Pizza From Scratch: Not The Impossible Dream
Living in D.C. for the past nine months has made me realize how spoiled New Yorkers are when it comes to pizza. Unlike D.C., there are many decent options and a handful of truly excellent options. But, rather than grind my axe about D.C., I am instead going to be constructive and provide a simple “from scratch” pizza recipe. This should be useful even for New Yorkers because homemade pizza is a very different creature than delivery pizza, and it is very impressive to serve to your guests or roommates or significant other once you have gotten the hang of it (which isn’t hard). Also, for those with children, it is the sort of recipe that kids can help out with quite easily, and of course they get to eat it later.
(If you don’t care about the recipe, skip to the end for a video of a pizza-making FAIL)
4 cups flour (bread flour is best, but all-purpose will do)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg. “quick rise” yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. sugar
1-2 tbsp. cornmeal
Assorted toppings (see notes below)
Making The Dough
1. Put the flour and salt in the food processor and process for a few seconds.
2. In a small bowl, mix the water and yeast, then add the sugar. Let it sit for a minute or two.
3. Add the oil to the flour in the food processor
4. Pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour, then begin processing. it may take a little while, but what will happen eventually is that the mixture will form into a rough ball. Once this happens, turn off the food processor and take the ball out, sticking any stray pieces into it. If it is very sticky, add just a little flour and work it in. (Note: if you have problems forming the ball, try adding just a little bit of flour while it is working).
5. Knead the dough ball a couple of times until it smooths out and then put it in a glass bowl with some saran wrap over the top, let it sit somewhere reasonably warm for 45 minutes to an hour to rise.
Rolling Out The Crust
6. Preheat the oven to 450. If you are using a pizza stone, put it in the oven to heat, otherwise, keep a large baking sheet handy.
7. Once the dough has risen, divide it into three roughly equal pieces. remove one of them, roll in a ball.
8. On a large cutting board, spread out the cornmeal to about the size of the doughball. Press the doughball down on it and flatten it.
9. The technique for rolling out the dough is that you have to let it rest periodically so it will stretch more. I suggest kneading outwards from the center with your finger tips, turning a few degrees at a time so you are expanding it evenly, or you can pull it gently from the edges. Once you have gone 360 degrees, let it rest for a few minutes.
10. The reason for the cornmeal is to prevent the dough from sticking on the cutting board, so you can ultimately slide it into the oven. Every so often, you should shake the cutting board and make sure the dough is sliding around loosely – if it sticks, you can reach under and add a little more cornmeal.
11. Knead it out as far as it will reasonably go – the thinner the better, in my opinion. It may take a little while. If you have multiple cutting boards, you could be doing this with two doughballs simultaneously.
12. If you are using baking sheet, slide the dough round onto the baking sheet once you have it the way you want it.
Adding The Toppings
Here, the sky is the limit. Just a few observations and pointers here:
- Avoid watery vegetables and sauces, as they will make a watery pizza (you should cook veggie and meats ahead of time).
- Fresh mozzarella can be watery, depending on the brand, so be careful.
- For ingredients that may burn (i.e., garlic) you may want to let the pizza cook for awhile and then add the garlic when there are just a few minutes left
- A good tomato sauce can be made by using a can of crushed tomatoes, after draining all the liquid out of them (i.e. pressing through a mesh strainer) – or you can cut up whole canned tomatoes and drain them.
- often, less is more – the crust will be able to stand pretty well on its own so you dont need to drown it in cheese, sauce or toppings…especially cheese.
Getting The Pizza In The Oven
If you are using a baking sheet, just slide it into the oven. If you are using a pizza stone, it becomes somewhat trickier. The difficulty is, you can’t just pull or lift the uncooked pizza off the cutting board because it may stretch and tear. The best technique is to pull out the oven rack as far as it can go, with the pizza stone on it (it will be 450 degrees in there, so be careful). Then, holding the cutting board an inch or two over the stone, you want to do the following, all in one motion: push the cutting board forward an inch or two to loosen the pizza, then jerk it back towards you quickly. Ideally, as you jerk back the cutting board, the pizza will drop flat onto the stone or sheet.
Here’s what it looks like when this is performed wrong. That guy did not jerk the peel back quickly enough, as you will see. Don’t be that guy!
* if you fail spectacularly in pulling this off – don’t panic! If you just fold a failed pizza in half and seal off the edges with a fork, you have made a calzone – and none of your guests need know that you botched the pizza.
FINALLY – bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes. Once the crust is nicely browned and the cheese melted, it should be good to go. I would suggest checking it after 8 minutes and then every minute or two after that – you want the crust to get pretty browned so don’t be shy about leaving it in – however, you don’t want it blackened, obviously.