The Sunday Afternoon Pizza Experiment

pizzaparty
Pizza with tomato passata base, chorizo, spinach, and mozzarella

I’ve struggled to find a pizza dough recipe that’s both delicious and fairly easy to prepare.

The absolute best pizza dough recipe I’ve tried comes via 101 cookbooks. However, this recipe (initially written for bakers I presume) requires two days to work the “delayed fermentation” method  and you end up with more pizza dough than you can reasonably consume. The last time I used this recipe for a dinner for two, I ended up with a lot of waste dough—perfect for parties, but not for dinner.

I’ve tried quicker preparation methods that only require one rising that have ended up tasting dry and stale, even fresh out of the oven. So today, having a few hours and a persistent craving for fresh pizza, I decided to try a couple of day-of-consumption recipes to see what works best, and come across a few things one should know about flour and yeast that recipes don’t always explain.

The recipes I tried come from epicurious.com and foodnetwork.com. The recipe I recommend comes from the Food Network, courtesy Emeril Lagasse.

Sunday Afternoon Pizza

Makes: 2-12 inch pizza bases
Preparation time: 90 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 package / 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups all prupose flour
  • Cornmeal as necessary for dusting

1. In a large bowl combine yeast with water and sugar and stir well to combine. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. (I followed the directions on a tin of yeast, which were slightly different, and then incorporated with the dough as it directed.)

2. Add the salt, olive oil, and half of the flour and mix well to thoroughly combine. Add all remaining flour except 1/2 cup and mix well with your hands, working to incorporate the flour little by little. The dough should be slightly sticky to the touch.

3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead dough for at least 5 and up to 7 minutes, adding enough additional flour as necessary to form a smooth and elastic dough that is not sticky.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled 2 or 3-quart bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, usually at least 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (about 290 degrees Celsius) and if you have one, place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven. Divide dough into 2 portions (for 2 (12 to 14-inch) pizzas and form into balls. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with a damp towel. Let rest for 15 minutes, then transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape as desired and roll out to a 1/8-inch thickness.

6. Transfer dough to a tray. Sprinkle with cornmeal to help facilitate moving dough. Top with toppings of choice. Transfer to the preheated pizza stone and bake until crispy and golden brown, usually 12 to 18 minutes (depending on the toppings and the thickness of the crust). Remove from the oven with a metal peel or spatula and serve immediately.

* Notes: The lessons about pizza dough that I learned today have mostly to do with moisture and temperature. I have noticed that pizza dough is more cooperative in the summer, which I am assuming has to do with heat and humidity in the air.

Yeast that non-commercial bakers use (like active dry or rapid rise, but not instant) requires rehydration in warm water to activate their live cultures and to rise properly. Some recipes don’t account for the domestic baker enduring a Canadian spring or winter, where indoor heating alters the effects of the warm water added to a recipe.

Once I understood this, I sought out the Emeril recipe with lots of warm water (almost double the Epicurious recipe) and oil as well, to moisten the dough. The water you use to active the yeast should be very warm but not hot.

The right moisture and heat are things you can detect in the feel of the dough, which is something you’ll recognize when you make a good pizza dough. I remembered that the 101 cookbooks recipe turned out a dough that was inexplicably soft and elastic.

The Emeril recipe did the same. The dough is easy to stretch and toss, and kneading the dough can be done with one hand and very little effort. The Epicurious recipe was tough and hard to manipulate—a sign that it was too dry. The Emeril recipe directs you to add the flour little by little, until just enough has been absorbed so the dough doesn’t stick to the surface you’re kneading it on. I used only 2 1/4 cups of flour in total.

The other thing I found to be important was that the right pizza dough is quite sticky—more than tacky, it sticks to your hands. It’s also still warm to the touch because the water added to the recipe has been heated properly. This ensures that the dough will rise properly.

4 Responses to The Sunday Afternoon Pizza Experiment

  1. Gotta admit I cheat when making pizza dough. I buy frozen white bread dough from the grocery store, thaw it (yes in the microwave, slowly) and cut the loaf portion in half. Roll it very thin. Makes two 12 inch pizzas.

    I bought a pizza stone, which has really improved my crust. Using the frozen bread dough makes pizza a convenience food.

    Love The Three Cheeses!

  2. Don’t worry Jackie, I cheat too! I make pizza dough quite frequently using my breadmaker. It’s a godsend – 5 minutes of prep and you have the perfect dough for pizzas, bread, or dinner rolls! I definitely recommend a breadmaker if you like the fresh stuff, but are too lazy to put the effort in.

    Although after reading this post, prepping and kneading it yourself sounds kind of fun! Great research, Deanne!

  3. Okay, all day I have been thinking about my short cut use of bread dough for pizza. It is pretty plain and not yeasty tasting. Methinks I will give your recipe at try!

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