Last summer, Jim Dodge came down to try my pizza. He very politely informed me that it was very nice, but that it wasn't quite kneaded enough. We later got into a discussion via email about how to tell if you dough has been kneaded enough. He outlined for me the four stages of gluten development, as follows:
1. When you first begin kneading the dough and it forms a ball, it will stick to the sides of the bowl and look rough. When you touch the dough is will be very sticky and stick to your fingers. When you pull the dough it tears easily and quickly.
2. After slow kneading the dough begins to form a smoother shape, stops sticking so much to the side of the bowl, mostly sticks just on the bottom. When touched sticks less to your fingers. When you pull a peace of dough it stretches slightly and then tears. If you were to knead the dough by hand it would start to form a smooth ball, but then blister.
3. The dough has formed a ball, has pulled completely from the side and bottom of the bowl. There is very little dough left on the side of the bowl. When you touch the dough it is not sticky, but firm and very elastic. Pulling a peace oft dough it stretches thin and translucent. When you knead the dough it quickly form into a ball with a very smooth exterior skin and does not tear or blister.
4. If you continued to knead this dough it would revert back to step 2, which is and indication the gluten has broken down.
The same is true when you over whip eggs, it will go from 1.Soft peaks (wet & sticky), 2.firm peaks (slightly sticky), 3.stiff peaks (dry), 1. soft peaks (wet & sticky).
Our goal as pizza makers is to take the dough to the 3rd stage, as outlined above. I would say that this is the absolute core of proper pizza dough technique. You can get everything else right, but if you mess this part up, it's not going to be as good as it can be. You can do it in any manner of mechanical mixer, by hand, heck by some method not yet devised, but you gotta do it. Since I do all my dough preparation several days in advance, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday night, there's no way I can get someone like Jim to come down to Santa Cruz on some weeknight to make dough with me. So, it took me a lot of trial and error to really get my gluten development to the right level, but now that I know what to look for, it's quite easy.
The absolute best indicator of proper gluten development is contained in the sentence "The dough has formed a ball, has pulled completely from the side and bottom of the bowl." That's pretty much the whole thing right there folks. If you're mixing your dough in a mechanical mixer, and it hasn't pulled away from the sides of the bowl - ie the bowl should look CLEAN in the areas where the dough is not - then guess what? Your dough isn't done. So keep mixing. Until it happens. Simple as that.
Another good indicator, is how smooth the dough balls are when you go to divide them up. When you are dividing up your big ball of dough into individual dough balls (more on that later), if you’re getting blisters or funny textures, it’s because your gluten is not fully developed. Properly developed gluten will result in a super smooth and silky dough ball.
When the gluten is properly developed you'll notice that the taste is markedly improved. You'll get a much more bread-ey flavor. Also you'll find that the dough is easier to work with, since it is a bit more elastic and won't tear as easily. So, like I said, keep that mixer going until you see it pull away from the sides of the bowl!
PS - I'm having some problem with the Blogger application keeping all the text the same size and font, just in case you thought I was truly graphically challenged.