Pizza Stretching Vs Rolling: See How They Differ Side By Side

Stretching a pizza dough can be a daunting task for a beginner, and one that most are unwilling to try starting out. But rest assured, there is the trusty rolling pin that you can fall back on. It still works great, it just creates a different style of pizza.

Pizza dough stretching vs rolling – what are the differences?

Rolling pizza dough will push the pockets of gas out of the dough that were formed in the rise. These pockets create a thicker dough with larger bubbles in the crust. The rolled dough will be a thinner, denser crust.

So should you use a rolling pin for pizza dough?

Stretching or rolling will create a different style of pizza so it’s down to personal preference. A rolled dough makes styles such as “thin crust” or cracker thin. Stretched dough is more suited to Neapolitan and New York style pizza.

Check out the images of my test to see the results. I’ve also included a helpful video to watch the best practices in stretching and rolling.

Testing Dough: Rolling vs Stretching

For this test I made a batch of dough that could make two medium sized dough balls using my own dough recipe. The idea being to stretch one ball out and roll the other, and see the results when cooked in the same oven.

The dough that I rolled, I used a classic rolling pin with handles and didn’t roll completely to the edge to “pinch” out the air. This kept a slight thicker crust rather than make a cracker thin style.

I baked both in a preheated oven using a pizza steel.

My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below as a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter, and are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite.

To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment check out my essential pizza equipment list.

Here were the results.

Stretched pizza on the left had a uniformly large crust. The rolled crust had a few large spots but mainly thin.
The stretched crust had some huge airy holes.
The stretched crust (left) had an all round larger crust.

So as you can see, to get that large open crust you do really need to stretch the pizza by hand. By rolling you can get a thinner crust or a super thin crust if you really want to roll it down thin.

Rolling Vs Stretching Explained

This is a really good video that shows the difference in the two techniques to prepare pizza – and also how to do it correctly. The video is a little old, but Tony Gemignani is a renowned pizza maker with some serious skills.

The Effect Of Rolling Dough

When we mix the dough, the yeast starts fermenting by feeding on the flour and creating CO2 gas as an output. We let the dough rise, and this occurs from the CO2 building up gas pockets.

If we are to roll the dough, we press the dough with a flat object and this pushes the gas forward in front of the roller. It breaks up the larger bubbles into smaller ones, and pushes most of the gas out of the dough completely.

Because the rolling pin gives nowhere to hide, the dough is squeezed of all gas. When you push with your fingertips and palms, you retain some gas because the dimples are made in irregular places in the dough, pushing gas to other pockets.

Is it OK to roll pizza dough? Yes, of course. Some purists will not agree, but it is perfectly acceptable for creating certain thinner pizzas, especially for the beginner.

Docking Dough For An Even Thinner Crust

Docking is when we use a docking tool to make holes in the dough after it has been rolled out. This breaks up and prevents any pockets of gas forming large bubbles when the dough is cooked. It makes a really flat and thin pizza. A special dough docker tool can be used, or you can use the points of a fork to dot holes over the dough before adding toppings and baking.

How To Roll Dough And Still Maintain A Crust

Don’t push over the end of the dough and “pinch” the dough to the table – instead still leave a 3/4 inch gap in which the crust can form. The rolling pin actually pushes gas from the center to the outside so the crust will hold the bubbles. If you push all the way then you will push the gas out completely.

You can also avoid deflating the dough by rolling the pizza until it is 2/3rds of the diameter and then finishing the rest off by hand. You have got past the tricky part of keeping the dough uniformly thin, and now can do the last bit without squeezing all the air out.

Styles Of Pizza Suited For Rolling

As rolling creates less rise, this technique is best suited to pizzas that might be described “thin crust”. This is a pretty broad term, and will typically depend on how thin you roll the dough. One of the thinnest dough is the cracker thin pizza. This is rolled thin and docked to give a super thin crust style that is cut into squares.

The Effect Of Stretching Dough

Stretching pizza has a few phases. You start by pressing the dough ball down into a disk with your finger tips, from the center to the outside. This pushes the pockets of gas into towards the crust. Once the base is flattened enough to put your palms inside, you can use two hands to stretch the dough apart and turn as you go. Watch the video in this post to see some exact instructions.

This stretching technique allows the pizza to retain some of the gas bubbles in the dough at random places. When the dough is cooked, these bubbles will rise more and you end up with a large and pronounced crust. It is also irregular and “artisan” which adds to the effect of this style of pizza.

Should You Toss The Pizza?

Tossing the dough isn’t a necessary step. It is widely seen as a restaurant trick rather than the best way to stretch a pizza dough quickly and consistently. It looks good, but you will do just fine stretching by hand on a work top. A useful tip instead is to pick the dough up over two upturned fists and allow gravity to stretch the dough down gently.

Styles Of Pizza Suited For Stretching

Stretching pizza allows us to make pizza styles which have a big crust such as a Neapolitan or New York. Pretty much any other pizza from around the world that has some airiness to it will need to be stretched by hand.

Why Is My Pizza Dough Not Stretching?

Dough that doesn’t stretch is because the gluten strength is too elastic. Gluten is formed when the flour mixes with water, and this is tightened when we knead. This elasticity and tightness degrades over time as the dough rests.

To help make a more stretchy dough, try kneading a little less (only a few minutes). Then allow a long rest once you have shaped it into a ball. The gluten tightens every time you work it, so it is “reset” when it is balled back up again. I recommend a few hours in the ball as a minium before ready. Make sure the dough is also at room temperature – it might require up to two hours once out of the fridge to warm up.

Use A Good Dough Recipe

A good dough for stretching needs to have a few key aspects in the ingredients and preparation. It needs well suited flour – either bread flour or all purpose. This can be in the form of 00 bread flour or standard strong bread flour. Ensure that it has enough protein which will form the gluten for stretchiness. Cake flour or plain flour is too weak and will tear.

The dough needs time to ferment. This improves the texture of the dough, the flavor, and it allows the gluten to relax. Usually two phases is best – a first rest as a bulk dough, then an individual proofing phase once shaped in a ball.

Check out my pizza dough recipe here.

2 thoughts on “Pizza Stretching Vs Rolling: See How They Differ Side By Side

  1. Hi Tom,
    My bride of 3 months shy of 60 years has been baking pizza for years using her mother’s recipe. I recently found your site. Recently, the underside of the pizza has not browned to the point that it is more chewy [soft] than the outer crust. I will tell her that you have said to put the rack higher in the oven as the temp. is somewhat higher there. She uses unbleached bread flour. You say protein content should be 11-13.5 %. I never considered nor even knew that protein value can differ between flours. But that is why I don’t do the cooking. There is a science to this art we call cooking. The ingredients for your recipe call for Tepid water [1 cup minus 1Tbsp]. My wife has been very precise as to the water temperature-127D-F. Is there a ‘range’ of degrees you would recommend? She has been using pizza trays for years and even tried a pizza stone. I must say however, as the recipient of her efforts over these many years, I continue to adhere to the following,” this pizza is delicious”. So happy I found your web site. Be well and stay safe during the recent pandemic. Al and Fran

    1. Hi Al,

      Good to hear from you and your great comment. For water temperatures I usually go between 100-110F which works well, but I don’t get too specific! Enjoy the site 🙂

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