Technique: Shaping Dough Balls
One of the burning questions that probably keep you up at night is: why do pizza bakers shape their dough into balls prior to stretching, topping and baking?
Above all, it’s much easier to fashion a round crust from a round ball of dough than from anything else. But even apart from that, it makes sense to have a point in your process where you measure out the exact amount of dough you want to use, and “package” it for the final stretching / baking step. This step is a transition from the dough making phase to the baking phase. You can clean up the dough mess, put away the dough making tools, and start prepping the oven and toppings. And if you are making pizza for guests, or are guest at someone else’s house where you bake (always preferable to bringing already-baked pies and use a Californo mobile pizza oven), this is a good place to stop before you let your guests arrive or before you travel. Make the balls, store them in a container, and stretch/top/bake later.
It is during this step that you decide how big you want your pizza to be (not during stretching), by measuring out the appropriate amount of dough. And yes, it absolutely makes sense to accurately measure the dough by weight, instead of eyeballing it. If you want, you can skip the weighing, but your crusts might end up varying more than you will like. Weighing will ensure you can turn out crusts of a consistent size and thickness (and consequently, baking qualities for a perfect crust). Baking constant size pies is also nice because you can make them fit exactly to your baking pans / screens and serveware (for instance, everything I own is made for 14″ pies).
I suppose there are many ways to shape a dough ball, and I’m showing here just one way to do it. I use a combination of pulling & folding movements to make the dough come together in a round ball shape. At first the ball will be on its back, but around halfway through I flip it over, then finish up by folding / tucking under more dough to get the shape really nice and round. Be firm and swift, but work with the dough, not against it. You want to try and handle it gently, so you don’t knock all the air out of it.
1 kg of room temperature dough, enough for two pizzas (which is why I cut it in two pieces first). This is not fridge dough but a faster, non-refrigerated dough (you’ll have to watch the full video to see the exact recipe :), but when I do use fridge dough (and I do most of the time), I usually use 500-540 grams of it for a 14″ pizza. I use scissors and a scale to measure out the amount I need from my dough bucket:
When the dough balls are done, they are allowed to rest again before baking. If you will bake soon (say, within 15 minutes to an hour), you can do the same as I do in the video, and wrap the balls in a well floured kitchen towel. If you don’t plan on baking them very soon, you can keep them in an oiled container in the fridge, so you can bake at a later time (this is what pizzerias usually do). Ideally, you should let refrigerated dough come fully to room temperature prior to shaping (ie. wait 1 – 2 hours), but this is not strictly necessary. Just keep in mind that the cooler the dough, the harder it will push back against your shaping efforts. A room temperature dough, on the other hand, will be supple and easy to shape.