I have found that one very common issue when making pizza is the missing rise of the dough. I was approached quite a few times, typically via a direct message on Instagram, by people who found a bad surprise when they thought their dough was ready to bake.
In this post I will highlight what I think are the most common causes of this issue and I will explain how to avoid them. Luckily enough I haven’t experienced all of them myself, but I had the chance to witness them somehow: they are mostly accidental and they can be easily dodged with a bit of attention.
Because of them, the leavening process is often considered kind of mysterious and elusive. But if we are careful it becomes way more predictable. And we must be careful from the get go, even before we start the “operations”.
But I’m ready to bet that once you finish kneading your pizza dough, you generally tend to forget it on the table and take it only when it's time to bake it - and you're reading this, chances are that you have found the unpleasant surprise I previously mentioned at least once 😁
OK, let me tell you about these six reasons why your dough didn’t rise.
1. Expired yeast
In my experience, the reason number one is that the yeast is dead. Yeast is an alive biological entity, a fungus. It has a life cycle at the end of which it becomes useless for our purpose. A good approximation of this life cycle is the expiration date stamped on the package by the manufacturer.
Sorry if this sounds obvious to you, but based on my experience I can tell that there are people who have no idea about this.
So always check the expiration date of your yeast and remember that it refers to the sealed product. Once you open your tin, you’re supposed to use its content by a certain date, which is also indicated. If you're not sure about the date you opened the package, then you better check the yeast before you use it.
Check your yeast before you start kneading
Put one scant teaspoon of yeast and half a teaspoon of sugar in a glass of lukewarm water - it would be great if you could measure the temperature, around 30° to 36°C (86° to 96.8°F) it’s perfect.
If you don’t have a thermometer like the one I own (affiliate link), just touch the water with your elbow, just like my mom and grandma used to do when it was bath time! After 10 minutes or so you should notice great activity and the surface of the water should be covered in froth. If nothing happens, then your yeast is gone and you can get rid of it.
By the way, I’m talking about DRY yeast because it’s by far the most common. However, the procedure works with fresh/cake yeast as well.
2. You killed the yeast!
Let’s continue, reason number two.
There are many recipes out there, loads of them come from random YouTube channels and cooking blogs, managed by people who are experts of basically ANY cuisine from around the world - or at least so they say.
These recipes explain you need to stir the yeast into some water to activate or to let it “bloom”. They call for warm water or maybe even hot water, but precision is important in this case. I mentioned exact temperatures here above and I will do it again, it’s not a detail.
Why is that important?
Because the yeast it’s happy and thrives when the temperature is anywhere between 20°C and 40°C (68°F - 104°F). In this range of temperatures, it reaches the peak of its activity. At 42°C (107.6°F) it starts to slow down and at 55°C (131°F) the yeast dies.
To avoid this issue either you use a thermometer or you use your elbow, in order to make sure that you’re not killing the yeast. However, I always suggest using room temperature water: you not only play it safe, but also prevent the yeast from running too fast. The rising time will be longer and your baked goods will be tastier - and that’s the reason why I make my pizza dough this way.
3. You mixed yeast and salt together
Mixing yeast and salt together is a risky move because salt is hygroscopic, fancy word to say that it absorbs humidity from the environment around it. This includes the yeast and in case it stays too close, too long to the salt, the osmotic shock will break the yeast’s cell wall. More details in this article.
Now, this is a worst case scenario and, even if it happens, your dough should still rise, although way more slowly than usual. But why risk it? Play it safe and keep salt and yeast separate: for example add yeast to the water your recipe calls for, then add around half of the flour and stir well. At this point you can safely add salt to the mixture.
Important! I'm sure you noticed that the three reasons I’ve mentioned so far are all connected to the yeast. If any of these happen, you can try to fix your “idle” dough with the following emergency move. Please note you must have some alive yeast.
Repeat the procedure to test your yeast I already described. As I said, the mixture will be really active after 10-15 minutes and the surface will be covered in froth. That froth is actually alive yeast, so you can add it to your dough and incorporate it into it by kneading again. Let me clear things up: you ONLY need the froth, not the whole mixture. Spoon it from the surface and you’re good to go. After the froth has been kneaded into the dough, you only need to wait until it finally rises. If you want to see the whole procedure you can either read this post or watch this video.
The amounts should work fine if your dough weighs up to 500/600 grams, while you might need to increase it if your dough is heavier.
The next three reasons are all connected to the dough.
4. It’s too cold
There are people who enjoy winter time, when it’s 15°C (59°F) in the kitchen, like me for example. Sadly, yeast is not like me, actually it becomes quite lazy when the temperature falls below 20°C (68°F): its metabolism will slow down and so will the rise of your dough. The lower the temperature, the more slowly the dough rises.
This is definitely not a desperate situation, it's easy to give a gentle push to the leavening. You only need to increase the temperature a bit…no, I'm not implying that you should turn on the heating just for your dough! But if you realise that your room temperature is too low, stick your dough in the oven, switched off but with the little light turned on. This will increase both the temperature and the speed of the rising.
5. Your dough has dried up
Maybe you left the dough uncovered. A dry crust has been created on the surface and this layer is quite stiff, to the point that it prevents the dough from rising.
Once again, take care of your dough!
You want to keep it covered and safe from drafts. Personally I don't like to cover it with a damp cloth, as many recommend, because my dough rises for quite a long time. At some point the cloth will not be damp anymore and it becomes almost useless. Rather, use some clingfilm, the lid of your favourite pot, a book, a hat - whatever you have, just cover it.
You can still fix your dough if its surface has dried: you need to “massage” it with wet hands until it will be good again. If you want to see the procedure, please watch this video I shared a while ago.
6. Too much flour
The dough might be unbalanced on the flour side. If you use too much flour the dough comes up really hard, therefore the yeast struggles to push the dough up. Besides, if your dough is hard, chances are it is covered in cracks and it doesn’t stick together nicely. In this case, the gluten mesh is not nice and uniform all over, then it won’t be able to hold all the gas produced by the yeast…one more reason why the rise struggles. If your dough looks as described, you can still save it by adding more water, little by little, until it looks smooth and soft.
To avoid this, I recommend a certain ratio between water and flour: I will never ever go lower than 60%.
⚠️Important note: this is absolutely personal, I’m not saying that anything below this percentage will not work or will prevent the dough from rising. With certain conditions, your 55% hydration dough will be absolutely fine.
That’s a wrap up, you now know six reasons why your dough did not rise.
The main takeaway should be: take care of your dough, pour love before water & flour and everything will work well. Check your yeast before you start kneading and, when you finish, go and have a peek at the dough after half an hour, then after another 30 minutes and so on. It will notice your love and it will reward you greatly.
I hope you liked this article, feel free to leave a comment to discuss or ask questions. If you found some value and you feel like supporting me, keep scrolling down and you will see several ways to pat my back!
See you next time 🍕
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