Why Your Pizza Dough Isn’t Smooth – How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It

Making a pizza at home you can be proud of is impossible without a good homemade pizza dough that’s smooth and elastic. In fact, in my experience, 90% of what separates a good pizza from a bad one happens during the dough prep and handling process. So, if you’re struggling with a rough, sticky, stubborn ball of dough that tears when you stretch it, keep reading.

There are two likely reasons why your pizza dough isn’t smooth: you didn’t knead it long enough, or you handled it improperly before stretching. Both of these things have to do with gluten; in the first case it’s too weak from not enough kneading, and in the second case it’s been disrupted by improper handling.

Thankfully, the fix for a smooth dough is easy, and all it requires is a little more understanding about what makes dough smooth or rough in the first place. And at the end, I’ll even share with you a tip for the smoothest dough possible without having to knead it at all.

smooth pizza dough ball Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It
Photo: A smooth and shiny dough ball is a sign of strong gluten.

Dough Smoothness Has Nothing To Do With Ingredients

There is a myth circulating on many blogs and in online pizza making forums that a smooth or rough dough has to do with the type of flour you’re using, but this really isn’t the case. You can get a smooth and elastic dough using any type of flour that contains gluten, even in relatively small amounts.

A key part of this myth is in the claim that a flour with a lower amount of protein will not yield a smooth dough. The logic is that protein makes gluten stronger, so therefore less protein means the gluten will be weak and so the dough will not be smooth and elastic.

This claim is partly true—protein absolutely affects the strength of the gluten bonds in pizza dough, and can make it more and less prone to tearing. But a pizza dough with weaker gluten bonds can still be smooth and can still be used to make pizza as long as it’s handled gently and proofed properly.

Now, that’s not to say you’ll get the best results from using a low protein flour—you won’t. The dough will be much more delicate to work with and more likely to tear while stretching. You also won’t get the same kind of crumb because the dough won’t rise in the oven as much with such a weak gluten structure.

This is why I always prefer to use flours that contain relatively high amounts of protein for my pizzas, such as Cuputo 00, or even just bread flour mixed with all-purpose. The truth is, any reputable flour brand with a protein content between 10-15% will work fine. But the smoothness of my pizza dough doesn’t depend on the flour I use, it’s actually all in the way I prepare it and handle it before stretching.

Related Post: How Long Can Pizza Dough Sit Out Safely?

Kneading Is Essential For A Smooth Pizza Dough

knead pizza dough too much Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It

Kneading is the most important step to making a pizza dough that’s strong, smooth, and doesn’t tear while stretching. This is because kneading is what actually creates and strengthens the gluten within the dough that makes it smooth.

For many people I talk to, not kneading enough is the first misstep that results in a pizza dough that isn’t smooth. And I get it—kneading dough can be a real chore, especially when you’re not used to doing it.

But if you want good results, you can’t ignore it or think you can just mix the ingredients into a shaggy ball and call it a day. Here’s the reason why.

Without getting into a chemistry lesson, you can think of gluten like glue, because that’s essentially what it is—a sticky substance that results when you combine water with any kind of flour that contains gluten.

The challenge here is getting these gluten molecules to stick to each other and not your hands or the countertop. This is part of what kneading is intended to fix.

In a nutshell, kneading is basically the process of getting all those grains of flour hydrated by the water to release the gluten. Kneading is also what smashes the gluten molecules together to create a strong gluten chain that results in a pizza dough that’s smooth and elastic.

If you’re struggling with the kneading process, try this: only knead for a few minutes at a time and let it rest for 10 minutes between each session. 

You’ll find that each time you let the dough rest, it will be significantly smoother and less sticky than it was before. Repeat this process 5-6 times, or until the dough is smooth and you can stretch it without tearing. 

The Role of Hydration in Dough Smoothness

pizza dough hydration 3 Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It

Hydration is another factor that affects pizza dough smoothness, but it’s not the end all be all. 

When making dough, hydration levels are the amount of water in the recipe relative to the total amount of flour. As an example, 700 ml of water and 1000 g of flour will produce a dough with a 70% hydration rate. A typical pizza dough generally has a hydration rate between 50-60%.

Some will argue that a higher hydration rate can remedy a pizza dough that’s lumpy or not smooth, but this isn’t quite true. High and low hydration pizza dough still has to be kneaded in order for it to be smooth and elastic.

However, it is true to say that it’s a little bit easier to get a smoother dough when the recipe contains more rather than less water. This is because gluten is formed when the flour is hydrated by water, so the more water there is relative to flour, the more quickly this process happens.

Personally, I prefer a high-hydration pizza dough because it retains moisture while baking and doesn’t dry out. It’s also a great way to get a good rise out of the crust, as the moisture turns to gas under high heat and expands the gluten bubbles in the dough.

But there’s a tradeoff—high hydration dough can be more difficult to work with because it’s wetter and stickier. It can also make the job of kneading it trickier because it will stick to everything (including your hands) before the gluten bonds are fully formed. 

Lucky for you, I have a trick for kneading high hydration pizza dough that I’ll share later on in this post.

A Rested Dough Is Smoother

I hinted at this concept before when I suggested letting your dough rest for 10 minutes between each kneading session. This works because every time the dough rests, more and more of the flour is hydrated by the water automatically, resulting in a dough that’s smoother and easier to knead to completion.

This process is called autolysis (pronounced like aw-TAW-lisis), and it’s a common practice in preparing all kinds of dough for baking. Basically, when you autolyse your pizza dough (as in let it rest), you make the job of kneading it quicker and easier.

How to knead pizza dough for a smooth and elastic consistency:

kneading pizza dough smooth Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It
  1. Add the water and yeast to a large mixing bowl, including sugar if it’s part of your recipe.
  2. Add half of the dry ingredients (flour and salt) to the mixing bowl and use a stiff spatula to incorporate them fully into the water.
  3. If you’re using oil, add it to the dough and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour the rest of the flour and salt into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.
  5. Mix until you can’t see any more dry flour, then cover the bowl and let it rest for several minutes. It should look like a wet, shaggy blob at this point.
  6. Come back and stir the dough again with a stiff spatula. You should notice the dough is noticeably smoother and more elastic, but it isn’t nearly done yet.
  7. Transfer the dough to a clean counter top and knead it with a slightly wet hand (to prevent sticking) or preferably a dough scraper. Push and fold the dough in one direction then the other using a dough scraper or the palm of your hand.
  8. You only have to knead for a fe at a time until the dough gets very sticky, then cover it up and let it rest again.
  9. Rinse and repeat until the dough is smooth and you can stretch it without tearing. This is sometimes called the “windowpane test” because a properly kneaded dough will stretch thin enough that light can shine through before it breaks.

Follow these steps and you’ll have a well-kneaded, smooth, and elastic pizza dough that’s ready for proofing, or whatever the next step is in your pizza making process. 

For me, I would cold ferment the dough at this point for 12-24 hours then ball it and let it proof at room temperature before stretching and baking, but you can also ball it and proof it immediately as well. It’s all up to you.

The Secret For The Smoothest Pizza Dough: Don’t Knead It At All

homemade pizza dough rise container Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It
Photo: This shaggy dough is mixed and ready to rest overnight in place of kneading. It will be smooth by morning.

This headline might be a little confusing, because I just got done explaining why kneading is the most crucial step to achieving a smooth pizza dough. But that’s only true if you’re in a hurry and plan on using the dough within a few hours of making it. Honestly, this is the rookie way to make pizza. 

The true secret to a smooth pizza dough is to not knead the dough at all and let the process of autolysis do all the work for you. This works because the chains of gluten that make your dough smooth and elastic will form automatically if given enough time—typically 16-24 hours. 

So, to do this, simply follow the steps I listed in the previous section and stop after step #3 and just let the dough rest until it’s completely smooth, either at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. When you check on the dough the next day, you’ll find your pizza dough is smoother and easier to work with than anything you could knead yourself by hand or even with a dough machine.

As an added bonus, during this long resting period, your dough will ferment and develop a rich flavor profile that you typically find at Neapolitan pizzerias. This is why most quality pizza places ferment their dough overnight in a cold room before serving it the next day.

Tip: If you try this method, you need to reduce the amount of yeast in your recipe or it will overproof and rise too much overnight. A no-knead pizza dough only needs a fraction of the yeast that most recipes call for, sometimes as little as ½ a gram, compared to a full packet of yeast which is typically 5 grams.

Note: Pizza dough with a minimal amount of yeast will require a longer proofing period before baking. For my pizza dough, I only use about .10% yeast and let it proof for 5-6 hours at room temperature (68F/20C or colder) before baking it.

Related Post: Homemade Pizza Dough Recipe (No-Knead)

Troubleshooting Common Pizza Dough Problems

shaping smooth pizza dough ball Why Your Pizza Dough Isn't Smooth - How To Fix Dry, Lumpy, and Weak Pizza Dough That Tears When You Stretch It
Photo: Lightly oiled hands makes working with dough much easier.

If you’ve followed my advice but still have problems with a sticky dough that isn’t smooth and tears when you stretch it, you could be making some of the following mistakes.

  • If the dough tears when you stretch it, the gluten needs more time to relax. Roll the dough back up and let it rest at room temperature another couple hours before touching it again.
  • If your pizza dough is smooth but becomes sticky and shaggy as you try to shape it into a ball for proofing, cover it up and let it rest for 1-2 hours before working with it again.
  • If your dough starts off elastic and smooth but tears when you stretch it, you need to be gentler with it. This can easily happen when you use flour with a low protein content, like pastry flour, or even cheap all-purpose brands. Try balling the dough back up and be more careful next time.
  • If your pizza dough is elastic and smooth but still tears despite using good flour, you may not have let it proof long enough. This often happens if the dough came from the fridge and hasn’t had enough time to warm up. Let it reach room temperature next time before stretching it. 
  • If you have trouble with sticking BEFORE stretching the dough, coat your hands with a very light layer of olive oil to act as a barrier.
  • If you have trouble with sticking DURING and AFTER stretching, use a light dusting of flour both on your hands, the counter, and the dough itself. I prefer semolina flour for this but regular flour will work as well.

Final Thoughts

Making pizza should be fun and easy, but dough problems can ruin everything if you aren’t familiar with a few simple concepts. 

Dough becomes smooth when the gluten network is matured and fully formed, but this can only happen under two conditions:

  1. You kneaded long enough (or)
  2. You waited long enough

Outside of those two scenarios, your pizza dough will not be smooth and it will tear when you try to stretch it. Even if you were to somehow manage to work with an under-kneaded dough, it won’t taste very good and the texture will be all wrong.

This is why I recommend planning your pizza a day in advance and going for the no-knead method. I love it because it’s easy and takes all the guesswork out of making dough. You’ll never have to do a windowpane test ever again.

Personally, I haven’t kneaded pizza dough in years and my pizza game is better than ever. I strongly recommend you check out my homemade pizza dough recipe for more details on exactly how I make pizza dough.

If you’re having trouble with your pizza dough, I’d be happy to help. Just leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you with (hopefully) some good answers.

Good luck!

How do you fix dough that isn’t smooth?

Dough that isn’t smooth is the result of an improperly formed network of gluten. The fastest way to fix this is to simply knead it more until it’s smooth. But the easier and longer way is to cover it and let it rest in the fridge overnight, after which it will be silky smooth and elastic.

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