Perhaps one of the most admired talents a professional pizza maker can possess is the ability to toss and twirl pizza dough. Somewhere early on in my career, I learned how to toss pizza dough high in the sky. It didn't come easy, and trust me – I had my fair share of pizzas land on lamps, co-workers and (nearly) on customers. As much as it can impress the crowds, it can be equally embarrassing to have things go awry.
Since it’s one of the most exciting things we do as pizza cooks, I thought I’d take a minute to share some twirling tips with our Pizzacraft fans. It’s also for the dough! It may seem like tossing dough is something pizza cooks just do for show or to impress a crowd or the kids, and while all these things are a result of throwing dough, keep in mind it is really used to stretch the base for your pizza. Spinning a piece of properly-proofed pizza dough at a high speed causes it to stretch outward without actually touching it. Sometimes when stretching dough with your hands it’s easy to tear a hole. Throwing dough in the air, when done properly, allows you to stretch the dough quickly and safely with less chance of holes forming.
Proper Technique Starts in the Mixing Bowl
Depending on your dough recipe and the elasticity of your dough, it may be easier or harder to stretch it by tossing. Cold dough won’t stretch much, or in some cases not at all, which is one of the many reasons I continually encourage proper proofing. The proper development of gluten will play a part in how difficult or easy it will be to stretch the dough. So how do I develop gluten properly? It’s a combination of kneading and resting. A batch of dough should be kneaded (or mixed) and rested at least twice before it reaches the proofing stage. The best way to achieve this is by sticking to your recipe exactly. I've said it before, and I'll say it again… if the recipe calls for 8 minutes of mixing, mix for 8 minutes – not 7, not 9 – 8 minutes.
The follow through to making good dough is consistency in the first stages of stretching. If you've watched our dough handling video, you noticed the emphasis on being consistent while flattening a piece of dough. If you end up with one side of dough thicker than the other, you’ll have pizza dough that wobbles and turns funny like a poorly thrown football. I often tell people tossing dough in the air is proof of how good (or bad) of a job you did pounding it. If you haven’t quite got the whole hand-pounding technique down yet, that’s okay; make friends with a rolling pin and use it to roll out the dough nice and evenly.
Let’s Get to the Good Stuff
So you’ve made some fantastic dough, now pat yourself on the back because that can be the hardest part of making a great pizza. It’s properly proofed and pounded (or rolled out with a pin) and now it’s time to give it some stretch and get it airborne.
- At this point, you’ll want to stretch the dough by draping it over the back of your hands close together, knuckles bent inward and facing down (so as not to poke a hole with your fingers.
- Once you've stretched it to about 8 inches in diameter, using your hands, it’s ready to try the first toss. The key to a good toss is pushing upward and rotating in a circular motion at the same time. Pushing upward is the easier part, getting the rotation down takes some practice. Once the dough is flying, try not to get awestruck – you still have to catch it!
- Catch the dough just like you initially stretched it before sending it flying into the air, with the backs of your hands. If you try to catch it fingers out, you run the risk of poking fingers through and ruining your hard work.
I’ll leave you with another piece of advice I constantly give people. Practice. Pizza dough is extremely cheap to make on your own, so if you have free time make extra dough strictly to practice hand-pounding and tossing with. It truly is a rewarding skill that will give you endless entertainment power at your next pizza cook-off.