Pizza Dough/Crust

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

By Cat, July 2008, updated Jan 2012 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Pizza crust dough is a very simple yeast-risen dough made from flour, water, yeast (or sourdough starter) and salt.  Olive oil is an optional ingredient.  The dough should be soft and sticky, but will form a ball.  It is tossed and/or stretched into shape with your fingers. I should note that I’ve not yet mastered the method of “throwing” a pizza crust — tossing it into the air from your fist, to stretch it into a nice round.

Until I learned about using sourdough, my favorite pizza crust was made from Focaccia (Italian flatbread) dough, because the method includes an overnight rest in the refrigerator, to pre-soak the whole wheat flour (makes it more digestible). Plus it is very bubbly and airy.

I provide several alternative here: specialty all-white flour, whole wheat flour, or mixed-grain flour (or a mix of white and whole grain flours), risen with yeast or sourdough starter.

About Baking the Dough

The ideal method is to back in a wood-fired brick oven that can reach a very high temperature of 800°F. Second best is to use a baking stone in your regular oven at its highest setting (500°F). For either of these methods, the pizza is shaped on a pizza peel, then is transferred to/from the oven using the peel; see Equipment: Baking Stone, Pizza Peel.

Using a baking sheet or round pizza pan:

Preheat oven to its highest setting of 500°F (unless the recipe indicates otherwise). Oil pan with olive oil before shaping the dough in the pan. Then place pan on lowest rack in your preheated oven (do not preheat the baking pan before adding the shaped pizza). It could take a bit longer for the pizza to bake, that if you used a baking stone.

At this lower heat setting, the crust won’t be the same. I hope to have an outdoor cob oven built in my yard for baking pizza and rustic breads, but until then, will be using my baking stone in my gas oven.

The Recipes

I prefer to use a sourdough crust as the fermented flour is far more healthful and nutritious than unfermented flour. and, of course, it provides a natural leaven (as opposed to commercial yeast).

Sourdough Pizza Crust

This recipe is from Kathie L, a local sourdough enthusiast who participated on ESP’s Sourdough Panel presentation in 2011. I’ve not yet tested this, but I trust Kathie’s judgement. It makes one pizza crust, about 16” depending upon desired thickness.

She uses a whole wheat starter, but you could use a white-flour starter.And for the white flour in the recipe, you could use part whole wheat, part white flour.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1 cup whole wheat sourdough starter (cast-off)
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour *
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Equipment
  • small and large bowls
  • wooden spoon
  • cotton dish towel
  • baking sheet or stone

* If you use bread or whole-grain flour for all or part of the flour, you may need more water for the right consistency

 

Method:

  1. Sift or whisk salt and flour together in small bowl.
  2. Place starter in large bowl and stir in olive oil. Mix in flour a bit at a time until it pulls together, forming a soft ball of dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until soft and elastic.
  3. Place into oiled bowl, cover with damp cotton cloth and set in warm place away from drafts; allow to rest 30 minutes. It won’t rise much, but the rest gives the gluten a chance to relax and easier to stretch & shape.
  4. Preheat oven to 450°F; oil baking sheet. If using a baking stone, place it in cold oven then preheat oven and stone together.
  5. After the 30-minute rest, roll dough into 16” circle (or use the hand-stretch method to shape circle). If you like a thicker crust, roll it into a smaller circle. Then prick the shell with a fork a few times, to prevent large bubbles from forming while it bakes.
  6. Pre-bake the shell for 5 -8 minutes until slightly browned and firm, to ready it for the moisture-laden toppings.
  7. Remove from oven. If you want to eat it right away, top with fixings and return to oven, still at 450°F, to bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until crust is crisp and cheese is sufficiently melted. Alternately, for future use, allow crust to cool on a wire rack after the 5 – 8 minute bake. When cool, wrap in foil or other wrap for freezer; thaw at room temperature before topping and baking.

Yeasted Pizza Dough with Whole Wheat & White Flours

This version is adapted from Food & Wine, March 2007 (5), and makes four 13-inch (single serving) pizzas. If baking only 2 pizzas, freeze the dough-balls for the remaining 2 pizzas.  When ready to use them, thaw in the refrigerator, then allow them to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours, before shaping the crusts.

Ingredients & Equipment

  • ½ Tbsp instant or fast-rising dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water (90 – 1050)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup rye, oat or cornmeal flour
  • 4 cups unbleached white flour
  • ½ Tbsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Equipment:
  • glass measuring cup
  • large mixing bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • surface for kneading

Prepare Crust:

  1. Dissolve yeast in 1½ cup warm water, in small bowl; then add remaining warm water.
  2. Mix flour and salt in large bowl, making a well in the center.  Add water/yeast mixture, and mix well.  It will be fairly wet.
  3. Knead on a lightly-floured surface until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more white flour as necessary to keep from sticking.  But don’t overdo–dough should be wet and sticky.
  4. Wipe out bowl and lightly oil the inside.  Place dough in bowl, turning to coat ball with oil.  Cover with waxed paper; refrigerate overnight, or up to 3 days.
  5. Punch down; transfer to lightly-floured surface.  Cut into 4 equal pieces; form each into a ball and roll in a bit of oil; transfer to baking sheet.  Cover loosely with waxed paper; let rise in a draft-free place for 1 hour.

Yeasted Pizza Dough, with Multigrain Flour and Honey

This version is adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, February 2012 issue; originally by Peter Reinhart (6).

I love the idea of using cornmeal. I’m not so sure about rye (not very traditional in Italy…) but oat would be good. I don’t know why it calls for fast-rising yeast – I would try using regular dry yeast and just let it proof a few minutes in the ½ cup warm water before adding the remaining water and mixing into the flour.

The original recipe combines all ingredients in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, then mixes on slow speed about 3 minutes (or can mix by hand). Increase the mixer speed to medium to work the gluten, about 3 minutes. (this is instead of kneading by hand). At this point, I’ve added a rest in the bowl followed by refrigeration.

Ingredients & Equipment

  •  ½ Tbsp instant or fast-rising dry yeast (I would try regular dry yeast and let it rise longer, if necessary)
  • 2 cups warm water (90 – 105°F
  • 1 ½ Tbsp honey
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup whole grain wheat (or kamut), rye, oat or cornmeal flour
  • 4 cups unbleached white flour
  •  ½ Tbsp Unrefined sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Equipment:
  • glass measuring cup
  • large mixing bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • surface for kneading

Prepare Crust:

  1. Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water, in small bowl; then add remaining warm water and honey.
  2. Mix flour and salt in large bowl, making a well in the center.  Add water/yeast mixture, and mix just until all the flour is wet.  Dough will be soft, and the gluten won’t be fully developed at this point.
  3. Keep mixing in bowl for a bit then knead on a lightly-floured surface until dough is smooth and elastic, adding more white flour as necessary to keep from sticking (But don’t overdo–dough should be wet and sticky). If too stiff, let it rest about 5 minutes and try again. Add a bit of water if necessary.
  4. Wipe out bowl and lightly oil the inside.  Place dough in bowl, turning to coat ball with oil.  Cover bowl with waxed paper (don’t let it touch the dough). Or cover with damp cloth weighted with a plate. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature, then refrigerate overnight, or up to 3 days.
  5. Two hours before you want to make the pizzas, remove dough from fridge. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces and form each into a smooth, round ball.
  6. Punch down; transfer to lightly-floured surface.  Cut into 4 equal pieces; form each into a ball and roll in a bit of oil; transfer to baking sheet.  Cover loosely with waxed paper or damp cloth; let rest in a draft-free place to proof and warm to room temperature before shaping and baking.

Napoletana Pizza Dough

You might want to try this recipe, from the Forno Bravo (1) website, with a few learnings from Jeff Varasano (2,3). Let me know whose advice you prefer. Jeff’s Pizza Recipe page (3) has LOTS of information about making pizza. However, this is a very fussy recipe requiring a specialty white flour.

Flour: ‘Molino Caoputo Tipo 00’ flour is available from Forno Bravo (1) in five 2.2 pound bags, or in a 55 pound bag; also available in 5-pound bags from  Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. (4). This white flour is made from soft wheat and has an extensible gluten (stretchable, rather than elastic).

The Forno Bravo author suggests using weight/mass measurements (ounce or gram) rather than volume (cups), as it is more accurate. I fully agree with this, but many people do not have a scale to weigh ingredients in grams.  If you must use measuring cups when measuring flour, sift the flour into the cup, rather than dipping the cup in the flour; it’s more accurate, and yields the best hydration (water to flour ratio) of 65%.

Jeff V. insists on starting with 75% of the total flour, then after the first 2 minutes of mixing with stand mixer, you cover the dough with a wet cloth and let it sit for 20 minutes, before resuming the mixing. This is important, whether you mix by hand or in a stand mixer, to allow the gluten to develop the right texture for stretching the finished dough.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 Tbsp warm filtered water (325 grams); about 105- 1150 F
  • ½ tsp active dry yeast (3 grams)
  • 4 cups Molino Caputo Tipo 00 flour (500 grams), divided portions *
  • 4 tsp (20 grams) Unrefined sea salt
  • Equipment:
  • stand mixer with dough hook, or large bowl and wooden spoon
  • cotton dish towel

* If you use bread or unbleached white flour for all or part of the flour, you may need more water for the right consistency

Method:

1. Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup of the warm water, then mix with the remainder of the water.  No need to wait for it to proof.

2. Combine 3 cups of the flour with salt in bowl of stand mixer; make a well in the center and add the water-yeast mixture.  Mix with stand mixer fit with dough hook. Mix slowly for 2 minutes until completely blended. Cover with damp cotton cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.  The dough will be wet.

3. Resume mixing with stand mixer on a slow speed for 5 minutes, then begin slowly adding the remaining flour, as it mixes for another 3 minutes.  Then increase the speed, but never more than ⅓ of the way up the dial.

  • Forno Bravo indicates the dough will begin to form a ball, and will be soft but firm and sticky.  Mix for another minute or so.  Don’t overdo.
  • Jeff V indicates the dough will be quite wet and nearly formless; this condition will improve as the gluten continues to work.  You may not need all the water.

4. Cover bowl with damp cotton kitchen towel.

  • Forno Bravo recommends a 1 – 1½ hour rise (until double in bulk);
  • Jeff V recommends a 15 – 20 minute rest; it will only increase about 50% in bulk.  If you wait until it doubles, it will be overworked.

5. After the rest:

  • Forno Bravo says to punch down, pushing out the air bubbles with your fist.
  • Jeff V’s dough is still quite wet.  Lightly knead for about 30 seconds on a floured board, to work it into a large ball, coated lightly with flour.  The dough will be soft and dry on the outside (from the flour) but still quite wet inside.

6. Cut into 4 – 6 equal pieces.  Make pizza balls:

  • Forno Bravo:  Gently roll each piece of dough into a ball, then stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side.  Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with a tight outer “skin.”  Dust with flour then set  ball seam-side down to rest.  Cover balls with damp towel to prevent the outside from drying out and creating a crust.  Rest for about an hour, to become soft and elastic.
  • Jeff V:  simply work each of the pieces on floured surface into smooth balls, still wet on the inside.  Place in lightly-oiled small sealable plastic tubs (he prefers this to plastic bags, as it allows dough to form its own shape).  Place in refrigerator.  Allow to warm to room temperature before shaping into crust.

7. Shape dough into a thin round disk, about ⅛ inch thick, and about 10 inches in diameter.

  • Forno bravo recommends the air toss method:  Dust hands with flour; take a pizza ball.  Flip it over so that the soft bottom side faces up.  Gently shape the ball into a flat disk on flat surface.  Then start pulling, stretching and turning the disk in the air to make the dough thinner and thinner.  If it keeps pulling back, it has not been mixed enough.  Keep working in a circle to keep the thickness consistent, until you will make a hole if you work it any more.
  • Jeff V recommends using fingers to stretch dough ball into a circle on a cool floured surface.

8. Transfer disk of dough to pizza paddle; use your fingers to work out thick spots by pushing to the outside.  Add toppings and then transfer from paddle to hot baking stone in oven.  Bake according to recipe.

References

  1. Forno Bravo recipe (fornobravo.com/pizza/pizza_dough.html)
  2. Jeff Varasano recipe: slice.seriouseats.com/jvpizza; note this original link no longer works; try slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2006/09/jeff_varasanos_famous_pizza_recipe.html
  3. Jeff Varasano tips: varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm
  4. Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. flour (pennmac.com/items/3202)
  5. Food & Wine, March 2007
  6. Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, February 2012 issue; originally by Peter Reinhart (bhg.com/recipe/peters-pizza-margherita)

About Cat

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