So you’ve decided to make you own pizza from scratch and before you have fun with the sauce, cheese and toppings, there is something you must master - making the pizza dough. This can seem tricky, especially if you haven’t made dough before.
However, it is not as hard as it may seem and soon enough, you’ll get the handle on it. Kneading is a technique used for centuries and is a very hands on technique that allows a highly consistent dough to form.
When you see homemade breads and pizzas and wonder how the bread tastes so good, it’s because of the kneading technique that has been applied.
Pizzas are a great meal to make whether it’s just for you or for a party as the generous portions can easily be split with no problem. Also, you can cater the pizza for different diets so those who are vegan or gluten free needn’t miss out at all.
Making the pizza from scratch means that you can choose the specific ingredients in case there are various dietary restrictions. It’s also a cheaper alternative to buying pizzas from the supermarket as the ingredients are ones found in regular cupboards and you don’t need too much of them.
With a basic pizza dough being made with water, salt, flour and yeast as done in traditional Italian and Neapolitan cooking methods but you can also add herbs or use a different flour should you wish.
We’ve gathered everything there is to know about pizza dough and how kneading works. Once you’ve read our guide, you’ll be running to the cupboards to try to make your own pizza dough.
What is kneading?
In the dictionary, kneading is defined as work (moistened flour or clay) into dough or paste with the hands or to make (bread or pottery) by kneading flour or clay.
It is simply the act of massaging ingredients together whether it is kneading clay into paste for pottery or kneading ingredients together to make dough.
To successfully knead, you push the ingredients together with the heel of your palm and push it away then fold it away and back into its original place. Eventually, the ingredients will combine into that sticky dough which should eventually smoothen out and start to spring back.
After you have made the dough, place it into a bowl before storing it away for at least 24 hours to prove, meaning that it will develop into a dough during that time. A successful pizza dough has been kneaded for around 8 minutes to really get those ingredients mixed together.
Kneading is a technique that has been around for centuries and is the primary technique used in bread which it is commonly associated with.
The main purpose of kneading is to form gluten and allow the dough to prove meaning that it will rise when it is baked. This is what gives the dough the doughy consistency in the middle.
What is the purpose of kneading?
Kneading allows the gluten strand to stretch, aiding in that gluten production that allows the dough to become springy and elastic.
After kneading the dough, it’s important to let it prove as this will give the dough a chance to develop and gain the consistency it needs before being prepped and cooked.
Rather than simply mixing or whisking the ingredients, kneading has to be done otherwise you won’t get a dough as mixing the ingredients with a whisk or spoon is going to create a liquid that is more reminiscent of a sponge rather than a dough.
Although kneading is commonly associated with bread, it is also used when making pizza dough. This is because pizza dough is a thin bread that is cooked for a bit longer than bread so it has a crunchy and crispy texture.
The doughy consistency should be evident in the crust where the dough is thicker as it won’t be as crispy in the centre of the dough.
As with everything, making pizza dough has evolved over the years and now you can have a stuffed crust in which cheese is inserted through the middle of the crust and then cooked with the rest of the pizza.
If you are planning to incorporate a stuffed crust then it is crucially important that you knead your dough correctly as the cheese won’t be able to go in if it is too tight.
Benefits of Kneading:
Do I need to learn how to knead?
If you are wanting to learn how to make pizzas from scratch then yes, you will. Unless you decide to buy a pizza base and prepare everything else using fresh ingredients.
However, as explained above, kneading is not actually that difficult to master once you have the proportions correct of the ingredients.
Kneading only requires four basic ingredients, most of which should be found in every cupboard. By mixing together water, flour, salt and yeast, you’ll be able to make a basic dough that follows the traditional Italian and Neapolitan method of pizza making.
Kneading is a technique that can take a few goes to master but if you are wanting to improve your cooking skills and are wanting to make everything from scratch then it is a hugely important skill to have under your belt.
With the ingredients for a basic dough being foods that are recommended to be in the cupboard anyway, it is also a cost effective project to start with and try to master.
Do I have to knead with my hands?
Nowadays, you don’t actually have to knead with your hands as you can use a dough mixer if that’s what you prefer and you don’t want to have a lot of mess on your countertop, you can use a dough mixer.
To knead your dough with a dough mixer, allow it to knead the dough for 3 minutes on a low speed. You’ll know when it has successfully kneaded the dough when it clings to the hook and the sides of the bowl are clean.
When this happens, knead the dough for a further 3-4 minutes and by the end of this, you should have a kneaded dough that is springy and elastic.
Some people prefer to knead with their hands because they can feel the texture of the dough and judge for themselves when it is ready to be stored away to prove.
However, for those who are nervous about judging the dough for themselves, dough mixers are great because you can time the dough mixing time and judge it from simply looking at it.
A lot of businesses tend to use appliances nowadays as it is more time effective and quicker as well as allowing you to prepare other stuff which is convenient for those who are making an entire meal or running a business.
How do you know when to stop kneading dough?
You will know when to stop kneading the dough when the dough is no longer sticky and then begins to smoothen out and spring back when you press down on it.
It may take a few times to get it right but after a few times, you’ll begin to understand when your dough is ready to be stored away for proving.
Equally, as mentioned before, if using a dough mixer then your dough will stop sticking to the sides of the bowl and should be picked up by the mixing handle.
It may be confusing the first time around as you may not be used to the texture and consistency but once you have tried kneading a few times, you’ll easily be able to tell when the dough has been successfully kneaded.
A handy tip often given to people who are unfamiliar with making dough is every so often whilst kneading, tear a small piece of the dough off and stretch it a little bit.
Initially it will tear easily and you can merge it back into the rest of the dough and continue kneading.
However, once the dough begins to develop, the dough will be resistant to stretching and you’ll be able to see what is known as the gluten window. A translucent membrane will appear as you stretch and this is when you know that the dough has been kneaded enough.
Windowpane pizza dough test:
The windowpane pizza dough test is a technique that is definitely not as it sounds. It’s very likely that if you ask someone what the windowpane pizza dough test is then they may say it involves throwing your dough into a window to see if it sticks.
This, however, could not be further from the truth. Not only is this highly unhygienic, but it may also cause a huge mess if taken literally.
To conduct the windowpane pizza dough test, simply tear off a piece of dough and stretch it to see if the membrane is visible and this will signify that the dough is ready to be proved.
If the pizza dough has passed the test then it will stretch with the gluten membrane visible through the light showing that it is time for the dough to be stored away to prove.
The windowpane in question is the membrane as it is transparent and can be seen when held to the light, it will shine through and look a bit like a window.
If your pizza hasn’t passed the windowpane test after 15 minutes of kneading by hand then it is best to stop kneading as the dough shouldn’t be kneaded any longer than this.
Over kneading the dough is a lot worse than under kneading the dough as it can be inedible when cooked. As long as the dough is able to stretch a bit and able to breathe and get the gluten strands developed then that is what matters the most.
If the piece that you are using for the windowpane test simply tears off without providing that elastic stretch then add a little bit of water to the dough and try the test again. However, do not try to knead the dough without adding some water to allow the gluten to develop.
Can I knead dough in a KitchenAid mixer?
To answer this question simply, you can knead by hand or in a KitchenAid mixer. The main advantage for using a mixer is that it takes a reduced amount of time than kneading by hand.
This means that it is particularly ideal for those who run very busy lifestyles or have a hectic schedule to adhere to. Kneading with the mixer will reduce your kneading time to about 5 minutes less than the time it takes to do by hand.
This is because you put the flour and salt in first before adding the water and yeast which will eventually create the sticky texture.
Pause it for a moment to assess the progress and then turn the mixer on again for a few more minutes until the dough has collected from the sides and is attached to the mixing handle.
Once this happens, the dough is ready to prove.
The downside to KitchenAid mixers is that they can cost a lot of money making them a huge investment for your kitchen. However, if that is something you desperately want to incorporate into your cooking habits then it is definitely worth it.
If you have already got one, then bear in mind that you may have an obstructed view due to the design of KitchenAid Mixers. Therefore, it is best to take breaks every 2-3 minutes to check the process and see how well it is kneading.
This will avoid any easy mistakes such as under or over kneading and will allow you to conduct the windowpane test all the same. Overall, it should take no longer than 10 minutes of kneading when using a KitchenAid Mixer so bare this in mind.
How long should I knead dough for?
When kneading dough, it should take around 12-15 minutes by hand or 8-10 minutes by mixing machine. This is because the dough mixer will work a bit quicker than by hand, however, you can get a feel of texture more by hand which is a huge advantage.
Of course, it’s all dependent on what specific ingredients you put in as the flour can affect the time it takes to knead as well as the amount of water used in the process.
It’s always advised to follow a recipe when it comes to the proportions of ingredients to use as this will give you a higher chance of success in your dough.
Always ensure that you get the correct flour as dictated in the recipe as this will balance with the water perfectly. Using a different kind of flour may affect the kneading process and may require more or less water than the recipe provides as the strength will be different.
Stronger doughs tend to be over kneaded as they are full of protein, meaning that you won’t have as much gluten developed which will affect the final result when the dough is cooked.
When kneading by hand, you are able to test and get a better understanding of the texture of the dough, however, if you are using a mixer then be sure to pause the machine every 2-3 minutes to test the dough.
Even though the convenience of appliances is that you don’t have to monitor or be as hands on, this isn’t the case when it comes to kneading. Kneading is a tricky technique and must be timed right.
Therefore, you should be looking closely at the dough as it is processing and then using the windowpane test on a ball of the dough. Naturally, machines just follow the basic instructions of time and can’t guarantee that the result will be properly kneaded and ready to prove.
How does the type of flour affect kneading?
Making sure you have the correct kind of flour is crucial to the kneading process. This is because it can make or break the final result if the wrong flour is used as the gluten development is all dependent on the strength of the flour.
When making pizza dough, it is advised to use type “00” flour which is a soft wheat flour and works well when allowing the gluten strands to develop.
If you use a flour that is strong in protein then that will mean that the gluten cannot develop properly even if you knead the dough. This means that the dough will turn out too tough and chewy to the point where it may be inedible.
It’s always best to follow a recipe exactly as it says because the flour is the key component in the kneading process.
A softer flour allows for more room for the gluten to develop whilst proving and this also makes the kneading process a lot easier as it won’t get tough as quickly.
Working with a soft flour will allow for more elasticity and spring to form which is ideal for creating traditional pizza doughs.
There are plenty of pizza dough recipes online and in cook books that use different kinds of flour according to your taste so always bear in mind what the recipe is asking of you.
A soft flour may require less water than a tougher flour so it’s important to use the correct flour so the final result isn’t out of proportion. Otherwise you will end up with an inedible result that could have been easily avoided.
As mentioned before, type “00” flour which is a soft wheat flour is recommended in traditional Italian cooking because it allows for plenty of gluten to develop which is perfect for developing the perfect shape and thickness of the pizza base.
Does salt affect kneading?
When making any pizza dough, salt is always used as it is one of the four essential ingredients used in both traditional and modern pizza cooking.
As expected, it does serve an important function as do the other three crucial ingredients: water, yeast and flour. The salt is there to help the formation of the dough when it comes to the elasticity and spring that it has.
You only need a couple of teaspoons at most but this is all you need. If you have forgotten to add any salt or have added little salt, the dough will be too elastic and out of control.
When it comes to kneading, you won’t be able to do so properly as it will be too sticky without smoothening out. It won’t shape properly either and the gluten won’t prove correctly.
On the other hand, if you put too much salt in then the dough will lose its elasticity altogether and will be in a firm shape that you won’t be able to shape. The downside to this is that you won’t be able to form your pizza base properly after kneading.
Always make sure you conduct the windowpane test before setting the dough aside to prove because this will prove that all the ingredients have been added in correctly with the right amount.
With many other cooking techniques you can easily rectify this but with kneading, it is important to follow the recipe exactly as it says unless you are a really confident baker and know your specific ingredients well enough to improvise.
Can you over knead the dough?
As you can probably guess from reading this guide, yes you can definitely over knead the dough. This is actually one of the most common mistakes that happens, especially for people who have never attempted to make pizza dough or bread before.
You can tell that you have over kneaded when conducting the windowpane test.
When you attempt to stretch the piece, it will tear easily with no sign of stretch. This is because the gluten hasn’t got the room to develop properly and the elasticity has been lost during the kneading process.
There are many reasons as to why this has happened. The main reason will be because you have kneaded for too long. You should only knead by hand around 12-15 minutes but because of the unique and unexpected texture, a lot of people think it should be a fully formed dough.
However, because it is a pizza dough and will need to be stretched into place, the elasticity is important. The initial sticky texture can also concern people who are unfamiliar with making dough and they think that there isn’t enough flour so will add more.
This will thicken the dough and restrict the space for gluten to develop also. Perhaps you have also forgotten to windowpane test the dough whether you are kneading by hand or mixer.
You need to ensure that you are doing this regularly because one minute can be the difference between it being perfectly kneaded and over kneaded. Really taking care of the texture and kneading will ensure it has the perfect rise and consistency when cooked.
Lastly, making sure you use the correct flour as explained previously is also hugely important to the gluten development process.
If you have decided to use another flour than what the recipe has dictated for convenience then you simply won’t have the same results, especially if using a strong flour.
Stronger flours are filled with protein which will toughen the dough quickly and cause over kneading to happen. Again, it’s always important to follow the recipe word for word to avoid making any of these mistakes.
What happens if you knead dough too much?
It’s important to know what happens if you knead too much or too little. If you knead the dough too much, the dough will tear easily and won’t prove properly.
Because the kneading will bring the ingredients together, over-kneading will tighten the gluten strands too much and mean that it won’t give as much. This means that the dough won’t prove as it should and therefore will not cook properly.
It’s easy to slip into the trap of kneading too much, especially if it is your first time but when you attempt to stretch the dough, it won’t stretch much and the dough won’t rise properly and develop the consistency you need for it to fully cook.
The dough may not cook through properly because the gluten hasn’t developed properly so the inside of the dough may be raw depending on how much you have over-kneaded.
What happens if you knead dough too little?
Just as it is bad if you over-knead the dough, it’s also not good if the dough is kneaded enough.
If you have under-kneaded the dough then it may seem like it has proven, however, when it comes to cooking, the dough won’t spring up in the oven as it should.
Alongside this, it will tear when you try to cut the slices but it is edible. Think of it as a learning experience so you know what to do next time.
Under-kneading the dough doesn’t create as bad a result as over-kneading, however, depending on how much the dough is under-kneaded, it may not have the rise that you want when it is proved and baked.
Under-kneading will mean that the dough can be too elastic meaning that the gluten may not develop properly as it won’t be as restricted as it should be.
Always ensure that you are conducting the windowpane pizza dough test every couple of minutes so you can be sure that the dough will be stored away when it is fully ready to prove.
Recipe for kneading dough
When it comes to making a traditional Italian or Neapolitan pizza dough, it’s surprisingly easy and very simply in its preparation and baking method.
A lot of people may think that because this is the traditional recipe, that it will involve all sorts of complex techniques and random ingredients, however, pizza originated as a dish for the working classes of Naples thanks to its generous serving portions and easy to source ingredients.
The traditional pizza dough is only made from 4 key ingredients, however, the great thing about pizza is that you can add whatever herbs or flavorings that you want according to your taste if you’re wanting to try something new and different.
This recipe is the best way for beginners to get used to making pizza dough and trying out kneading because the ingredients are cheap so it’s not too bad if you don’t get it right at first.
To make the perfect traditional pizza dough, you will need 500g wheat flour also known as “00” flour, 400ml warm water, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp yeast.
Combine the flour and salt before gradually adding the yeast and water as you knead the ingredients together. You’ll begin to notice that the dough is starting to form and is extremely sticky.
Keep kneading this until the dough starts to become more springy and begins to resist any tear. You shouldn’t be able to feel as much stick.
Once the gluten membrane starts to appear when you pull at the dough, it’s time to store the dough away to prove and allow the gluten strands to develop.
This is a recipe to make a traditional style Italian pizza dough by hand, however, after kneading a bit initially by hand, you can use appliances should you have them.
If you are wanting to add herbs or spices then add them in when you are combining the flour and salt and this will allow the flavor to settle in before the water and yeast are adding.
In conclusion, kneading is a handy technique to master because you can use it to make a variety of different foods. From pizza dough to bread, once you’ve got the kneading down to a fine art then you’ll never have to worry about buying loaves from the supermarket anymore.
Although it is a technique that may take a few times to get right but once you know when the dough is ready to prove, it’s really simple and easy.
This is a technique that every cook, new and advanced, should have in their repertoire because it can be applied to a variety of cooking projects.
By following our tricks and tips given in this guide, you can be assured that you will know everything there is to know about kneading and how to perfect this tricky technique.
If you have made any mistakes in the past, treat them as a learning experience and always remember to constantly check the consistency and texture of your dough by using the windowpane method.
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