Once you’ve chosen your perfect pizza oven and made pizza dough, next up is learning how to stretch pizza dough by hand.
How to stretch pizza dough
‘I’ve made my pizza dough, now how do I turn it into tasty pizza?’
Woah there eager beaver! You can’t just take it out of the fridge and make pizza - it needs to relax first.
‘To what? Why?!’
Your brilliantly made pizza dough is full of little strands of gluten and this network of gluten strands is going to be tight, and you need to let that bad boy relax - otherwise it’ll just spring back on you when you attempt to stretch it.
‘It’s been out of the fridge 30 minutes but my pizza dough won't stretch’
If you’re finding the pizza dough won't stretch then it needs more time at room temperature - this is a common cause of difficult stretching.
‘Ah, I see! So how long do I do that for?’
That depends on a couple of things; how much water is in your dough and how warm it is where you are. Generally, it’ll be around 2-4 hours but can be as long as 8 in a cooler environment. You can check by gently poking a dough ball with your finger, if it springs back to shape straight away, that gluten is still too tight, if it holds the poke a little longer, you’re good.
As well as your dough recipe and environment playing a part here you can also make a choice to match your skill and confidence level.
‘How do you mean?’
A very relaxed dough ball will open really easily but can also be difficult to handle. If you’re a beginner it can be advantageous to start with a less relaxed dough. This will be ‘harder’ to stretch as in it’ll take a little longer to open than with a more relaxed dough ball but with less relaxed gluten you’ll retain a lot more control over the opening process and are less likely to tear your dough.
‘Got ya. So dough balls are relaxed and ready, now what?!’
Get yourself a tub of flour, semolina, or a 50/50 mix of both. Different chefs like different things here but if you’re new to stretching pizza or having problems with it, semolina will make stretching a bit more forgiving!
Have all your toppings ready to go and make sure the surface you plan to open the pizza on is cool, clean and free of any debris as this could tear the dough or hinder it going onto the peel later. If you’re rocking any jewelry or funky fake nails you probably want to take them off too as they could tear your dough during opening. Other than that, you’re ready!
‘This is all good advice, but what about the actual pizza stretching?!’
Ok ok, firstly, you want to flour your hand a little to allow you to gently lift the dough ball into the flour/semolina. Toss the dough carefully but thoroughly in the flour before placing it in front of you. NOW we can talk about stretching your pizza!
Your relaxed, room temperature dough ball will be full of gas and when opening the pizza you’re gently pressing with the middle three fingers on each hand to migrate that air away from the centre of the base toward the edge to form a 1-1 ½ “ crust. At this stage don’t worry too much about the size of the base, just try and get that basic looking pizza shape, however small! Once the air has been moved to the crust you can start making it larger.
‘How do I do that?’
Once you have the basic base you have a few options at your disposal - each of which I have given a ridiculous name for some reason;
Pull the base onto your knuckles and lift it up to eye level. With your knuckles now supporting the weight of the pizza you can move your hands apart gently to stretch the dough, rotating as you go until you have a happily stretched base.
Lift the pizza up and hold it like a steering wheel in front of you, taking care not to grip the crust itself. Pass the dough from hand to hand like you were feeding the wheel on your first driving lesson allowing gravity to stretch the dough for you. This technique can be particularly good to encourage less relaxed dough to begin stretching.
Wax On/Wax Off
With the crust formed and the dough well floured on the surface, squeeze both hands inside the crust and rotate the base whilst simultaneously pulling your hands away from each other to stretch the base to required size. Although a very different motion this always reminds me of Karate Kid (hence the name!).
Often you’ll find a combination of dough stretching techniques is a good way to go. There is no right or wrong way to stretch a pizza dough - trial and error is all it takes and after a bit of practice you’ll find which technique works for you.
If you’re ready to go, check out our simple pizza dough recipe, perfect for Roccbox and a sunny summer’s day.