I've been on a pizza kick lately. Make that, I've been on a real pizza kick lately. Pizza in Rome has nothing in common with that garbage available for delivery except perhaps the similar-sounding names. Roman pizza hunts me, it does. So I've spent the better part of the last year mastering the manly art of pizza making and I can honestly say that I make a mean pizza. While hardly as good as the stuff in Rome, it's a thousand times better than anything that comes out of a box and best of all, I know what's in it.
The key to successful pizza making is practice of course, but you need cold ingredients when you make the dough and the a really hot oven when you bake your pizzas. It's all but impossible to bake pizzas at home without a pizza stone, so go get one before you try this. No two ovens are the same and so you're going to have to play with the baking time and temperature until you find the right settings. I have a crappy oven so I bake mine in two stages.
Baking bread and bread doughs is fun and there's something about it that appeals to me on a very primal level. I like to make things with my hands and the idea of making food with my hands has an appeal to me I just can't describe. I bake the old-fashioned way, no power tools. If you use a mixer or heaven forbid, a bread maker, I don't want to know about it. Baking bread is actually very easy. There are usually four or five ingredients and the yeast does most of the work. It is not a fast process, but easy access to fast foods is why westerners are so fat.
I got started with my pizza dough recipe on a website called 101 Cookbooks. The ingredients are about the only thing my method has with theirs at this point though. This is a great way to start though. Recipes are just a starting point, true mastery comes when you fly under your own steam.
- 4 1/2 cups bread flour, chilled
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
- Additional flour for dusting and additional olive oil for finished dough
- Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Repeatedly dip one of your hands into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, 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, not just tacky, and still be cooler than room temperature.
- Turn the dough onto a floured table top and form into an even ball. Add around a tablespoon of olive oil to the now-empty bowl. Put dough ball back into the bowl and roll it in the oil until it's evenly coated in oil. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest in the fridge overnight.
- The next morning, set the covered bowl on the counter and let the dough warm up and rise. When it nearly doubles in size, it's done rising.
- Punch the dough down to remove the air and turn it out onto a floured table top. Roll it back into an even ball and then form the ball into a log about a foot long.
- Take a dough scraper and cut the log into six, even slices. Oil your hands and roll each slice into a ball.
- Place each ball into a small, zip lock bag and toss in the freezer.
It's pizza time!
- When you're ready to make a pizza, take a frozen dough ball and put it into a glass bowl then cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Let the dough defrost in the refrigerator. It will take two hours or so to defrost. Once it's defrosted, set the bowl on the counter and bring it to room temperature.
- While that dough's assuming room temperature, set a pizza stone on the lower rack and pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees and assemble your toppings.
- When the oven's to temperature, lightly flour the counter and your hands and make a pizza from the dough. Start with a ball and flatten it. Pizza dough is very elastic but you can poke a hole in it if you're not careful. My pizzas are rarely perfect circles but you'll get better at this the more often you do it. By the time you're done forming your pizza, it should be between nine and 12 inches in diameter.
- Take the hot pizza stone out of the oven and set on a rack. Be really careful with that stone. Place your pizza on the stone directly. Brush with oil or pesto and bake for five minutes.
- After five minutes, remove the pizza stone and set it back on the rack. Add the rest of your toppings now. Go easy on them. A good pizza has no more than three toppings and they should be added sparingly.
- Return the pizza and the pizza stone to the oven for an additonal four minutes.
- Remove from the oven, set the stone on a rack and let sit for two to three minutes.
- Slice it up and pretend you're in old Napoli.