The shaping of a pizza is basically done by stretching the dough into a thin, round shape by hand. There are a many different ways to stretch pizza dough but in this article I’m going to show you a really easy way.
Not only is this way of stretching pizza dough really easy, it also makes an Authentic Neapolitan pizza. The shaping is arguably the most difficult part of the pizza making process and makes such a hige difference to the quality of the pizza.
In case you missed the other parts of this series, feel free to check them out below:
Once we’ve got our dough ready, we’re ready for the final part before cooking – stretching the dough!
In the video below I show you an easy and authentic way to shape pizza by hand.
There are a few keys to this method and the quality of the pizza depends largely on the attention to detail. It may seem difficult to start with but it becomes really easy once you’ve done it a few times.
When you get the hang of this technique you should be able to shape a pizza in about 30 secoonds or less!
In general, pizza should be stretched rather than rolled. Unlike pasta dough, pizza dough contains yeast (a leavened dough) which allows air pockets to develop in the dough.
These air pockets are what makes for the wonderfully light texture to the pizza. As the pizza cooks, especially at high temperatures, the air pockets expand.
Rolling pizza dough removes a lot of the air that developed during proofing. There are some pizza styles which require rolling but the vast majority of pizzas are hand stretched without a rolling pin.
Being the most traditional pizza, Neapolitan pizza is shaped by hand. The classic shape is round, very thin in the middle, with quite thick crusts. The crusts are light and airy due to the long prove and delicate shaping.
The key to achieving the classic Neapolitan pizza shape is to move as much air as possible from the middle of the dough to the edge (the crust). This forms the crust. Once the crust is formed, the pizza can be gently stretched until it is thin in the middle.
The easiest way to form the crust is by using the finger tips. Overlap the index fingers to achieve the shape shown below:
From there, you don’t need to move your fingers or wrists at all. Simply use your arms to press the air to the outside of your pizza dough.
Turn the dough regularly, repeating the process. This should set up the perfect Neapolitan pizza shape.
Once a nice round shape has been established and the crust has been formed, we can move onto stretching the pizza dough.
The most authentic, and in my view, easiest way is called the “slap” technique.
With one hand, hold the pizza down to the counter. With the other hand, stretch gently outwards.
Using the same hand, flip the dough onto your other hand.
In one motion, rotate the dough 90 degree whilst flipping the dough back over.
Repeat this process until you have achieved the desired thickness (quite thin). Stretching very gently and turning often ensures that we stretch the dough evely.
Try not to remove any air from the crusts during shaping but don’t worry if they shrink a little. They will expand as they cook in the oven.
Pizza dough breaking easily during stretching could be a sign of an underdeveloped dough. If your dough hasn’t been kneaded well enough, it will lack gluten development.
It is the gluten that gives pizza dough most of it’s strength, preventing it from breaking. However, if your pizza dough passed the windowpane test then this is unlikely to be the issue.
It is also possible that your dough is overproofed. A properly proofed dough should have doubled in size and be full of little bubbles. It should be soft and easy to stretch, but equally quite strong.
However, dough does loose some strength as it proves. A dough that is overproved will have contracted and will be difficult to stretch. If it does stretch, it will have a tendancy to break.
It is important to develop a feel for the dough, which will happen over time. Be careful when stretching to avoid your dough breaking. Try to work quickly but with soft hands.
Of course, the best way to avoid shaping issues is to start off with a perfect dough. But most of the time, we might notice there is an issue when it’s too late. But don’t worry, good results can still be achieved with less than great dough.
At this stage, it is generally too late to fix the problem. So rather than trying to fix the pizza dough, I recommend the following steps during shaping:
If it feels like your dough is difficult to work with, take more time during stretching. You may be able to patch up a small tear but in general, once a pizza breaks it is no good.
Stretch the dough gently and turn it often. This should help to achieve a good shape without risking any tears.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a thin pizza with weak dough. However, you can still make a nice pizza, even if it is a little thicker than ideal.
Make the pizza as thin as you think you can before it tips but don’t go too far. If you are unsure, then stop strecthing. A pizza that is slightly too thick is better than one that is ripped.
Everytime you shape a pizza, you should add the toppings quickly and move it onto the peel as soon as possible. A stretched pizza left on the bench will stick after a short time. Once moved, this pizza will stretch again and may tear.
When working with weaker pizza dough, it is even more important to get your pizza on the peel and into the oven as soon as possible. The quicker we can get the pizza in, the less chance there is of it breaking.
If you are worried that your pizza may rip when transferring it onto the peel, don’t worry. One option is to shape the pizza on the peel itself. Whilst this method is not traditional, it is much safer.
You will likely end up with a thicker pizza doing this. But as mentioned earlier, this is probably for the best anyway, given the weak dough.
With 00 flour:
With Strong White Bread Flour:
That’s all there is to it! A perfectly shaped pizza. All that’s left to do is to add the toppings and load it into the oven.
The shaping of the pizza is one the biggest keys to great pizza. It is not the easiest step since it requires some practice. However, there are many ways to stretch the dough and it’s just a matter of finding what works for you.
The ideal shape for Neapolitan pizza is thin in the middle with quite large crusts. The technique I’ve showed you in this article is the easiest way I’ve found to achieve this.
I would recommend making more pizza than you need so you can practice the shaping. Also, when you first start out, you will probably make a couple of poor pizzas before you start to get the hang of the shaping.
By making more dough than you need, you will have plenty of pizzas to practice on. And, it won’t matter if a couple of them don’t turn out so well.
If you missed any of the series before, be sure to check them out below:
Good luck with your shaping everyone!
I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!
I often get asked what type of oven I use for my pizzas. Well, I use a portable pizza oven made by Ooni.
In all honesty, I would say that the oven makes a huge difference. If you're looking to make authentic Italian pizza, a pizza oven is a must.
By clicking the link below and purchasing from Ooni, you would be supporting this website. I've been using their ovens for a long time now and I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't believe in their products.
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