Making homemade pizza is easy, but if you’ve never worked with pizza dough before, you might think otherwise.
We’ve all been there—you’re trying to stretch your homemade pizza dough into a nice flat shape, but every time you stretch it in one direction, it just pulls back to the middle.
You might think there’s something wrong with the recipe, or that you need to stretch more aggressively, but the real issue here is gluten that’s too tight.
When dough is too cold or hasn’t been properly proofed, the gluten will be too tight for stretching. So if you’re struggling with dough that won’t stretch, this is most likely the reason why.
Thankfully, there’s an easy fix. To avoid dough that won’t stretch, roll it into a tight ball, cover it up, and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour or more until the gluten relaxes. Your pizza dough will now be easy to stretch.
If that’s all you needed to know, great. But if not, keep reading and I’ll tell you exactly how to get your pizza dough to be relaxed and easy to work with every time.
Why Pizza Dough Won’t Stretch—Gluten
You’re probably familiar with the idea of gluten as an ingredient, but you might not be aware of what gluten actually is and how it affects dough—particularly, pizza dough.
Without turning this into a chemistry lesson, gluten is a substance found in lots of different foods, including most flour. When flour is mixed with water, gluten is released, and it’s this glue-like substance that makes pizza dough so sticky when you knead it or stretch it.
Gluten is what gives bread and pizza crust the air bubbles we all love so much, as well as its distinctly chewy texture. Gluten is basically what makes the difference between a cracker or a pancake and a traditional slice of pizza or crusty bread.
But just as gluten is what makes pizza crust so good, it’s also one of the main sources of trouble for those who don’t know how to properly prepare and handle pizza dough. Namely, when gluten is too tight or too cold, it won’t be able to stretch into the shape of a pizza.
The key to a perfectly stretchy, inelastic pizza dough that holds its shape when stretched is proper proofing. Proofing is when the tight gluten bonds in pizza dough are given the chance to relax.
Related Post: Is It Safe To Eat Raw Pizza Dough?
Why Gluten Becomes Too Tight
There are a couple of main reasons why the gluten in your pizza dough is so tight that you can’t stretch it.
One reason is simply because the gluten bonds have only just been formed, and so haven’t had a chance to relax at all. This is usually the case if you just finished kneading a fresh batch of dough.
But in my experience, the primary cause of pizza dough that’s too tight for stretching is that it’s too cold. Most people are either working with dough that they’ve made the day before and stored in the fridge, or they bought it cold from the supermarket to begin with.
Keeping your pizza dough in the fridge is a great idea for many reasons, so that’s not the problem in itself. The issues arise when people think they can just pull some dough out of the fridge and start stretching it whenever they want a pizza—this is a rookie mistake.
When pizza dough is refrigerated, the gluten tightens up to the point where it will either spring back to its original shape like an elastic band, or just tear completely if you pull too hard. This is why pizza dough should never be stretched before it has time to warm up and relax.
Old-school Italian pizza makers refer to dough with tight gluten as “nervous”, almost as if the dough is too shy to be exposed and wants to curl back up into a ball. I think this is a great analogy because it perfectly describes what happens when you try to use pizza dough that isn’t fully relaxed yet.
The answer to this problem is simple—proper proofing.
The Importance of Proper Proofing in Pizza Dough
There are two main reasons why you need to proof your pizza dough—to give the yeast enough time to activate, and to give the gluten time to warm up and relax. A properly proofed pizza dough will stretch and hold its shape with barely any effort at all.
First, let’s discuss what proofing is and isn’t. When you first mix up a batch of pizza dough and let it rise, either for a few hours or overnight, this is when gluten forms and becomes strong, but it’s not proofing.
Proofing is the stage after kneading and rising when the dough is divided up into individual pieces and rolled into a tight ball. Then, the dough ball is simply left to rest at room temperature for a few hours until it’s ready.
When the pizza dough’s yeast is fully activated, and the gluten is completely relaxed, your dough is now “proofed” and will stretch easily.
The easiest way to tell if your dough is proofed long enough for stretching is to check its temperature. If the dough is cold, it won’t stretch, but if it’s room temperature (or preferably a little warmer), it will stretch without a problem.
But bear in mind, just because the gluten is ready doesn’t mean the yeast is. A pizza dough without enough yeast activity can stretch just fine, but it won’t rise in the oven or have quite the same flavor as one that’s been proofed long enough.
To be sure, getting the hang for exactly how long it takes before your dough is fully proofed will take some practice, but it’s not difficult.
For more information on this, check out my post about how long pizza dough can sit out before it proofs and over-proofs.
How To Proof Pizza Dough For Perfect Stretching
So that’s the theory about why relaxed gluten is so important for stretching pizza dough, now let me show you how to actually do it.
For the sake of this example, I’m going to assume that the pizza dough is cold and coming directly from the fridge.
- First, you need pizza dough, either from the grocery store or a homemade pizza recipe.
- Next, divide up the dough into pieces big enough for an individual pizza. For a medium sized personal pizza, I recommend about 250-300 grams per ball (8.8 – 10.5 oz). A kitchen scale helps with this, or you can just eyeball it
- With lightly oiled hands (to avoid sticking), roll the piece of dough you plan on using into a tight ball.
- Get a resealable plastic container and lightly coat the inside with olive oil—not too much, we’re not frying it. This will help us get the dough ball out in one piece without sticking when it’s ready.
- Cover up the dough ball and let it sit at room temperature until it’s proofed, but the timing on this will depend on how much yeast is in the dough and the ambient temperature of the room.
Store-bought pizza dough, as well as most online recipes, tend to use a lot of yeast, meaning it will likely be ready to use as soon as the dough reaches room temperature. If the room is warm or cold, the dough will proof more quickly or more slowly.
If you’re following my homemade pizza dough recipe, which uses a minimal amount of yeast, the total proofing time will be anywhere from 5-6 hours directly out of the fridge. This ensures that the gluten in the dough is fully relaxed before the yeast gets out of control and over-proofs.
How To Stretch A Properly Proofed Ball Of Pizza Dough
While a properly proofed ball of pizza dough is essential for stretching, there is some technique to learn as well.
Here’s how I do it. When the dough ball is fully proofed, drop it into a bed of flour (a “flour bath) and coat all sides to prevent sticking. Then, carefully push the air from the middle of the dough into the outer edges. Pick the dough up and gently give it a final stretch.
If you’re able to do this, your pizza dough will be shaped and ready for toppings in just a few minutes.
The following video shows exactly how I get my pizza dough from a tight ball into a light and fluffy pizza crust that’s easily stretched (please excuse my poor video making skills).
How Hydration & Oil Affects Pizza Dough Stretchability
As we’ve gone over, the primary cause of pizza dough that won’t stretch is tight gluten, but there are a few ingredients to be aware of that can make the job easier.
When I make pizza dough, I always use a high-hydration formula, which essentially just means I use a relatively high amount of water compared to average recipes (70% vs 50-60%).
I do this because a well-hydrated dough is better at retaining moisture when it bakes in a home oven when it bakes. But this also has the effect of making the gluten easier to work with when it’s fully relaxed.
Olive oil is another ingredient that helps tenderize the dough and makes the gluten easier to stretch. It also helps the crust get crispy in the oven as well.
If you’d like to incorporate these two things into your pizza dough, I recommend checking out my homemade pizza dough recipe for the full set of ingredients and instructions.
Flour Isn’t Why Your Pizza Dough Won’t Stretch
If you look around online, many people will suggest using a different kind of flour if your pizza won’t stretch, but this is just a myth.
The truth is, while the flour you use can make your dough stronger or weaker, it’s not the reason why it won’t stretch. Even the strongest flour with the strongest gluten and very little water will be able to stretch easily if it’s properly proofed.
I prefer to use Italian tipo 00 flour because of its fine texture that produces soft and delicate crusts, but a strong bread flour will work just as well when it comes to stretching.
Just remember, the type of flour you use will affect how the crust bakes but not the stretchiness of the dough—that all comes down to proofing.
How To Deal With Pizza Dough That Won’t Stretch
Maybe you’ve followed all my instructions but your pizza dough still won’t stretch, or maybe you found this post because you’re in the middle of dealing with a tough piece of pizza dough.
In either case, don’t worry, there are a few easy things you can try to get things back on track.
For example, if your pizza dough isn’t stretching, dust it with a bit of flour and cover it up with plastic wrap right on the counter. Wait about 15 minutes, then come back and try stretching it again. If it still won’t stretch, let it sit for a little while longer.
If all else fails, you can always try balling the dough back up and proofing it all over again, but this time long enough so the gluten relaxes.
Key Points From This Article:
- Pizza dough that snaps back when stretched is usually caused by tight gluten.
- The best way to fix dough that won’t stretch is to roll it into a tight ball, cover it, and let it sit at room temperature for about 1 hour or more until the gluten relaxes. This is called “proofing” the dough.
- Proper proofing is essential for stretchy and easy-to-work-with pizza dough.
- Proofing allows the gluten to relax and the yeast to fully activate.
- Gluten often becomes too tight when the dough is too cold, such as when it’s taken directly from the fridge.
- Pizza dough should be proofed at room temperature until it reaches the desired stretchability.
- Proofing time depends on factors like yeast activity and ambient room temperature.
- To stretch properly proofed dough, drop it into a flour bath, gently push air from the middle to the edges, then give it a final stretch.
- A high-hydration pizza dough with olive oil is more pliable and easier to work with.
- The type of flour used doesn’t significantly affect stretchability if the dough is properly proofed.
- If the dough still won’t stretch, you might need to ball it up and proof it all over again, but longer this time.
I hope that helps you understand why your pizza dough isn’t stretching and how to fix it in the future.
If you have any more questions, don’t to drop them in the comment section below.
How can I make my pizza dough more stretchy?
Stretchy pizza dough is the result of relaxed gluten proofed at room temperature for an extended period of time. Be sure to proof your pizza dough before trying to stretch it, and never attempt to stretch it directly out of the fridge.
How long should pizza dough rest before being stretched?
How long you let your pizza dough rest before stretching it depends on a few factors. First, the ambient temperature of the room will affect how long the gluten takes to warm up and relax. The timing is also affected by how much yeast you added to the recipe. In general, this takes 1-2 hours at a minimum.