08 October 2010

Let's have a pizza party

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Take a dough scraper and cut the log into six, even slices. Oil your hands and roll each slice into a ball.
  6. Place each ball into a small, zip lock bag and toss in the freezer.

It's pizza time!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Return the pizza and the pizza stone to the oven for an additonal four minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, set the stone on a rack and let sit for two to three minutes.
  8. Slice it up and pretend you're in old Napoli.


  1. I do mine on the grill because my cheap oven doesn't get hot enough. Alton Brown did a show on grill pizza that was really good, but I'd been doing it long before I watched his show. It tastes like the pizza I had in Pisa and Rome.

  2. Sounds delicious Paul. At one time, many moons ago I use to make all my own bread 'n rolls ... by hand may I add. The kneading of the dough is half the fun! Wudn't ever think of using a Breadmaker as it is just not the same. Bon appetit and as they say, 'when in Rome do as the Romans do'. -Brenda-

  3. Melody: An outdoor grill is the perfect solution, brilliant thinking.

    Brenda: Making food from scratch is still a passion for me and it'll be interesting to see how long I keep it up. Will I still bake bread when I'm an old man? I hope so.

  4. NOW, you're speaking my language. I found a recipe for Neapolitan pizza in Wine Spectator some years ago, and I've gradually gotten better at making the dough. Practice, indeed, does make perfect. I was not aware of the benefits of chilling the ingredients, so I will try your recipe next time.

    In any case, I've been told that my pizzas are the best thing I make. Not sure how I should take that.

  5. I might have to try this, I made homemade dinner buns for our (early) Thanksgiving dinner last weekend and was delighted at how good they were. I used to bake bread for all of my neighbours when my kids were little, but I've gotten out of the habit over the last 10 years or so. Homemade pizza might be easier to get the kids to help make for dinner too....

  6. Chris: I hear the same thing about my pizzas. I'll take what ever compliments get thrown my way but really? The best?

    Nim: Go for it!

  7. looks yummy...if you want to take it to the next level, Target has a tabletop grinder that you can use to make your own flour from grain. Then go plant a garden with tomatoes peppers mushrooms spinach etc. Its about as real as you can get.

  8. It scares me how much we think alike sometimes! Got a pizza stone a few weeks ago and have been experimenting! I'm in Seattle now, and when my brother-in-law (a chef) comes back into town we are going to do some experimenting -- my current favorite is shaved asparagus, montrachet cheese, and slivered pepperoni, no sauce just brushed olive oil. My sister is making a strong case for prosciutto & asparagus. We'll see. :)

  9. I'm all about the no sauce pizza too. Just give me some olive oil and some salt and I'm happy.

  10. How about a gluten free version, Paul? I just got back from Italy and my poor wheat averse constitution is PIIIISSSSSSSSed that I ate so much fantastic pizza and bread and pasta...

  11. Oh man, I wouldn't know where to start with that one. The whole nature and consistency of pizza dough is based on how wheat protein behaves when it's stretched and pulled. Are there other proteins someone could add that would behave like gluten? Maybe somebody out there has an answer.


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