If you can only promise me one thing, please let it be that you’ll never shape your pizzas using a rolling pin. Instead, stretch pizza dough by hand. It’s easy, I promise, and the final result will be so much better. Sure, your first few attempts might not be perfectly round, but who cares? They’ll still taste just as good! Just keep practicing, and before you know it, you’ll even be tossing your dough in the air.
I know the process can seem intimidating if you’re used to using ready-made crusts from the store or rolling out dough with a rolling pin. That’s why I’ve made this step-by-step tutorial on how to stretch pizza dough, complete with pictures, to help demystify the process so you can feel confident in your hand-stretching skills.
This is step 5 in my Complete Guide to Making Pizza. Check out the link to learn about other steps, like how to prepare your toppings and how to finish your pizza!
Before You Begin: Prep Your Stretching Station
- 1 flat plate
- 1 shallow bowl (or a flat plate will work too, if you don’t have a shallow bowl)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 wood pizza peel (a cutting board will work if you don’t have one!)
Put the flour in the shallow bowl. Leave the flat plate empty.
Liberally sprinkle semolina onto your pizza peel. (If you don’t have a peel, use a smooth, flat, easily portable surface like a cutting board.)
Remove any rings, watches, or other items you’re wearing on your hands or wrists. This is partly for sanitary reasons, but also partly because a ring or watch can easily rip your dough as you stretch it.
Step 1: Coat Your Dough in Flour
After making dough and letting it rise, you should have nice, round, puffy-yet-flattish discs of dough. Pick one of the pizza skins (or dough balls) up gently and set it into the plate of flour. Next, dust the sides with flour, then turn the dough over to coat the top. Is the whole thing coated in a layer of flour, with no sticky spots? Great! Put it down on the empty plate.
Step 2: Flatten Your Dough
Using the middle segment of your index, middle, and ring fingers, press the dough flat starting from the center. Use your knuckles to shape an outer rim (this will become the outer crust) that you don’t flatten.
Step 3: Pretend You’re Driving
Pick up your flattened dough, holding just inside the raised outer ring you left for the outer crust. Once you’re holding it comfortably, turn the dough in your hand almost as if it’s the steering wheel of a car that you’re turning, all while pinching gently on the inside of the crust ring. The goal here is to let the dough stretch under its own weight without flattening or compressing the outer crust ring.
Step 4: Use the Backs of Your Hands
Once you’ve made a full rotation around the “steering wheel” of the pizza, turn it over onto the backs of your hands. Using the backs of your hands and wrists, gently stretch and turn the dough. Allow it to gently drape over the backs of your arms as you continue to gently stretch and turn. Gravity should still be doing a lot of the work, but at this point you should be helping out by actively, gently stretching the dough.
Step 5: Look for the Light
At this point, it’s totally normal to feel nervous and like you’re about to rip the dough open. Especially if you’re used to working with thicker pizza doughs, this paper-thin one can feel like it’s an instant away from being ruined. As it gets thinner, hold it up to the light can to see exactly where the weak points are (so you can avoid those and not stretch them further), as well as reveal the slightly thicker areas that need to be stretched further.
Step 6: You’re Done!
Once your dough is about 12” across and sort of round, you’re done! Lay your stretched dough down on the semolina-coated pizza peel, with the smoother side of the dough facing up. It’s ready to top and bake! See? I told you that you could stretch pizza dough by hand.