Did you know that Americans eat 100 acres of pizza every single day?
Pizza is one of the States’ favorite foods. Still, the method for making it is hotly debated, especially when it comes to the crust. For example, should you hand stretch pizza dough or roll it?
Whether you should hand stretch or roll pizza dough depends on your preference.
If you like thicker, airier crusts, stretch your dough, or if you want thinner, chewier crusts, roll your dough. Each method is suited to different kinds of pizza and can be adapted to your preferences.
Here’s how hand-stretched and rolled pizza dough differ and how you can tell the difference for yourself.
Hand Stretching Your Pizza Dough
Hand stretching is the method used by most professional and artisanal pizza makers.
When using this method, after the dough has risen, you pull it by hand into the shape you want before baking. The dough needs to be shaped gently, which may take significantly more time than rolling the dough.
This method allows the dough to rise more overall, creating a softer and airier crust. This is because the CO2 produced by the yeast during the fermenting process remains and then expands in the oven.
Stretched pizza tends to look more uneven on the surface, with thicker, irregular crust around the center of the pie. This aesthetic is practical when attempting to make a pizza intended to look homemade.
Hand stretching is the more traditional method for making pizza dough. It’s been used since the earliest modern pizzas were made in Italy in the 1800s starting with the Neapolitan Pizza. It is generally associated with a higher quality of the crust. However, this isn’t always an accurate perception.
You should use hand stretching for Neapolitan and New York-style pizzas.
Some people also toss their dough in the air. This is considered more of an aesthetic trick than a practical step.
Common problems with stretching pizza dough
The hardest part of stretching pizza dough is preventing the dough from tearing in the middle.
Pizza dough does not have to pass the windowpane test – that is, you do not need to be able to see the light through the dough when it is held up.
It’s okay to leave the dough thicker to prevent tearing.
There is also the common issue of over-kneading your dough. When you knead pizza dough too much, significant amounts of gluten form, acting as an elastic that pulls the dough back into its original shape.
To combat this, knead only for 15 – 20minutes, then allow for a long resting period. This allows the gluten to relax and be ready for shaping and baking.
You may also find that your stretched dough bakes unevenly, and some areas burn before others are done cooking. In more traditional pizza ovens, moving the pie around in the oven to distribute the heat
can be offset.
You may have to tent the pizza with foil around the edges in modern indoor ovens to prevent burning.
You can also turn the pizza halfway through the cooking process or get an in-oven pizza stone to produce similar effects to a traditional pizza oven.
Rolling Your Pizza Dough
Rolling is the method used by most home cooks and amateur pizza makers. It’s significantly more straightforward than hand stretching and follows the techniques you’d use for most other doughs. You use a rolling pin to roll the dough flat and into the approximate shape you want, then bake.
This method removes large pockets of CO2 by pushing them to the outside of the dough.
Sometimes this effect is exaggerated intentionally with docking – using a tool to poke holes through the dough and encourage it to get thinner.
The rolled dough is far chewier than stretched dough; it has a denser consistency and bakes more evenly but browns significantly more on top. This kind of dough might be desirable when creating thin-crust pizzas.
Rolling pizza dough is a relatively new method of making pizzas. However, it has become more popular as pizza chains grow more prominent and more common worldwide. These chains use rolled dough to streamline the cooking process and eliminate some of the tediousness and inconsistency with stretching.
Common problems with rolling pizza dough
A common mistake when rolling is to “pinch” the dough by rolling it to its edge, therefore completely deflating the dough. This can lead to an undesirably dense texture.
Pinching can be avoided by leaving a thin border unrolled around the edge of the pizza. Another good way to prevent pinching is to use a smaller rolling pin with handles to control its movement more easily.
If you want the crust to be completely flat, you’ll want to dock the dough to prevent any air pockets from forming. Use a fork or a docking tool to dock the entire crust. You’ll also want your crust to be as thin as possible for maximum crispiness.
You may also find the pizza dough sticking to surfaces and tearing more easily when you roll.
Pizza dough is a well-hydrated dough, meaning that it will be highly sticky to work with. You’ll want to cover your work surface and all your tools, rolling pin included, in flour to combat this.
Once again, it’s recommended to try cooking your pizza in a traditional pizza oven. If you don’t have access to one, use an in-oven pizza stone in your modern indoor oven. Preheat the stone and use a pizza peel to ensure that your crust turns out crisp on the bottom.
How to Tell if Your Pizza is Stretched or Rolled
It’s relatively easy to tell whether a pizza has been stretched or rolled. But, as mentioned, both methods produce entirely different results.
Stretched pizzas will look and feel uneven. They will have large pockets of air throughout or may appear to have sunken in the middle. The crust will be full of oversized holes and significantly softer on the inside. Stretched crusts are always thicker in terms of height.
Rolled pizzas will look and feel significantly more uniform. They will have dense crusts with few pockets, which will be chewy when bitten into. They generally will not be crisp unless rolled extremely thin. Rolled crusts are always thinner in terms of height.
You’re more likely to get a hand-stretched pizza at a small pizzeria, a professional chef, or a family-owned business. You’re more likely to get a rolled pizza from a larger chain restaurant or a home cook.
Should Your Hand Stretch or Roll Pizza Dough?
Some purists will argue that you should never roll your pizza dough under any circumstances! The way you prepare your dough is entirely up to personal preference.
If you are new to cooking, you may find rolling an easy and accessible way to start making pizza. It will feel familiar and produce relatively consistent results.
If you are an experienced cook or up for a bit more of a challenge, you can try stretching your dough.
It takes a bit more skill and some trial and error but produces a more classic pizza with a pleasing aesthetic.
You may find that you prefer one style over the other, and that’s okay. You are more than welcome to choose the dough prep style that works best for your tastes.
Use a good dough for either method.
One thing should remain consistent regardless of whether you choose to stretch your pizza dough or roll it, and that’s the actual dough itself.
If you start with a low-quality dough, you’ll get a low-quality pie no matter what you do.
Obviously, homemade doughs allow you to have significantly more control over the outcome. Still, there are some high-quality store-bought doughs you can use.
A good pizza dough needs to be made from bread flour, if possible, full of protein for structural stability. In addition, it should be allowed to ferment, which gives the dough a more robust flavor and improves its texture.
You’ll also want a high-quality oil in the dough to help your dough hold together. Extra virgin olive oil is traditional and will add a lovely subtle flavor to the finished pizza that can be accented with more oil right before serving.
You should also know how to prep the dough ahead of shaping it. For example, pizza dough can be made in large batches. Which is allowed to rise for some time, then portioned into more petite balls, which are allowed to rest and rise again for maximum texture and flavor.
Though it may seem blasphemous to say in some circles, whether you stretch or roll your pizza dough is totally up to you.
Stretched pizzas are great for traditionalists, and rolled pizzas are suitable for those who prefer consistency. The textures may be different, but it all tastes the same at the end of the day.