I'm a guy who likes his pizza. And I don't mean run-of-the-mill franchise delivery. I'm a bit of an aficionado; I like simplicity and authenticity. And to get that where I live, you've gotta learn to do it yourself. Except I'm also a guy with a small kitchen, no brick-oven, no $300 stand mixer, and a very strict work-ethic (which is doing as little as possible).
I started with Alton Brown's recipe from the Good Eats episode "Flat is Beautiful" (S3E9) which, hopeful as I was, turned out to be more of a cracker than a crust, due mostly to the fact that it required the use of a power stand mixer that I don't have. Otherwise I'd have to knead the dough for like, 15 hours or so (minus the hyperbole). Regardless, most of the methods I use for making the pizza came from this episode and is definitely worth a watch as he explains his methods and techniques much more effectively than I can.
Naturally I turned to the web to see if it could provide me with an alternative to using a stand-mixer, or in fact avoid kneading altogether and the few recipes I found didn't turn out much better than the first one. But as it was turning out better and cheaper than the delivery crap I get around here, I stuck with it for a while.
Until one fateful afternoon, where I was struck either by inspiration or madness, I ventured out on my own into the wide world of dough-making and had the audacity to make a few modifications of my very own.
And against my every expectation, it turned out rather good.
Step 1: Stuff You'll Need
These are all the basic tools you'll need to make the dough, plus the specialty equipment.
1. A measuring cup that can hold ~2 cups water
2. A medium sized bowl. I have one with a snap on lid which comes in handy, but plastic wrap can take its place nicely.
3. Stirring spoon. Something sturdy, you'll be mixing the water and flour together with this
4. A whisk. Which you don't really need, but I like it because it basically sifts the flour.
5. Baking stone. A nice round one from a kitchen store works fine. Mine's an unglazed stone floor tile from a franchise hardware store. It also works fine.
6. Pizza paddle. I didn't have one when I first started, so I used a large wooden cutting board. It worked, kind of. But not nearly as well as an actual pizza paddle does.
1. Bread flour. Absolutely must be Bread flour; not AP flour and definitely not some gluten-free flour. It won't work, since you really need gluten. For best results, I'm told you should use Bread flour specifically for bread machines, as it contains the highest levels of gluten.
2. Table Salt.
3. Baking Powder.
4. White Sugar.
5. Yeast. I use Fleischmann's BreadMachine yeast. A packet of Active Dry yeast should work the same. If you use Instant yeast, you can add it directly to the flour and skip the blooming process.
Step 2: Making the Dough: Dry Ingredients
1. In the bowl, add 3 cups of the bread flour.
2. Add 1/2 Tbsp Salt.
3. Add 1/2 tsp Baking Powder.
4. Mix with whisk.
Step 3: Making the Dough: Wet Ingredients
1. In the measuring cup, add 1 1/2 Cups warm water. Not too hot! Somewhere between 80 F - 90 F is best, if you care to get a thermometer. I just use warm water from the tap.
2. Dissolve 1 Tbsp sugar into the water completely.
3. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp yeast on to warm sugar water. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel or something. This is called Blooming.
4. Wait 5-10 minutes.
5. Stir floating yeast down into the water so it's cloudy.
Step 4: Making the Dough: Combine and Rise!
1. Pour yeast water mixture into flour mixture
2. Mix together well with your stirring spoon.
3. Cover with plastic wrap. Or a lid, if you have one.
4. Let rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place (~70 F). I set my oven to its "warm" setting and leave it there for 2 hours. Since the rack is on the lowest setting, it's far enough away from the coils to do damage.
5. Move to refrigerator for 18-24 hours. I know, I know. That's a long time. Well, that's how I do it and it's worked out pretty good so far. Something about letting flavors mingle and develop and stuff.
Step 5: Making the Dough: the Final Countdown
1. Flour up your pizza paddle or counter or whatever work surface you want to use.
2. Take the dough out of the fridge.
3. Turn the dough onto the floured board and fold it over 3 or 4 times.
4. Form into a ball. I use the method Alton Brown describes in the previously mentioned Good Eats episode.
5. Divide the big dough ball into four pieces, and make them into balls. Each dough ball is enough for one crust. So if you're only making one pizza, you can put the other dough-balls back into the fridge. I sometimes put them in a plastic container separated by parchment or wax paper. You can also spray the inside of a ziploc bag with cooking spray and keep the dough that way.
6. Cover the dough-balls with a cloth or tea towel and let rise for 2 hours. Make sure the cloth is coated with some flour first, or it might stick to the dough.
Step 6: Pizza Time!
Now you're ready to make some pizza!
1. Make sure to place your pizza stone on the bottom most rack. If you have a convection oven, you can place the stone right on the floor of the oven. I've always made pizza with a stone, so if you don't have one, you're on your own.
2. Preheat oven to 500 F. That's as high as my oven goes, but if yours goes higher you can try even hotter temperatures. I never have, cause I can't. Once you've reached temperature let the stone get hot for 15-30 minutes. Rumor has it that that's a good thing to do.
3. Shape the dough. You could try hand-tossing or hand-stretching. It takes practice but is supposed to be worth it because the crust will be better formed. Again, see that Good Eats episode for the technique. I have low ceilings, so I use this French style rolling pin. It's also worked out pretty good so far.
4. Give the paddle a shake to make sure the dough didn't stick. If it does stick, add more flour underneath. Sticking is bad. It will make the transfer to the oven a whole heap of big trouble.
5. Add toppings. Remember: Less is More! Here I brushed on some olive-oil, with a dusting of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper, some diced ham and pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.
6. Slide the pizza off the paddle onto the hot stone. Be gentle but firm. Before transferring to the oven, I like to give the paddle another shake. It helps get a feel for the inertia needed to slide it off, and sometimes cheese will come off. It's better for the cheese to fall off on the counter than on the stone, or else the cheese could fuse the pizza to the stone and make extraction difficult.
7. Wait ~5 minutes and the pizza should be baked!
8. Basically do the opposite of what you did to get the pizza into the oven, to get the pizza out of the oven.
9. Wait ~5 minutes to let the pizza cool and the cheese to settle down.
10. You're done. You can cut it up and eat it now. Or roll it up and smoke it or however you prefer.
Step 7: In Conclusion
And that's how I make my pizzas. You could also try calzones and/or strombolis and/or whatever else pizza dough is used for. Use your imagination!
I should add that, in my experience, the dough turns out even better if you double the recipe. I mean, theoretically there should be no difference, but this is something science is going to have to step back on and take my word for.
Happy Baking, everybody!