Pizza dough is generally made of flour, water, yeast and salt, but many people add different ingredients as well such as milk, sugar, honey and oils. By far the most common extra ingredients in pizza dough is olive oil – and for good reasons. Olive oil provides lots of benefits to pizza dough both in terms of making it and the finished product.
Olive oil makes pizza dough softer, adds flavor and improves the texture and crispiness of the finished pizza crust. As a kind of fat, olive oil changes the chemistry of your pizza dough recipe by affecting the formation of gluten bonds and helps with browning and crisping in the oven. Olive oil also creates a barrier against moisture which helps to prevent toppings seeping into the crust and making it soggy.
But olive oil isn’t just a great ingredient to add to pizza dough, it’s also a great ingredient to drizzle on your pizza both before and after baking or to brush on the crust for extra crisp. Let’s go over all the ways olive oil helps makes great pizza even better.
How Does Olive Oil Affect Pizza Dough?
Olive oil is probably the most common ingredients added to pizza dough after the essentials of water, salt, flour and yeast. The reason for this is simple – olive oil changes the chemistry of the pizza dough making it easier to work with as well as adds a subtle yet discernibly Mediterranean flavor.
Adding olive oil to pizza dough, or any other kind of dough, affects the way gluten unravels and bonds together when the grains of flour are combined with water. When this happens, the olive oil lubricates the pizza dough and makes it softer and easier to stretch and shape into a pizza crust. Olive oil also creates a very thin barrier against moisture which prevents pizza toppings from seeping into the crust.
But before we get into how olive oil affects pizza dough, let’s discuss how pizza dough operates under normal circumstances.
How Gluten Affects Pizza Dough
Under normal circumstances when flour and water are combined, the gluten contained within each grain of flour starts to unravel. Gluten is a sticky almost glue-like substance that links up with other bits of gluten from other grains of flour to create a complex and tightly bound network. These gluten bonds, or chains, are what gives pizza dough its ability to stretch and inflate without breaking. Without gluten, a pizza or bread dough would simply crumble away when stretched.
Gluten also plays an important role in the process of baking pizza dough. When yeast activates and ferments, it produces gasses that become trapped inside pockets of air within the pizza dough. When these pockets of gas and air are heated at high temperatures in an oven they expand. Because the gluten network that we created when mixing the dough is so strong and elastic, it allows the pockets of air to inflate the dough. This is what allows pizza dough to rise in the oven and creates the bubbles on the crust we all know and love.
Without gluten, these pockets of gas would simply expand and burst in the oven leaving you with a flat and dense pizza crust.
Olive Oil Softens & Tenderizes Pizza Dough
When olive oil is added to a pizza dough recipe, it changes the chemistry slightly from what I’ve described above.
Olive oil is a fat and fats can interfere with the gluten development process. In this scenario, the oil coats and shields some of the gluten and prevents it from bonding with the rest of the gluten network. This makes the dough softer and slightly easier to work with and shape.
But this isn’t a bad thing though, as long as you don’t use too much oil in your pizza dough recipe. Gluten is essential when it comes to making the kind of bubbly and delicious traditional pizza crust we all know and enjoy, but it can also make working with the pizza dough difficult.
The most common problem I see with amateur pizza makers is not knowing how to shape a ball of dough into a round and flat pizza crust. Very often, they will stretch or roll out the dough into a disk only to watch it spring back into a ball. This happens because the gluten network within the dough is too tight, something Italian pizza makers refer to as “nervous” pizza dough.
Tight, or “nervous” pizza dough can be addressed in a number of ways. More water can be used, but that often just makes the dough too sticky to work with. You can also let the dough rest at room temperature for an extended period of time, but this can also over proof the dough or make it too delicate and prone to tearing.
Another method to make dough easier to work with is including olive oil in the recipe. Olive oil will actually prevent some of the gluten from bonding with the rest of the network which makes the dough easier to stretch and work with. Pizza dough with olive oil will also bake into a crispier outer crust with a soft and flaky inside.
Olive Oil Prevents Dough From Becoming Soggy
Something that plagues many home pizza makers is a soggy crust. This is usually due to, among other things, too many toppings.
An easy way to address soggy crust, besides using less toppings, is to include olive oil in your pizza dough recipe. Olive oil creates a very thin layer of oil on the outer layer of the dough which acts as a moisture barrier. This barrier will prevent the excess moisture in the sauce and toppings from seeping into the pizza dough that can make it soggy.
This soggy layer of crust under the toppings is sometimes called a “gumline”, and it’s something you want to avoid. This gum line will not crisp up no matter how long you bake your pizza. Tom Lehmann, often referred to as the “Dough Doctor” talks a little bit about this gumline here.
Of course, any kind of oil or fat can accomplish this, not just olive oil. However, olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, pairs best with the flavor profile of pizza and also has lots of health benefits.
Tip: To maintain the crispness of your crust, place the pizza on a cooling rack for a few minutes immediately after taking it out of the oven. This will help prevent steam from reabsorbing back into the crust and making it soggy.
Should You Add Olive Oil To Your Pizza Dough?
Ultimately, whether or not you add olive oil to your pizza dough recipe is a subjective question. In my opinion, I think it makes sense for most home pizza makers to add olive oil to their dough.
In traditional Neapolitan pizza circles, only water, flour, yeast and salt are included in the pizza dough recipe. This is because Neapolitan style pizza uses few toppings and bakes in a super hot wood fired oven that doesn’t need any help with browning or crisping.
However, making pizza in a home oven, especially pizza with lots of toppings, can definitely benefit from olive oil in the crust. Olive oil will help prevent the soggy crust so common in pizza with lots of toppings, and it will help bring color and crispiness in the lower temperatures of a home oven.
Home ovens bake at much lower temperatures than wood fired Neapolitan pizza ovens. This means it takes a lot longer to brown and crisp up the crust, unless you add ingredients like olive oil to the recipe.
Does Olive Oil Prevent Pizza Dough From Rising?
Olive oil does not prevent pizza dough from rising, however under certain circumstances it can make the dough appear to rise less.
When olive oil is added to pizza dough, it softens the gluten and adds weight to the dough which can sometimes make the dough appear rise less or look flatter but this isn’t usually a cause for concern. If your yeast is alive and activated, your pizza dough should not have any problems rising with or without olive oil.
Under normal circumstances, olive oil will soften the gluten network within the dough. This can sometimes make the gas bubbles produced by the activated yeast expand less or perhaps even burst due to the slightly weakened gluten.
In some cases, olive oil can actually help pizza dough rise. Many bakers like to brush their finished dough ball with a light coating of olive oil to prevent crusting. Crusting happens when the dough comes into contact with air which dries it out and forms a crust over the outside of the dough. This crust is hard and dry and can form a shell around the dough preventing it from rising.
Olive oil is a great way to prevent raw pizza dough from drying out and crusting over while it rises. However, raw dough should always be completely covered with an air tight seal using something like a reusable container or plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. For this reason, I don’t usually cover my raw dough with olive oil while it rises.
Need a pizza dough recipe with the perfect proportions and a soft crust? Check out my 70% hydration pizza dough recipe here.
Does Olive Oil Inhibit Yeast Activation?
Typically, olive oil will not inhibit yeast activation.
When I make pizza dough, I always make sure to fully incorporate the water, yeast and flour before I start adding in olive oil. This ensures that the yeast is able to be fully absorbed into the water and is not inhibited in any way.
The reason I choose to add the olive oil last is because fat can slow or inhibit yeast fermentation if you add too much too soon. This is because when fat fully encapsulates or traps yeast, it can’t feed and multiply like it would normally. Something like this might happen if you were to add dry yeast directly to olive oil or even a mixture of olive oil and water.
However, olive oil can be difficult to incorporate into a fully formed dough ball. I address this by mixing in the olive oil after 3/4 of the flour has been added. This allows the yeast plenty of time to activate before adding oil while still remaining wet enough to mix.
Related Post: 70% Hydration Pizza Dough Recipe – No More Dry Crust
Brush Your Pizza Dough With Olive Oil For A Crispy Crust
Olive oil doesn’t just help improve your pizza dough recipe, it also works great when brushed onto the outer edges of your dough or partially baked pizza crust.
Brushing olive oil onto your pizza crust will help give it that golden brown, crispy texture that everyone loves. This is especially useful when baking in a home oven at lower temperatures. Lower temperatures make it more difficult to caramelize the outside crust without burning it, so a bit of olive oil is a great little workaround.
Any kind of oil will work for this, including common vegetable oils, but olive oil has the best flavor profile for pairing with pizza.
Tip: For even more color and crisp in your crust, add a spoonful or two of honey into your pizza dough recipe.
What Else Can I Brush On My Pizza Crust?
You can brush whatever kind of oil or fat your like on your pizza crust for the same great crispy effect as olive oil. While I prefer using plain olive oil due to its simple and elegant flavor, there are many more options:
- Garlic infused oil
- Garlic infused butter
- Oil and grated parmesan
- Oil and garlic powder
- Oil mixed with cayenne pepper
- Oil mixed with dried basil/oregano
- Oil, garlic and chili flakes
- Bacon infused oil
- Cilantro and onion infused oil
- Chipotle oil
- White truffle oil
Do You Drizzle Olive Oil On Pizza Before Cooking?
There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to when to drizzle olive oil on pizza.
Typically in a traditional Neapolitan pizza settings, olive oil is drizzled on the pizza after it comes out of the oven. On the other hand, many pizza makers drizzle the olive oil on before it bakes to help the flavors of the ingredients mingle together in the oven. The choice is really up to you and what you find enhances the flavors best.
I think olive oil is a great addition when drizzled on to Italian styles of pizza where there are fewer and fresher ingredients. However, for North American styles of pizza (or really, any pizza made outside of Italy), I find it’s best to avoid drizzling oil on the pizza altogether.
Non-Italian styles of pizza tend to have a lot more cheese and are baked longer which releases lots of oil and fat. For this reason, I think it’s best to skip drizzling extra olive oil or you risk making a pizza that’s too oily and greasy. Save the olive oil for the next time you make a Neapolitan style pizza.
Does Olive Oil Make Pizza Dough Crispy?
When olive oil is brushed on to the outside of a pizza dough, it will bake into a crispy crust as the oil essentially fries the outer edges. This is why I often brush oil onto my par baked pizza crusts before adding other toppings so it can brown under the lower heat of my home oven.
How Much Olive Oil Should You Put In Pizza Dough?
When I make a 500 gram batch of pizza dough, I like to add in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. This is approximately enough dough for two medium sized pizzas.
When Should You Add Olive Oil To Pizza Dough?
Olive oil should be added to pizza dough after the dry yeast has been incorporated into the water and before all of the flour has been added. For example, I like to mix water with yeast then add 3/4 of the flour before adding in olive oil. This prevents the olive oil from inhibiting yeast activation while also making the pizza dough soft and easy to work with.