There are countless recipe books on the topic of pizza. We received one from John and Mary one Christmas, and while I had made many a pizza prior to this, it started me on a quest of pizza perfection.
When I mention that I make pizza at home, the first comment from most is, “do you make your dough from scratch?” My answer is yes! And it is easy!
Learn some basics first about bread and pizza dough. First – dough is simply three parts water to one part flour. Doesn’t change much from that. Add some yeast and it rises! That’s about it! I have added some sugar (an inspiration from Martha Stewart), salt (careful here!) and a little olive oil. You can change things here and there – add a little whole wheat flour or perhaps an addition of corn meal for a mexican inspired pizza. Just keep the general quantities the same – 3 parts flour to one part water. Smaller pizza – do the math! Two pizzas – you got it! Do the math!
Let’s start with the basic dough recipe that I use. I started making pizza from Chef BoyArDee mixes probably at the age of 13 or so. I remember American cheese slices and hot dogs as my usual toppings. Not a good memory. My best friend Tom turned me on to mozzarella and sausage, and the journey to pizza perfection began. I feel real comfortable saying this is my recipe, as I have changed quantities, added things, etc. from countless recipes over the years.
Basic Pizza Dough:
2 cups flour – I generally use 1 cup bread flour and 1 cup general purpose. Use what you wish, and experiment!
2/3 cup water – Room temperature works just fine!
1 teaspoon yeast – Most recipes call for a teaspoon per cup of water – I add a little extra for the yeasty pizza taste!
1 tablespoon oil - Olive oil is nice, but not necessary.
1/4 teaspoon sugar - Read it once in a Martha Stewart magazine – honest!
1/2 teaspoon salt – I like to add salt after mixing the first cup of flour – word on the street is that salt and yeast don’t like to touch each other!
1. Start by adding the yeast to the 2/3 cup of water. Mix it up a bit. You can let it sit for a few minutes – I generally do, but if you are in a rush, you can begin adding the other ingredients.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of olive (or canola) oil.
3. Add one cup of bread flour (if you don’t have it, don’t sweat it, regular flour is fine!)
4. Mix it up, then add about 1/2 cup or so of the regular flour, stir, then dump the whole thing on the counter.
5. Knead the dough. Add remaining flour as you are kneading the dough. You may not need the full amount of flour. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes.
6. That’s it – total time, less than 10 minutes! Not bad. Place in a clean bowl, add just a little oil to keep the dough from drying out, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit. I generally plan for about an hour or so for the dough to rise – winter time may take a little longer. You can cheat and put the oven on warm for just a minute or two, turn it off, then place the dough in the oven. Don’t forget to turn the oven off! If you want pizza after a long hard day of work, no problem! Just place the dough in the refrigerator, and it will be a perfect rise when you come home from work.
Now for the fun part! Time to form the pizza, top it, and slide it onto a preheated pizza stone! If you do not have a pizza stone, purchase a nice large one. Mine is 15″ x 14″. If you have a smaller stone, you might need to cut back on the size of this pizza. Do the math, and adjust accordingly. Set the oven to 500 degrees F and preheat the oven and stone for about 30 minutes at least.
One of our favorite magazines is Cook’s Illustrated. If you are a beginning or experienced cook, I highly recommend a subscription – it is well worth it! Each issue has hints and great recipes in it. One issue mentioned the difficulty of taking pizza off the wooden peel when trying to slide it onto a pizza stone in the oven. It is something I struggled with for years – cornmeal was the best thing to use to keep the dough from sticking. The authors found that parchment paper under the dough made for an easy slide onto the stone. I have never gone without since!
Rip off a sheet of parchment paper and form the dough into a circle. If the dough doesn’t want to move, and it springs back – just wait 5 to 10 minutes for it to rest. If you wish, you can use a rolling pin. If you really want to get crazy, start throwing it around. I have not had good luck with crazy!
I use just a little tomato sauce – half of an eight ounce can. Use more if desired. I save the remaining sauce for another time! If you are out of sauce, other options remain, and will be discussed at the end of this article.
Now it is time for the toppings. Use what you have in the fridge or pantry. Olives, mushrooms (fresh preferred), peppers, spinach, broccoli, artichokes, shrimp, chicken (cooked), pepperoni – whatever you wish. We recently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and had an abundance of spinach and broccoli, so that became or base.
I added some grated mozzarella, feta cheese, left over chicken/habanero bratwurst sliced thin, mushrooms, and fresh basil.
I trim the parchment paper before putting it in the oven, as it has a tendency to burn on the edges. Slide it onto the HOT pizza stone, and cook for 10 – 11 minutes. Let it sit for 5 minutes after coming out of the oven, slice and enjoy!
As for toppings – be creative, use what you have on hand. (American cheese and hot dogs not withstanding!) One of my favorites came from my brother in law John - Precook the dough for one minute, spread olive oil on the dough, top with cut up shrimp ( I pre-saute for about two minutes), swiss cheese, and chives. Experiment, and have fun!