Making your pizza is an experience every avid cook wants to try at some point. While there are plenty of recipes to follow, it is never a bad idea to seek out educating yourself on bakers’ percentages and what they mean.
If you want to drift away from the constant use of recipes and try and make your own from scratch then bakers percentages are going to be a key aspect of your learning.
One of the most important percentages you will need to consider if the hydration percentage. While it may sound odd to be considering the water content in pizza dough it is very important. It will ensure that your pizza dough is to your liking.
Let’s take a look at how to go from student to master in pizza dough hydration and all the things you need to consider when you are growing your pizza dough baking abilities.
What is Pizza Dough Hydration?
Pizza dough hydration is exactly what you think, it is the amount of water content in the dough concerning the amount of flour in the dough. Generally, this is noted in percentages.
If you made a small pizza dough that contained 300 grams of flour and 180 grams of water then the hydration percentage would be 60%. If you had a pizza dough that had 800grams of flour and had 560 grams of water then the hydration percentage would be 70%.
The hydration in your pizza dough will affect the flour’s properties. Affecting things like elasticity or stretchiness, stickiness, and how much the pizza crust will rise.
There is no simple answer to what the best amount of hydration is, every type of dough will differ, as will different tastes. So your best bet is to search for specific dough types to hydration ratio recipes or to just experiment with different percentages and find which you prefer.
What are Baker’s Percentages?
Bakers percentages are used to define the consistencies of ingredients concerning one another- in this and most instances, they are compared to flour.
When you weigh up your ingredients you measure them up against the flour, how much is there of salt, water, yeast in comparison to how much flour you are using.
Most recipes will specify the ingredients in volumes, whereas a baker’s percentages will allow to baker not only to compare recipes and scale the recipe by multiplying or dividing the portions but also help in the creation of their inventive recipes, helping them to build individual baking styles.
Flour is always named as 100% and then the other ingredients you put into your dough as worked out as a percentage of the weight of the flour.
So if you have 290 grams of flour for your dough, and you want a hydration percentage of 60% then you need 60% of 290, which is 174. So you would need 174 grams of water in your dough.
You are probably thinking, “No one told me I’d need mathematics to make a pizza.” There is always a bit of mathematics in cooking, and it can be easier to do that you are probably thinking.
You can either divide your amount of flour by 100 and then times this number by the sought percentage. For example; 290/100= 2.9, times 2.9 times by 60 makes 174.
Or, if you aren’t quite feeling up to it, there are easy percentage calculators available if you just search online, some mobile phones will have them in their calculator apps as well.
Remember that grams (g) and milliliters (ml) are the same, so so using 174 grams is the same as using 174 milliliters, so there is no further need for any mathematical calculations there.
It is also best that you use a kitchen scale when you measure your ingredients as using a measuring cup or another instrument is much less accurate than kitchen scales and tends to be less consistent throughout ingredients.
Even being 1% off in your recipe can throw off your result and end up in the creation of something very different than intended.
How Does Pizza Dough Hydration Affect the Dough?
You may wonder how exactly the hydration level in the dough will affect the overall balance and creation of your pizza. The hydration level affects the dough overall and can be vital in acquiring the crust you seek.
Adjusting the hydration level in your dough will give you a different result every time, so if you want to try to get different crust types you will want to use a different hydration percentage each time.
The hydration will also affect the elasticity of the dough and the stickiness, much like if you have made homemade bread before, you may note that the higher the water content the stickier your dough will be.
It also affects the speed at which the dough will rise and how much it will rise by. It also affects how much the edge/ crust will puff up in the oven and also how soft or airy it might be.
We will look at each of these factors individually so that you can figure out what kind of hydration percentage is best for what you want to get from your pizza.
As you increase the hydration of the dough, it will be more extendable and stretchy, a bit like slime.
It will also get softer and this can make it difficult to spread or open to form the pizza base adequately, especially if you go too high on hydration.
It is best to keep this at a nice medium level, you want it to be stretchy but not so much that you can barely form a decent pizza base.
Increasing hydration of your dough will also increase how sticky it is, it’ll make it harder to handle and you will find it will stick to everything.
In the case of using sticky dough, some may use a light sprinkling of flour to prevent it from sticking to surfaces or a pizza dough scraper to help with moving it and kneading it.
It can be a painstaking challenge to move sticky and hydrated doughs from your work surface to your oven because it is very likely to get stuck to your peel, your work surface, and pretty much anything else it touches.
Before deciding on cooking with a sticky dough you should take the extra elbow grease and frustrations it makes create dealing with it into consideration.
Extra hydration will affect the rise too, it will usually make it rise faster and more because of a chemical reaction that happens with the yeast, not the flour. While we have spoken a lot about the flour, you cannot forget the yeast, when you are baking any type of bread, whether it’s a loaf or a pizza base.
More water means more ride from the yeast, as it lets the yeast move more freely through the dough, this results in a faster rise. Think of those thick, bulky based pizzas, this is usually a result of this.
A high level of hydration will also often soften up the gluten within the dough, which allows larger air pockets to form, giving your dough even more rise. This is because the dough can now hold more gas inside from the fermentation process. Again, this is visible in very thick based, chunky crusted pizzas.
Doughs with lower levels of hydration rise less, which results in thinner and denser pizza crusts, often crispier too. There is no right or wrong, only a difference in preference, you should be careful of under and over-hydrating either way.
Main Ingredients in Pizza Dough
Like many doughs, including bread dough, pizza dough is composed of four main ingredients.
These four ingredients are universal in any bread or baking, they are flour, water, yeast, and salt. As these are the primary ingredients, any variation of them will have a large impact on the outcome of the final product, especially water.
Water is the most powerful component of these and can completely change how your pizza base ends up. You can also include sugar or oil in your dough.
It is possible to include other ingredients if you are going by a traditional recipe or an experimental one. But these are the primary components of pizza dough.
Sugar is an option, many recipes may include this, it is very useful if your oven is not quite hot enough as is with having a domestic oven. It also adds a sweet undertone to the dough, this is not required if you use a wood-burning pizza oven as the high tem[peratures will easily brown up the crust.
However, in a domestic oven, the temperatures may not be high enough to do this, especially if your oven has safety restrictions that reduce it to lower temperatures.
Oil is also an option and is often used in New York style or home-baked pizzas as it not only adds flavor and helps with the browning but also contributes to making the dough smoother.
What Affects Dough Hydration?
There are several things that will affect the hydration of your dough, despite the obvious of putting a lot of water in or putting too little water in.
Some things that will affect the hydration of your dough are not something you would expect, such as altitude- a pizza made in the alps will be different to make in comparison to a pizza being made in Texas.
Let’s have a look at what things might affect your dough and how it hydrates so that you know exactly what to look out for when you’re baking your pizza dough base.
One of the most obvious things out of this list is inaccurate measurements. Any inaccuracies in your measurement of your ingredients will affect your dough. Of course, some cooks might wing it, adding their ingredients by feel or by look, we don’t recommend doing this, especially if you are a beginner.
After some time repeating the process you may know it by heart and feel more comfortable to do so, but even then there is a chance of messing up your quantities by guessing or going even a gram or two over or under. It can make all the difference.
We advise against measuring cups or jugs or other containers as these often will fail you in their inaccuracies when it comes to ingredients such as flour, which is incredibly hard to measure perfectly by the look.
If you measure by weight on a weighing scale, you can be precise and accurate for every ingredient you put into your cooking and therefore produce better bakers percentages and ingredient composition accuracy.
For kitchen scales it is best to invest in one that measures in grams as smaller units will give less room for error Not only that but, grams is also perceived as the unit of measurement for baking and is often what you would be likely to come across in any professional recipe.
If you aren’t a fan of grams, however, ounces are not bad and you can easily use an online weight converter to get a good idea of the difference. But we still find grams are the most suitable for this purpose.
Additional Flour During kneading Process
While it is not unheard of or uncommon for people to use additional flour during the kneading process, doing so will affect your water hydration percentage.
This is because water hydration is a percentage of the amount of flour in the dough, so adding more flour will lower the hydration percentage, even during kneading.
If you measure all your flour beforehand and like to use some flour in your dough kneading process, set a little bit aside from your measurements to use for the kneading so that your measurements are still accurate.
Additional Water Added
Much like how you may use extra flour in kneading, you may use extra water in kneading, dipping your fingers in water to prevent sticking.
However, this adds water to your dough, even just a little bit, and will throw your hydration percentage off by adding more water. Much like the flour, it doesn’t hurt to leave a little bit of your pre-measured water aside to use in your kneading process, to avoid this problem.
This is unlikely to be something that anyone expected to affect a pizza dough, but altitude indeed has an effect.
Higher altitudes will generally make your flour drier, so it will usually need to absorb more water than usual. You will need to increase hydration at higher altitudes to get an equal result to what you would at sea level.
If two people were to bake two identical pizzas, one at sea level and one at an altitude of 5,000ft, the amount of water put into the dough would differ greatly, and using bakers percentages will be less viable and more of a guessing game.
Hydrating your pizza dough in humid conditions is the opposite of hydrating your dough at altitude. In humid conditions, the air has more water in it, which your flour will absorb.
This immediately increases hydration without any water already in it, so the water percentage you should add will need to be lower.
The opposite is true for places with low humidity, where the water content may need to be slightly higher to reach adequate hydration. In these conditions using bakers percentage is much more difficult.
Bakers in low or high humidity areas or at high altitudes will have to do a lot of experimenting to find the most accurate measurements for them in their environment.
Best Hydration for Pizza Doughs
Many factors will affect hydration and there’s a lot of things you have to consider.
So let’s look at what the best option is for a specific kind of pizza dough that you may be most likely to bake.
Best Level of Hydration for Neapolitan Pizza Making in a Domestic Oven
A favorite type of pizza, that you will want to perfect your crust for. If making this in a home/ domestic oven you want to seek a hydration level of around 67%, although this may seem pretty high, the reason is that a domestic oven cannot bake your pizza as fast as a wood-burner oven, due to its lower temperatures.
So, your pizza will need to be in the oven for much longer. Water in the dough will evaporate during baking and make the curst hard, adding more hydration to it will prevent it from getting hard and too crispy while it cooks.
While many people enjoy a crispy crust, having a dough that is not adequately hydrated in a home oven may make it hard and dry rather than just crispy and will take away from the enjoyment of the crispiness you seek.
One Final Consideration: Water Absorption- Keeping it in Mind
We want to briefly explain to you that water absorption is not the same as hydration, although this is often also presented as a percentage, it is not about hydrating your dough, it is reference to how much moisture the flour will absorb to create the basic consistency in your dough.
This will vary by each dough you use, so you want to pay close attention to how much water each flour needs to absorb and take it into account when you are working out your hydration percentages.
This means that if you have two different types of flour and add the same amount of hydration to them, they may be very unlikely to have the same result as their absorption levels will likely differ.
A flour with an absorption of 55% and flour with an absorption of 60% both with 65% hydration will react differently. Keep this in mind when hydrating your pizza dough.