If you’ve ever fought with a tight wad of pizza dough, then you’ll understand my colleague Andrea Geary’s description of glutenous dough as a “recalcitrant teenager.” (She was talking about her German pretzels, but no matter.) You tug; it snaps back. You try dimpling it out with your fingertips; it snaps back. You break out the rolling pin to force it into submission; it snaps back. Stretching often tears the dough, too, or results in something so uneven that the pizza looks like a misshapen amoeba.
All of this defiant behavior results from the dough’s strong gluten network: the web of proteins that forms when flour and water are combined, giving breads and pizza their appealing chew. When the web is tight, the dough is virtually unworkable; when it’s relaxed, it offers the perfect balance of extensibility and gentle elasticity.
Fortunately, there are also a handful of tricks you can use to ease the process and turn out slim, even, professional-looking pies.
Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter
The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.
Six Tips For Stretching Pizza Dough
1. Consider Using Tipo 00 Flour
Italy’s tipo 00, or doppio zero, flour is prized for its exceptional workability in pizzerias, especially those that specialize in thin-crust pies. It contains roughly the same amount of protein as conventional bread flours like Gold Medal (about 12 percent), but the particular blend of wheat that 00 flour producers (such as Caputo 00) use contains ideal ratios of glutenin and gliadin, the proteins that link together in the presence of water to form gluten.
When we made batches of our Thin-Crust Pizza with Gold Medal and Caputo 00, the baked pies were equally airy and crisp with delicate chew. But the Caputo dough was exceptionally workable and forgiving. For more information about 00 flour, read this.
2. Weigh the Flour
As with any baking recipe, weighing the dry ingredients is the most accurate way to measure. In tests, we’ve found that there can be up to a 20 percent difference in the weight of a cup of flour—a variance that can easily ruin a recipe.
In the case of pizza, too much flour can result in too much gluten development and dough that never becomes extensible; too little, and the dough won’t contain enough protein to build structure and chew.
3. Proof the Dough In the Fridge—Twice
Refrigerating the dough for at least a day before shaping it, known as cold fermentation, slowly relaxes the gluten network and makes the dough easier to stretch. (It also builds complex flavor in the dough.) We do it in two stages: before and after shaping the dough balls so that natural enzymes in the flour break down the gluten, helping it relax so it’s easy to handle at every point.
- First proof: Shape the dough into a tight ball and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. The longer it sits within that time range, the more extensible and flavorful the dough will be.
- Second proof: Shape the proofed dough into balls and return them to the fridge for 4 to 24 hours before stretching it. Read more here.
4. Bring the Dough To Room Temperature Before Stretching
Think of how the muscles in your body tighten up when you step outside on a cold day. Pizza dough reacts similarly, turning stiff and inflexible when it’s chilled.
That’s why it’s important to let the dough come up to room temperature before stretching it. This might take about an hour, so pull the dough out of the fridge when you preheat the baking steel and/or stone.
5. Let Gravity Do Some Work
This method relies on the steady, evenly distributed pull of gravity to stretch the dough.
- For a 12-inch pizza, press the dough into an 8-inch round on a well-floured countertop.
- Drape half of the dough over the counter. Lift the top half of the dough off the counter, with your hands at approximately 10 and 2 o’clock.
- Rotate the dough clockwise, using your left hand to feed the dough to your right hand, meeting at 12 o’clock. Continue until gravity has pulled it to a 12-inch diameter.
- Return the fully stretched dough to the countertop or transfer it to a pizza peel for topping.
6. If It Snaps Back, Give It a Rest
A good rule of thumb: If at any point the dough resists stretching, let it rest for another few minutes. As with teenagers, it’s all about that gentle, patient persuasion.