Being able to tell if your pizza dough is kneaded enough is a key part of learning to make great dough. There is no correct way to knead dough, everyone has a different technique and it doesn’t really matter how you do it.
Once you can tell when pizza dough is fully kneaded, you can experiment and find your own technique that works for you.
Kneading is essentially a fancy way of mixing dough. We’ve all seen people kneading dough before, probably on the TV.
Kneading usually takes place on a work surface, and it usually looks like a floury, doughy mess. But there is method in the madness! And it doesn’t have to be really messy!
The reason we knead pizza dough, simply put, is that it produces a nicer dough. Kneading improves the texture of the dough and increases its strength and stretchiness.
To understand how this happens when we knead dough, we’ll have to go into a bit of the science:
Kneading pizza dough achieves 3 main things:
Let’s take a look at these one at a time:
First and foremost, kneading combines all the ingredients into one single lump of dough. Evenly mixing the ingredients is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without some form of kneading.
Some recipes instruct to mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, yeast) first but this is unnecessary, the kneading process will mix all the dry and wet ingredients together at the same time.
When flour and water are mixed together, the flour starts to absorb the water. This is often referred to as the flour becoming hydrated. When we talk about the flour becoming hydrated, this is different to when we talk about the hydration of a particular dough recipe. Although related, they two are different things.
As dough is left to rest, the flour will become hydrated on its own. The water will slowly soak into the flour over time. However, kneading helps to speed up this process by forcing the water into the flour. This can be seen as a dough goes from lumpy to smooth during the kneading process.
As soon as flour comes into contact with liquid (water in the case of pizza dough), gluten strands are formed. This is where the proteins in flour, known as glutenin and gliadin, combine with water to form a new protein called gluten.
As kneading takes place, gluten strands become aligned and this allows them to stick together. As the strands stick together, bonds are formed which in turn, creates a gluten network.
With continued kneading, this gluten network becomes larger and stronger. During the kneading process, air is also incorporated into the dough, which further helps to strengthen the gluten network. Ultimately, the dough becomes stronger and stretchier (extensible) the more it is kneaded.
Strength and stretchiness are the 2 most important characteristics to seek in a pizza dough. They allow us to produce a dough that we can stretch out really thin, in order to make the perfect pizza. This is why kneading is so important.
Many people assume that kneading pizza dough by hand is too difficult, messy, and time consuming. This is definitely not true. In fact, I do all my kneading by hand. As well as being relatively easy, and not as messy or as time consuming as you think, it is also really fun and rewarding (and quite therapeutic).
I have an article on the kneading technique that I use here. It also has a video that shows you the method. It works well for me and you may find it works well for you also!
Kneading by hand will also speed up the learning process. You will quickly find out what you are looking for in your pizza dough, and what you need to do to get there.
Using an electronic stand mixer with a dough attachment is a very popular way of making pizza dough. It takes out a lot of the work and also frees up your time to do something else whilst the dough is being mixed (kneaded). You also don’t need to worry about your kneading technique.
A word of warning, though. Never use a food processor or bread maker for mixing pizza dough (or any dough for that matter). They tend to mix the dough too quickly and aggressively, and they produce too much heat. This can destroy the gluten structure and kill the yeast.
A stand mixer on a slow setting mixes the dough much slower and steadier, more closely replicating hand kneading.
There are arguments for and against kneading by hand and using an electric stand mixer. Below I have highlighted the main reasons, to help you decide how to knead your dough.
|Stand (KitchenAid) Mixer||Hand Mixing/Kneading|
|Kitchen mixers reduce the amount of time spent handling the dough||Using your hands will allow you develop a feel for the dough|
|Kitchen mixers require very little physical strength or technique||Hand kneading requires some physical strength and technique|
|Quite easy to over knead dough in a KitchenAid mixer||Very difficult to over knead by hand|
|Stand/KitchenAid mixers are expensive, bulky, and heavy||Kneading by hand is very cheap and requires very little to no equipment|
|Electric mixers and dough hooks need cleaning out||Hand kneading makes more mess on the work surface|
Overall, I recommend people to knead by hand, at least to start with. This will enable you to quickly develop a feel for the dough and learn how to handle it. You will also quickly learn which characteristics to look for in pizza dough.
Kitchen mixers are also expensive and bulky but if you already own one then by all means give it a go. If you are older, or don’t have as much strength, then a kitchen mixer may make more sense for you.
Whichever you chose, the rest of this article will still be useful, I’ve written it with both methods in mind. If you do use a KitchenAid mixer then be sure to stop it regularly in order to feel the dough and check its progress.
Exact times will depend on the ingredients, especially the type of flour you use, and your kneading technique. If you are using a flour with a high protein content, such as strong white bread flour, then you won’t need to knead the dough as much. Likewise, if you have a good kneading technique, you won’t have to knead for as long.
Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. When mixed with water in a dough, this protein turns into gluten. Therefore, flours with a protein content produce doughs that contain more gluten. With more gluten, these flours are naturally stronger and therefore require less kneading.
The ideal flour for pizza dough is generally considered to be 00 flour. This is a fine flour with quite a high protein content of about 11% (compared to about 9% for plain/all purpose flour). Some flours, such as strong white bread flours can be as high as 13% (hence the name strong). Strong white bread flours can also produce excellent pizza doughs, and they typically require less kneading.
The ingredients in a flour are usually listed on the packet as a value per 100g – eg 11g protein per 100g. This can also be expressed as a percentage – in this case 11% protein.
Expressing protein as a percentage of the flour’s weight is the most common way amongst pizza chefs. To find out more about pizza percentages, take a look at my article on baker’s percentage here.
I have heard many times that salt hinders the gluten development but this is simply not true. Whilst salt does slow down the fermentation (proving/rising) slightly, it actually strengthens the gluten network.
Many recipes advise to leave salt out of the kneading process and to add it later. I recommend adding it as early as possible in order to assist in gluten development.
Adding the salt straight away also saves us time and ensures we don’t forget to add it. Afterall, dough without salt is a disaster! – It’s very bland!
Although uncommon, it is possible to over knead pizza dough. Over kneading most commonly occurs when an electric mixer is used. To avoid this from happening, be sure to use a stand mixer (not a food processor) on a very slow setting (or the slowest) and don’t leave it running for too long.
Over kneading dough by hand is very difficult to achieve, this is one of the advantages of kneading by hand. Unless you have a very efficient kneading technique and you are kneading for over 10 minutes, it is pretty much impossible to over knead by hand.
When people have a problem with their pizza dough, they often think it is caused by over kneading but this is usually not the case. I would look to other aspects first, unless you are using an electric mixer on a high-speed setting.
Over kneaded dough will go from being strong and stretchy to being weak and sloppy. It will rip easily when stretched and will struggle to hold its shape.
During shaping, an over kneaded dough is difficult to stretch and once baked, the pizza will be tough and dense.
Under kneading is a lot more common than over kneading and it can cause similar problems. In fact, under kneading is often confused with over kneading, although its effects are generally not as bad.
Under kneading causes a lack of strength and stretchiness in the pizza dough. The dough will tear easily when stretched and will not hold it’s shape as well as a fully kneaded dough.
A sure-fire way to tell if your dough is under kneaded is if it’s lumpy, because the ingredients won’t have been mixed properly. With a well kneaded dough, the surface of the dough will be very smooth.
Being able to recognise when a dough is properly kneaded is half the battle. Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for, you’ll quickly figure out how to get there.
As you knead the dough, pay attention to how the dough is changing. This is where kneading by hand really comes into its own. Feel the dough as you mix it in order to determine how much kneading it requires.
If you are using a machine, stop it regularly to feel the dough with your hand. This will allow you to keep track of the dough’s progress.
Below I’ve outlined the 5 main things we’re looking for:
The windowpane test is a great way to tell if your pizza dough is properly kneaded. This test on its own is a great indicator.
All you need to do is to try to stretch a piece of dough out between your hands as thin us you can and hold it up to a window (or light). You should be able to stretch the dough so thin that you can see through it.
With practice you will be able to stretch it so thin that you can see the gluten network. To start with, it’s easier to use a small piece of dough about golf ball size.
If your dough has all these 5 characteristics then you’re good to go. And congratulations, you have made a wonderful dough!
Learning to knead pizza dough can be quite an intimidating proposition but it doesn’t have to be. As well as being easier than you think, kneading dough can be really fun and rewarding.
What’s more, there is no substitute for fresh dough and once you’ve mastered your kneading, you’ll be one step closer to that perfect pizza.
To get going with your dough, check out my article on kneading by hand here.
If you’re ready to get making the perfect pizza, check out my authentic Neapolitan pizza recipe here.
Good luck, and get mixing! (Or kneading!)
I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!
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In all honesty, I would say that the oven makes a huge difference. If you're looking to make authentic Italian pizza, a pizza oven is a must.
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