So you want pizza. Not just blaugh pizza, but tasty pizza. With the nice chewy crust.
Sure you could go to a pizza joint, plop down a few bucks and bring home a ho-hum pie, but with a little prep, some not-so-specialized equipment and a little know-how, you too can have some decent pizza in about 1/2 an hour to 45 minutes.
Step 1: Prep!
A lot of how your pizza comes out depends on how you deal with things BEFORE you even mix your dough, grate your cheese, or even turn on the oven.
GET A PIZZA STONE. You do NOT need one of those $50 things. I personally like a couple of unglazed quarry tiles, stacked. I found a bunch of them for $2.00 each from my local home improvement store. They're marble. Then one day I found a marble cutting board @ Christmas Tree Shops for cheap. The tiles I was using had just broken (heating and cooling over a years time will do that) so the timing was perfect.
You can use about any kind of flat stone as long as its not painted or glazed. But it's crucial.
Move a rack in your oven to the topmost position. Place the tiles (or stone) in the middle. Close the oven and turn it on to "broil". You want to get those stones good and hot.
You need something to use as a peel. I have been using an insulated cookie sheet for years now, but that's just what I have on hand. Better yet, get yourself a real wooden peel.
Step 2: More Prep!
While your stone is heating, it's time to prepare your dough. Here's my recipe:
1 1/3 C water.
2 Tbs Sugar
1 Tbs yeast - rapid rise probably works best
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs olive oil
4 cups AP flour. You can mix it with bread flour if you like.
Put all ingredients into a mixer except 1 cup of the flour. Let the dough hook mix it all together. Keep an eye on the consistency, you want a nice lump, not gooey dough. If its gooey add more flour a 1/4 cup at a time.
You need a flat surface - a countertop works well. Dust with flour and start kneading the dough. You don't have to do this long, just until its really springy. Usually only takes me a few minutes. Divide this into two equal pieces, form into balls, coat with a light layer of olive oil, and leave them on the counter until they've about half as much larger.
Now - RIGHT NOW - turn your oven from "broil" to "bake" and turn down the thermostat to 450º.
Step 3: Still More Prep!
While you're waiting for your dough to rise, make sure you have all your other ingredients good-to-go. Grate your cheese, slice your veggies...whatever.
Do keep your grated cheese in the fridge once you grate it. Otherwise it tends to start to stick together, making it much harder to work with.
Step 4: Assembly!
Now that your dough has risen, start forming it into a pizza shape. I'll leave it to you to determine how you want that to be. Thin crust...fat crust...tiny pizza...big pizza...whatever.
Apply cornmeal to the peel. This will allow you to transfer the pizza from the peel to the oven and back again easily. Some people like to use flour, but if you're not quick enough the flour can absorb moisture from the dough and make the pizza stick to the peel. I also don't like the "mouth feel" of the dry flour on the bottom of my pizza. The choice, of course, is up to you.
Place the dough on the peel, and then apply your toppings.
Step 5: Bake That Pie!
Your stone and oven should be fully heated by now. Slide the pizza from the peel to the stone.
Oven cooking times vary by oven. It may take eight minutes, it may take more. I personally check and rotate the pizza 180º at six minutes for even browning.
Step 6: Cooldown and Eat
I believe pizza requires a cooldown period. Otherwise the cheese can burn your mouth, and of course molten cheese is more prone to sliding off the crust. But certainly no more than five minutes. Then slice to your hearts content and devour!