Killer Pizza, Part One: The Dough

Killer Pizza, Part One: The Dough

Like my taste for big-haired blond women (

thanks, Charlie's Angels

!), my pizza opinions were formed during childhood in the 1970's. I grew up eating pizza in New York City, which indelibly marked me for my preference for a medium-thin, crisp crust with only a little breadiness. Why pay a lot for passable-but-not-great New York pizza in Orange County when you can make a better pizza yourself?

This week, I'll share some tips and background techniques to make a great thin crust pizza.

Killer Pizza, Part One: The Dough

One of the most important reminders is to weigh your ingredients. A kitchen scale is the best investment you can make in becoming a better baker. Measurements by volume can vary wildly--a scooped cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 4 ounces to 6 ounces, depending on who's doing the scooping. And if you like thin-crust pizza like me, the dough should be wet.

A "loose" or "wet" dough will stretch out thin without tearing. It also gives the yeast a moister environment to ferment and multiply. A drier dough will spring back into a ball like a tense, knotted muscle, and will not stretch thin without tearing.

The recipe below uses a tiny amount of yeast, and rises slowly overnight in the refrigerator. Cooler, longer fermentation creates better flavor. Slow fermentation of the dough adds complex flavor to the dough and brings out the wheaty character of the flour. The recipe needs a night in the fridge at least, but remains usable for up to three days without overproofing.

If you want a fast-rising recipe that'll be ready in 45 minutes, use 3/4 teaspoon of yeast and let the dough rise, covered with an inverted bowl, at room temperature. You can also knead this dough for 2 minutes in a food processor or a stand mixer, but I do it by hand because I don't own them, and I like to feel what the dough is doing.

Ingredients

Yield: 4 thin crust 8" pizzas or 2  thin crust14" pizzas

20 oz. all purpose flour (1 cup = about 4.6 oz)
12 oz. water (70-90 degree F) water
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 Tablespoon (generous) olive oil or 1 oz by weight
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast* (find this at Smart & Final)
1 Tablespoon malt syrup (optional)

*Note about instant yeast: I prefer using instant yeast because it's more potent than the more common active dry yeast. Instant's smaller grains don't need to be proofed in warm water prior to use. If you are using active dry yeast, use the same amount, but proof the yeast in the water first.

Preparation

  1. Dissolve the optional malt syrup in the warm water. If using active dry yeast, add it now, and allow to proof for 5 minutes.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Add olive oil into flour mixture, and combine with fingers until oil is absorbed evenly into the flour.
  4. Add the water into the flour mixture all at once, and stir with a rubber spatula until the water is mostly absorbed. You may have spots of dry flour, that's ok.
  5. Leave the dough alone for 5 minutes, and allow the flour to absorb the water.
  6. Knead the dough for 1-2 minutes, until it's evenly textured. It should be on the wet side, somewhat tacky but not overly sticky. If it's too wet, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until it's manageable.
  7. Divide the dough into 2 or 4 even pieces, depending on if you want an four 8" pizzas or two 14" pizzas.
  8. Roll the dough into a smooth ball, pulling the skin of the dough tightly and pinching the seam that forms during the forming process.
  9. Place the dough into a lightly oiled container, such as plastic wares, or  a zipper lock plastic bag.
  10. Place in the fridge overnight to proof slowly. Allow it proof overnight, up to three days.

Next week, we move on to oven technique to yield a great, crisp-crusted pizza...



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