Trying to roll or stretch a pizza dough that keeps shrinking back is very frustrating. Getting that base thin is crucial to a great thin crust pizza, so don’t give up yet.
A pizza dough that keeps shrinking is caused by an overly strong gluten network in the dough. This can be fixed in the following ways:
- Proofing the dough for longer as gluten relaxes over time.
- Bring dough to room temperature as gluten is tighter when cold.
- Reduce the protein in your flour as this forms gluten.
- Learn to stretch by hand for more control.
- Weigh your ingredients so they are accurate.
Quick Fix For Now
If you’re halfway through opening your pizza base and need a fix right now then try this:
Get the dough as flat as you can, and then put an upturned mixing bowl on top of it to become air tight. Leave the dough for 10 minutes to allow it to rest – move it to somewhere warm if your kitchen is cold. The warmth and time will allow the gluten to relax, and the bowl will stop it drying out. Try again and repeat as necessary.
You can prevent this happening next time by following these steps with your pizza dough to stop it shrinking.
1. Proof The Dough For Longer
Kneading dough causes flour and water to build up a stretchy network called gluten. You then proof the dough to allow yeast to do its work, but this also allows this gluten network to relax. Gluten needs rest as it degrades over time to become more stretchy and workable. Follow my pizza dough recipe which has all the instructions to produce perfect dough time after time.
A lot of pizza recipes online are for convenience, and will give you a recipe to mix and proof your dough in a couple of hours. They will often have a large amount of yeast and sugar to kick start the dough. But in reality, these recipes will never produce the best results as they don’t allow the dough long enough to rest.
Not only will your dough still be very tight and unmanageable. The pizza you create will be below par in flavour, texture as this takes time too.
If you’re serious about pizza then you need to give a slow fermentation a shot. It’s likely this is the reason it shrinks back when you stretch or roll it because the gluten needs to rest for a longer period than is required for yeast activity.
You can try giving your dough an extra few hours at room temperature, but a better way is to give your dough a cold, slow proof. You can do this in the refrigerator overnight (or better, a good 24 hours or more), and it will give you a dough that is relaxed and easy to work with. By cooling the dough down, it slows yeast fermentation so it can allow the gluten to rest for longer without the dough over proofing. Just remember to take it out an hour or two before you want to stretch it, so it can warm up.
It also has improved flavour and texture from this longer fermentation. See my guide on proofing. You can use less yeast with this method which will give you a crust without an overly yeasty-bready taste which isn’t desirable here.
2. Don’t Stretch Dough That Is Too Cold
Another thing that could be causing you problems is working with cold dough, as this can have more snap back than a warm dough. Bring your dough up to room temperature before you start stretching it. At least an hour is good, but up to two hours is fine too – obviously your room temperature comes to play here.
If you split your dough into individual balls and let them proof in the refrigerator, then taking them out individually is faster than warming up one big ball, and you can leave the rest for another day.
3. Don’t Use Too High Protein Flour
Wheat flour comes in different protein percentages which are used for different purposes. This is because higher protein content means more gluten. Higher gluten has more structure and chew and is used for bread, and sometimes labelled ‘strong bread flour’ or pizza flour. The lower gluten content used for cakes and pastries.
As its got more gluten, it has more gluten network and elasticity. It will definitely have more spring back, and so this dough isn’t ideal for a knocking up a quick dough as it needs time to rest. If you want a short proofing time, then source out a flour with a lower gluten content – try a more all purpose bread flour around 12-13% protein.
The higher gluten flours stand up well to a long fermentation without collapsing. Use these types of flours for a long fermentation and a nice chewy crust. Ideal for a New York style pizza.
4. Stretching Technique
I would recommend stretching out by hand as you have more control over the process and will produce a better pizza – using a pin tends to just push all gas out out and create a dense crust.
If you stretch slowly and firmly, you can pull the dough and hold it momentarily so that it holds its new stretched position. Rolling tends to spring back to its initial position with little way to prevent it happening.
It’s also good fun to learn doing it by hand. There are loads of videos online to see the proper techniques.
Make a 1 inch indent around the inside of the dough ball for the crust, then use your fingertips to level the inner section of the dough. Then using flat hands facing upwards, pull the dough in opposite directions and rotate the pizza as you move around. Once stretched out, move the dough on top of your clenched fists and allow gravity to finish any thicker areas for an nice even base.
And remember to not overwork the dough as it will build more gluten strands and cause excess chewiness. If you need to give it a moment to relax – if it’s feeling very tight after you just handled it, then you can give it a 15 minute rest before you continue. Just don’t leave your dough out uncovered to the air too long otherwise it will build up a tough skin.
5. Weigh Out Ingredients Properly
Baking is a science and you really need to make sure you get the right amount of flour, salt, yeast and water otherwise your dough won’t ferment as it should and this will only make it inferior. It won’t make it develop and relax properly to stop your dough being too elastic to stretch out.
To be sure that you’re dough is in proper quantities, you need to use a scales to weigh out your ingredients instead of using cups to measure volume. See my article on my recommended pizza equipment where I show you a good one.
This is because flour can take on different volumes if its more compressed – a cup of flour taken by me might be pressed down more than a cup of flour taken by you.
By using weight you ensure that you get consistency every time you mix you dough. Get yourselves a scales and you will never look back.
How Gluten Works
Wheat flour is a grain ground up to a powder. When hydrated, this grain would usually germinate – but in its power form, the chemical reactions still take place. Two wheat proteins, glutenin and gliadin, stick together when coming in contact with water, and this forms the stretchy, elastic network which he know as gluten.
It’s this network which can hold CO2 gas from the fermentation process, and allow the dough to rise when being proofed and baked.
Think of the process like a bubble gum. An inactive hard gum gets hydrated in your mouth, chewed into a stretchy mass, and then can be inflated into a bubble.
I hope you have a better idea about your dough now, and how to keep pizza dough from shrinking. You should try my dough recipe, and I encourage you to get to know the ‘feel’ for your dough through practice, as this is the only way you can really get it right. So in summary:
- Try a slow proof
- Get your dough to room temperature
- Get the right flour
- Hand stretch your dough
- Weigh your ingredients
To make the best pizza you need to cook your dough on something very hot. A pizza stone is more well known, but a pizza steel is a newer method which will produce even better results. The steel conducts heat more efficiently, cooking the base through very quickly. They also don’t shatter like a stone does. I have this pizza steel and can fully recommend it (click to see on Amazon). If you’d rather get something a bit cheaper, then at least get a pizza stone made of cordierite like this one. It is less likely to crack like other pizza stones.
See all the essential tools I recommend on my pizza equipment list guide.