One of my favorite ways to make pizza is to use pre-made flat bread from my local middle-eastern market and stuff it with my favorite toppings. However, on occasion I feel the need to make my dough from scratch.
The challenge in making the perfect pie is creating a crust that pleases the masses. You see, I prefer my pizza with crispy edges that give way to a chewy center, while hubbie craves the thick crust style that is synonymous with the city of Chicago.
I finally found a recipe that makes us both happy.
I borrowed this recipe from Peter Reinhart’s book Bread Baker’s Apprentice and adapted it to suit my tastes. This recipe requires overnight fermentation so you will need to make this dough at least one day in advance. I will warn you in advance that the dough needs to rest for a total of 4 hours prior to adding it to the oven (in 2 hour increments). It seems excessive but this extra time allows the dough to fully relax before baking.
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled
1 cup whole wheat flour, chilled
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour OR cornmeal for dusting
4-6 medium sized plastic bags
Pizza stone (optional)
Step 1: Prep the dough
- Stir together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a large bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is absorbed. Repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand
- Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed
- The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic and sticky
- Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment paper and spraying it lightly with olive oil spray
- Using a metal dough scraper cut the dough into 4-6 equal pieces (to make 4 or 6 small pizzas). Dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it
- With dry hands, sprinkle flour over the dough, lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again
- Transfer the dough balls to the individual plastic bags that have been sprayed with olive oil and place them in the refrigerator overnight to rest
Step 2: Making the Pizza
- Remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza
- Dust the counter with flour and add a light spray of olive oil. Place the dough balls on the counter to rest at room temperature for 2 hours
- After 2 hours, dust your hands with flour and sprinkle some four onto the dough. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest for 2 hours
- At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 500F. If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan
- Generously dust the peel with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper
- Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and re-flour your hands and continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss (like you see pizza being made in movies). If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn’t as effective as the toss method
- When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction, carefully lay it on the pizza peel making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other topping. I advise you to keep the toppings light
- Slide the topped pizza onto the stone and close the door. Wait 2 minutes then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. If the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes
- Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly