Explained: Pizza Dough Hydration

Whether you’re someone who’s looking to perfect their pizza baking skills or are trying to get the crust of their pizza just right, pizza dough hydration is something you need to keep in mind. Getting the ratio of water to flour right for your crust can make a world of difference in terms of how sticky the crust might be, as well as how well the dough might rise. 

Additionally, the kind of flour that you’re using can also influence the overall consistency of the dough. Here, you’ll find that your pizza crust is affected by several factors that you’ll have to monitor closely to get your pizza dough crust to be perfect – as well as how to calculate dough hydration.

What Is Pizza Dough Hydration 

There’s a lot of work that needs to be put in while preparing a pizza in order to give its dough the perfect rise, elasticity, and stickiness. The part of the pizza that makes it a good pizza is undoubtedly the crust – which is why it’s important to achieve the perfect consistency for the pizza dough every time. 

A large part of this facet of pizza prep depends on pizza dough hydration and kneading – which essentially entails the proportion of water used in the dough in relation to the flour, expressed as a percentage amount. This inadvertently means that if you use 500g of water in 1000g of flour, the pizza dough hydration will be at 50%.

What Are Baker’s Percentages? 

what are bakers percentages

However, the above calculation for pizza dough hydration is closely related to the concept of Baker’s percentage – so it is important to understand the concept of Baker’s percentage to understand why we need the pizza dough hydration in terms of percentages. 

If you’ve been eyeballing the amount of ingredients you require for your baked goods but can never scale ingredients appropriately in terms of the flour used, then the Baker’s percentage will help you out immensely. Essentially, this concept has to do with the amount of an ingredient you require in proportion to the amount of flour you’re using

To calculate the Baker’s percentage, you’ll have to divide the weight of the ingredient with the weight of the flour used, multiplying this amount by 100. By the simple method of mathematical substitution, you can then figure out the weight of the ingredient you need to use, once you know the Baker’s percentage. 

This method gives you a greater leeway to scale your ingredients in terms of the amount you want to make, as opposed to just pure weight – the latter of which can leave a lot of room for error. As you might know, even the slightest approximation can result in the end product of your baking endeavor being very different from what you had envisioned. 

In terms of Baker’s percentage, you can also calculate pizza dough hydration in the exact same way. To calculate pizza dough hydration, as mentioned before, you have to divide the amount of water used by the amount of flour used in your pizza dough, and then multiply this amount by 100. This can then give you the hydration percentage for your pizza dough, helping you achieve the exact amount of hydration you need for the perfect pizza crust.

How Does Pizza Hydration Affect the Dough? 

how does pizza hydration affect the dough

While it’s extremely simple to figure out the hydration of the pizza dough through a few calculations, it is equally important to know why this is crucial for your pizza. Pizza hydration can affect a number of factors in the dough, which we’ll be going over right now.

1. Elasticity

The elasticity of the hydrated pizza dough is affected immensely by a difference in pizza dough hydration. For instance, enhancing the hydration in the pizza dough can result in increasing the elasticity of the pizza dough – inadvertently making it stringier and the overall dough can become softer once it has been baked. However, this can pose problems for the pizza later such as the dough being difficult to open and giving way for the formation of the pizza. 

2. Stickiness

Increasing the hydration in the pizza dough can also result in the pizza dough being stickier than you had anticipated, whether you knead it with your hands or a commercial dough mixer. While this may result in a chewy dough once the baking process is complete, it can also make it extremely difficult to handle the pizza dough. 

It may also mean that the pizza dough may stick to the counter and your pizza stone on account of it being stickier, meaning that you might need a pizza dough scraper to keep your space clean. It may also make it difficult to transfer the pizza dough to the oven if it’s sticky.

3. Rise

Increasing hydration for your pizza dough can also mean that you have yourself a pizza dough that can rise easier and more quickly. This is because the water can speed up the biochemical reactions while also softening the gluten strands. These gluten strands go on to form large pockets of air in the dough, making the dough rise.

Factors Affecting Pizza Dough Hydration 

While the hydration of the pizza dough can affect the end result of the pizza dough substantially, there are other factors that can affect how hydrated your pizza dough is as well. Controlling and being aware of these factors can help you manipulate your pizza dough’s hydration levels accurately.

1. Inaccurate Measurements

If you’ve measured your flour, water, and other ingredients inaccurately – then more often than not, you’ll not be able to control the hydration of your pizza dough. Hence, it is always recommended to measure your ingredients in terms of weight rather than volume. 

For this purpose, you can use a kitchen scale instead of using measuring cups with which you’ll have to measure your ingredients by volume. It is also recommended to get a kitchen scale that measures in grams instead of larger units like ounces since the former can offer a much more accurate weighing system.

2. Adding Flour During Kneading

Adding extra flour during the dough kneading process can make a huge difference to the hydration of the pizza dough as well. If you’re adding flour to make your kneading smoother, then your dough hydration can reduce significantly – similarly, if you’re using less dough, then you’re ensuring that your pizza dough’s hydration remains intact. 

As you’d expect, using water to make kneading easier increases your dough’s hydration as well – so if you don’t want an overly sticky dough, then you need to limit adding water to your dough, because the former will result in the amount of water being higher than the amount of flour in the dough.

3. Humidity

Extraneous external variables such as the climate can impact your pizza dough’s hydration as well, surprisingly. The more humidity your overall surroundings have, the more chances you have to make high hydration pizza dough – and vice versa. 

Thus, it is recommended to add less water to your overall dough mixture if you reside in a particularly humid area while adding more water to your dough if you live in an area that does not receive a lot of humidity. 

4. Altitude

It is a popularly known fact that altitude influences the amount of moisture present in the air. The higher you are in terms of altitude, the more moisture you’ll have in your overall surroundings – which is why it is important to keep in mind the altitude when you’re deciding the hydration percentage for your pizza dough. 

In higher altitudes, the pizza dough has a higher capacity to absorb moisture – which is why you should increase the hydration content in the dough at higher altitudes and vice versa. 

What Is The Best Hydration For Pizza Dough? 

Deciding the right hydration for your pizza dough to optimize the quality of the dough once it has been baked is a crucial step to consider during the baking process, whether for your home oven or otherwise. 

Best Hydration For Neapolitan Pizza Dough

Neapolitan pizza has a relatively lower hydration level than the pizza dough for most other kinds of pizzas. Averaging at around 55% to 62%, the hydration of pizza dough for Neapolitan pizza almost entails equal parts of both flour and water. This has to do with the baking process of Neapolitan pizza

It is usually baked in a wood-fired oven – an appliance that utilizes high temperatures and thus does not allow the moisture to escape the pizza dough in any way – making most of the hydration in the pizza dough absolutely intact. 

Pizza dough with lower hydration levels also means that it’s easier to handle and won’t stick to every surface it comes in contact with – meaning that it can be shaped just as easily as opposed to stickier doughs.

Best Hydration For Neapolitan Pizza In Home Oven

In a home oven, the hydration for Neapolitan pizza dough can be ever so slightly different. Since the baking temperature and process of a home oven is extremely different from that of a wood-fired oven, this also means that you’ll have to crank up the hydration of your Neapolitan pizza dough by a lot. 

Around 65% to 70% is the optimum hydration for Neapolitan pizza dough baked in a home oven. This has to do with the fact that the baking time in a home oven is longer than in a wood-fired oven – giving the pizza dough more time to have its moisture escape and thus lower its hydration, hence it is best to start out with a dough with high hydration in the first place. 

Elements such as pizza stones and broilers can be used to bake the Neapolitan pizza at the highest possible setting, making the temperature resemble wood-fired ovens as closely as possible for the best result. 

What Is Water Absorption? 

As opposed to the hydration of pizza dough, water absorption of the flour is a facet that is inherent in the flour itself. While both water absorption of flour and hydration of dough may sound similar, only one of them can be manipulated according to your needs. 

The water absorption of flour mainly depends on the kind of flour you’re using – some flours are more naturally predisposed to absorbing large amounts of water, while some are more rigid. Water absorption for flour is also measured in terms of percentages. For instance, flour at an absorption level of 75% and dough hydration of 75% is similar in terms of consistency to flour that is at a 60% absorption level with 60% dough hydration.

The gluten content present in the flour, as well as its strength, can be major contributors to the hydration level of the dough – meaning that you’ll have to pay close attention to the type of grain where the flour is derived from, as well as the part of the grain. You’ll need to consider the composition of the flour in terms of its absorption as well if you’re planning to get the dough hydration just right. 

Example Of Pizza Absorption 

As you now know, the different levels of water absorption for different flours would inadvertently mean that the hydration of each resultant pizza dough would have to be adjusted in order to receive a similar consistency for the both of them. 

By using the same hydration under a condition where each pizza dough has a flour with different absorption points, we would create radically different pizza doughs as a result. For instance, let’s take the example of the pizza flour from Caputo Nuvola and Caputo Chef’s Flour. The former has an absorption point of around 62%, while the latter absorbs water up to a percentage of 57%. 

If we place both of them at a dough hydration of 65%, the viscosity will thus change and look different after fermentation. Once baked, Caputo Nuvola would also make bigger air bubbles within the dough, resulting from softer gluten formation than Caputo Chef’s Flour. To achieve the same level of viscosity, one would have to adjust the hydration of one dough according to the viscosity of the other.

Type of Pizza Flour Water Absorption Level
Le 5 Stagioni Manitoba60%
Le 5 Stagioni Pizza Napolitana55%
Caputo Pizzeria58% – 60%
Caputo Chef’s Flour55% – 57%
Caputo Saccorosso59% – 61%
Caputo Farina di Grano Tenero61% – 63%
Caputo Nuvola60% – 62%

Conclusion 

As you have seen, getting that perfect hydration for your dough in order to ensure a crispy, yet soft baked crust for your pizza is a matter of simple calculation. Of course, you also want to check the absorption levels for each types of pizza flours before you make a decision, so you can adjust the hydration level accordingly. 

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