22 April 2020

I tried the official Pizza Express doughballs recipe

My homemade Pizza Express doughballs with garlic and parsley butter.
There are so many chain establishments that have their absolute staple and famous products that we all love. Even if you don’t love a chain, you’ve probably tried their most famous “must-order” item and the likelihood is that you probably liked it (maybe you didn’t, but they are popular because most of their customers like them). From cafes to restaurants, there would be uproar if certain items were taken off the menu – I’m thinking the Big Mac at McDonald’s, the Gregg’s Sausage Roll, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and of course the Pizza Express Doughballs.
The list I’ve given doesn’t cover everything, and I’m sure you could think of more, but these items seem to have gained a cult-like following from those who enjoy them. And it’s no surprise that load of people will be missing them during the Coronavirus lockdown which has seen bars, cafes and restaurants close until this is all over.
So how will these places stay relevant, and keep their customers on side? Or how will their customers be able to get their cravings met while being made to stay at home? Well, if anything has come out of lockdown that people might be thankful for, is that many chains are releasing recipes for many of their cult-followed items, and I decided to give one of these recipes a go – the pizza express doughballs recipe.

I wanted to make sure that the homemade version really stacks up.

I would say I am “giving this a go so you don’t have to” but I sincerely hoped when I set out to test it that you would want to. I really wanted the doughballs recipe to deliver, and stop me from having to get some to heat in the oven from Tesco. But I was pretty sceptical – would Pizza Express really be handing out the secret recipe to their much-loved doughballs? Could I really replicate it at home for a fraction of the price (the ingredients are pretty cheap)? Or would something feel like it was missing? I figured that there was only one way to really find out.
I am a pretty big fan of the doughballs at Pizza Express so I wanted to make sure that the homemade version really stacks up to what you can get in the restaurant, or even the supermarket shelves, although these are never quite as good in my opinion.

The one thing that I remembered when making these was that he doughballs are mostly famous for their quality as a starter or side – served with garlic butter. But doughballs have been such a big hit that they’ve even become a dessert item on the Pizza Express menu – served sprinkled in icing sugar and Nutella. I had both of these things in my cupboard so it only seemed fair to see how these stacked up as both starter or dessert.

Is the Pizza Express Doughballs recipe really worth your time? 

The ingredients looked pretty standard, and are basically anything that you might have in your store cupboard or could get hold of “easily” (this is all in theory – I’m aware of flour and yeast shortages, believe me), and the instructions didn’t seem that difficult to follow. I managed to get old of some yeast, posted to me by a twitter friend (I’m lucky to know some great people) and had some flour in my cupboard.
The recipe was pretty easy to follow – everything behaved in exactly the way that it said it would. I added the sugar and yeast to water, and it bubbled, I then added this mixture to flour after letting it sit for a while, and mixed until it was just combined. Kneading was easy (if not boring for ten minutes) and the dough looked lovely and silky, smooth. When I cut the dough into 16 balls and let them rest, they puffed up a little showing me that the yeast was doing it’s thing, although the instructions never really said that’s what would happen.
The rough dough before kneading.
My only criticism of the recipe, which I followed to the word, was that at no point when resting the dough did it tell you to flour any surfaces, which meant sometimes it stuck to my surfaces. The recipe also never told you to oil or flour the tray that you used to bake the doughballs. I popped them in the oven for 6 minutes and they cooked perfectly – they were beautifully puffed up and golden, hot throughout, but they stuck to the tray and left the bottoms on there. It wasn’t so bad – I used a fish slice to removed as much of them as possible in one movement so the bottoms came off but it didn’t impact the structure of the ball. My advice would be to oil the bottom of your tray before you cook them.

Light and fluffy

My doughballs looked exactly like the Pizza Express doughballs I am used to receiving when I order them in store, and struck me as being lighter than the ones you can get in the supermarket. They were really light, and I kind of tossed one up in the air and caught it to show myself how light they were. They had a pretty good structure inside (from what I can make out – I am no expert) and when I dipped them into my homemade garlic butter, they tasted really great! I altered the recipe a little and added some parsley to my butter too because I personally like the flavour.
Silky smooth kneaded dough.
They are best enjoyed warm – I made 16 and I ate too many than I’d like to admit… They really didn’t take very long to make – I think with the resting, mixing and baking all combined, they probably took about an hour. Although, it didn’t feel like an hour at all as I took the waiting time as an opportunity to FaceTime some friends.
So would I say they are worth giving ago? Yes I’d say so! If you like doughballs then these are pretty low effort and I think should be pretty easy to make for someone with little baking experience. I have very little experience with bread and doughs, so if I can make them, you can too!
I’ve popped the recipe below with some of my amendments to make it go a little easier, and give you an idea of what the dough should look like, so you can give it a go. Personally, I’m thinking of about making my own version with sourdough starter, to give them more of a sour taste which I think might be good with garlic butter, but we will see.
The perfect Pizza Express doughballs at home.
But that’s just for starters (pun intended)! What about dessert?
I saw it only as my duty, to give both a go, so as much as it was hard, I cracked out the icing sugar and Nutella (not sorry at all). I sprinkled the sugar on top of the dough balls and spread a scoop of Nutella over them. It was heavenly.
These doughballs are the perfect lockdown treat, whether you are a lover of savoury or sweet foods, or even both! The Pizza Express doughballs are loved by all – adults and children alike – so these are bound to go down a storm in your home if you’re a fan.

Enjoy a lockdown treat or date night – maybe you can make some doughballs for starter or dessert (or both, there are no rules) and pretend that you’re out!


For the dough balls
150 ml warm water
15 g fresh yeast or 2 level teaspoons of dry yeast   
1 tsp sugar *
225 g of plain flour (plus extra for working)      
1 1/2 tsp.of salt

For the garlic butter
Extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp.of butter      

1/2 tsp. of chopped garlic

Method for the Doughballs

1. First up, preheat the oven to 230C / 210C fan assisted.

2. Add the sugar and crumble the fresh yeast, or add your dry yeast, into the warm water. Allow the mixture to stand for 10 – 15 minutes in a warm place until froth develops on the surface.

3. Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour the liquid yeast mixture in.

4. Lightly flour your hands and slowly mix the ingredients together until they bind. At this stage you should have a rough looking dough.

5. Generously dust your surface with flour, throw down the dough and begin kneading for 10 minutes until smooth, silky and soft. Leave dough to rest until soft to the touch but not too springy. I found ten 15 minutes to be plenty.

6. Roll dough into a 1.2m long tube. Chop into 16 chunks and place in an oiled oven proof pan. Leave the Dough Balls to rest in the pan for 30 mins. I saw them increase in size just a little at this stage – they puffed up a bit and it was noticeable.

7. Make sure the oven has reached temperature and bake for 6 minutes until golden – 6 minutes was the PERFECT amount of time.

If you are going baking mad during lockdown then you might also like my post on baking with bananas.



* Big thanks to my reader Eleanor who spotted that this was missing in the original post and let me know so that I could add it <3

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