Pizza Dough Hydration Explained
When it comes to mastering the art of making pizza dough, hydration is a key factor for quality pies. Hydration refers to the amount of water used in a recipe in relation to the amount of flour and is usually referred to as a percentage. For example, using a recipe that calls for 1000 grams of flour and 600 grams of water would result in pizza dough with 60% hydration. So, why care about hydration at all?
The hydration percentage will have major effects on the resulting dough and crust—so different pizza styles have different hydration needs. For example, Detroit-style pizza has a fairly high moisture content between 70 to 80%, while Neapolitan-style generally sits at around the 60 to 65% mark. In addition to making your crust lighter, increasing the hydration produces a higher yield (more dough).
Depending on what you’re looking to get from your final dough, there are benefits to be had in all types of dough hydrations. We’ve taken some of the guesswork out of whether you should go for a lower to higher hydration dough so you can feel more confident in your pies.
This hydration is pretty common in dough styles not typically associated with pizza like focaccia, ciabatta and brioche bread. However, some Sicilian-style doughs do tend to utilize low hydration.
Characteristics of low-hydration dough:
- Slightly denser bread
- Moist, chewy crumb
- Firm enough to hold its toppings
Recipe to try: NEPA Pan-fried Sicilian PizzaLower-hydration dough—60%:
This is the most common percentage in accessible recipes for beginners because the lower hydration makes the dough easier to work with.
Characteristics of lower-hydration dough:
- Easier to handle
- Firmer dough so it holds its shape
- Not sticky
- Requires more work when stretching your base
- Crispier crust when baked
Recipes to try: Sicilian Pizza, Chicago Deep-Dish Pizza
The higher dough hydration here means it will be slightly tacky and a little more difficult to work with. As you continue to increase the hydration, more practice will be required to handle the dough with ease.
Characteristics of medium-hydration dough:
- Relatively firm and dry dough
- Requires more kneading
- Requires more time for stretching your base
- Tighter crumb structure
- Less flavour than higher-hydration doughs
Recipes to try: Neapolitan Pizza, New York-style Pizza, Detroit-style Pizza
This dough will be stretchy, sticky and you’ll have to be very quick when it comes to balling it up. However, the result will be a pizza with a beautifully light, soft crust.
Characteristics of higher-hydration dough:
- Sticky and loose, making it trickier to shape and handle for beginners
- A stretchy dough that’s easy to stretch as long as you’re gentle
- A relaxed gluten structure that spreads easily
Baked high-hydration dough:
- Much lighter and softer than baked lower-hydration dough
- Open crumb structure (large, irregular internal holes)
- Crispy base
Recipe to try: Neo-Neapolitan Pizza
High-hydration dough—75% and above:
Super high-hydration doughs are increasingly popular among those celebrated by pizza makers and food writers. While daunting for beginners, it's definitely possible to achieve. If you're interested in experimenting with high-hydration doughs, consider progressively testing out 75%, 80%, then 90%. The more water you add, the higher the yield and the lighter the resulting dough.
Here are a few other tips:
- Make sure your work surface is well-floured and be prepared to use additional flour for dusting.
- Turn the bottom of any dough ball fresh from the proofing tray into the top of your pizza since the top will be drier, requiring less flour to launch it from your peel.
- Flip your proofing container to easily release the dough.
- Try stretching and baking in a pan for a less complicated launch.
We’ve got lots of tools to help you along the way, from our video on baker’s math and insight on how to keep a dough log, plus (almost) all you could ever want to know about salt! But at the end of the day, if something doesn't work in your pizza-making experimentations—try, try, try again.