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September 10, 2007 / Tony

Homemade Pizza

I’ve had limited success in creating really good pizza at home.  Like most foodies, I’m a huge fan of those thin-crusted, crispy pizzas made by pizzerias like Punch in the Twin Cities (a small description can be found here).  Such pizzas, in addition to being thin crusted, usually have a minimum of toppings and are cooked fast in a blazingly hot oven.  Punch’s oven, I believe, has about 800 degrees of hotness.  My home oven, obviously, could not possibly even come close to that type of heat production.  So even before I would start contemplating the making of a pizza, I was under a disadvantage. 

Additionally, looking retrospectively, there’s no way I was making good dough.  For all the times I have attempted to make breads, I really don’t think I get it yet and I think my pizza doughs showed it.  They just never had the complexity of flavor nor the heavenly chewiness that is a hallmark of a great dough. 

So it was by dumb luck that I finally was satisfied with a homemade pizza.  It started with a new dough recipe (I didn’t remodel my kitchen with a new commercial oven or build a clay oven).  Here it is:

Dough for Pizza Napoletana, from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

4 1/2 cups (20.24 oz) unleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled

1 3/4 teaspoons (.44 oz) salt

1 tsp (.11 oz) instant yeast

1/4 cup (2 oz) olive or vegetable oil (optional if using all-purpose flour)

1 3/4 cups (14 oz) water, ice cold (lower than 40 degrees)

Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer.  With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil (if using) and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment).  If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or hte metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough bivorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand.  Reverse the cricular 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.  If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to created a smooth, sticky dough.  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 teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and temp between 50 and 55 degrees. 

Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the partchment with spary oil.  Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces.  You can dip the scraper into cold water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it.  Sprinkle flour over teh dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Lift each piece and gently round it inot a ball.  If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again.  transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan.  Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.  (Obviously, not many home bakers have plastic bags large enough hold a sheet pan, aside from garbage bags.  Alternatively, I simply stuck the dough right into a gallon-sized plastic bag.  The dough really doesn’t rise up during the next step anyway.)

Put your dough in the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough and keep it in there for up to 3 days. 

On the day you plan to make the pizzas, remove the number of dough balls you want to use from the fridge 2 hours before making the pizza.  Dust teh counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil.  Place the dough balls on the counter and sprinkle with flour.  Dust your hand swith flour and gently press teh dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover teh dough loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rest for 2 hours.

About 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens) or on a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800 degrees.  If you don’t have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan but do not preheat the pan. 

Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with cornmeal.  Now roll out the dough as thin as possible.  Use your hands, toss it in the air, or use a rolling pin; whatever works for you.  Don’t worry about getting a lip at the edge, it really doesn’t matter for this type of pizza.  Now place the dough on your peel and give it a little shake just to make sure it’s not going to stick.  And then top it with whatever you want, although probably less toppings is better.  Then slide it into your oven and bake for 5-8 minutes.  You should be looking for a crisp crust and hot toppings.  If one of the two gets done too quickly, adjust where your baking stone is in the oven. 

Here’s what my pizza looked like:


I topped it with Balsamic Tomato Sauce, caramelized onions glazed wtih red wine, and mozzarella cheese.  It was delicious.  Good luck!



Leave a Comment
  1. Katelyn / Sep 10 2007 2:58 pm

    that looks fantastic, making your own crust makes all the difference

  2. Azrael Brown / Sep 10 2007 3:54 pm

    I once worked at the now-defunct Tomicelli’s Pizza and we made dough from scratch with a similar recipe, but we used wet yeast and warm water (and, obviously, we were making a huge batch at a time). Because making crust from scratch takes quite a bit of time and planning, I’ve had moderate success at home just flattening the pre-made frozen ‘loaves’ of dough from the store — I know, hardly gourmet, but better than the Jiffy crust mixes. One key is to roll it or stretch it well, to make sure there’s no air bubbles like it looks you encountered. Many pizza places bake their pizzas on screens to avoid air getting trapped between the dough and the pan, too. ‘Throwing’ the dough to stretch it, like in the cartoons, isn’t as hard as you might think, but it takes some practice 🙂

  3. Tony / Sep 11 2007 4:54 pm

    Yes, a homemade crust is infinitelly superior to any store-bought crust.

    Azrael has some very nice advice. My idea to prevent the air bubbles (which I actually like) is to prick the dough with a fork all over before cooking. That should prevent any large air bubbles from occurring as well.

  4. Mom / Sep 12 2007 3:54 pm

    Not being ‘up to par’ today, I settled for a can of campbells veg beef…..looking at your delicc’ies I think you should come home for the day and cook me up some of these yummies!! (side note…enjoyed your piano playing last nite, a trip back in memory. Thanks!)


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