Why Is My Pizza Dough Sticky? (And How To Fix It)

Pizza dough is very similar to bread dough. Both are formed from a basic mixture of flour, yeast, oil, water, and salt. 

The main difference between bread and pizza dough is that pizza dough uses a higher protein flour. This results in a chewier and more stretchable dough.

As anyone who has made pizza dough knows, it often becomes sticky and difficult to manipulate. We are delving into what this stickiness is caused by and some tips for handling sticky dough. We have also included some quick and easy fixes for sticky dough. 

What is the history of pizza?

Ancient Romans and Greeks were known to eat flatbreads which were baked and then topped with spices and olive oil. This is now referred to as focaccia bread. In some respects, this could be seen as a very early form of pizza, in that they are both a topped bread product.

During the Byzantine period, in around 997 AD, the word pizza was noted in a Latin document. This is widely believed to be the oldest written reference to the word pizza. The document is nearly 1,022 years old and was written in the Italian town of Gaeta. In it, the local bishop is promised 12 pizzas as a form of yearly homage from the son of a feudal lord. 

There were many Italian street vendors in the 19th century selling foods. One popular street snack was a flatbread with toppings. This again could be seen as a very rustic type of pizza.  

The first pizza pie resembling modern-day pizza is believed to have been invented by a baker known as Raffaele Esposito from Naples. This is widely believed to have happened in around 1889 when the Italian King Umberto I and his wife, Queen Margherita, visited Naples. Here, they requested Esposito make them a pizza which he did. 

The pizza was topped with tomato, basil, and mozzarella cheese. To this day, this pizza is still referred to as a margherita. It is believed that the Italian immigrants moving across Europe brought the idea and recipe for pizza to the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and the United States. 

When soldiers returned to the States from the European trenches in WWII, pizza began to grow in popularity. The first pizzeria in the United States was opened by a man known as Gennaro Lombardi in 1905. 

The pizzeria was located on 53 ⅓ Spring Street in New York City. The restaurant is still open today and still cooks all of the pizzas in the original oven! They have moved location to 32 Spring Street and have opened a second outlet at 290 Eighth Avenue. 

What causes sticky pizza dough?

Sticky pizza dough is almost always caused by a dough that has had too much liquid added and has become over hydrated. 

Some people prefer to use a higher hydration percentage for their pizza dough as they believe this will result in a lighter base. This is true, and many people try to get their dough hydration level above 60% as a result. 

The issue with this is that it can make your dough very sticky and harder to work with. It is very hard to stretch out a sticky dough thin enough for a good base. If the dough is left too thick on the base, you can end up with a very doughy and cloying pizza. 

A sticky dough may need large amounts of flour to roll out correctly. This can create a thick crust of flour on the exterior of the dough. Flour burns easily, and so if you use too much to roll out your dough it can burn. 

What is a good hydration level?

Dough hydration refers to the volume of water contained in the dough relative to the volume of flour. This means that a 60% hydration dough with say 100g of flour will contain approximately 60g of water. 

This depends on the type of flour that you are using. The most common flour types are strong white bread flour and 00 flour. For 00 flour we suggest using a hydration percentile of between 56 and 58%. For strong white bread flour, we suggest a slightly higher ratio of 58 to 60%. 

Higher hydration levels in pizza dough can cause a variance in the crust texture. Lighter, crispier crusts are typically formed with a hydration level of between 65 and 70%. This will result in a stickier dough. The additional moisture will create extra steam in the oven, and this will mean that there are larger air pockets in the crust, making it lighter.

If you have made pizza dough a lot successfully, you can begin to play around with the hydration levels. This can result in unpleasant results if you misjudge the ratios of ingredients. We suggest sticking to the ratios above if you are a novice pizza maker. 

What are the other reasons dough may be sticky?

You may be using the wrong type of flour. Different flours will absorb different quantities of water. This is even apparent between different manufacturers of the same type of flour.

There will always be a little aspect of trial and error when switching up the flour that you are using, but do not let this dissuade you from experimenting. 

The humidity of your baking environment will also play a role in how your flour reacts to create a dough. If the air is particularly humid, the flour will take in some moisture from the environment, making the dough stickier. Therefore, experimenting with the climate of your kitchen can also play into how your pizza dough turns out. 

If you have realized that you are making dough in humid conditions, reduce the volume of water that you add to the dough. We would advise adding the water a tablespoon or less at a time.

This will help you to monitor the hydration levels of the dough much more accurately and reduce the likelihood of you over-hydrating it. You can always add more water, but you can’t take it out. 

Altitude also has an impact on how your pizza dough reacts. High altitudes cause the yeast to activate faster and the dough to become drier. At lower altitudes (i.e. closer to the sea level), your pizza dough will be more likely to be wetter. 

Another major reason that pizza dough becomes sticky is due to a lack of kneading. Kneading is what forms the gluten protein strands inside the dough, giving it structure and stability. This also helps to make the dough smooth and elastic in texture.

If you are kneading your dough by hand, be aware that it will take a while. A good rule of thumb is kneading for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. The longer you knead the dough, the less sticky it will become. 

Strangely, if you do not rehydrate your yeast correctly this can also result in a sticky dough. Active dry yeast needs to be rehydrated with warm water to activate it correctly and cause it to bloom.

If you use cold water to do this, then the gluten-containing structure in the yeast (the glutathione) can seep out of the yeast cells. This can cause the dough to become sticky as a result. 

What is the difference between 00 and strong white flour?

00 flour is also known as Italian-style flour. It is made from the hardest wheat with the highest protein content. It is commonly used to make pasta due to the high gluten content.

Gluten is the protein found in most flours which gives the dough its stretch and malleability. The protein content of this flour is somewhere between 11 and 12% depending on the manufacturer. 00 flour is incredibly fine in texture which makes it very easy to roll super thin without tearing. 

Strong bread flour tends to be made from hard spring wheat. This too has a high protein content of between 10 and 13%. The high gluten content of the flour makes it ideal for use in yeasted recipes.

This is because the gluten helps to retain the structure of the bread as the yeast causes it to expand. Bread flour is preferred to plain flour as it gives your dough a better rise and a chewier texture.

How can you fix sticky pizza dough?

The easiest way to fix a sticky pizza dough is to slowly and gently knead more flour into the dough. You should do this in small increments to ensure you do not add too much and cause the dough to become dry. 

Keep adding more flour until the dough turns less sticky and becomes a firm, smooth texture. You should leave your dough to rest for 30 minutes before shaping. If it still appears sticky, place the dough in a bowl and cover it completely with a thin layer of flour on all sides. 

If the dough is sticky because it is underworked, simply knead it for longer. If it begins to become smooth and spongy as you do this, this is the solution.

If your dough is sticky because you used cold water there is no solution except for starting over. There is no way to rectify the dough if the glutathione has seeped out and so your best bet is to scrap the dough and have another go.

If your dough is a little sticky as you are trying to shape the pizza, you can add a mixture of flour and cornmeal or flour and semolina to your surface and your dough. This will help to absorb some of the moisture from the dough and prevent it from sticking to the surface. 

If your pizza dough has been sat in the refrigerator it is more susceptible to becoming sticky when taken out and handled. To reduce the chances of this happening, you should allow your chilled pizza dough to reach room temperature before you begin to handle and shape it. 

How do you work with sticky dough?

If you have intended to make a dough with a stickier consistency it will be more difficult to work with. This does not mean it is wrong, but there are steps you can take to make this easier. 

Kneading a sticky dough is very hard, but it can be made easier with the use of a dough scraper. This will help to unstick it from the bowl, the work surfaces, and your hands.

If you are still struggling, we recommend covering your hands with some water. This will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands as much and make your life easier.

If your dough is still sticky after you have kneaded it sufficiently, you can add a little oil to the bowl. Return the dough to the bowl and leave it to one side to rest and rise. This will guarantee that the dough will not get stuck to the bowl and be difficult to get out. If you forget to do this step and the dough appears stuck, scrap the inside of the bowl with a dough scraper to easily release. 

If you wish to cook a sticky dough it is vital to cover the peel with plenty of semolina before placing the dough on top. You should barely be able to see the peel underneath the semolina as a lot will come off as you slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. 

Another good idea when working with a sticky dough is to preheat the oven and the pizza stone to at least 450 or 500 degrees Fahrenheit. This should be done a minimum of 30 minutes before you intend to cook the pizza to allow them to heat up correctly, evenly, and completely.

This in turn will result in a better crust. You should also allow the cooked pizza to rest on the hot stone for a minimum of 5 minutes before it is removed and served. 


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