Around 5:15pm the other day, I decided that it had become Necessary to have pizza for dinner. That night. No, I didn't want to order pizza, and no, I didn't have any dough On Hand. But, the pizza gods had spoken and could not be denied. So, I figured I'd better hie myself to the kitchen and get cracking.
As far as I'm concerned, you can have the Best sauce and topping ingredients, but if your crust is Lacking, your pizza is not going to be great. The crust is the most important part of the pizza. Just like excellent service can elevate a mediocre meal, but bad service can kill a great meal, so it is with pizza crust. A great crust will make you forget about your so-so toppings, but a nasty crust can't hide behind quality toppings.
So, realizing that the crust is the most important thing, I threw a tasty one together. These were my thoughts:
1)It needs to be made with high gluten flour so it is chewy, even if it's really thin.
2)It needs some olive oil for fruitiness and to keep the crust from becoming too chewy.
3)I should use extra yeast since we want to eat at a reasonable hour and because I want to freeze some for later in the week.
4)A bland crust doesn't do anything for anyone. Make sure it contains enough salt.
5)Some Italian seasoning in the crust will reinforce the flavor of the sauce.
6)It's only dough--who needs a recipe?
So, here's what I did, knowing that I wanted to scale my dough at 6oz per pie.
- 20 oz unbleached bread flour
- about 2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon (more or less) Penzey's Tuscan Sunset--my favorite Italian herb blend
- 2 teaspoons salt (again, roughly. Make sure the crust is almost too salty, since you'll be rolling it out very thinly later on. You want to make sure you can taste that guy, after all).
- several grinds of black pepper
- about 2 Tablespoons good quality olive oil--I used an extra virgin one
- enough warm water (about 130F) to make dough. (roughly 10-13 oz)
1 note: I used water warmer than I normally would use because I was just throwing everything in together without proofing the yeast. The flour, spices and olive oil were all at about 67F, and I knew that the water would cool some when combined with those ingredients. If I proofed the yeast first, I would probably have gone with 115F-120F water.
Combine all your dry ingredients in your stand mixer (fitted with the dough hook). Turn on the mixer and start streaming in water until you have a nice dough that's a little sticky but not too wet. For 20 oz. dough, start with about 11 ounces of water. Add more as necessary.
Once all the water is in and the dough has come together, let knead on medium speed for about ten minutes.
The large portions were for the pizza, the small portions (1 ounce) were for a few garlic knots.
Scale dough into 6 oz portions, round on a lightly oiled surface, spray rounds with oil, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for as long as you have, or until doubled, whichever comes first. If you're not cooking all your pizzas at once, wrap the extra portions individually in plastic wrap, and then throw all of them in a freezer bag and toss in the freezer. They'll be fine for probably up to a month.
Another note: to use the frozen dough, let thaw on the counter for an hour or two (until completely thawed). Then, remove from wrap, round out the dough, spray with pan spray or brush on some oil, cover and let rise until doubled. I did this in the oven with the light on, and it took about 1 1/2 hours.
Next up is a good sauce. I never purchase pizza sauce. I think it's too sweet, most of it contains high fructose corn syrup, and it's too wet. And wet sauce leads to a soggy crust. Very unfortunate. But, if you have one 15 oz. can of tomatoes (diced, crushed or whole) tomatoes and some pantry staples, pizza sauce is Within Reach. Yay.
Pizza Sauce--enough for 5 10" pies
- 1 15 oz. can tomatoes, any form
- a lot of extra virgin olive oil. You decided what constitutes a lot. I usually use a good 2-3 tablespoons. It's good fat, right?
- kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- pepper flake, to taste
- 1 teaspoon or so of your favorite oregano-heavy Italian seasoning. Or just use whatever Italian-esque herbs that you have on hand
- a little sugar, if it needs it
- you can add in 2-3 of tablespoons of diced onions, but I was going for the quick and dirty sauce. Honestly, I didn't miss the onions, but you do what you want.
Put all the ingredients in a sauce pan or even in a skillet. Bring to a boil and let simmer merrily along until quite reduced. Blend with a stick blender. It's thick enough when you can draw a wooden spoon or spatula along the bottom and it parts like the Red Sea, allowing anyone who wants to ample time to cross.
Let cool for awhile or use immediately. This will refrigerate just fine for a week or so.
We made pizzas twice and still have one more 6 oz round waiting for when we need a smackerel.
Toppings-wise, we went with a Use What's On Hand approach. Here's a list of some of the toppings in two of the combinations we made. Again, you do what you want.
- fresh mozzarella
- grated parmesan
- pickled banana peppers
- marinated jalapeno peppers
- pepper jack cheese
- chipotle hot sauce
- chopped up (while frozen) chipotle black bean burgers
- shredded Italian-style 6 cheese blend
How To Put The Pizzas Together
Preheat the oven to as high as it will go. Mine goes to 500F. If yours goes higher, you're lucky.
Put a pizza stone (if you have one) on the bottom rack of the oven so it gets nice and hot. If you don't have a stone, throw a cookie sheet or other flat baking surface in there on the bottom rack.
Hand stretch the dough into whatever size you want. You can always use a rolling pin, too. This is especially useful if you are Impatient and get dismayed when the dough constantly springs back. If you have the time, when your dough starts fighting back, just cover it for 5 or 10 minutes to let the gluten relax. Or just bludgeon it into submission with your rolling pin.
Once your dough is the size you want it. place it on a pizza peel or a flat cookie sheet that you've liberally sprinkled with corn meal.
Spread on about 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. That's all you need, or you'll end up with soggy pizza, even after you went to all the trouble to reduce it on the stove.
Sprinkle on your toppings and cheeses in whatever order makes you happy, but don't overload the pizzas. Remember, it's all about the crust.
Make sure your pizza moves freely on its bed of corn bread. Open the oven and set the edge of your peel or cookie sheet on the far edge of your stone/baking sheet. Do one of those quick push-pull maneuvers to scoot the pizza onto the stone. Do this as quickly as you can.
Mine took 10 minutes at 500F to bake and get a little blistered on top. Remove from oven, sprinkle with some more herbs (or not), slice and let sit for a minute or two so you don't hurt yourself. Eat up.
The first pizzas we made on the day-when-I-didn't-really-have-enough-time-to-make-pizza were good. The crust was very flavorful but only reasonably chewy. The dough that hung out in the freezer for a few days and then had a long rise was incredibly flavorful and ridiculously chewy, especially considering how thinly I rolled it. I highly recommend the long, slow, cold rise. As a matter of fact, do as I say (not as I do) and make it the night before, shape it and let it rise in the fridge over night until 1 1/2 hours before dinner so it can come up to temperature and rise a bit more. Then shape it, top it, and bake it.
Best. Pizza. Ever.
You're welcome. And now, here are some more photos for your enjoyment and edification.
This guy is shiny because I drizzled him with some extra virgin olive oil. Truffle oil would have been great, too, but I don't have any.
Notice that we just lay down slices of pepper jack. No need to shred it.