A Pizza Primer

Thursday, January 21, 2010
Homemade pizza has been a staple in our home for almost as long as I can remember. It seems as though at some point the job of making pizza gets taken over by one of our teenagers. Currently, 17 year old son is our pizza chef. He does a stellar job! Our favorite pizza dough has also changed with pizza chefs. We were very sold on Wolfgang Puck’s dough recipe for many years and while it does make a great pizza, we currently favor the dough printed in The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. This primer is directly from that book. I’ve noted where our technique differs from theirs. One thing we are totally sold on is using cast iron for baking our pizzas...either a cast iron pizza pan or large skillets for deep dish pizzas.

This recipe makes 3 thin, or 2 thick 12-inch shells. It also states that one pizza will serve 1 hungry adolescent or 2 people with average appetites. We usually make the 2 thick and have plenty for the 4 of us (including 2 teens) and there are leftovers for the next day.

A trusty cast iron pizza pan!

Traditional Pizza Dough

1-3/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 packet or tablespoon active dry yeast
6 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (I use KA when I have it, otherwise, what I have on hand and usually I add some home milled ww flour to the mix)
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp salt

Preparing the Dough:

Pour the water into a mixing bowl and dissolve in it the sugar and the yeast. When the yeast is active, add your first cup of flour, then the oil and salt. Add another 4-1/2 cups of flour, mixing with a large spoon until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and holds together.


Sprinkle the last ½ cup of flour onto your kneading surface. Turn out the dough and knead until it begins to feel as if it really belongs together, adding only enough flour to keep it form sticking to the board or you. Let it rest while you clean and grease your bowl. Continue kneading the relaxed dough until it feels smooth and springy.


You have three options here.

▪Full Rise: Form the dough into a nice ball, place it in the grease bowl, turning it so the top is lightly greased also. Cover it and put it where it will be warm and cozy (no drafts). Let this rise until it is doubled (when you can poke your finger in it and the dough doesn’t spring back at you).

▪Slow Rise: If you want to make up your dough ahead of time (a slow rising dough has the best flavor), make it up, with about half the yeast, the morning of your gathering. Cover it with greased plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. It will rise happily all day. About 15 minutes after you take it out, it will be ready to roll out and decorate.

▪No-Rise: If this is a spur-of-the moment party, just give your dough a 5- to 10-minute rest. It won’t have quite the flavor of be as light as a fully risen dough, but it will still be “better than bought”.

Pizza dough all rolled out and docked and ready for prebaking

Preparing the Toppings:

These toppings are only possibilities. They’ll all make great pizza but if you think of something that’s not here, add it to the list. You’ll want to have them ready before you shape your dough.

▪pizza, spaghetti or marinara sauce for a red pizza
▪pesto for a green pizza
▪a blend of cheese for a white pizza
▪oregano, basil, red pepper flakes
▪sliced or chopped onions, scallions, chives, peppers, mushrooms, olives, minced garlic
▪broccoli tops or asparagus tips, raw or steamed to the “tender but crunchy” stage
▪sliced or diced ham, pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, smoked turkey
▪anchovies, sardines, smoked oysters or clams or other fish
▪cooked and crumbled hamburger or sausage (hot or sweet)
▪capers, sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, artichoke hearts, pineapple chunks (great with ham)
▪lots of grated cheese: mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, provolone

Doesn't this look delicious?!

Shaping the Dough:

After the dough has risen (if you have time to let it), punch it down, turn it out onto a floured board and knead out any stray bubbles. Cut it into the number of pieces you need depending on whether you’re a thick- or thin-crust devotee.

Flatten each piece with your hand and, with a rolling pin you’ve dusted with flour, roll out each piece like pie dough, from the center to the outside. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle or pat and stretch it out right on the pan with your hands. If the dough isn’t being cooperative, let it rest for 2 or 3 minutes to relax the gluten.

If you like a softer crust, lightly wipe your pan with olive or vegetable oil. If you like a dryer, crunchier crust, sprinkle it with cornmeal. If you don’t have a pizza pan, a pie plate, cake pan, roasting pan or baking sheet with a lip will do just fine. Pizzas don’t have to be round. (Note: we always use either a cast iron pizza pan or cast iron skillets for deep-dish style).

When the dough is about the size you want, slide it onto the prepared pan. Bruch it lightly with olive oil to keep the topping from soaking in and making it soggy. You can eliminate this step if you want to avoid using any more fat.

Chef Jared's specialty...sausage, pepperoni, olives & extra cheese on a crispy crust!

Preheating Your Oven:

Again you have some choices, depending on how quickly you want pizza on the table.

▪Before: For added crispness, you can prebake your crust at 475°F for 10 to 12 minutes before you decorate it. If it puffs up while baking, just press the air out of it before adding toppings (I always use a docker before baking and never have a problem with puff-ups). This method works well but adds an extra step to the pizza-making process (this is the method we use…after prebaking is also the perfect time to freeze for future pizza parties).

▪Now: IF you don’t want to wait, preheat your oven to 475°F before you start to decorating your dough. Bake your pizza right after you’ve decorated it. It won’t be as light but, again, it will still be “better than bought”.

▪Later: For the lightest, crunchiest crust, this is the best choice. Let your pizza rise for 15 to 30 minutes after you’ve decorated it. Preheat your oven to 475°F for at least 15 minutes before you bake.

Decorating the Dough:

Spread the pizza crust (baked or unbaked) with sauce, commercial or homemade. Add some additional herbs, etc., if you want.

Some people feel the grated cheese should go on before the toppings. Some feel it should cook down through the toppings. You can put it wherever you feel it will look and/or taste best.

Scatter on, or artistically arrange, any combination of toppings you desire. This is when creative juices really begin to flow and you can see how differently people like to express themselves.

Baking the Pizza:

The best way to bake pizza is on a pizza stone or quarry tiles set on the lowest rack of your oven or on the oven bottom itself (I’m in disagreement here but am including this for those who are stone fans….cast iron really makes the best crust and yes, I have tried stones). This makes the crust crisp and brown. If you don’t have either of these, place the pizza on the lowest rack of your oven to bake. Check it after 5 to 10 minutes of baking and lower the temperature to 450°F if it is browning too quickly.

If you’ve prebaked the shell, your pizza will only need 5 to 10 minutes. If not, bake it for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness, or until the crust is golden brown.

After taking your masterpiece out of the oven, let it cool to solidify the cheese a bit. This also makes cutting easier and sometimes prevents burned tongues.

Never lasts long!!

Editing to post to Michael Lee's Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. Thanks for hosting Michael!