Working with Pizza Dough    

Working with pizza dough is a sensory experience. I like to have on hand good ingredients—nice olive oil, fresh yeast, beautiful flour. I throw in some Italian dried herbs and the whole house starts to smell like a pizzeria.

Now I do use a bread machine to do the mixing for me. It is fun to knead your dough by hand, but most of the time, I like the convenience of having the machine do it for me. I just load the ingredients into the bread machine and choose the dough setting. A hour and a half later, it is ready. Let it rest a few minutes and you can begin to make your pizza.

Handling the dough is where the real fun begins. You can roll it, spread it, or even toss it. And it is very forgiving. If you get a hole in your pizza dough, it is easy to fix! Even kids can be successful at making their own pizza.

So, how can you work with your dough like a pro? These tips will get you started:

Handling the Dough
Once the dough is done with the final rising, it is ready to use. If you are not ready to make your pizzas immediately, it can be covered with plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator for several hours until you are ready to go. In fact, you can put the dough into the refrigerator after the first rising and let it sit overnight.

Dough left at room temperature will continue to rise, so it is important to chill it well if you will be using it later. When you are ready to make your pizza, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it completely come to room temperature, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

When you are ready to make your pizza, you have a couple of options for handling the dough. First, and probably the most straightforward, is to roll it out. Dust your countertop or a large wooden board with some flour to prevent sticking. Also dust the rolling pin with flour. Then simply begin to roll the dough into a circular shape. Turn it about a quarter turn each time you roll it out, to help keep the circular shape. But don't worry if it is not a perfect circle. We rarely end up with them in our house, and everyone seems charmed by the unique shapes that arise when we make our own pizzas.

If you find that the dough is shrinking back when you roll it, it simply needs to rest for a few minutes. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then when you try to roll it out again, it will be easier and will not shrink back.

Tossing Pizza Dough
If you are ambitious, give a try at tossing your dough. It isn't really hard and can be fun to try. Tossing pizza dough is not necessary to get a great pizza and is sometimes more for show, but it still is an effective way to get an even distribution of dough across your circle. When you toss pizza dough, you need to remember not to use your fingertips. Instead, you are using your knuckles and fist, as your fingers would poke through the dough, causing holes. By folding your fingertips over, you will keep from doing this.

First, remove your rings and your watch. To toss your dough, you need to start with a disk of dough. Take your rested ball of dough and press it with your fingertips or roll it into a flat disk shape about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. It helps if you start out with a circular shape. You can now pick up the dough to begin the tossing process. Bend your fingers over into a loose fist and drape the dough over your hands. As you gently move your hands apart, the dough will begin to stretch.

This is the basic idea behind stretching the dough. You need to now add a rotation to ensure an even thickness and round shape. As you stretch the dough with your hands, move your fists in a counterclockwise direction, readjusting the dough as it moves along your hands. With practice, you will be able to do this maneuver quickly and can give the dough a toss, sending it into the air as you shift it along your hands. This is tossing your dough. Eventually, you will be able to toss it higher and with greater speed. Just remember to keep your fingertips tucked downward, or you'll punch a hole in your dough. How do you know when to stop? Well, you can stop anytime your dough reaches the diameter and thickness you'd like. Remember that the dough will rise again a bit in the oven.

What if you do get a hole in the dough when you are rolling or tossing it? Well, this is easy to fix. Just pinch the edges of the hole together. You can close any hole this way. Take care not to make your crust too thin, as this will tend to increase the number of holes you'll see.