Once when I was little, one of my teachers had our entire class over for a pizza party. What I remember most was standing on a stool at a counter, spooning sauce onto a circle of dough and getting to top it with white strings of cheese, feeling very grown up. That was probably the best party ever. I kind of loved that teacher but, mostly, I loved that pizza.
Here’s the truth: I could eat pizza every day. Sometimes I do. I like the fancy ones that cost $15 at a nice restaurant, the frozen ones in cardboard boxes at the grocery story, even mozzarella and tomato sauce heaped high on a bagel. In my book, pizza = good. Always.
So as far as pizza goes, it’s hard to make me hate one (though not impossible, thank you, Domino’s, when we ordered you the second time at work), it’s easy to make me like one and it’s, seriously, not that hard to make me really like one.
Now love? Well, let’s just say this: If you can’t get to Chicago’s best Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant or to the place with the most hearty, meaty pizza pot pies in the Midwest, and if you can’t find that tiny place on Boston’s North End where they don’t even say they sell pizza, but you might get lucky and see someone eating one and then order it and, one bite in, think you’ve died and gone to heaven, well, then you have to make one.
Even a hardcore pizza fan like myself has to admit that pizza made with your own hands far outshines any competition. And also, it just so happens I’m privileged to have an incredible mother who makes the most incredible meaty sauce you’ve ever had. Really. She froze a Tupperware container of it recently, and she gave it to me to use for a Sunday lunch. She should bottle it and sell it in grocery stores, it’s that good. And it’s perfect on pizza.
Sadly, this post is not about that sauce—mainly because she eyeballs things and feels her way around the recipe, and that sort of thing is very hard to communicate. Instead, this post is about two other things. 1) An easy pizza crust recipe that you really ought to try, and 2) A cookbook that, now, I am officially endorsing.
First, the pizza crust. When I was at Whole Foods this weekend, would you believe a frozen pizza, wrapped up and placed near the deli, cost $12? I suppose that’s not so bad when you think what it costs to buy one at Connie’s or Pizza Hut or, heck, even Domino’s, by way of comparison. But then, when you think how cheap the ingredients are for a good crust, it’s a shame not to do it yourself. You’ll need, essentially, the following: water, yeast, olive oil, flour (unbleached all-purpose or bread flour, which is what I used) and salt. Seriously. The process is just as simple: you’ll mix up and knead the dough, then let it rest, then finish kneading, then let it rest. Split it up into two sections and you’re ready to use it—or you can refrigerate it for tomorrow or freeze it for sometime later.
Before I go any further with the explanation of the pizza crust, I must get to the second thing: You really ought to buy The Art & Soul of Baking. After I got past the beautiful hardcover exterior and into the large pages of beautiful, colorful photos, I made its white bread, fougasse and (now) pizza crust, and I have to say I’m sold. Plus, it’s been endorsed by Dorie Greenspan, Anita Chu and Gourmet, where it was selected for the cookbook club. What more can I say?
OK, back to the pizza dough. Mine turned out very nicely, even though I may have pushed the first in the oven before it was fully preheated and pulled it out before the crust’s bottom was fully browned. Because the recipe makes two crusts, I shaped the first into a circle that fit our pizza pan; the second I sort of free-formed into a rectangle. Both were substantial—not as thin as I’d imagined—and held up with the toppings perfectly. I’ll be making the recipe again, no question, both because it’s simple and because, as you could guess, it’s delicious.
Adapted from the Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet
1/4 cup (2 ounces) warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1 3/4 instant yeast)
1 cup (8 ounces) water
3 Tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) olive oil, plus some for brushing
3 1/4 cups (16 1/4 ounces) bread flour (or unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
MIX, REST & KNEAD DOUGH:
Pour the warm water into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add the yeast, whisk by hand to blend, and allow the mixture to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and looks creamy. Add the 1 cup water and the 3 tablespoon olive oil and whisk by hand to blend. Add the flour and salt. Knead the dough on low speed for 2 minutes, or until it comes together in a cohesive mess. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the mixer to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic, and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. (Note: My mixer struggles with yeast-based mixing, and sometimes it jumps (!) off the hinge. Does this happen to anyone else?)
RISE THE DOUGH:
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes (longer if the room is cold).
DIVIDE & SHAPE THE DOUGH:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax). Divide the dough into half (or quarters if making smaller individual pizzas). At this point, you can refrigerate or freeze all or some of the dough (see “Getting Ahead” at the end of the recipe).
When ready to bake and after thawing out the dough if necessary, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour, then press down with your fingers (or use a rolling pin) to flatten the dough into a disk about 12 inches in diameter. Alternatively, slip your hands, knuckles up, under the dough and lift it up, then gently stretch the dough by pulling your fists apart. Rotate the dough a little each time you pull so the dough is stretch into an even circle. Brush any excess flour from the surface and underside of the dough.
TOP THE PIZZA:
Apply the toppings of your choice, leaving a 1/2 –inch border at the edges. (If you’re curious, here’s what I did: olive oil on the pizza pan, then the crust on top of that. Drizzle olive oil on top and indent all over with a fork to help the oil soak through. I covered it with Mom’s meat sauce, then loads of mozzarella, then shredded fresh spinach.)
BAKE THE PIZZA:
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until the dough is golden brown at the edges and across the bottom (use a metal spatula to lift the pizza slightly to check). Brush the edges of the pizza with the 1 tablespoon olive oil to give the golden crust a beautiful shine. Use a pizza cutter or chef’s knife to cut the pizza into 8 wedges and serve immediately.