12-05-2014: This will be changed within the next week to reflect the simplified technique on the New York style dough which was updated on December 5th.
Creating a hand tossed or stretched style thin crust pizza crust relies upon the elasticity of the dough which is created when the gluten protein from what aligns and links together to form longer strands. The way the gluten forms these strands is responsible for that soft but slight pull to the bite of a good crust as well as allowing the pizza to be crafted on a wooden pizza peel then transferred onto a hot baking stone. The smoothness of the dough ball is crucial achieving a good texture as well as a trouble free transfer.
What You Need
- New York style pizza dough
- Extra flour for dusting
- Work surface
- Medium size mixing bowl
- Wooden pizza peel
- After you have all the ingredients for the dough mixed into a ball. You will need to knead it for approximately five minutes by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment on the lowest speed setting. Kneading by hand is done by folding the dough in half and pressing it down with the palm of your hand and repeating. This process aligns the strands of gluten together creating the elastic quality needed to allow the dough to stretch with out tearing and also forming the air pockets inside of the dough.
- Shaping the dough ball ready for proofing (rising) is done by gently stretching the middle of the dough ball toward the bottom to create a taut surface around the outside of the dough ball. The smooth surface that this creates is important because this aligns the gluten strands just a bit more to create a smooth surface that is less likely to stick to the wooden pizza peel used to transfer into the oven. The easiest way to go about doing this is to use the edge of your pinkie fingers and gently push together the bottom of the dough, in the photo I am holding my right had still and sliding it gently at an angle toward the dough ball and repeat a few times. This should take 20 seconds or so and each time you pull the dough under you are just moving it a little as to not rip the surface as to allow the dough to naturally stretch.
- Once you have a nicely taut and smooth surface to the dough ball you are ready to let it proof. Lightly flour the surface as shown and place the dough ball with the seam side down in the middle. Cover with a bowl atleast twice as wide in diameter as the dough ball. Let proof for approximately an hour or until double in size. About half way thorugh this is a good time to pre-heat your oven and baking stone to 550°F.
- Now that the dough has proofed to a much larger size it is ready to be formed by stretching into a round crust. The proofing process allows the dough to relax and expand creating a dough that will stretch naturally and with minimal effort.
- Lightly sprinkle some flour on your pizza peel, a bit of a larger area than I did on mine. You are looking to make aproximatly a 14″ pizza so a 14″ circle is good. The flour prevents the dough from sticking to the pizza peel allowing it to slide off onto the hot baking stone.
- Lay the dough seam side up (top side down) on the pizza peel. You will want to create a ring around the dough with your fingers by pressing down. This forms the outside of the crust and is crucial to hand tossing. However hand tossing is not necessary to achieve a good pizza. It just happens to be the fastest way.
- Once you have the ring around your dough formed pick up the dough ball and hold it by the edge rotating it around. With a properly kneaded and proofed dough gravity will do the work and stretch it out pretty evenly.
- You can use both hands to gently stretch the dough out and work any areas that my be a bit thick. This takes some practice to get it perfect but remember to make slow pulls. If you create any tears just lay the dough down and overlap the tear area and press it back together.
- Once the size gets close lay the dough down, remember which side was down originally, and use your hands to stretch and form into a perfect circle.
- Once you are done you should work quickly to get the sauce and toppings on the pizza. Even though the smooth surface and flour keeps the dough from sticking it will only work for so long. Try to only let the dough to sit on the pizza peel for about 3 minutes. Any more than that and remember to give the peel a little shake to make sure no areas starts to stick.
Continue reading: Topping a New York style pizza
Oops I messed up … what now?
Short of an over proofed dough, which can happen on hot summer days, if things didn’t work out for whatever reason knead the dough back together and start over with step one. At this point just knead until you have a smooth surface and not the full five minutes.
Note about hand tossing
Hand tossing a pizza may seem like the first thing you want to try when making a ‘hand tossed New York style’ thin crust however doing this requires some practice and inevitably some mistakes and a light dusting of flour around your kitchen will result. I would suggest you hold off on practicing this, especially in the beginning. You need to feel the dough and know how it reacts and responds to stretching and ensure you have your kneading/proofing technique down before attempting any hand tossing. The kneading and proofing has a profound effect on how the dough handles as does the water percentage. I would also not suggest the hand tossed until after you have purchased a digital scale for measuring water and flour as measuring water and flour in cups has too much of a variance for hand tossing. However when you do try hand tossing, and I urge you to at some point as its super fun, have an extra dough ball ready in case it ends up on the floor or the ceiling, folded in half or with a hole in the middle from your hand. One or all of these will happen in the process of learning and remember practice practice.