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Yeast in thin crust pizza dough - is it really necessary?

mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 01:14 PM

Today I was looking through cookbooks and on the web for recipes for thin crust pizza dough. I noticed that every recipe has yeast in it. If the purpose of thin crust pizza is to achieve a super-thin crust, then why add yeast if that makes the dough rise as it rests and when it hits the oven? Aside from creating pockets of air in the dough and giving it some additional yeast flavor, is there really any purpose for having yeast in a thin crust pizza?

I ask this is because at home I make thin-crust pizza/flatbread dough without any yeast at all. I mix white or whole wheat flour with olive oil, honey, salt, and warm water. That’s it. For whole wheat dough I use extra water, olive oil and honey and let the dough rest longer. I make my dough pretty wet so I don’t have to roll it– just stretch it out using my fists, then I dock it with a fork before putting on the toppings. Baked on a preheated pizza stone in a roaring hot oven, my pizzas come out with a perfectly blistered and crunchy crust every time. Am I in the minority for eschewing yeast in my pizza dough?

I’m also curious about the science behind using yeast – if there’s something going on at the molecular level that alters the flavor/texture to my advantage that can’t be achieved in a yeast-free dough, and still have it come out paper thin and crunchy?

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  1. s
    sandylc RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 01:20 PM

    Excellent topic! Actually, I have seen thin-crust pizza recipes without yeast. I think they are sometimes referred to as cracker crust pizzas. I also think they can be found in some St Louis-style pizzas.

    I've been thinking of trying what you describe - thanks for the impetus!

    1. grampart RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 01:23 PM

      Don't know the science and the molecular level is a place I don't frequent, but I believe a yeast free pizza dough produces what is called a cracker crust and this is something I've always tried to avoid. Crispy doesn't have to be crackery.

      1. cowboyardee RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 01:26 PM

        I use yeast for a couple reasons. I like the puffy, airy (but still crispy) outer crust, even though the rest of the pie is thin - vaguely Neapolitan style , in other words. Also, I tend to ferment my doughs for a bit (for flavor among other reasons), and yeast is needed for that. Guess you could probably ferment a dough without yeast, using whatever microbes happen to be about, but I doubt you'd get consistent or delicious results.

        BTW, even if the dough isn't fermented, yeast still adds a bit of a flavor.

        1. splatgirl RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 01:57 PM

          Yeast aids in the formation of dough by lysing/altering the bonds in the flour proteins and allowing them to form chains, commonly referred to as gluten development. I am actually surprised to hear you imply you are stretching non-yeast dough on your fists. I've never been able to stretch cracker dough in that manner. There is evident gluten development, but it's too fragile. This is the qualitative difference between cracker and bread or pizza dough.

          6 Replies
          1. re: splatgirl
            sandylc RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 09:19 AM

            It's the protein in the flour that develops gluten, not the yeast. I don't think the yeast is involved in that part of things; otherwise you wouldn't be able to make things like biscuits and cake tough by overmixing them.

            1. re: sandylc
              splatgirl RE: sandylc May 15, 2013 11:57 AM

              Yeast is absolutely involved in gluten development. It alters pH, the density of the dough (via the generation of CO2) and is also a proteolytic. The first two actions alter/increase the ability of the flour to absorb water and the third alters the proteins directly.

              One thing I learned by observation and being so obsessed with the minutae of doughs is that there is even a difference between how yeast and sourdough enzymes affect the flour during dough construction. Sourdoughs seem to hydrate and start developing gluten faster than yeast doughs. Presumably this is a function of the factors I mentioned above acting in a slightly different balance than with yeast.

              I am still interested in the technique the OP is using to make what sounds like an elastic, stretchable (windowpane test?) dough without leaveners. I would have said it's not possible.

              1. re: splatgirl
                kengk RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 12:08 PM

                Aren't hand pulled noodles just flour and water? That's pretty freaking stretchable.

                1. re: kengk
                  splatgirl RE: kengk May 15, 2013 12:20 PM

                  AFIK, they use an alkaline water, but yes, true.

                2. re: splatgirl
                  chowser RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 02:37 PM

                  Check out this video, about the 4 min mark, he stretches out dough that has been made w/ flour, water and salt. Yeast can help develop gluten but so can kneading. You won't get rise, obviously, w/out the yeast but you do get gluten development.


                3. re: sandylc
                  chowser RE: sandylc May 15, 2013 02:31 PM

                  Water and flour proteins will create gluten, as will kneading it. Yeast will help make the gluten structures stronger. I've always found this to be a good pictorial of the different flours and protein levels.


                  To the OP, if you add olive oil to this dough in the video, it might give you what you're looking for.

              2. chefj RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 04:42 PM

                Yeast has flavor of it's own and creates more complex flavors as it grows. A Crust with no Yeast will have a much different (and less pleasing IMO) Flavor.

                2 Replies
                1. re: chefj
                  grampart RE: chefj May 14, 2013 04:55 PM

                  Less pleasing flavor? How about no flavor?

                  1. re: chefj
                    Isolda RE: chefj May 15, 2013 10:54 AM

                    Glad you mentioned this. Yeast is an important flavor, not just a leavening agent.

                  2. b
                    beggsy RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 05:10 PM

                    I recently took a sourdough bread class and we used the dough to make pizza and it was fabulous. No yeast at all.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: beggsy
                      chefj RE: beggsy May 14, 2013 05:14 PM

                      More than likely had Yeast, you just did not introduce it, it was wild. Assuming you did not use a starter.

                      1. re: beggsy
                        tzurriz RE: beggsy May 14, 2013 05:14 PM

                        If it was sourdough, you had yeast. That's what is in the sourdough starter. :)

                        1. re: beggsy
                          splatgirl RE: beggsy May 14, 2013 08:16 PM

                          Sourdough starter works (mostly) the same way as yeast, or would be considered an equivalent in this case.

                          1. re: splatgirl
                            chefj RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 11:48 AM

                            Not only an = sour dough has yeast.

                            1. re: chefj
                              splatgirl RE: chefj May 15, 2013 12:52 PM

                              Sourdough bread formulas sometimes have commercial yeast added to speed up/standardize proof times. If you are talking about sourdough culture or "starter", yes...this can contain organisms classified in the same phylum (fungi) as bakers yeast, but a different genus...usually Candida in sourdough culture, vs. Saccharomyces in commercially produced yeast.

                              By equal I meant both are biologically active leaveners.

                        2. s
                          sandylc RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 06:45 PM

                          I disagree with the nay sayers here. Crackers taste good without yeast. Cracker crust pizza is good; yeasted pizza is also good. They are just different from one another.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: sandylc
                            grampart RE: sandylc May 14, 2013 07:54 PM

                            "Cracker crust pizza is good....,,,"

                            If you like your pizza toppings sitting on a cracker maybe, but it's not real pizza.

                            1. re: grampart
                              sandylc RE: grampart May 14, 2013 08:18 PM

                              Some say the same about deep dish.

                              1. re: sandylc
                                grampart RE: sandylc May 15, 2013 03:55 AM

                                Deep dish is a casserole reminiscent of pizza.

                          2. splatgirl RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 08:21 PM

                            Do you cracker people use no baking powder in your crackers, er...pizza crust...either? So we are talking zero leaveners of any sort, here? Like matzo pizza?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: splatgirl
                              hotoynoodle RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 05:15 AM

                              i thought of matzo too, lol.

                              is cracker pizza a regional thing? never seen or heard of it. i enjoy thin, crispy crusT, but not "pizza" on a saltine.

                            2. ipsedixit RE: mbCrispyBits May 14, 2013 08:57 PM

                              No yeast just means you're making cracker crust pizza.

                              So, if you're not using yeast, you're not making thin crust pizza dough.

                              Nothing wrong with cracker crusts. They're just not the same thing as thin crust pizza crusts.

                              It's like asking, what if I leave the cheese out of the cheeseburger? What of it? If you left out the cheese, it would no longer be a cheeseburger but rather a hamburger. Nothing wrong with the latter, it just shouldn't be confused for the former.

                              25 Replies
                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                mbCrispyBits RE: ipsedixit May 15, 2013 08:21 AM

                                I appreciate all the great replies. Thanks to everyone. I guess it's cracker crust pizza I've been making, though I'll say that the dough is not cracker like at all. I'll keep calling it flatbread pizza, which seems more accurate to me since the crust isn't as hard as a cracker is.

                                Someone mentioned they were surprised I was able to stretch the dough with my fists even though it has no yeast. I'm able to do this because I use a good amount of water and oil in my dough and I let it rest about 1-2 hours at room temp, sometimes more (especially when I use whole wheat flour). I press the dough into a disk with my hands, lightly flour it, then stretch it out with my fists. I actually find that whole wheat dough of this type is much easier to stretch by hand than when I use white flour. Perhaps by letting it sit for a few hours allows natural yeast in the air to get in the dough a bit?

                                1. re: mbCrispyBits
                                  kengk RE: mbCrispyBits May 15, 2013 08:32 AM

                                  I think that if anything yeast would make dough harder to stretch. You are sure not getting enough yeast from the air to do anything in just a few hours.

                                  I made a batch of pizza dough last weekend. I usually just do a few stretch and folds in the bowl with a spatula. The first time I I did it I realized it just didn't seem "normal" and it came to me that I had left the yeast out. I stretched the dough out on the counter so I could sprinkle the yeast on and knead it in. It stretched very well.

                                  1. re: kengk
                                    grampart RE: kengk May 15, 2013 08:47 AM

                                    My pizza dough recipe makes (2) 14" very thin pies. It calls for only a scant 1/2 tsp. of yeast and immediately goes in the fridge for a 3 day (minimum) slow rise. The resulting dough is so super easy to stretch and form that I could probably make 18" pies so thin you could read through it (window pane) and without a tear. Also, this is done EVERY time on the dough cycle of my Zojirushi bread machine.

                                    1. re: grampart
                                      MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 15, 2013 01:52 PM

                                      Grampart, would you share your pizza dough recipe for the Zojirushi? The recipe for pizza dough that came with the machine makes a decent thin crust (made some yesterday, in fact), however, I'm guessing your three-day slow rise technique is going to be vastly superior!

                                      1. re: MrsPatmore
                                        grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 15, 2013 02:18 PM

                                        No problem. Do you have a good scale that weighs in grams?

                                        1. re: grampart
                                          MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 15, 2013 03:55 PM

                                          Yes, I do. PS I'm also interested to know your favorite toppings, traditional or otherwise.

                                          1. re: MrsPatmore
                                            grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 15, 2013 05:41 PM

                                            This makes (2) 14" pies, but you can probably stretch them to 15". The dough is 65% hydration. Somewhat wet, but handles and shapes nicely.

                                            King Arthur bread flour 517.61 grams/18.26 oz.
                                            Cold Filtered Water 336.45g/11.87 oz.
                                            Instant Dry Yeast 2.59g/.09 oz.
                                            Kosher Salt 12.94g/0.46oz.
                                            Olive Oil. 10.35g/0.37 oz.
                                            Turbinado Sugar 10.35g/0.37oz.

                                            The total dough weight should be a bit over 890 grams with each ball weighing just under a pound.

                                            My toppings other than a simple sauce and whole milk mozz run the gamut, but nothing very unusual. More and more lately, I've been getting away from the tomato sauce and doing the white pie thing. Again, nothing too crazy. Favorites are a mozz and potato with a bit of rosemary and a mozz, garlic, spinach, and bacon.

                                            If you have any questions, ask away.

                                            1. re: grampart
                                              kengk RE: grampart May 15, 2013 05:57 PM

                                              You should get better scales. I assume you are going for 65% hydration but it's off a little. Need a few more digits to the right of the decimal.

                                              1. re: kengk
                                                grampart RE: kengk May 15, 2013 06:03 PM

                                                Yeah, right.

                                                1. re: kengk
                                                  sandylc RE: kengk May 15, 2013 06:07 PM

                                                  I do a 75% hydration. 16 oz. flour and 12 oz. water, along with yeast and salt. Has worked for years.

                                                  1. re: kengk
                                                    grampart RE: kengk May 15, 2013 06:16 PM

                                                    The reason the numbers are a bit weird is that I use this tool and plug in my parameters and presto, I get the recipe.


                                                  2. re: grampart
                                                    MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 15, 2013 06:48 PM

                                                    I'm anxious to try your recipe. I do have a couple of questions. First with respect to the Zo bread machine, do you use the quick dough setting or a custom setting? Second, after mixing/kneading, do you just oil the dough in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 3 days?

                                                    I've also been leaning more toward white pizza lately, heavy on fresh oregano.

                                                    1. re: MrsPatmore
                                                      grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 15, 2013 07:35 PM

                                                      I use the dough setting. I let it go the whole 1 hour and 50 minutes. After I make the 2 dough balls, I put each one in a very lightly oiled dough pan (photo), rub a little more oil on top of the ball, and cover with a piece of plastic wrap tucked down all around. In the fridge for 3 days, sometimes 4 or 5, and occasionally only 2.

                                                      I find the white pizza makes it more about the crust and, honestly, I'm getting a tad bored with the tomato. +1 on the fresh oregano.

                                                      1. re: grampart
                                                        sandylc RE: grampart May 15, 2013 07:42 PM

                                                        Only if it is oregano with flavor. Sometimes hard to find. If you buy a plant for your garden, taste it first.

                                                        1. re: grampart
                                                          MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 16, 2013 03:37 AM

                                                          Grampart, thank you for the additional details. I'm going to prepare the dough today for pizza to be made on Sunday. I will report back, hopefully with photos. Someone recently gave me a tube of anchovy paste, so I'm thinking some of that might find its way into the pizza toppings on Sunday. One of the good things about your recipe is that you get 3 days to decide toppings. And believe me, I can easily spend 3 days ruminating about pizza in all its glorious forms.

                                                          1. re: MrsPatmore
                                                            grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 20, 2013 07:18 AM

                                                            So MrsPatmore, how did it turn out?

                                                            1. re: grampart
                                                              MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 20, 2013 01:56 PM

                                                              Yesterday didn't work out, so it's on the menu tonight. I figure that an extra day in the fridge is only going to be a good thing. I doubled the recipe and will be making 4 pizzas - two white sauce and two red sauce. I will attempt to post photos!

                                                              1. re: MrsPatmore
                                                                grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 20, 2013 02:14 PM

                                                                Ok, you're correct. An extra will be a good thing. Good luck!

                                                                1. re: grampart
                                                                  MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 20, 2013 04:29 PM

                                                                  Grampart, this is absolutely delicious pizza crust. +1 from everyone here at "Downton Abbey"! LOL The dough was quite nice to work with and I plan to make your recipe my regular go-to recipe for pizza. Thank you very much. BTW my plan to use anchovy paste was vetoed by the guests. Next time, I will keep them out of my kitchen altogether and call them only when the food is ready to eat.

                                                                  The toppings for the four pizzas included: 1. white sauce with roasted garlic and spinach/mushrooms, 2. white sauce with artichokes, 3. red sauce with spicy Italian sausage, and 4. red sauce with mushrooms only. All of the pizzas were dosed liberally with finely minced fresh oregano! Yum. Thank you again for a lovely pizza dough recipe.

                                                                  PS Wow, these photos are terrible. But trust me, the pizza was fabulous!

                                                                  1. re: MrsPatmore
                                                                    grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 20, 2013 05:18 PM

                                                                    Thank you much for the update. It makes me very happy to hear it worked well for you. Nice variety of toppings, too. btw, nice looking knife!

                                                                    1. re: grampart
                                                                      MrsPatmore RE: grampart May 20, 2013 05:28 PM

                                                                      I just realized that some may wonder why my pizza was on a cooling rack in the photo. . . there's a good explanation (at least, it works for us). I cook pizza at the highest possible temperature on a pizza stone (my oven goes up to 550F). It comes out piping hot - dangerously hot, in fact. For this reason, we always let it cool a little before serving. However, we discovered that letting the pizza cool on a cutting board (or plate) caused it to lose some of its crunch. Therefore, I now remove pizza from the oven to a cooling rack for 3 minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the pizza crust to remain totally crisp and crunchy, yet it won't burn your mouth when you take that first bite. Once again, thanks for a great crust recipe!

                                                                      1. re: MrsPatmore
                                                                        grampart RE: MrsPatmore May 20, 2013 06:10 PM

                                                                        I also cook at 550 and do the exact same thing. A pizza screen on top of a large stainless steel bowl provides enough air circulation to cool it and keep the bottom crust perfect.

                                          2. re: mbCrispyBits
                                            biondanonima RE: mbCrispyBits May 15, 2013 09:25 AM

                                            Whole wheat has a lower proportion of gluten, which is why it's easier to stretch. The white flour dough is going to have more gluten formation and will therefore spring back more.

                                            1. re: biondanonima
                                              mbCrispyBits RE: biondanonima May 15, 2013 01:21 PM

                                              Makes sense. This is why I like using whole wheat flour most of the time when I make my 'cracker crust' pizza.

                                              1. re: biondanonima
                                                chowser RE: biondanonima May 15, 2013 02:41 PM

                                                Whole wheat is higher in protein which creates the gluten when mixed w/ water and kneading which makes it easier to stretch. White flour will not stretch as much unless you knead it more.


                                          3. splatgirl RE: mbCrispyBits May 15, 2013 01:27 PM

                                            FWIW, I am guessing your dough "stretching" and my dough stretching mean something drastically different.

                                            I would love to hear your report on a side by side comparison of your super thin cracker dough and similar with yeast! You basically asked if you are missing out on something by not using yeast and ultimately I think only you can answer that.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: splatgirl
                                              kengk RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 01:32 PM

                                              I think you should make one without yeast and report back also. I'm tempted to try it myself but then we would have to go get dinner at McDonalds if it sucked.

                                              1. re: kengk
                                                splatgirl RE: kengk May 15, 2013 01:40 PM

                                                Next WFO firing I will. I almost alway make crackers to go with the required appetizer of artichoke dip anyway, so I will save some dough out for the experiment. Just don't make me use a rolling pin :)

                                                1. re: splatgirl
                                                  grampart RE: splatgirl May 15, 2013 01:47 PM

                                                  Egad, not a rolling pin! But you might need one of these.

                                              2. re: splatgirl
                                                mbCrispyBits RE: splatgirl May 16, 2013 08:26 AM

                                                I'll give it a try sometime in the next few weeks and report back. I plan to keep using 100% whole wheat dough so my results will be different from those who use white flour, but you're right. Only I can answer if I"m missing out.

                                              3. h
                                                HillJ RE: mbCrispyBits May 15, 2013 05:45 PM

                                                Without yeast pizza dough tastes like playdough.
                                                I love the yeast so I would just roll the dough super thin.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: HillJ
                                                  sandylc RE: HillJ May 15, 2013 06:08 PM

                                                  If you want to roll yeast dough super thin, chilling it works.

                                                  1. re: sandylc
                                                    HillJ RE: sandylc May 15, 2013 08:10 PM

                                                    I just use my hands and finger tips to create the thinness and shape I want. I don't chill pizza dough at any point actually. I proof room temp and either grill or bake when I'm ready to roll.

                                                2. k
                                                  kengk RE: mbCrispyBits May 16, 2013 02:21 PM

                                                  Played around with this some today. Three ounces KA bread flour, two ounces water, a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil. Let set in in a bowl on the counter for about four hours, stretched it with a spatula a few times.

                                                  It stretched very well.

                                                  1. k
                                                    kengk RE: mbCrispyBits May 16, 2013 02:29 PM

                                                    It stretched so well I really couldn't do much with it. Finally blobbed it up on a piece of parchment paper, brushed with a little oil and sprinkled some cheddar and salt on it. Into a 550 oven and hot cast iron pan.

                                                    The cornicione was doughy but tasted pretty good in a stand over the sink and hate yourself for eating it kind of way.

                                                    I cut that off and the middle of the thing measures .060-.075 thick. Less than half the thickness of a saltine cracker.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: kengk
                                                      hotoynoodle RE: kengk May 16, 2013 09:44 PM

                                                      baked flour with cheese on top is not the same as pizza.

                                                      pizza involves a yeast dough.

                                                      1. re: kengk
                                                        splatgirl RE: kengk May 20, 2013 11:16 AM

                                                        Yea, sorry, but that does not look like nice "crust" at all.

                                                        1. re: splatgirl
                                                          kengk RE: splatgirl May 20, 2013 11:18 AM

                                                          It was an exercise to see how thin I could stretch dough without any yeast in it per our discussion above. It was actually quite good, I broke it up into cracker size hunks and we ate it with a salad for our dinner.

                                                          1. re: kengk
                                                            splatgirl RE: kengk May 20, 2013 11:24 AM

                                                            Instructional, absolutely. Thank you!

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