Sometimes I take for granted that when I make a pizza dough it’s going to rise in the time I expect it to (or at all). But recently I was forced to diagnose this issue when my dough suddenly decided not to rise.
Pizza dough doesn’t rise when the yeast is dead or hasn’t been given the right conditions to thrive. The following are the most common reasons why pizza dough doesn’t rise:
- The yeast is dead (most likely).
- The yeast is too cold.
- The yeast hasn’t been given enough time to rise.
- The yeast hasn’t been fed enough sugars.
- You didn’t use enough yeast.
- You’re using the wrong kind of yeast.
- The dough hasn’t been kneaded enough.
Let’s first explain how pizza dough rises in the first place, then go into detail about each of the reasons why it might not have happened. We’ll finish by answering if pizza dough can still be used if it hasn’t risen.
How Does Pizza Dough Rise?
In order to best understand why your pizza dough didn’t rise, it’s useful to understand the processes that allow it to rise in the first place.
Pizza dough rises when the yeast produces carbon dioxide by converting the starches in the flour to sugar. This carbon dioxide fills the gluten pockets in the dough like a balloon and causes it to rise.
This is why pizza dough cannot rise without a properly functioning yeast, unless you use a yeast alternative which won’t have nearly as good results.
7 Reasons Why Your Pizza Dough Didn’t Rise
1. The Yeast Is Dead
The most common reason why pizza dough doesn’t rise is because the yeast is dead.
Yeast is a living organism – a type of fungus actually. In the case of dry yeast, the organism has been dehydrated and preserved – kind of like how animals hibernate. The yeast comes “back to life”, so to speak, when it’s rehydrated with water or some other kind of moisture.
But sometimes if the yeast is too old or hasn’t been stored properly it can’t come back to life. Officially, dry yeast will last around 4-6 months if it’s stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but in reality it can last much longer. I have an opened jar of yeast in my refrigerator that has been going strong for over a year now.
But your results will vary depending on the type of yeast, how it’s being stored and a bit of luck. This is why it’s important to test that your yeast is still viable before using it.
How To Test If Yeast Is Dead
Testing if your yeast is still alive is easy and will save you a lot of frustration before you mix a pizza dough recipe with dead yeast.
To test if your yeast is still alive, add a 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast and 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar to a bowl of lukewarm water and mix well. Wait 15 minutes (or longer if your room is cold) then check back. If the mixture is bubbling and frothing, your yeast is still alive. If it’s still cloudy and stagnant, the yeast is probably dead.
You’ll also notice that your bowl of water, yeast and sugar will have a slightly foul smell (sort of like bad breath) if it’s alive and bubbling.
2. The Yeast Is Too Cold
The optimal temperature for yeast to bloom is 79°F (or 26°C), but any temperature much below 0°F (-17°C) will prevent the yeast from blooming at all.
Unless you’re preparing your pizza dough outside on a winter day, the temperature will probably not be too cold for the yeast to work. It might take longer, but it should eventually work.
What I do see happening frequently, however, is people mixing their pizza dough and then immediately putting it in the fridge. In this case, the yeast is viable but it was never given a chance to activate in a warm enough environment.
So for best results, let your pizza dough rest at room temperature for at least a couple of 1-2 hours (depending on the recipe) so the yeast has a chance to bloom do its job of making the dough rise.
3. The Yeast Hasn’t Had Enough Time To Rise
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time before your dough starts to rise. A lot of this has to do with how much yeast you’ve used.
A recipe with a lot of yeast will visibly begin to rise relatively quickly. A recipe with a minimal amount of yeast can still rise but it will take longer.
My personal favorite pizza dough recipe follows the no-knead method and rests at room-temperature for up to 18 hours. Because this method takes so long before it’s ready, I use a minimal amount of yeast so as not to blow out (or over-rise) the dough. Sometimes this dough doesn’t look like it’s risen until the next morning.
So if you’re sure your yeast is still viable and it hasn’t risen yet, just give it a bit more time. Alternatively, you can always use more yeast the next time you make a batch of pizza dough if you’d like it to rise faster.
4. The Yeast Hasn’t Been Fed Enough Sugars
Yeast needs sugar to live and multiply. Without sugars the yeast will activate briefly and then die.
Usually, in the case of pizza dough, the yeast will feed on flour by converting the starches to sugar. But if you’re using a minimal amount of yeast, this process might take a long time and significantly slow the rising process.
For homemade pizza dough, I always like to add a small amount of sugar in the form of honey to feed the yeast. This gives the yeast a head start by giving it something to feed on while it’s busy converting the starches to sugar to help it rise.
The added sugar also helps the crust to brown and caramelize when you bake it at the lower temperatures inherent of a home oven.
5. You Didn’t Use Enough Yeast
The great thing about yeast is that it’s a living organism and capable of multiplying and reproducing, just like any animal. This means you can use a small amount of yeast and, with enough time, your pizza dough will have all the yeast it needs.
But sometimes this yeast multiplication process doesn’t fit into the timeframe of your pizza dough. For example, you might want to use your pizza dough the same night or the morning after and without enough yeast the dough won’t rise enough in time.
In this case, you need to use more yeast in order for your pizza dough to rise enough in time. It doesn’t take much, but you want to make sure your recipe has between 2-3% yeast for a quick rise.
However, you want to keep in mind that, generally speaking, the less yeast you use the better tasting your crust will be. This is why I recommend people make their pizza dough well in advance to allow for a slow rise and a long cold fermentation period for the best tasting crust.
Too much yeast will cause your pizza dough to rise too quickly and can give the crust a yeasty taste, so take care to find a balance that works best for you.
6. You’re Using The Wrong Kind Of Yeast
If you’re using active dry yeast for a pizza dough recipe calling for instant yeast, you may need to add more yeast for it to rise quickly enough.
You can’t use the wrong kind of yeast as long as the yeast is still alive, but you can use the wrong kind of yeast for the amount of yeast you’re using.
That’s a long way of saying that not all yeast is the same. Sometimes, you’re going to need to use more or less yeast even if you’re following the same recipe.
I experienced this myself recently. I had been using the same package of instant yeast for months and only ever needed to use a pinch of it per batch of pizza dough. But when the package ran out, I opened up a new package of regular dry yeast (not instant) and mixed a pinch of it in to my recipe.
To my dismay, the dough barely rose at all. My pizza dough wound up being flat and it baked into a dense crust. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, until I realized that I was using normal dry yeast instead of instant. I quickly made a new batch of dough using 2 pinches instead of 1 and the dough rose perfectly and baked into a delicious crust.
7. The Dough Hasn’t Been Kneaded Enough
Pizza dough rises when carbon dioxide gets trapped in the gluten pockets that form when the dough is kneaded. When the pizza dough hasn’t been kneaded enough, this gas escapes into the air and your dough won’t rise.
So in this instance, it’s more of a structural issue with the dough rather than a chemical issue of the yeast not rising quickly enough or at all. When the gluten networks are strong enough, your pizza dough will inflate like a balloon from all the gas produced when the yeast feeds on sugar.
Can You Still Use Pizza Dough That Hasn’t Risen?
This is up to you and how desperate you are for pizza dough and how quickly you want to use it. But if it were me, I would not use a pizza dough that hasn’t risen.
Of course an unrisen pizza dough is still edible, but it won’t have the flavor or the texture that characterizes good pizza crust. Unrisen pizza dough should, ideally, be discarded and a new dough should be prepared.
But if you absolutely must use your unrisen pizza dough, you should only use it for very thin crust pizza which doesn’t have much gas in it anyways. It will still be missing something in terms of flavor, however.
While there are many different missteps that can lead to a pizza dough that doesn’t rise, in nearly all cases the cause is malfunctioning or underperforming yeast.
This is why it’s so important to test your use for viability before wasting your time mixing and kneading together a pizza dough. On top of that, you should always make sure your dough has enough yeast to rise, enough sugars to feed on and a warm enough environment. If all of these conditions are met, your pizza dough will rise every time.