- About 3 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil as needed
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water for yeast, plus 2 cups lukewarm water for dough
- Pinch, plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 scant tablespoon salt
- 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Up to 6 1/2 cups unbleached allpurpose flour, including flour for dusting
- Cornmeal, for pizza pans (preferably mediumground)
- Glaze (optional): 1 egg white, at room temperature, mixed with 1 teaspoon water and strained
- Sesame seeds (optional), for topping rim of pizza
Basic Topping Suggestions:
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About 6 cups freshly grated cheese (preferably a combination of fresh mozzarella, Muenster and Parmesan)
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups bestquality tomato sauce or marinara sauce (if storebought, embellish with freshly minced garlic and chopped fresh basil leaves)
- About 1/2 cup chopped or slivered fresh basil leaves
To set up: Brush the interior of a 5quart mixing bowl generously with olive oil and set aside for rising dough.
To assemble liquid mixture: Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 2 cups lukewarm water, 1 generous tablespoon of the olive oil, salt, the 2 teaspoons sugar, and pepper, if using. When yeast mixture is creamy and starting to bubble, add to mixing bowl and briskly stir in just enough flour, a little at a time, to create a mass that is not easily stirred in the bowl. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured wooden board. Using floured hands, knead dough in a brisk pushfoldandturn motion, until perfectly smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Add only as much additional flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to your hands and work surface. Use a pastry scraper while kneading to scrape dough off board cleanly as you continue to knead in a sufficient amount of flour.
To rise dough twice: Place dough in the prepared rising bowl and turn to coat it with olive oil. Cover bowl with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and then with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draftfree spot until doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down dough with several swift swats with the back of your hand until dough is totally deflated. Although dough can be used right away, it's preferable to refrigerate it for at least 1 hour and as long as 2 days before shaping crusts. (Chilling relaxes the dough so it won't fight back so much when being stretched into shape and the extra time allows the dough to develop a deeper, more satisfying flavor.)
To set up to prebake crusts: Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and, if using, place a sheet of quarry tiles or a large pizza stone onto rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F for at least 30 minutes before baking. Lightly brush both perforated pizza pans with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal; tilt to coat pans and tap out excess meal. If using, set eggwhite glaze and sesame seeds next to your work surface.
To shape pizza dough: Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board and gently knead just to release air pockets. Using the blade of a pastry scraper, divide dough into 2 equal pieces. If dough is not chilled, cover and let rest for 10 minutes to relax dough. If not working with a double oven and thus can only bake 1 crust at a time, return half the dough to the bowl, cover and refrigerate until the first pizza crust goes into the oven. Pat the remaining half dough into a low round on the floured work surface.
To stretch dough: Spread the fingers of your hand and smack dough several times until visibly flattened but still round. Flour your fists, lift up dough and drape it (centered) over your floured fists. Stretch dough by pointing your fists upward and gently pulling them away from each other. Take care to stretch evenly; if dough starts to feel bottom heavy and is becoming too thin, lay it on your work surface, rearrange it, then lift and continue to stretch. Use as much flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to your hands, which can cause it to tear.
To place dough in pan: Lay stretched dough in the prepared pan, arranging it so the edges of dough meet the rim. Press and pat out dough until it totally covers the pan, building up the rim of dough so it's a little thicker and higher than the interior of the circle. It doesn't have to be perfect, just not overly thick in one spot and paper thin in another. If dough resists at any point, just throw a towel over it for 5 minutes. If dough should tear, just pinch it together with floured fingertips. And if the rim seems too thin, simply fold 1-inch of the edge over onto itself and press to adhere.
Additional Topping Suggestions:
- Sliced and Sauteed mushrooms
- Thinly sliced pepperoni
- Freshly chopped garlic
- Thinly sliced yellow onions or leeks, sauteed in butter or extravirgin olive oil
- Drained and coarsely chopped firm anchovy fillets
- Small cubes of eggplant, lightly tossed in seasoned flour and panfried in olive oil
- Diced potatoes, boiled 5 minutes, drained and panfried
- Pitted and sliced kalamata olives or milder oilcured olives
- Red and/or yellow bell peppers, roasted, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- Sliced pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon) fried until crisp and drained
- Black Forest Bacon (slab bacon) sliced 1/3inch thick and diced (fry until crisp and drain)
- Fresh Italian sausage, removed from casings and sauteed in extravirgin olive oil with minced onion and garlic
- Crushed red pepper flakes (be careful)
To prepare crust for prebaking: Brush the interior of the circle (excluding the 1inch rim) with some olive oil and prick the oiled section of the dough deeply all over with a docker or the prongs of a large fork. Sprinkle oiled dough with freshly ground black pepper. If desired, brush the raised rim of dough with egg white glaze and sprinkle rim generously with sesame seeds.
To prebake crust: Place 4 ice cubes into a 1cup measuring cup and add enough cold water to measure 1/4 cup. Prick the interior surface of crust once more and place pizza pan directly on hot tiles, stone or oven rack. Immediately toss ice water onto the oven floor, underneath the tiles, and shut the oven door. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven using a baker's peel and place it on a wire rack to cool. Meanwhile, as crust is baking, remove the reserved half of dough from refrigerator and prepare the second crust completely through the preceding step. As soon as you remove the first crust from the oven, prick the second crust again, place in oven and administer ice water as directed above.
To set up for baking topped pizza: After prebaking, the crust is sealed, so if you like, you may remove quarry tiles or pizza stone from oven. If baking 2 pizzas the in same oven, position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds; if using a double oven, use the center rack for each pizza. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F until very hot.
To bake and serve completed pizza: Bake in the hot oven until crust is deeply golden, toppings are piping hot and cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. If using the same oven for both pizzas, switch positions of pies after half the baking time for even heat exposure. To serve, insert a baker's peel under the pizza pan and place the pie on a solid (nonperforated) pizza pan. Slice into wedges using a pizza wheel and serve immediately.
To prepare topping: Scatter some grated cheese over the interior of the prebaked crust. Spoon or ladle about 1 cup tomato sauce on top of cheese (not too much or your pizza will be soupy). Spread sauce over crust, stopping just before the rim. Scatter one or more of the suggested toppings over sauce, along with chopped basil leaves. Scatter half of the grated cheese over the top, allowing some of the toppings to be visible through cheese. Drizzle 1 teaspoon fruity olive oil over pizza and then finally top with some sliced pepperoni, if desired. Grind on some fresh black pepper. Repeat with the remaining pizza. FreeForm Pizzas Baked Directly on Quarry Tiles or a Pizza Stone
You do not need a pizza pan for this method and you do not need to prebake the crust before assembling and baking. Position the rack and quarry tiles or pizza stone as directed for prebaking crusts. When preheating, increase the oven temperature to 500 F. Sprinkle a baker's peel generously with cornmeal. Prepare and stretch dough as directed and place it directly on the peel. Rearrange the thin round, to correct the shape. Brush the interior of dough with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh pepper. Docking is not necessary since the weight of the toppings will prevent dough from swelling underneath. (If applying seeds to the rim, try not to let the egg white drip onto the baker's peel since this will cause dough to stick to the peel.)
Top dough as you would a prebaked crust and assemble ice cubes and water as directed. Lift the loaded baker's peel and give it a gentle shake to make sure that the pizza is not stuck. Open oven door and insert peel all the way to the back of the oven. With one swift jerk, remove peel, leaving pizza on the hot tiles. Immediately, toss ice water onto the oven floor and shut the door. Bake until golden and bubbling, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove pizza by sliding the peel underneath it and place on a nonperforated pizza pan. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
- 5quart mixing bowl, for rising dough
- Wooden surface, for kneading
- Pastry scraper
- Set of quarry tiles or a large pizza stone
- Two perforated 15inch pizza pans, for baking pizza
- Docker or the tines of a large serving fork
- Food processor (optional), for grating cheese
- Baker's peel, to remove baked pizzas from oven
- Two nonperforated 15inch pizza pans, for serving baked pizzas to prevent sauce and cheese from running through holes
- Pizza wheel, the larger the better
Game Plan for a Pizza Party
The day before serving, prepare a double batch of dough and allow it to have a second cool rise in the refrigerator overnight. Make your sauce and grate your cheese. Early the next day, prebake 4 crusts and once cool, let them sit "stacked" at room temperature. A few hours before "show time," remove sauce from refrigerator and gather your assorted toppings. About 30 minutes before "chow time," preheat oven and ask your guests "who wants what" on their pizza. Then, assemble and bake away!
Time Management Tips
After the dough completes the first rise at room temperature, it can remain in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before shaping.
The sauce can be made well in advance and frozen in small heavyduty freezer containers.
The crusts can be partially prebaked early in the day and left at room temperature.
The toppings can be gathered a couple of hours before assembling pizzas.
After prebaking and cooling the crust, you can either freeze the empty crust or a fully assembled pizza. Wrap both well in aluminum foil. Let an empty crust thaw (wrapped) before topping it and baking. Bake a fully assembled frozen pizza directly from the freezer (unwrapped) on a perforated pizza pan in a preheated 400 F oven until crisp and hot throughout.
Tips from a Teacher: Grating Cheese in a Food Processor
Before adding cheese to the work bowl of a food processor, brush the steel blade lightly with vegetable oil. Cut cheese into small pieces and use the pulsing button to maintain best control. If grating in batches, remove the first batch of grated cheese before adding the next batch. Also, when emptying the work bowl (between batches), check the inside of the steel blade shaft for any stray pieces of cheese (especially the softer types of cheese) and remove them. Otherwise, when you reinsert the blade onto the shaft, the cheese acts like glue and it might be difficult to remove the blade