Growing up in Brooklyn, my family and I ate a LOT of pizza. There were little Italian American pizzerias everywhere in our neighborhood, the kind that serve big floppy slices dripping with mozzarella and tomato sauce. My favorite was pepperoni – salty, greasy, so damn good. The thing about eating so much of this one style of pizza as a kid and a teenager is that I got really, really tired of it, and even now only crave classic NY-style pizza once in a while (living in a different part of Brooklyn now, I can still easily get this pizza when the desire hits). For a long time I thought I was off pizza for good, but – and I wish I could remember where and when – at some point I had thinner, crispier-crust, fancier-topping pizza, and my pizza love was born anew.
A couple of years ago I started making my own pizza dough, with a lot of trial and error (with two different ovens in two different apartments running at slightly different temperatures and in different styles – one gas, one electric). Pizza dough is deceptively simple: flour, yeast, olive oil, water. But if you’ve ever worked with dough, you know there’s an art to this. Most pizza doughs I’ve made have been edible, but not all have been so tasty or have had the right consistency. I’ve most frequently not stretched the dough thin enough, and ended up with a thick, chewy crust – tasty, but not quite what I was shooting for. All that said, though – I love making the dough and eating the pizza, pretty much however it turns out. This is one of those dishes that for me is fun partly because there always seems to be an element of surprise: how WILL this turn out?!
My dough recipe is based on Rose Carrarini’s, from her fabulous, mouth-watering, let’s-go-to-Paris-right-now, cookbook:
So here are some things I’ve learned:
- If you can, make the dough the night before, because it will taste better, with a better texture.
- Substitute 1/3 cup of the bread flour (and use bread flour – I started with regular flour and it was much too soft, which seems obvious to me now) with semolina flour for a little extra taste and chew.
- Bloom the yeast in a separate bowl, just in case your yeast isn’t alive – I’ve ruined more than one flour mixture this way.
- Stretch the dough thinner than you think, unless you want a thick, chewy crust (which you might).
- When stretching the dough, be patient – it will spring back, but if you stretch, wait, and stretch again, you’ll get to the size you want. I’m still working on this part: it’s really hard to do without tearing the dough.
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup semolina flour
1 package active dry yeast (or the equivalent in fresh yeast) plus 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
2 teaspoons salt
1-2 cups hand-warm water
- Bloom the yeast: In a small bowl, mix yeast with brown sugar and hand-warm water and set aside. This can take up to 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix bread and semolina flours with salt and make a well in the middle.
- Once the yeast has bloomed, pour it into the flour along with the olive oil.
- Slowly begin adding the warm water, starting with a full cup and then adding more as needed. With a large spoon mix well until the dough has come together (it will be a little sticky and shaggy).
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for a few minutes (up to 10), until the dough is soft and smooth and much less sticky. You can add more bread flour if needed.
- Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl (I use olive oil), cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. You can also make this in the morning and let it rise at room temperature during the day for use that night.
- Once the dough has risen, lightly punch it down and let proof again for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450º.
- Divide the dough: I most often divide in half for two large pizzas, but you can make up to 14 small, thin pizzettes (which is what Rose Carrarini does in her book).
- Stretch the dough on a floured (semolina) surface to desired size.
- Top, bake, and eat!
When I’m making two large pizzas, I pre-bake the pies just a bit (brushed with olive oil), 8 minutes give or take, and then add the toppings to finish browning. I made a mushroom/fennel/basil pizza (I roasted the fennel with olive oil, salt, and pepper; the mushrooms were sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes; I made the toppings in the morning) and a mozzarella, marinara sauce, and basil pizza.