Fear Conquered: Homemade Pizza Dough
I suspect dough is always a journey. It starts life as completely separate ingredients that look nothing like the final living endpoint. Flour, water, oil, yeast, sugar - so simple and unremarkable inside their respective canisters and bottles. Yet together. Well, together something remarkable and almost unbelievable.
I grew up making dough. For quite a few years, I made the bread for our family in our big Bosch mixer. And as a child, dough baffled me. Sometimes it would rise to form perfectly shaped loaves with a beautiful dome. Other times, flattened, caved bricks dense enough to be confused with clay. I never knew quite what I had done wrong. And I never seemed able to duplicate my random successes.
I'm still baffled by dough - but not for the same reasons. Now I marvel at the beautiful simplicity of just a few ingredients breathing life into elastic, living dough. At how gluten strands form through the simple act of kneading. At how tiny dried pellets of yeast bloom into a mushrooming froth. At how a simple cool night in the refrigerator enriches the scent and flavor of just about any dough.
Every time I handle dough, I journey back to those early confused years where I waited anxiously to discover what kind of bread I had baked - beautifully domed or tragically concave. And every time I arrive at a new successful dough, I can't help but beam with happiness. I can't help but inhale the scent and cradle the pliable softness in my palms. I learn something new each time I combine those simple, unremarkable ingredients together - because I'm convinced dough is a journey.
This pizza dough I'm sharing is no less of a journey, and this simple dough took me on a 5-month journey before I arrived at this happy place. The right amount of flour, water, honey, yeast and vinegar. The right knead time, the right rise method, the right baking method. As I write this now, this dough feels a lot like a good friend who always comes through. The kind of friend I should aspire to be. The kind of friend I know everyone could use.
Growing up, I didn't eat much pizza. On rare occasions, my dad would bring home a pre-made pizza crust (the kind that's already baked but lacks toppings) and we'd make "homemade pizza" with canned tomato paste, grated mozzarella cheese and sliced bell pepper. If we were lucky, Dad remembered to grab a pack of pepperoni slices. If not, we ate veggie pizza smothered in cheese.
The only times I remember having takeout pizza were at friends' birthday parties or church functions. In fact, I didn't discover Dominos' thin crust pizzas until I was in my last year of college - a fellow intern couldn't believe I'd never had Dominos and decided to rectify the problem. And it wasn't until a few years ago when I saw my friend Dan make a pizza from fresh pizza dough (from a local Italian store) that I became brave enough to try rolling out my very own pizza crust.
It was one of those store-bought doughs that prompted this journey to homemade pizza dough. I had tried a few different brands of frozen pizza dough, and each time there was something wrong with the flavor or texture. Sometimes it was bitter. Sometimes it was completely flavorless. And sometimes the dough refused to puff up with bubbles as any good pizza dough should. So I set out to make my own.
This good friend is my version of homemade pizza dough. It's packed with flavor, it's easy to make and it freezes/thaws beautifully. I find myself rushing to finish a slice of pizza just to get to that leftover bare edge. To savor the taste of crisp, chewy pizza crust. This is the friend that helps me forget the pizzas of my past and only remember our journey together. It's a journey I hope you'll take...
|Heat 1 2/3 cups water to 100-110F (I use the microwave)|
|Add warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer and dissolve 2 Tablespoons of honey in the water.|
|Sprinkle 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast over the water and honey.|
|Dissolve the yeast in the water with your fingers.|
|Allow yeast to bloom in warm water for a few minutes while you sift the flour.|
|Sift 5 cups unbleached bread flour into a large bowl.|
|Sprinkle 1 cup of sifted flour over the yeast/water mixture.|
|Add 1/2 cup olive oil.|
|Combine the ingredients together on low mixer speed using the dough hook attachment.|
|Slowly add 2 cups of the sifted flour.|
|Add 2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar to the mixture.|
|Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt.|
|Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.|
|With the mixer on the lowest speed, slowly add remaining sifted flour to the dough.|
|Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.|
|On low speed, knead the dough for 15 minutes, stopping the mixer every 5 minutes to scrape down the sides, bottom and dough hook.|
|After kneading, the final dough should be smooth and elastic.|
|If you plan to freeze some of the dough for later, divide the dough into pieces (up to 4 pieces).|
|Wrap each piece you plan to freeze in plastic wrap, then seal in an airtight freezer bag and freeze.|
|Place remaining dough in a large, oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap.|
|Refrigerate dough for at least 12 hours (up to 24 hours), deflating the dough once or twice.|
|To make the pizza crust, turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.|
|Gather dough into a tight ball.|
|Using your fingertips, press out dough, during the dough as you work.|
|Gradually, the dough will stretch into a flattened circle.|
|You can also toss/spin the dough to stretch it for a thinner crust.|
|If you prefer (as I do), you can also use a rolling pin to stretch out the dough.|
|Continue to stretch the dough until you achieve a 12-inch diameter circle, allowing the dough to rest for 5 minutes if it resists stretching or continues to shrink back.|
|Once the dough is sufficiently stretched, you are ready to bake. You will need either a pizza stone or a ventilated pizza pan.|
|If using a ventilated pizza pan (as I do), transfer the dough to the pizza pan. If you're using a pizza stone, transfer the pizza dough to the pizza peel (used to transfer the pizza to and from the hot pizza stone).|
|Brush the dough with olive oil (I used garlic-infused olive oil).|
|Pre-bake pizza crust for 3-4 minutes at 475F. If air pockets puff up, you can gently deflate these with a spatula.|
|Add desired toppings to the pre-baked crust.|
|Bake pizza for another 8-9 minutes at 475F for a crisp crust. Slice and serve immediately.|
Homemade Pizza Dough
Prep Time: 12 hr 30 min
Cook Time: 12 min
Ingredients (yields 4x12-inch crusts)
- 1 2/3 cups warm water, about 100-110℉
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 5 cups unbleached bread flour, sifted
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Dissolve warm water, honey and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment; allow yeast to bloom while sifting flour
- Sprinkle 1 cup of sifted flour over the bloomed yeast mixture, then add olive oil. With the mixer on low speed, add vinegar and another 2 cups of flour; when flour is mostly combined, add salt
- Shut off the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl. On lowest speed, gradually mix in remaining flour, then raise speed to medium-low and allow dough to kneed for 15 minutes, stopping mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl every 5 minutes
- Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap. If you do not plan to use all the dough at once, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and wrap the pieces you do not intend to use in plastic wrap and seal in freezer bags; freeze this dough for up to 2 months
- Let dough rise in refrigerator for at least 12 hours (up to 24 hours), deflating the dough every now and then; if using frozen dough, allow dough to defrost in refrigerator for 12 hours before using
- Preheat oven to 475℉; divide dough into 4 equal pieces (if you did not freeze a portion of this dough already) and work with one piece of dough at a time, keeping remaining quarters covered in the refrigerator; use your fingers to form each piece of dough into a smooth ball. With your finger tips, press out the dough into a flattened disc, stretching the dough as you work; allow the dough to rest for 5 minutes if it resists stretching
- For a thinner crust, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough further, again allowing the dough to rest if it resists stretching or flattening. You can also work the dough over your knuckles and toss/spin the dough to help stretch it out
- Transfer the stretched and shaped dough to a ventilated pizza pan and brush with olive oil; bake for 3-4 minutes
- Add desired toppings and bake for another 8-9 minutes for a crisp crust
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Hungry for Tips?
- Vinegar: The vinegar really perks up the flavor of this dough - and it doesn't taste like vinegar when baked. It simply adds depth of flavor to the already slightly fermented refrigerated dough. I've tried this recipe without the vinegar and it's just not as flavorful. So add the vinegar.
- Honey: My friend Sabrina and I recently had a discussion about savory doughs that include honey (or other sweeteners) - we both agree that unless we want something truly sweet, we're not interested in sweetened savory doughs. That being said, the honey here does sweeten the dough ever so slightly - but the real purpose is to provide the yeast with some food so it can work it's magic. If you find the final dough to be too sweet, try using just 1 1/2 Tablespoons instead of the full two.
- Pizza Stone: If you own a baking (or pizza) stone, definitely bake your pizza using the stone. However, I do not own a baking stone and in a small apartment kitchen, I don't plan to make room for one. Besides, if I use a pizza stone, then I have to use a peel in order to transfer the pizza to the stone and that's yet ANOTHER thing I have to store. So I prefer a ventilated pizza pan which works wonderfully for me.
- Rolling Pin: No doubt native Italians would smack me good for using a rolling pin to stretch pizza dough - after all, it's not pastry dough! But I'll be honest - I'm not at all good at tossing or spinning my pizza dough through the air and yet I want a really thin crust. Because crispy, chewy crust is the reason I love pizza (well, that and the cheese). So I use a rolling pin and will suffer the consequences.
- Pre-bake: Here's another thing that most good pizza makers won't do - but then there's no real need to pre-bake a crust if you have access to an industrial grade pizza oven with a hot stone surface. And room to store peels. Thus I always pre-bake my crust because otherwise the toppings end up burning before the crust is sufficiently crisp. If you own a pizza stone or if you prefer a softer crust, skip the pre-bake step.
- Bread Flour: Bread flour has a higher protein content and thus forms stronger gluten strands during kneading. So I recommend unbleached bread flour for this recipe. You could probably get away with all purpose flour in a pinch, but the final dough will be different.
- Sticky: This dough is a bit sticky even after kneading for 15 minutes. And that's the way you want it to be. As it chills in the refrigerator, it will become easier to work with and by the time you're ready to roll it out, you will only need to use a tiny sprinkling of flour. So resist the urge to add more flour when you remove it from the mixing bowl.
- Kneading: You really do need to knead this dough as indicated in the instructions. The little pauses to scrape down the mixer bowl during the knead cycle actually allows the dough and gluten a chance to rest briefly. This helps the gluten along and it gives your poor mixer a cool-down break. By the end of the knead cycle, your dough will be very soft and elastic.
- Olive Oil: I like to use a garlic-infused olive oil for brushing over my pizza dough before pre-baking, but that's a personal preference. Olive oil promotes browning over the surface and is what helps give the crust added flavor. So for best results, don't skip brushing your dough with olive oil.
- No Mixer: If you want to make this dough without a mixer, follow the same steps but use a spatula or wooden spoon and a big bowl to mix together the initial ingredients. When you get to Step 3, add the flour 1 cup at a time and use your fingers to work the dough together if it becomes too stiff for the spatula or spoon. Sprinkle the final cup of flour over your kneading surface and knead in the flour by hand for 15-20 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. You may need to add a little more flour using this method, but chill times remain the same.
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