Making your dough go further: tricks for stretching a pizza
Pizza can be very simple or very complicated. Pizza is almost always controversial!
For some people the dough "is" (almost) the pizza, for others the dough is a base for the toppings.
You are likely reading this because you care about dough, so some simple tips.
Pizza is an enormous topic, so this blog will be focused on tips for more easily stretching the dough.
Once the dough is made and fermented, the goal of pizza dough is stretchiness. A nice piece of dough stretched out to an even shape and thickness as desired (two points of major controversy!). Whether you are stretching the dough by hand, or rolling with a rolling pin, or even a commercial dough roller, it’s unhelpful if the dough shrinks back and breaks apart.
Dough made from wheat flour contains gluten. Two proteins naturally present in the wheat join to form gluten. These proteins dictate how easily the dough will or won’t stretch. There are many, many variables which may be manipulated for different outcomes (e.g. an easily stretched dough for a pizza or a stronger dough for a loaf) but those are the “complicated” part and for another time…
A simple trick to easy dough stretching is rest.
When the ready dough is left alone, the gluten relaxes. This allows for easier stretching. When the fermented dough is pushed, pulled, poked, kneaded, rounded or folded the gluten gets tense. Tense dough doesn’t stretch easily.
Also, be aware if the dough is very gassy and/or fermented, allow it to rest, covered, in the fridge. More gas = more resistance. The cold temperatures of the fridge slow down the yeast producing gas activity.
Otherwise, allow the dough to rest, covered loosely, at room temperature.
So, rest. You and the dough. It will make life easier for both of you.
Process outline: mix > divide > shape tight > ferment/rest > roll out > top > bake > eat
This first example is a common method for commercial kitchens, as the dough is immediately divided after mixing and ferments slowly in the fridge in dough balls. So, the resting happens overnight, or over a couple of days, and can be quickly and easily rolled out because the dough is very relaxed. Perhaps something to try at home…
Process outline: mix > ferment > divide > shape lightly > rest > roll out > top > bake > eat
When the dough is “ready” (fermented) according to the recipe, resist the urge to now shape it tightly or work it into a round shape, or knead it, etc. Or another way of putting it: the sooner you want to eat pizza, the less you should touch the dough (apart from the actual rolling out or stretching of the dough).
All touching the dough will do is tense the gluten and then require more, longer rest times.
This is similar for pre-purchased dough balls. Follow the instructions if the dough requires a fermentation or rising time, but if not, resist the temptation to take it out of the packet and start kneading. This just tenses the gluten again.
If the fermented dough (homemade or from a bakery/shop) requires dividing (example 2) into smaller pieces, do so, then very lightly tuck the edges in to make round (if you desire a round pizza – yes, it’s controversial too!)
So, with dusting flour on the bench, roll or press out the dough into desired shape. If it resists, let it rest, even only a few minutes may be adequate.
Then add toppings, bake, and enjoy!
I hope this helps make your life and pizza enjoyment a little bit easier and much more restful.