We’ve begun a new tradition around here — Friday Night Pizza Pie and as a result, I have almost gotten over one of my top cooking insecurities — making homemade pizza dough.
Since I don’t believe I ever mentioned to you my list of top cooking inhibitions that I am working to overcome, here you go:
- pizza dough
- pie dough
- bread, biscuits (the rolling and cutting out kind)
There are other fears but mostly related to my safety and that of my family: to master the art of flambé would make me a rock star with the kids…Look, Mommy is setting the bananas on fire!; to whip up a perfect aioli (this means consuming raw eggs and no trips to the emergency room; soaking and cooking beans to perfect tenderness – creamy on the inside and snappy on the teeth…ooh, yes, and a standing crown roast… and cooking a whole fish (our favorite Chinese take-out on speed dial, just in case).
But for now, I am content with working with yeast and getting my hands doughy. I’ve made this pizza crust about five Fridays in a row and am just beginning to get a feel for the texture of the dough which should be not too sticky and not too dry. I’m getting the knack for kneading. Being sure to pull down the top part of the dough– only a quarter or so of it– onto itself and using the heels of my hands to push it away. Then a quarter turn — clockwise and always in the same direction — and repeat. And, actually I’m losing myself in the ten minutes it takes to knead.
I’ve found myself so focused on the dough and what I’m doing with my hands, upper back and hamstrings, that I’m not thinking of much else. By the way, go easy, I pulled a hamstring doing this a few weeks ago.
Basic Pizza Dough (from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water (should feel like bath water)
- 3 1/4 cups unbleached flour
- Extra virgin olive oil — 1 tablespoon for the dough, 1 teaspoon for the bowl, and some for the finished pizza
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- A baking stone
- A baker’s peel
Dissolve the yeast completely in a large bowl by stirring it into 1/4 cup lukewarm water. When dissolved, in 10 minutes or less, add 1 cup flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Then, as you continue to stir, gradually add 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/4 cup lukewarm water, and 1 cup more flour. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and add only as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable, soft, but not too sticky.
Take the dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times, until it is stretched out to a length of about 10 inches (This is when I usually yell out, “Who’s in charge here? That’s right! What’s my name, Pizza Dough?!”) Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you (Think, “Come to me, I love you. No, go away, I hate you! Ok, yes, I love you, now come to me. No, I don’t. Go away.)
Rotate the dough a one-quarter turn, pick it up and slap it down hard, repeating the entire previous operation. Give it another one-quarter turn in the same direction and repeat the procedure for about 10 minutes. Pat the kneaded dough into a round shape. Exhale fully. Feel the stress and tension leave your body. Call your therapist and cancel your next appointment.
Film the inside of a clean bowl with 1 teaspoon olive oil, put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and put the bowl in a protected, warm corner. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume, about 3 hours. It can also sit a while longer.
At least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put the baking stone in the oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sprinkle the baker’s peel generously with cornmeal. Take the risen dough out of the bowl and divide it in half. Put one of the two halves back in the bowl and cover it while you roll out the other half. Put that half on the peel and flatten it as thin as you can, opening it out into a circular shape, using a rolling pin, but finishing the job with your fingers. Leave the rim somewhat higher than the rest.
Put the topping of your choice on the dough — by now I don’t think I have to tell you that I use only a swipe of plain crushed tomatoes (No Chunks) and shredded mozzarella, maybe thin slices of pepperoni or cooked ground sausage, but nothing, NOTHING green — slide it, jerking the peel sharply away, onto the preheated baking stone.
Bake for 20 minutes (mine are taking only 8-10 minutes) until the dough becomes colored a light golden brown. As soon as it is done, drizzle lightly with olive oil. (While the first pizza is baking, follow the same steps for thinning the remaining dough and topping it, slipping it (jerking it — remember who’s the boss, here) into the oven when the first pizza is done.)
Achieve hero status with your picky family.