Learning to stretch out a pizza skin is something that can take years of practice to perfect. At its core is the main component – the dough ball. And this needs to be just right to work with easily. So you’ve got pizza dough that keeps tearing?
How to stop pizza dough tearing when stretching:
- Knead your dough for longer to build up more gluten elasticity.
- Rest the dough for longer to allow the tight gluten to relax slightly.
- Stretch the dough evenly to avoid thinner parts.
- Use a flour higher in protein for more gluten.
All of this can be solved by using a good dough recipe. Check out my best dough recipe here.
Quick Fix For Now
If you are stretching your dough now and you need a fix for your tears then do this:
Pinch the edge of the tear from one side and pull it over the tear, giving it a firm pinch to seal the dough back together. Avoid stretching this area, and instead focus on stretching the outer rim of the pizza which will stretch the pizza evenly to avoid more tears near the middle.
To spot thin areas, drape the pizza over your fists and lift it up to the light – you will be able to see the thinner areas shining through easily.
For details on how you can avoid this situation next time, read the following tips with your dough.
Build Up More Gluten
If you haven’t kneaded it for long enough to build up a good gluten network, then its got more chance of tearing when you stretch it apart. You don’t need to knead too long: 3 – 5 minutes should do it. Follow my pizza dough recipe which has all the instructions to produce perfect dough time after time.
When making your dough, the flour mixes with the water for a chemical reaction. This creates gluten which forms into a stretchy, elastic network of strands. You can feel it building up as you knead, as you disperse the water throughout the flour.
This gluten allows the dough to stretch without breaking. It allows the dough to rise when the yeast produces carbon dioxide when it is proofing, filling the dough with bubbles. So without gluten, its just a shaggy ball of flour which will tear.
You don’t have to go crazy with the kneading either, as gluten is easy to develop. Just make sure you are using a flour with enough protein (see below) and then you can knead or mix your dough for around 5 minutes. You don’t have to knead pizza dough as much as bread dough, as it doesn’t need such a compact crumb texture.
You can use the test known as the “windowpane” test to judge if your dough has enough elasticity to not tear when stretched.
Test Your Gluten Development With The Windowpane Test
As a beginner pizza maker, it can be difficult to know when your dough is ready to work with. Most recipes tell you to knead your dough until it is smooth or elastic – but who knows what that means? Am I under-kneading it or over-kneading it?
As you practice, you will get more of a ‘feel’ for your dough. But in the meantime, there is a fool proof test that anyone can use to test the readiness, and we call this the ‘windowpane test’.
The first step is to take your kneaded dough ball and give it a poke. If the dough springs back slightly then you know you’ve developed some gluten. Next give the windowpane test a try.
If you break off a small piece of dough that fits in your hands. Then use your fingertips to pull apart the dough until a thin layer. Keep going until the dough is paper thin, and you can see light through it translucently – i.e. the windowpane.
If the dough tears then you know its not ready yet. A well developed dough should stretch very thin. Use the video below for a good visual demonstration.
Rest Your Dough For Long Enough
If you stretch dough that has just been kneaded then it is very tight and could tear because it hasn’t had time to relax.
Once gluten it formed, it will feel very tight and strong. As you leave it to rest and proof, the gluten will relax over time. This is because gluten degrades over time. I’m sure you’ve noticed that a dough ball is much easier to stretch apart when its been left to rest, rather than straight after it has been kneaded.
So give your dough enough time to proof. If you can only manage a few hours then this should be fine to prevent tearing. But giving it overnight in the refrigerator will produce a better texture. Giving it longer will allow you to stretch the dough more easily as high gluten can snap back if not rested.
Learn To Stretch The Dough Evenly
Use your hands to stretch so you have full control for the best results. You must make sure your dough is it room temperature, as gluten is tighter when its cold.
Make a circular indent with your finger tips an inch from the outside to form the crust. Use your finger tips to flatten the inside dough. Then with flat hands, pull the dough apart and rotate the ball as you go.
Don’t stretch the middle. Focus on stretching the outer parts of the dough, as the middle will get a small stretch from everywhere and end up being too thin. This is the most common place for a tear.
Keep an eye on any thin areas. You can lift the dough onto your fists and hold to the light to see the thinner and thicker areas. Focus on the thicker to get a nice uniform crust.
Remember to be gentle; the more you work it, the tougher the end result will be.
Try A Higher Protein Flour
The protein in flour is what forms the gluten. So a higher protein flour will result in a stronger gluten network.
Flours which will tear more easily include all purpose flours and Italian “00” bread flours. The all purpose has less protein content while the “00” flour uses soft wheat, making it more delicate.
Try a bread flour which has got a protein content of 12-14%. If you use a higher protein flour then you will need to rest the dough for longer as it will snap back with its high elasticity.
To check the protein content, check for the amount of protein per 100g of flour, if it is available i.e. 14g protein will be 14% protein.
Following a recipe more closely with attention to ingredients, kneading times and proofing times will help you make a more elastic dough that is harder to tear. Practising your stretching technique will ensure you can stretch it thinly and evening to avoid getting any holes.
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.
What happens when you knead dough too much?
You will end up with a tougher crust. I would say it’s hard to over knead your dough if you follow the windowpane test – so give it a test as you knead.
How to keep pizza dough from shrinking?
This is more about strong gluten. Try resting the dough and warming it up before you stretch it. Check out my article Does Your Pizza Dough Keep Shrinking? Try This Now.
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