There is something iconic about the sight of a pizza maker tossing an elastic, well-made pizza dough. While the technique of forming the rimmed disk is unique to pizza making, pizza dough is simply lean bread dough with additional oil and sometimes sugar mixed in. By practicing sound bread making procedures, you can make pizzeria-quality pizza at home.
The Importance of Gluten
Gluten is a protein compound made by combining the two primary proteins in wheat -- gliadin and glutenin -- through the addition of water and kneading. Gliadin sticks to the heavier, non-soluble glutenin, forming strands of gluten.This forms a tough, flexible network that traps both starch and the carbon dioxide from the yeast. The more gluten is in a dough, the more it will "pull back," offering elasticity.
Developing Gluten in Pizza Dough
While excessive gluten is a bad thing in pastries, it is the most important detail in breads. It is important that dough is both kneaded and rested for the appropriate amount of time in order to develop the gluten correctly. Typically, the dough is finished when it is smooth and tacky, but not sticky. You should be able to stretch a square of dough without it breaking so thin that light passes through it. This is known as the “windowpane test.”
The dough will need to rest before being worked. If the dough snaps back when stretched, the dough needs a longer rest. If the dough rips, tears or cannot hold it shaped once formed, it needs additional kneading. If it sticks to the counter surface when kneading, it needs more flour.
Gluten is but one of the problems that can affect the quality of pizza dough. A dough that has difficulty rising or develops a bad smell during proofing was made with bad yeast. Doughs that take a long time to come together or knead are typically caused by either too much water or oil, not enough salt or the wrong type of flour -- pizza doughs should be made with high-protein flours, such as bread flour.
Keep in mind that "quick-make" or non-yeast pizza doughs cannot be kneaded in the same way as yeast breads can be, resulting in a pizza crust that must be spread out or rolled.
Gluten Without Kneading
It is also possible to make a perfect dough without kneading. Gliadin and glutenin will naturally combine through the action of the yeast; as the yeast produce carbon dioxide, the bubbles will push the proteins together. However, this takes a long time to do -- upwards of seven days. Regardless of which method you use, a well-develop pizza dough should yield to gentle stretching, pulling and tossing with little retraction or tearing.
Frederick Reese is an author and political journalist who has covered current affairs, culture and society for various print and online publications. Reese holds a B.A. in art and art history from Colgate University.