However much I roll, bash and knead my pizza dough (which I make in a breadmaker), it always springs back and is hard to stretch across a baking sheet. How can I get it to stretch?
Katharine, Durham

It sounds to me that the most likely explanation is that you’re simply not giving your dough a long enough rest between mixing it and shaping it into pizzas, Katharine. Simon Bloss of Rudy’s, Manchester’s most popular pizza parlour and understandably always rammed, says you should leave it well alone for at least four hours, and ideally much longer, so the glutens and yeast get time to do their thing. “We leave it 24 hours before shaping,” he says, “because the glutens get tight and agitated when the dough is mixed, and you need to let them calm down a bit.”

If you want the soft pillow of dough that is the hallmark of a proper pizza, it’s well worth the extra wait, too, because that allows fermentation to develop and the dough to rise properly. “It’s only around the 24-hour mark that it really hits the sweet spot,” Bloss says. This maturation is also why a good pizza will puff up the moment it goes into a very hot oven.

Rudy’s, which recently came 10th in a round-up of the world’s top 50 pizza joints (the next highest UK entry came in at 25), mixes its dough in specialist industrial machines that are far less brutal than your typical domestic bread machine, which may also be a factor in the way Katharine’s dough behaves. Giuseppe Mascoli, founder of the Franco Manca chain of pizzerias (mostly in London and the south, but with plans to branch out to Birmingham, Leeds and beyond), says that at home it’s best to eschew machinery entirely and knead your dough by hand. “Most domestic machines over-tighten the dough,” he explains, “which is why it springs back like that – it’s just too elastic.”

Like Bloss, Mascoli goes for a long fermentation period after kneading – he says to aim for at least 20 hours – but he also recommends a shorter, secondary rest after the dough has been separated and shaped into individual balls, and of two hours minimum. “When you’ve just made them,” Mascoli says, “the balls will be very tight, so you need to let the dough relax again. I use as little yeast as possible and the long fermentation makes up for that.” That’s because there are more than enough natural yeasts floating around in most environments to compensate, he adds, so long as you give them time to get to work, especially so with a traditional sourdough base, which is Franco Manca’s speciality. (In an outrageously coals-to-Newcastle manoeuvre, Mascoli helped set up the chain’s sole overseas branch on the Aeolian island of Salina, off Sicily, where he now lives since selling his majority stake in the business.)

The temperature at which you rest your dough is also crucial: “It needs to be kept at 20-21C, ideally,” Bloss says. And cover it only loosely with a clean tea towel or cloth, he adds: “Never use clingfilm, because that tends to make it sweat.”

Mascoli also says to avoid flour that’s high in protein, such as bread or buckwheat flour, because that, too, will have a detrimental impact on the dough – you’re trying to make pizza here, not a loaf, after all.

Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com



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