Using old yeast or too much/too little yeast (I assume that using old yeast is the same as using too little yeast?)
- Instant yeast is pretty well preserved as it's encased in a starch binder, and I've never seen it go bad (6-12 months is the longest I've had a large container of it).
- Cake yeast lasts only a few weeks (but most grocery stores don't sell it like this)
- Too much yeast will smell and taste yeasty, and you'll end up with overly bubbly dough (huge air pockets)
- Too little yeast will require more rise time, but otherwise is usually fine. Most recipes call for doubling in the first and second rises, and less yeast will just take longer to reproduce and expand the dough.
Over the years I've reduced the amount of yeast in my doughs in favour of a longer refrigerator rise stage (24-48 hours). My main pizza dough recipe used to be 3 tsp per 4 cups of flour and now is only 1.5 tsp.
Too high or too low of a water to flour ratio
- Too much water will make for super sticky dough (super difficult to work with, huge bubbles when cooked)
- Too little will make for tough dough (chewy, dense)
I find a slightly sticky dough works best, with a long (and cold) first proof.
Overworking or underworking the dough
I suggest underworking the dough and letting it rise the first time for 24-48 (or 72) hours in the fridge. This allows natural processes to soften the proteins and produce more amylase which makes for a better dough overall.
My current pizza dough recipe has about 5-10 minutes of mixing ingredients by hand, and 2-3 folds once dumped on a floured counter. I don't kneed it at all, though it is mixed very thoroughly with a spatula.
- Overworking ends up in a very chewy dough
- Underworking (and not proofing for long enough) results in dough that is difficult to stretch
For what it's worth, I stretch balled dough most of the time with a French style rolling pin. It results in a relatively thin but risen crust, not much different than when stretching by hand (but a bit simpler when doing a bunch quickly).
Too much or too little resting time of dough
Most breads (including pizza) follow a two step rise process. As I understand it:
- The first rise is breeding the yeast culture and building the basic flavour. It can also improve the structure if it's a long rise (like the no-kneed fridge doughs).
- The second rise is about defining the overall size/rise of the dough and pliability. For pizza, the second rise is enough to allow the dough to be workable (usually not more than doubling the size of the dough balls). Too long here ends up in a very bubbly dough, sometimes enough to push the toppings around.
I find that a good pizza dough will have a very particular feel after you ball it up after the first rise. A chef once showed this to me and described it as soft as a newborn's skin and a bit bubbly on the surface. You can feel a great pizza dough ball and it will be special. I tend to aim for a dough on the more plastic side of soft and bubbly now, which is a bit stickier and rises a bit better in a home oven.
Note that breads and buns are usually denser, more like plasticine (so less bubbly/soft). Some breads are even stickier (like brioche and sweet buns). Getting a feel for this seems to be critical in making great breads.