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So I set out to make pizza dough, with these ingredients:

  • 1.25 cups whole wheat flour + 3.75 cups refined flour(5 cups total; around 750g)
  • 1 cup water + 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 10 tsp olive oil
  • 2.5 tsp salt
  • 2.5 tsp sugar

The dough I made from this is yellow/white in color. The strange thing is that despite having 66% hydration ratio, it wasn't sticky when I started kneading it. It wasn't elastic either, so kneading wasn't optional(obviously).

The trouble is, no matter how much I kneaded it, it just didn't seem to "set" into that elastic dough ball that we're after, after normally about 8 minutes? I kneaded for more than 20 minutes and it was still breaking.

I had to literally pound it with my closed fist like a hammer. It wasn't done even after that. Right now, it's in the fridge, and I'm letting it cold rise for 24/48 hours.

What's the issue here? Why didn't the dough come together even after all that kneading?

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    You need to look at your flour, did you by any chance use gluten free? – GdD Mar 2 at 8:24
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    You call it "large", do you usually work with smaller batches of dough? – rumtscho Mar 2 at 8:47
  • @rumtscho Yeah, most of the time 2 cups of flour. This time I wanted to make 4 pizzas at once, so I took 5(I have a large pan). – cst1992 Mar 2 at 10:18
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    "Milk" in pizza dough is totally new to me. – Gigili Mar 2 at 10:51
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    I would recommend malt powder or just straight sugar instead – CobaltHex Mar 3 at 4:13
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Probably a combination of causes. You're using whole wheat flour, which really does not knead like white flour, even used in moderation with other flour: in addition to having less gluten, the shards of bran cut through the dough structure as you knead. Particularly if the "refined flour" (hmm) you were using wasn't high-gluten bread flour, that could leave you with very little cohesion. The olive oil will also interfere with gluten formation, as will the milk to some degree, particularly whole milk.

Now, none of that may actually matter. Pizza doesn't need a gluten matrix for structure in the same way a free-form bread loaf does, and the recipe you've chosen indicates that you're not looking for the classic Neapolitan crust texture anyway. If you're forming the pizza on a pan, you don't need the gluten to pull the crust, and the starch gel that forms during baking will make it hold together just fine as a cooked pizza. Treat it like pie crust, and roll it out instead of pulling it out.

Oh, incidentally, 10 tsp is a real weird measurement. It's just shy of 1/4 cup; use that instead, and give your measuring hand a rest.

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    It's a scaled up recipe; that's why the weird measurements. The original recipe is 2 cups of flour and 4 tsp of oil. I used 5 cups of flour and 10 tsp of oil. I know 3 tsp is 1tbsp, so I could just use 1 tsp and 2 tbsp as measurements. Of course, I do have cups too, so I could use them. BTW, are you sure 10tsp is around 1/4 cups? AFAIK 10 tsp is 47ml and 1/4cup is 60ml. – cst1992 Mar 2 at 10:22
  • 3 tsp to a tbsp, 4 tbsp to 1/4 cup. 12 tsp would be exactly 1/4 cup. – Sneftel Mar 2 at 10:23
  • You are right; I am going to use a pan for the pizza. Is the classic "pressing with fingers" technique usable here? I'll put the ball in the pan, then use pressing to spread it out. – cst1992 Mar 2 at 10:23
  • "12 tsp would be exactly 1/4 cup". Right. But olive oil is expensive here, so I don't want to use too much of it. – cst1992 Mar 2 at 10:25
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    @cst1992 per your wikipedia link, I suspect the maida is part of your problem. It seems to have a low protein content ("resembles cake flour", "heat generated during the milling process results in denaturing of the protein, limiting its use in the preparation of leavened breads") and that in combination with the bran from the whole wheat flour as described above would make forming a gluten structure very difficult. If possible, you might try to use a flour with a higher protein content which would make gluten more readily. – senschen Mar 2 at 14:41
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I would say that you simply didn't knead enough, and modeled your expectations on siding that are not similar enough.

As Sneftel noted, the whole wheat flour is part of the difference. I'm not sure it has less gluten overall, but it is more difficult to develop, first because of the cutting effect mentioned and second because the bran soaks up a lot of liquid, leaving less available for gluten development. 66% is lowish hydration for a bread with significant amounts of whole wheat.

The main problem is, in my opinion, insufficient mechanical action. Kneading dough is hard work, literally. Modern home bakers accustomed to small batches of rich white doughs might not be as aware of it, but actually dough needs quite some pounding. The batch size absolutely matters - if you sink the same amount of mechanical energy as usual into a batch of doubled weight, you will need to knead twice as long to get the same results. Add to your doubled batch the fact that you are working with a dry whole wheat dough - not only is there less chance for gluten formation due to the missing water, but the firmer dough means your physical punching and pulling doesn't transmit effectively through the dough.

In general, if you are working a mixture of water and wheat and it is not yet forming gluten, the answer is pretty much always that you haven't worked it enough, no matter what the clock says. Dough has to be kneaded until it is properly developed, and you only need to give up and suspect foul play if it turns into overkneaded state without noticeably passing "proper dough territory" on the way.

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  • 24-hour update: I made one of the four pizzas, and the dough result is what you'd expect: instead of looking like a smooth big ball, the dough is looking more rough and a bit like a back scrub(flipkart.com/betrending-betrendig-loofah-pack-5-multicolor/p/…). It's risen a bit. Do you think I could knead the risen dough again? The prepared pizza was thinner than what I'd want and a bit tough instead of soft and fluffy. Not totally flat, though. – cst1992 Mar 2 at 21:32
  • I did suspect 66% hydration didn't quite cut it when I saw the raw dough; it should have been wet and sticking to my hands, but it formed a lump right from the start with almost no sticking. Breaking, though. – cst1992 Mar 2 at 21:33
  • Also, I have read that when left for long enough(say, 18 hours outside) the yeast gets enough time to break down the gluten structure without having to knead the bread. Could I get the same effect if I left the dough for a couple more days in the fridge? – cst1992 Mar 2 at 21:38
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After a few days of retrospection making the pizza from this flour and also making a fresh dough, I think I have an answer to my question. There are a few points that come to mind:

  1. As I said in the question, the dough wasn't sticky. I repeated this recipe minus the whole wheat and milk(this time I used 1.25 cups of only refined flour with ~120 ml of water and no milk) and even this time it wasn't sticky. Upping the water content to 150 ml helped the issue. Adding more water made the dough easier to knead and also caused it to break less when stretched.

  2. When I actually made pizza from the bread, I found that it had bubbles in the dough, but it was more of a cakey than bready texture. I guess this was because of the milk. Adding milk is something I'd avoid going forward, even though it helped the crust brown a bit. It made the dough sweet(a contradiction to the sour flavor of the sauce and cheese) and it made the dough more like a cake than a bread.

  3. One point that I realized when making a fresh dough ball is atmospheric temperature and humidity. Temperatures during daytime range between 25 and 30C and humidity is low, which might've contributed in making the dough even drier than it already was. Might need to compensate for that in summers as compared to winters by adding a bit more water.

To summarize, this is what I'd do next time:

  1. Only tweak one thing in the recipe at once. I tweaked multiple things(multiply the recipe by 2.5, add half milk instead of water, use part whole wheat flour instead of all refined flour).
  2. Add water according to the recipe, but if isn't sticky(above 60% hydration ratio), then add water till it is.
  3. Adjust recipe according to atmospheric temperature and humidity.
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    I don't think you are necessarily on the right track here. Especially based on the revelation that you have been using maida as an all purpose flour. It's definitely wise not to tweak too many parts of a dough recipe at once, unless you REALLY know your baking, but I would recommend that you wait until you have confidently solved the problem by making a dough that works perfectly, before posting an answer. – Air Mar 5 at 19:57
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    @Air Once I've used up this maida(I still have half a kilo of it) I'm going to try proper store-bought bread flour. This maida I've been using is sold loose by weight. – cst1992 Mar 8 at 9:09

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