This weekend, I took a friend on the guided tour of making pizza at home... in this case, it's an effort to expand the food repertoire. But for my family, making pizza at home has several strong points in it's favor over restaurant pizza or, heaven help us, frozen pizza.
For starters, we live way out in the country, far, far from any pizza places and out of the range of any sort of delivery. As a matter of fact, the notion that someone would deliver to us out here will cause giggling... I once had a sofa delivered and it took the guy 8 hours to find us... pizza... not so good after 8 hours~!
If you make your own pizza, you pick what goes on it... and the combinations are endless. Endless and varied the sauces and toppings can be as individual as you are and change from pizza to pizza. Healthy options abound and are under the direct control of the pizza makers.
Homemade pizza, frozen by the slice, is an awesome snack or quick meal, heated in the oven or toaster oven, it far surpasses the quality of the frozen product from the grocers.
And last, but very important in the scheme of things is the economy of it. Even with excellent ingredients, two pizza's are only a few dollars.
Over the years, I've tinkered with recipes and have several that are favorites. One of our children loves the thin crispy crusts and I've perfected a recipe for that. The recipe that I'll share today is one that I've worked on for the last year or so. When it's passed the muster of the boys here as being 'better than any restaurant pizza I've ever had', then it's time to call it a day, and stop tinkering.
The recipe makes two pizzas and makes a crust that is light and soft and falls between the pan style and the thin and crispy style. By putting the entire recipe in a pan pizza pan and tossing on some rosemary, course salt and ground pepper, you also have a flat bread that is unsurpassed for soup or for slicing in half and making sandwiches.
The recipe is easy... so easy in fact, you'll be wondering why you've never tried this before.
It is listed in my book of handwritten recipes very unceremoniously as:
The Best Pizza Dough
2 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 2/3 cups of warm water
3 1/2 cups of flour * see flour notes - plus plenty of extra for kneading and rolling.
2 teaspoons salt (I usually use sea salt, but never iodized)
3 teaspoons olive oil
~ I purchase yeast in bulk, mainly for economy. I am able to purchase 2 pounds of yeast for about $5. I keep it in a canning jar in the freezer where it keeps nicely until I've worked my way through the pound. I share the second pound with my daughter, who is an excellent baker of fine breads.
* flour - I normally use divide the amount of flour and use about half plain flour and half bread flour. I've made it using either type exclusively and it works, with an 'all bread flour' pizza being a little more chewy and holding up well under 'heavier' toppings such as those heavy in meat.
Place the warm water (I use warm tap water), the sugar and the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Allow it to sit until it starts to ' work'. The yeast should spring to life and become foamy and bubbly, rising to the top of the water. The small amount of sugar feeds this action and helps in jump starting things. This can take 10 to 15 minutes, or a little longer on a day when the kitchen is cold.
Into this mixture, you're going to dump (yes, just dump it all in) the remaining ingredients. Take a spoon and give it a few stirs to incorporate the yeasty liquid and the dry ingredients and oil. As it begins to pull together in a ball, flour your hands and go in for the fun part.
The dough should be relatively wet feeling so you'll have to keep flouring your hands to keep things from sticking, but several good turns should get it ready to knead. If you don't understand how to knead, then you're going to need (ahem) to practice kneading.
Pizza dough is a fine thing to practice kneading on!
Starting with your fingers, you grab the ball of dough that is further away from you and you 'roll it' toward you, folding it over on top of the portion of the dough that is nearest you.
Stick with me here! ... but if you're sticking to the dough, you need to flour your hands!
Then, you take the ball of your hand, near your wrist and push down and forward on the folded ball of dough.
Repeat this process and suddenly, you'll began to feel the difference. It is best, and often, described as 'elastic' but it should be a smooth, soft ball of dough. I knead until it's very smooth, which takes my practiced hands 7 or 8 minutes,,, for beginners it may take about 10 minutes.
Set the dough aside to rest and rise. To do this, I take a little olive oil and coat my hands, and then lightely coat the ball of dough. I leave it in the bowl and cover the bowl with a dish towel. The rise can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours, but regardless of how much time I give the rise, I've had great luck with this pizza dough. Indeed, I've allowed it to rest only about 10 minutes in cases of impatient beginning pizza makers or running late on fixing dinner. You lose softness and some volume but still have a pizza crust that far surpasses store bought.
To prepare the pizza pan, I put a little olive oil on my hand and rub it on the center of the pan. I don't oil the edges, for if I do, the pizza dough doesn't want to hang onto the edge of the pan. The oil in the middle keeps the center dough from sticking and aids in getting nice slices that are easy to lift.
After the dough has risen, I divide it into two balls and transfer the balls to my pizza pans. If you don't have good pizza pans, then you must buy some, but in the interim you can use a cookie sheet or a biscuit pan.
This is when I turn on the oven. I have an electric oven, and I set it to 450 degrees. It preheats while I finish the pizzas.
Normally, I use my hands to shape the dough...I sometimes stretch the dough over my closed fist before I lay it on the pan. But I lay it on the pan and press outwards, making every effort to keep it even in thickness.
You can repair any little tears or holes that appear by squishing to dough back together.
It's bread dough, not rocket science... don't get too excited it if is a little odd shaped.
On rare occasions I use a rolling pin, but mostly I use that for the thinner crust recipe.
Let the dough rest on the pans again, for 20 minutes if you have the time as it significantly improves the 'loft' of the dough. It will be much lighter and near pizza perfection if you give it this time.
If you can't wait,,, if the boys are baying and the dogs are demanding food now...
if the dogs are baying and the boys are demanding food, you can go ahead and skip that 20 minute rest.
Actually, this is when I like to cut up everything that goes on the pizza, which ironically can take about 20 minutes and can employ the aforementioned boys.
Feel free to think outside the box on the sauce issue.
We love pesto, or buffalo sauce (equal parts of hot sauce and butter) but you can use any red sauce. Leftover pasta sauce is a great choice, indeed, when I make sauce, I try to keep out a half cup or so for the next round of pizza baking. I almost always make at least one pizza with something other than a red sauce base. A nice blend of roasted garlic and olive oil makes for a smashing sauce with certain toppings too.
Spread your sauce however you like it. Thin, thick or medium all work.
Top your pizza with cheese, lots of cheese, the more variety the better. I like to put down about half the cheese, then add the veggies and other toppings and then the last half of the cheese.
I always try to have fresh mozzarella to slice and put on top. One ball makes a generous topping for the two pizzas. Go wild... go absolutely wild with your toppings. The sky and your imagination are the only limits.
You will now have two pizzas. Place the oven racks in the two slots nearest the middle of the oven. One pizza goes on top and one below. Set the timer for ten minutes. At the ten minute mark, switch the pizza's... the one that started on top, goes to the bottom and the one on the bottom goes to the top. Ten more minutes and you're done... so, soo, soooo done!
All time favorites here are
~pesto sauce with fresh garden peppers, onions, spinach, halved little cherry tomatoes with both mozzarella and colby cheeses
~ buffalo sauce with a sauted or grilled chicken breast chopped, peppers and onions
~ marinara sauce with tomatoes, onions, peppers, artichokes and olives.