The Dirty F-Word And 7 Simple Steps For Making Sensational Homemade Pizza With Your Own Two Hands, Part 5: Stretching The Dough
PART 5 IN A 7-PART SERIES
“I can’t make it round!” This is one of the biggest complaints I hear from pizza newbies. They want that pizza round!
And who can blame them? It’s just another part of pursuing that unattainable pizza perfection. Not that round doesn’t happen. It does. But not perfectly round, though pizzamakers get close all the time.
Here for review is the full list of the 7 Steps:
Stretching to round can be attained by following the fifth of the 7 simple steps of pizza focus. Unlike some other steps, this is not a simple step that newbies refuse to do. It IS so very simple. But it’s also hard to see the simplicity. It’s clouded by all of the stuff that clouds an overactive mindset, especially in the digital age.
Focusing on the round could not be easier. You will also be perpetually frustrated by it until—SUDDENLY—you’re not. That is literally how it works. At least, it did for me. And chances are you will say to yourself, “How was I frustrated by this for so long?
There are many methods for stretching the dough. For the newbie, I recommend flattening the dough ball and then stretching it on the knuckles. Or else grabbing the flattened dough ball like a steering wheel and stretching it while rotating the wheel.
When stretching the dough, focus is (again) your friend. Frustration and intensity? They are not your friends. Yet frustration and intensity are often part of the un-quiet mind that accompanies early efforts.
It reminds me a little of something a theater director I know once said about a young performer. He described this actor as so preoccupied with the idea of being an actor to the point of not acting.
Round pizzas work the same way. We get so preoccupied with the idea of making them round that we cannot make them round.
The best we do is an amoebic mishap. The pizza looks like something we once saw beneath a microscope in the high-school bio lab.
Ironic, perhaps, as there’s so much biochemistry involved with pizza. That biochemistry is also microscopic minutiae largely out of our control.
But pizza shaping? It’s like so much else with pizza. It’s about focusing on a simple, macro element within our control. Be in the moment and be happy about it.
Some of these non-round, newbie pizzas look as if they were stretched in anger. I was looking at one pizza photo recently. It was made by someone we know. She gets sucked into a pattern of chain smoking and doom scrolling.
As my wife and I were looking at that tortured pizza, I said, “The shape of that pizza is a measure of her anxiety.” Not that I’m judging. And I do hope pizza can help her relax into something bigger than an ongoing nicotine buzz and the dysfunctional zeitgeist.
Being relaxed is also a good metaphor for how to not shape metaphorically amoebic pizzas. I can almost guarantee a technical reason for so many tortured shapes.
The dough used to make the pizza was too cold. It was not allowed to come to room temp and relax before the stretching began.
Let the dough sit outside the fridge for 90 minutes before attempting to shape it. If you’ve done your dough work well, you’ve let it ferment for 72 hours so it's pliable, and you've allowed it to create a strong gluten network.
If you were to take that dough ball to the kitchen sink and rinse it until everything washed away but the gluten network, you’d be left with a cobweb of elastic strands. Those elastic strands don’t want you to flatten the dough ball. They will resist all of your efforts—until they warm up enough.
The gluten is cold and tight. When it warms up, it will be like soft, soft putty in your hands. Then comes the stretching, but not before.
We’re bringing a lot of relaxation into this conversation about focus. It’s a necessary part. Way back in part one, we talked about how focus is not about intensity. It’s about clearing away everything else and relaxing into the place of pizza.
Once you’re focused and relaxed, and once the dough is soft, round can follow. Round will not follow if the gluten network is cold and tight. Nor will it follow if you’re uptight about making it round.
Focusing on making a round pizza is a great example of how intensity is not the way. One way to make a very round pizza is certain: spin the dough in the air.
That’s not what you signed up for? Good. That’s also not the way, at least not for newbie you right now. I’ve been making pizza for over 20 years. Just yesterday, I made two pizzas.
For possibly the first time, I spun the pizzas to size completely. We’re talking tossing them in the air. Nothing was done on the work surface after pressing the dough ball flat.
And when I was done, my kitchen was covered in flour. Spinning dough is flashy and it’s fun and unnecessary.
And here’s a secret: When you put that spun dough on the peel? It’s still not round!
Once the dough is stretched and on the peel, it must be reorganized into a round. When you have a pizza that is round-ish, you’re more than halfway home.
This is going to sound too simple. (Again.) After placing the stretched dough on the peel, look at it. Ask: Where is it not round? Then, gently pull it and prod it until it IS round. This is just about rounding out the unround parts.
It is so very difficult. That’s until realizing it’s so very easy.
My pizzas are often not perfectly round. (Perfection is unattainable!) But they’re close enough to be satisfying in a non-industrial way.
A good, roundish pizza is a source of some small satisfaction and delight. But have you ever wondered why we pursue the circle?
One possible explanation is the universality of the circle. People like circles. The circle symbolizes so much. It’s a symbol of totality. It represents wholeness. The circle is symbolic of perfection, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, and cycles.
The circle also symbolizes the self. So conceivably, making pizza is all tied up in who each of us is and how we are unique.
The self is significant in so many scholarly pursuits. Look at psychology, sociology and philosophy. The self is a central fixture. Same for neuroscience and religion.
But let’s not digress further. Yes, it could be fun. But it also runs the risk of getting silly and pretentious. I do enough of that without comparing pizza to psychiatry or religion.
We got here because you want to make a pizza and make it round. And to steal from Sigmund Freud, sometimes a pizza is just a pizza. Let’s stay there and focus.
I promise no such digression for next week. That’s because we’re talking about launching the pizza—a simple act that freaks out some folks. And there is no such symbolism attached to the peel. So far…
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Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the new, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, professional-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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