in order to withstand the slow and low home baking process. This means the gluten bonds will be wetter and weaker and will need to be handled carefully to avoid tearing, but you can still get a really soft and tasty crust.
For my homemade Neapolitan pizzas, I use a recipe that is 68% hydration. This is the best of both world’s in my opinion – a crust that is soft and moist but a pizza dough that isn’t so wet that it’s impossible to handle for a beginner.
NYC Pizza Dough Is Typically Higher Hydration Than Other Pizza Styles
New York City style pizza, the kind I grew up eating, is much more difficult to generalize than Neapolitan style pizza dough.
While Neapolitan style pizza is regulated by the Vera Pizza Napolitano association, there is no such organization standardizing NYC style pizza. As a result, NYC pizza can vary wildly from pizzeria to pizzeria.
That being said, there is definitely a New York standard when it comes to pizza. And while it might not be as standardized as Neapolitan pizza, there are certainly a few generalization we can make.
In general, NYC pizza is baked at a much lower temperature than Neapolitan pizza. There is no standard temperature but it’s often somewhere between 600-750°F. This is hotter than a home oven but not nearly as hot as the 900°F in a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven.
As a result NYC style pizzas take longer to bake, sometimes as long as 10 minutes or more. This longer baking time is the reason you often see NYC pizza with a characteristic orange colored cheese with some brown spots.
But a pizza crust baked as long as this still needs to be able to withstand folding without cracking, as is customary in NYC. This is where hydration comes into play.
NYC style pizza dough usually has a hydration level of around 65%. This is significantly more hydrated than Neapolitan pizza dough due to the longer baking time. But due to the lower temperature used by NYC pizzerias, this style of pizza crust is usually no softer than Neapolitan pizza.
For a home oven, NYC style pizza is not too difficult to replicate since the temperature differential vs a home oven isn’t as large as with a Neapolitan pizza oven.
A 68% hydration level is ideal for a homemade NYC style pizza dough. This slightly higher hydration level will make up for the slightly longer baking time in a home oven vs the professional ovens in NYC pizzerias.
But to reiterate, there isn’t nearly as much standardization of NYC pizza as there is for Neapolitan pizza. NYC pizza dough tends to be higher hydration, but can be drier as well. It can also be baked at a wide range of temperatures from 450°F all the way up to 800°F. Some NYC pizza dough is hand stretched while other pizzerias roll out their dough.
Ultimately, what sets NYC pizza apart from other styles of pizza is large thin-crust slices that are charred on the bottom but can be easily folded in half without snapping. In addition, NYC pizza is usually topped with an pre-cooked heavily seasoned sauce and a shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese.
How To Fix Dry Pizza Dough
Now that we’ve discussed what pizza dough hydration is, and what the benefits are to lower and higher hydration levels, let’s go over how to address pizza dough that doesn’t have enough hydration.
But first we need to establish the two main causes of dry pizza – too low hydration and dehydration.
A pizza dough with too low hydration can only be fixed by changing the recipe to include more water. You will most likely need to throw this pizza dough away and start again with the new batch.
A pizza dough that is dehydrated may have had adequate hydration in the recipe but has been exposed to open air too long and has dried out as a result. This kind of pizza dough can often be fixed by adding water to rehydrate the the part of the dough that has crusted over.
How To Fix A Pizza Dough With Too Little Hydration
We’ve gone over the myriad reasons why pizza dough should be highly hydrated if you’re planning on baking it in a home oven. But sometimes recipes don’t go to plan, and you may have inadvertently wound up with a pizza dough that has too little hydration.
You’ll know you’ve made this mistake if the pizza dough is acting “nervous” and springs back into a ball when you try to stretch it.
In most cases, you’ll want to simply start over and try again. But if you’re determined to fix this particular batch of under-hydrated pizza dough then here are a few tricks you can try.
How To Fix Low Hydration Pizza Dough
If you’ve found yourself with an under-hydrated batch of pizza dough and you need to fix it, you can try to re-hydrate it a few different ways.
First, you need to figure out how much water you need to add to the dough. This is a situation where baker’s percentages can actually be somewhat useful.
Method 1: Rehydrate Your Pizza Dough By Incorporating More Water Into It
So for example, if your initial recipe used 1000g of flour but you only added 400ml of water, you know you currently have a 40% hydration level. If your goal is to get that dough up to a 70% hydration level, simple math tells you a 30% difference, or a deficit of 300ml of water.
What you can do from here is similar to the way you might incorporate a poolish or sourdough starter into a larger dough.
Here is a rough set of instructions for you to follow:
- Let your dehydrated pizza dough rest at room temperature for several hours to relax the gluten as much as possible.
- Determine how much water you want to add to your dehydrated dough (for this example, we’ll say 300ml)
- Fill a large bowl with the desired about of water.
- After your pizza dough has rested and is relaxed, pull of a small chunk of it and drop it in the bowl of water.
- Using your fingers, slowly try to dissolve as much of the dough as possible into the water.
- Repeat step 5 until the water is saturated with dough.
- Take the remaining amount of dough and mix it with the dough-water mixtures. Knead it until both parts are thoroughly incorporated.
- Place this newly hydrated pizza dough in a covered bowl and let it rise again for 2-3 hours.
If all goes well, you will have a rehydrated pizza dough but keep in mind that the gluten bonds will most likely be weakened since the dough will have risen and fallen several times since you initially made it. You’ll need to treat this new pizza dough very carefully.
But very likely this will not work well and you’ll simply end up trying to mix a dry dough into a soupy mess. I simply offer this as a last resort for those of you who have run out of flour and are desperate for some homemade pizza.
That being said, it can still work though depending on how dehydrated your dough is.
In most cases however, assuming you have the extra flour, the easiest thing to do is start over and make a new batch of dough.
Method 2: Cold-Ferment Your Pizza Dough Overnight To Rehydrate And Soften
This method probably has a bit more chance of success than method 1, especially if your dough is only slightly under-hydrated
When you cold-ferment your dough for over 24 hours you’ll usually find that the dough is significantly softer but also a bit more moist. This happens because the gluten breaks down over time while the dough simultaneously absorbs some of the cold moisture from the fridge.
As a result, you might find that you under-hydrated pizza dough is much more pliable and moist without having to manually add more water. This is an ideal scenario since cold fermenting pizza dough has many other benefits as well.
To cold ferment your pizza dough, follow these simple steps:
- Put your pizza dough into a tightly covered bowl. You can lightly oil the bowl beforehand to prevent sticking but this often isn’t necessary.
- Place the covered bowl with pizza dough in the fridge and let it sit for 24-48 hours.
- When you’re ready to use the dough, take it out of the fridge and divide it into dough balls with a light dusting of semolina flour.
- Let the dough balls rest at room temperature for 1-1.5 hours before shaping and baking into a pizza .
This method is a great way to get a hard and dry pizza dough to become soft and pliable again.
How To Fix Dehydrated Pizza Dough
On the other side of having a pizza dough with too little water added to the ingredients is a dough that been dried out due to exposure to the open air.
In this case, the pizza dough has plenty of water but has had a crust form over the outside making it feel dry to the touch. If you dry to shape such a dough, you will have dry bits of dough that will burn when baked.
Very often this kind of pizza dough, while hard and crusty on the outside, still remains moist and wet inside.
This kind of dehydration situation, though annoying, is much easier to remedy than one where the dough is actually under-hydrated from following a poor recipe.
To fix a dehydrated, crusted over dough, follow these steps:
- Spray or brush some water on the hard parts of the dough.
- Gently massage the water into the dough until the crusty areas have been totally saturated.
- Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Use your pizza dough as you would normally.
This method should work in most cases unless the pizza dough has been left out so long that the dehydration has spread to the interior of the dough.
Remember that you can prevent your pizza doughs from ever dehydrating by always keeping them tightly sealed and not exposed to the air. For this reason I always use cling wrap to cover my doughs instead of a wet towel as is often recommended in many instructions online.
How Flour’s Water Absorption Rates Affect Pizza Dough Hydration
Different flours can have very different results when it comes to making pizza dough. However, this usually has to do with not properly hydrating your flour based on its ability to absorb water.
In dough, the water absorption ability of the flour is different than hydration levels called for in the recipe. Water absorption refers to the ability of flour to absorb water. These water absorption rates have to do with the strength of the grain and can vary significantly from one type of flour to another.
This can get confusing quickly because both pizza dough hydration and flour absorption rates are presented in percentages and both have to do with mixing water and flour.
Let me give you a real life example to help you make sense of all this and understand how to apply it to your own pizza dough making.
If you have a flour with an absorption rate of 68% used in a 68% hydration recipe, the resulting pizza dough will feel as hydrated as another pizza dough using a flour with 58% water absorption and a 58% hydration recipe.
Confused yet? If you are, just think of it this way. A flour with a high absorption rate will need more water to perform the same as a flour with a lower absorption rate. This is because the flour with the higher absorption rate is absorbing more of the water and therefore needs more water to compensate for this.
The water absorption rate of flour, in this way, basically refers to the optimal amount of water you can add to a flour before it becomes oversaturated with water and the gluten bonds become too weak to work with.
But in most cases this information is irrelevant because the water absorption rate is not something that’s listed on your average package of flour. You’ll really just have to judge from experience which flours need slightly more water and which ones need slightly less.
It’s also worth remembering that the average flour has a water absorption rate between 55-65%. This means if you’re aiming for a hydration level of around 65%, as I do, most flours will handle this just fine.
And in the case of some European Tipo 00 flours, where the absorption rate is slightly lower, you can simply adjust the recipe to include less water next time around.
If you’re really curious, contact the manufacturers and ask them what the water absorption rate is of your favorite flour.
Below is a small list of known water absorption rates for some popular flours as well as some general rules of thumb when dealing with flours of different types.
|Flour Type||Water Absorption|
|General strong flour||63%|
|General medium flour||55-60%|
|General weak flour||less than 55%|
|King Arthur (All-Purpose)||60%|
|King Arthur (Sir Lancelot)||63%|
|Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napoletana Rossa||57%|
|Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napoletana Verde||55%|
|Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Farina 00 Gold||60%|
|Caputo 00 Pizzeria||55-57%|
|Caputo 00 New York Style||55-57%|
|Caputo 00 Extra||53-54%|
|Caputo 0 Manitoba||58%|
|Caputo 00 Pizza Chef||55-57%|
|Le Farine Speciali Polselli Super||60%|
|Gold Medal All-Purpose||60%|
If you don’t see your preferred flour here, you can sometimes find the information on the company’s website. If not, contact the brand and ask for a datasheet that will provide the absorption rate as well as lots of other nutritional information.
Why No-Knead Pizza Dough Can Help Maintain Your Dough’s Hydration
I love using this recipe because it makes it much easier to work with extremely wet pizza doughs and have exact measurements of your ingredients in the final product. This is because kneading by hand inevitably leads to dough sticking to fingers and getting washed away, or extra flour being added to keep the dough from sticking in the first place.
On the other hand, with a no-knead recipe, you can simply mix the ingredients in the bowl with a spatula and leave it to rest for 12-18 hours. This way minimizes having to manipulate the dough and potentially lose or add ingredients in the process.
Another benefit to using a no-knead recipe is a softer dough with a weaker gluten structure. This is often the whole reason why we’re concerned with pizza dough hydration to begin with – because we want that soft fluffy crust when it bakes.
And if you choose to cold-ferment your dough further, after the initial no-knead rest period at room temperature, the coldness of the fridge will help to preserve moisture as well.
It really is a win-win method for delicious and soft dough even at lower hydration levels.
How To Knead Wet And Sticky Pizza Dough
If you need your pizza dough ready in a hurry and don’t have time for no-knead recipe, you’re going to have to knead by hand.
Kneading by hand isn’t difficult, but it can be messy and time-consuming. This is especially true if you’re aiming for a pizza dough with a high level of hydration.
A pizza dough with lots of water added into the recipe will initially make it seem like you’ve followed your recipe incorrectly. Because of the extra water, the gluten bonds are weaker and take longer to form. At hydration levels over 65% the dough can seem impossibly wet and sticky.
But don’t give up on high hydration just yet because working with wet dough isn’t as difficult as it can initially seem. It just takes a little extra time, both in terms of kneading and in waiting between kneading sessions.
What you want to do is use a dough scraper to fold the dough over and onto itself again and again and then letting it rest for 10 minutes before starting again. Repeat this several times until the dough is silky and smooth.
To knead sticky pizza dough, follow the following process:
- Begin by mixing the ingredients together in a bowl and until thoroughly incorporated.
- Transfer the wet, doughy mixtures onto a clean counter.
- Using a dough scraper, pull and fold the dough on top of itself for about 2-3 minutes.
- Cover the dough with an upside-down bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Come back and repeat steps 3 – 4 another 5 or 6 times depending on the water absorbability of the flour and hydration level of the recipe.
- When the dough has reached a smooth, silky consistency, place it back in the bowl and cover it up tightly with cling wrap.
- Let the dough rise as per whatever recipe you’re following.
Pizza dough hydration is one of the most important yet least discussed aspects of making pizza. Hydration levels are of particular importance when it comes to homemade pizza because this kind of pizza is usually baked in a lower temperature home oven.
When pizza dough is baked at a low temperature for a long time, it will evaporate more moisture from the crust than one baked at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time. In this way, time in the oven is the real enemy to the softness of any pizza crust.
The best tool we have to counteract hardening and drying out of pizza crust is to ensure our pizza dough is very highly hydrated. This allows the pizza to stay in the oven longer while still retaining enough moisture to bake into a soft crust.
Using baker’s percentages we can quickly and easily adjust the hydration levels of our pizza dough while maintaining the same total weight of the dough.
- What Is Pizza Flour & Is It The Best Flour For Pizza?
- Why 00 Flour Is Best For Pizza: What It Is & How It Makes A Difference
- What’s The Best Flour For Making Pizza?
What Is The Hydration Level For Pizza Dough?
The hydration level for pizza dough refers to the percentage of water in the recipe compared to the percentage of dry ingredients. For example, a pizza dough with 1000g of flour and 700ml of water has a hydration level of 70%. A standard homemade pizza dough should have a hydration level between 60%-70% to maintain moisture during a long baking process.
What Does Higher Hydration Do To Pizza Dough?
A higher hydration level makes pizza dough moist and fluffy. As excess moisture in the dough heats to super hot temperatures in the oven, it expands and creates those big bubbles of air in the crust we all love so much. Higher hydration also ensures that the crust won’t dry out during the longer baking times necessary in a lower temperature home oven.
How Wet Should Pizza Dough Be?
A higher hydration pizza dough should be wet and sticky as you combine the ingredients, but once the dough has been prepped and is ready to shape, you should be able to handle it without much sticking. The best way to work with wet dough is by thoroughly coating it in semolina flour – this will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands as you shape it and give the crust is nice texture when it comes out of the oven.
How Do I Know If My Pizza Dough Needs More Water?
If your crust comes out of the oven hard and dry, it’s a sure sign that your pizza dough needs more water. For homemade pizza, which cooks longer than pizza made in a professional oven, you should aim for a hydration level of between 65-70% (example: 1000g flour with 700ml water = 70% hydration). This will ensure that there is still moisture left in the crust after a long baking process.
What Hydration Should Neapolitan Pizza Dough Be?
Because Neapolitan pizza is cooked very quickly in a very hot oven (950F or 500C for only 90 seconds), Neapolitan pizza dough is typically in the lower hydration range. For most Neapolitan pizza, a hydration level of only 55-60% is perfect and will still be moist and fluffy when it comes out of the oven.
How Do You Calculate Hydration For Pizza Dough?
To calculate the hydration level for pizza dough, simply divide the amount of water by the amount of flour and multiply by 100. For example, 700ml of water divided by 1000g of flour = .7 which is then multiplied by 100 for a hydration level of 70% (water ⁒ flour x 100).