Mixing dough by hand

Recently, we decided to start making our own dough instead of buying frozen Gonnella dough balls in part to save money but also to see if we could create a better product. We don’t have a large mixer as we didn’t have a need for it and before investing in one we wanted to see if we could create at least as good a dough product as we were buying.

I have a recipe for a dough that is very similar to the ORIGINAL Noble Roman’s dough that is also supposed to be very similar to the Gonnella dough we buy. On first try (using a small mixer) I felt the dough was too salty and I must have done something wrong as the dough didn’t rise in the oven.

Knowing that I couldn’t make enough dough using our small mixer, I started to wonder how great pizza dough was made before gigantic mixers came along. So, I searched the internet and only came upon dough mixing by hand instructions and recipes for home use.

Anxious to try again, I figured I would use the instructions for mixing dough by hand that I found online. The second batch which was made about noon today and used about 8pm was left on the counter to proof as I wanted to test it before leaving the store.

I took the flour and made a “ring” on the countertop with the flour, added a 75 degree water in the ring, then added the yeast to the water and let it bubble a little and gave it a little flour to start it feeding. I poured the salt and sugar ( a little less that the recipe asked for) on top of the flour ring then started incorporating the flour/salt/sugar into the water/yeast. When it was fully incorporated, I then added olive oil and kneaded it a little bit then let it rise twice and punched it down and kneaded it just a little each time I punched it down. We used it on the 3rd rise.

It did have large bubbles which I know creates “insulation” so my breadsticks needed a little extra cook time but the dough was DELICIOUS. However, in both batches the dough didn’t stretch well. The first batch was mixed in the mixer for a good 10 minutes while the second batch was mixed by hand and kneaded very little. Both times, the dough seriously retracted when stretched so I wasn’t able to get an 18" pizza from 16oz of my dough but can easily get an 18" from 16oz of Gonnella.

I didn’t dock the dough after stretching but I did roll it this time as that was the only way to get some diameter out of it without it tearing. I did hear some bubbles being popped as I rolled the dough and worried it would not rise well in the oven but it looked beautiful coming out of the oven and it had a nice crispness on the outside and a really wonderful tenderness on the inside. We all agreed that taste wise, it was far better than the Gonnella.

So my question is, what did I do wrong? What can I do so the dough will stretch easier? If using this method, should I roll the dough instead of just stretching? Does anyone mix dough by hand anymore? If so, do they all have Popeye arms (not an attractive look on my female arms)? Does anyone have any advice or instructions or tips on what to do/what not to do if mixing dough by hand? I liked that I mixed the dough with little kneading then let it rise as my total time investment was only about 10 mins. from start to usage.

Any useful advice is greatly appreciated.

I am no expert but here is my opinion.
Punching it down and kneading it a couple times probably made it tough.
Also, I normally brush it with oil and let set in the cooler for a couple days.
If you add 5 oz of dough to each ball than maybe you could get it to stretch easier but that would mean a thicker crust.
I am sure someone else could have some suggestions here.

I pretty much make my dough by hand. I do use a VCM, but that is just to give it a quick mix. It only goes in for 25 seconds. What I do to get it to stop snapping back is this. Mix it, knead it. portion and ball it, oil it and set it on parchment covered cookie sheets. Stick it in the fridge for AT LEAST 12 hours. UNCOVERED. The next day, it is AWESOME. The trick here is it needs to cool completely. Let me know if you need any other help. BTW the reason I say uncovered, is because when I tried to cover with plastic wrap or anything it trapped in the heat from the balls and created water drops on my dough, still useable, but kinda sticky.

Thanks for your advice. Do you know if our high gluten flour and instant dry yeast are mostly responsible for the dough retracting so much? Or, is it because of the heat build up in the dough balls? As I mentioned, I mixed the dough about noon and used it about 8pm without putting it in the cooler as I wanted to hurry it along to see what it would be like. So it certainly had plenty of time/heat buildup.

You mentioned that you mix your dough by hand but what batch size are you starting with (how many cups of flour)? Also, you mentioned that you mix it a little and knead it a little. How much time do you spend kneading it? Does the dough really NEED much kneading or is that more relavent to the gluten content of the flour or the amount of yeast.

Any answers are much appreciated.

I have used instant dry yeast before and it sure does make the dough springy.

In all of the discussion, I didn’t hear the word “fermentation” mentioned. This is the key to making great dough, with or without a mechanical mixer. Many years ago I was in Romania and I visited a very large bakery that I was told had a total of 60 mixers, and 60 mixers they had. Each mixer consisted of a steel bowl, much like the bowl for a spiral mixes, about 36-inches in diameter and about 30-inches deep. First, water was added, then the flour, followed by the salt and sugar, this was stirred ever so slightly, then the yeast suspension was added, and the dough mixed for just a couple minutes, the oil was then poured in and the dough mixed about 3-minutes more. How was the dough mixed you ask? By two men, each with a wood stick about the diameter of a baseball bat, and about twice as long. They stirred the ingredients together until it resembled wet oatmeal, then they covered it with a sheet of plastic and went on to anothe bowl to “mix” another dough. Each dough was allowed to ferment for approximately 4-hours, being punched down just to keep the dough in the bowl, then the dough was taken to the bench, and with the help of a little dusting flour, it was cut into pieces, formed into balls, and placed into baskets for final proofing, After roughly an hour proof, it was turned out of the basket onto a baking pan and taken to the oven for baking. Great bread! In Pittsburgh, PA, there is a pizzeria where the owner does the same thing, he mixes all of his dough by hand. He pours water into a large stainless steel trough, then he adds the flour, salt and possibly sugar (don’t remember if sugar was used or not). Then he wets his hands and smears compressed yeast over his hands, he then begins to mix the ingredients together by getting his hands and arms into the dough. He just mixes the mass until it look like what??? Wet oatmeal! Then he goes back to making pizzas for the next several hours while his dough ferments. After the fermentation period, he cut the dough into pieces, formed them into balls, set them on trays and covered with plastic, the dough was ready to use in a little over an hour. I think I would change the procedure slightly by suspending the yeast in the water for better distribution, then adding the flour, followed by the salt and sugar. If oil is used, it would be added after the “dough” begen to look like wet oatmeal.
I noticed that you mentioned using IDY. In this type of application, the IDY should first be hydrated in 95F water, much like you would pre-hydrate ADY. If you used compressed yeast, I would recommend suspending ity in the dough water just prior to adding the flour. Again, the key here is to allow the dough to ferment, this will help to condition the gluten, allowing the dough to be shaped withouth the undesirable “memory” characteristics. If you take a look in the RECIPE BANK you will see my home made dough procedure which is copied after this method.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor