The Importance of Resting Pizza Dough

When I first started making pizza I found it amazing how quick it was to make.  You could start with flour and have a proper dough made by hand in less than 30 minutes.

When speed is of the essence, I still make a quick pizza dough.  Speed has its advantages in a busy life but I’ve found that a little bit of planning creates a far superior end result.

Here’s a photo of a pizza dough after rising (slightly collapsed; it was as tall as the bowl) and after a few quick folds:

When possible, I make our dough at least 12 hours before we use it.  I cover it in a layer of olive oil and then let it sit in a covered bowl.  I place the bowl in a warm spot of the house (typically this is high on top of the kitchen cupboards) and forget about it.  When I pull it down for use it looks like a bubbly mess.

Scatter a tablespoon (or so) of flour on your cutting board and fold the dough a few times, gently kneading.  You can use it right away or let it sit, covered, in your fridge for several days.  It will get better as it sits as we found out this summer; we made  large pizza dough on vacation and made pizza lunch for 3 successive days from the dame batch and could taste it improve day over day.

When you let dough rest like this, several things happen:

  • It becomes super easy to work with and roll out – this will produce the ultimate flat crust pie.
  • The smell becomes rich and yeasty.  The taste also develops a slightly sour, umami-like taste that’s superior to flour and water.
  • Small air pockets are forms which keeps your dough light (and can cause dough ‘bubbles’ that people either love or hate).

Our core recipe for pizza dough is here (I’ve been playing with it lately and will share any lessons or success); you can let it rest or use it after 10-minutes as described there.  If you’ve never made pizza dough before, I can’t stress just how easy – and fantastic – it is!

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  1. Like many bread doughs, pizza dough benefits from time at cool temps to slow down the rise. It allows time for flavour to develop and the proteins in the flour to get real friendly with the moisture 🙂 I always make mine the night before (yup, requires pre-planning but it was a Friday night ritual for us) and take it out of the fridge about an hour before to warm up; punch down, roll out to shape with a rolling pin, let rise for 20 mins, add sauce & toppings and bake. Have experimented with add-ins like herbs and knead lightly into dough before rolling out. Garlic sauteed in olive oil until soft or italian herb mix were a couple.

  2. I make 12 batches of our favorite recipe at a time… and freeze. It’s very convenient, and I swear that the time it takes to thaw helps it taste better.

  3. This is definitely a great reminder that I haven’t made pizza at home in far too long. The long rise is super interesting–I’ll have to try it soon. 🙂

  4. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Foolproof pan pizza. I made it yesterday and may never order pizza again. I’ll continue to make total food nerd neapolitan pizza, but for when I’m too lazy to stretch the dough: Mmmmmm…crispy on the bottom pan pizza.

    Basically, if you can mix flour and water with a spoon and turn on an oven, you can do this : ) Kids would be able to help, and as a bonus, you’ll have introduced small people to the joys of self-sufficiency in the kitchen. Plus, even if you order pizza infrequently, it’ll save you money.

    And, if you want the food nerd explanation:

    I used a standard crappy grocery store pizza pan and it worked perfectly. I had to add a bit more water and it didn’t stretch out quite that much (probably because I used Canadian bread flour). I just poked it around with my fingertips until it fit the pan — no problem. You can use a big rectangular metal pan if you’re feeding a group or want leftovers. Just don’t use a glass pan, because there’s a good chance it’ll explode at that temperature.

    Seriously, if town criers still existed, this is the kind of recipe that would be proclaimed from the rooftops. Virtually no labor and fantastic results.

    Bonus: This recipe makes two standard pizza pans worth of pizza. If you don’t use all the dough, you can stick the other ball in the fridge for up to five days, or in the freezer for months. Or, use the same dough to make foccacia bread, as follows:

    Oil the pan/dough in the same way as for the pizza; preheat the oven to 550F, and let sit for a couple of hours for the second rise.

    Just before baking, finger-dock (i.e., poke) the surface of the dough all over, as for the pizza. Sprinkle with pitted olives, halved cherry tomatoes, and/or oregano and kosher salt.

    Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Carb-y, crispy, slightly oily heaven.

    If you’re interested, there’s also a chart for ratio calculations across a variety of pan sizes submitted by a commenter to one of the original posts. (See also, Why Pepperoni Curls and its accompanying computer simulation — I love nerds, in all their multifarious forms!)

    • Brook,

      I totally wanted the FOOD NERD EXPLANATION! I love it!

      You’ve given me a whole lotta homework up there! 🙂 I love your description of “Carby-y, crispy, slightly oily heaven.” Yes, it sounds exactly as described – excited to try this out! 🙂

      • Please let me know how your pizza turned out!

        And speaking of, I just checked to see if they had any interesting new classes and my jaw hit the floor. Peter Reinhart has done a pizza-making mini course — FREE! His bread-making course rocked (as have classes by others in artisan cheese-making and croissants, and a raft of non-food-related courses). Their courses frequently go on sale, too. No affiliation, just a very satisfied near-obsessive customer who’s learned a ton from their fantastic instructors.

        NOW we’ve got homework : )