I believe that each of us has a food that we could eat every single day and never tire of. For Michael, it's pasta; for me, it's pizza.
I've been through several pizza phases in my life. In junior high, you either went to Godfather's or Monical's. In high school, the deep dish pizza made the big time and everyone flocked to Pizza Hut and Garcia's. In college, Domino's was hitting it big with their delivery service, although the people with cars could go to Noble Roman's.
When I moved to Saipan in 1989, I went into pizza withdrawal since there were no pizza places on island at the time. Saipan residents made two or three trips to Guam every year and the return flights were always full of people who brought back several Pizza Hut boxes stacked and tied together, the scent of tomato sauce and cheese wafting throughout the cabin. And to complicate matters, yeast was hard to come by since it was shipped on a boat from the U.S. and it was usually near expired by the time it arrived on island. In fact, many people asked mainland friends and relatives to mail pouches of yeast in care packages.
So my pizza withdrawal forced me to try my hand at pizza dough using a recipe from my Farm Journal's Homemade Breads cookbook. It wasn't too bad, although I really didn't know what I was doing and I remember being frustrated that I couldn't shape it exactly in a circle.
I cannot say that I've become a pizza expert, but I certainly prefer to make my own unless I happen to come across a really excellent pizza parlor. This dough recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice makes a thin crust, although not cracker thin, that has some chew. Proofing overnight in the refrigerator helps the dough to relax and makes it easier to work with. The recipe makes enough for up to six pizzas, depending on the size you want, and you can freeze the dough in individual bags for three months. Reinhart's book has a lot of helpful information, including information on flour, measuring, temperatures, and technique, and I highly recommend it if you want to learn from a master baker.
Reinhart covers both hand mixing and machine mixing techniques, and since I use my KitchenAid for mixing and kneading, that is what I included here. Also, Reinhart refers to food grade plastic bags for covering the baking sheet during the overnight proof, but I use a loose covering of plastic wrap since that is what I can get.
[Updated: October 29, 2008]
Napoletana Pizza Dough
- stand mixer with paddle and dough hook attachments
- cooking thermometer
- baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and lightly sprayed with cooking oil
- plastic wrap
- cutting board or pizza peel
- pizza stone or pan
- 4½ cups unbleached high-gluten flour (chilled (or bread or all-purpose flour))
- 1¾ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- ¼ cup olive oil (optional)
- 1¾ cups water (ice cold (40° F/4° C))
- spray oil
- semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
Preparation - Day 1
- In the mixing bowl using the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast. Add the olive oil and the cold water, mixing on low speed until the dry ingredients are full incorporated with the liquids. Remove the paddle attachment and add the dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes. Dough should easily clear the sides of the bowl but will stick to the bottom a little. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add a little bit of flour just until the flour clears the sides. If the dough clears the bottom of the bowl, add a teaspoon or two of cold water. The dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky and register 50° to 55° F (10° to 13° C).
- Sprinkle dough on a clean surface and transfer dough. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces, depending on how large you want your pizzas. Sprinkle flour over the dough and your hands. Gently lift each piece and shape it into a ball. Lay the dough on the prepared sheet pan and mist the dough with oil. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, allowing some room for the dough to expand.
- Put the covered pan into the refrigerator overnight. (You can keep it for up to three days, or you can freeze the dough balls. Roll the dough balls into a little olive oil and put each ball into a separate freezer bag. Transfer to the refrigerator the day before you plan to use it. The dough will keep for up to three months.)
Preparation - Day 2
- Remove the dough 2 hours before you make your pizza. Dust the counter or cutting board with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough ball on the prepared surface and sprinkle with flour. Dust your hands with flour and gently press the dough into disks about ½ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Dust with flour and mist with the oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 2 hours.
- At least 45 minutes before making your pizza, preheat your oven as high as it will go, up to 800° F/430° C if your oven can do it. If you are cooking on a stone, put it in your oven on the floor (gas oven) or in the lower third. If you are cooking on a pan, do not preheat the pan.
- Shape the pizza (toss method): Generously dust a pizza peel or pan with cornmeal or semolina flour. Cover your hands with flour, including palms, knuckles, and the back of your hands. Gently lift the dough using a pastry scraper to get under it. Lay the dough across your fists and very gently stretch it by bouncing in a circular motion on your hands. If the dough starts to stick, flour your hands again. If you are feeling daring, you can try a full toss. If not, you can use a rolling pin to finish stretching the dough.
- Lay the dough on the generously dusted peel or pan. The dough should be able to slide around easily. Top with sauce and whatever else you would like. Since this is a thin crust, stick with 3 or 4 ingredients, otherwise the crust will have difficulty baking.
- Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, turning after 2 minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board. Allow to rest 3 to 5 minutes before cutting.