Any day of the week, any time of the day… if you put a big ol’ veggie pizza down in front of me… with mushrooms & sun-dried tomatoes, tangy feta cheese, and some awesome pesto sauce… I’ll gobble it up and be a happy camper!
But any good homemade pizza, whether it’s veggie, bar-b-que, or classic pepperoni must (I repeat absolutely MUST) be served on top of a crispy yet chewy homemade crust if you want to make it absolutely irresistible!
Homemade crust turns a meal we Americans usually associate with “grab n’ go” and a “greasy/no-fuss/crowd-feeder” into a feast fit for the hoity-est toity-est of gatherings. (Having high-class company for dinner? Try this crust topped with potato, shaved truffle, and goat cheese. Uh, YEAH.)
Care to give it a try? I say go for it!
In the past, I’ve shown you all my bread recipes as I usually make them… with my bread machine. But today I felt like showing you the old-fashioned way, because we don’t all have bread machines, now do we? And that should NOT stop anyone from making bread. The machine really doesn’t do anything magical. It just has the ability to mix and knead the dough for thirty minutes straight without getting tired. I’ve found, however, that a solid 8-10 minute kneading by hand does the trick fine… and gives you a mini-biceps workout to boot!
Start with a cup and a half of warm (not hot!) water. Add to that 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
Next, sprinkle in 2 teaspoons of sugar or honey… whichever is most handy.
Give that a little stir…
And sprinkle in 1 packet of yeast (or if you buy it a jar at a time like I do… 2 1/4 teaspoons.) Active Dry or Quick Rise… I use whatever I have on hand!
Give that another little zhuzsh… and let it sit a minute or two while the yeast activates.
Measure out four cups of flour. (I like to use a mixture of white and whole wheat. For this recipe I used 1/2 C. regular whole wheat flour, 1/2 C. soft white wheat flour, and 3 C. all-purpose flour. It was a good mix.) And just add it into the liquid!
Now gently begin mixing the ingredients with a fork, spoon, or clean fingers.
Once the dough forms a bit of a ball, I like to flip my fork or wooden spoon around and use the handle end (almost like a makeshift dough-hook.)
And just keep mixing… turning the bowl as you scrape the dough off the sides and back onto itself over and over.
Only after the ingredients have melded together a bit do I add my two teaspoons of salt. This assures that the salt doesn’t retard the growth of the yeast at first.
Keep mixing! As you mix, the dough will become less sticky and more elastic. Eventually you’ll want to just abandon the utensils and get your hands in there. Continue to fold the dough over onto itself, turning the bowl, and scraping it away from the sides.
See how the more I knead, the less sticky it becomes?
After about 8-10 minutes of good kneading, you should have a nice smooth, elastic ball of dough!
Drizzle it with olive oil (smoothing the oil with your fingers to cover the exposed surface of the dough)…
Then cover and let it sit for 2-3 hours! (If it’s going to be longer than that, let it sit in the fridge. That’ll slow down the rising substantially but it’ll still puff up beautifully if given enough time.)
A few (delicious-smelling) hours later… you should be greeted by this!
A word of caution: I never “punch down” my dough. For one thing, that term is so violent, and for two: I haven’t spent the past two hours letting air bubbles form in this dough only to obliterate and pulverize them. My preferred method is much gentler.
Take a dough scraper (or other similar kitchen item)… and divide the dough into two or three portions. Today I am making two pizzas with a slightly thicker, chewier crust. This recipe can also make three very thin pizza crusts.
Make sure your pizza pans are dusted lightly with fine cornmeal. This gives excellent texture to the crust AND prevents it from fusing to the pan during baking.
Take a portion of dough and gently begin pulling and stretching it to the size and shape you want. No need to pull out your ruler and protractor… this is RUSTIC. (By the way, I prefer this stretching method to a rolling pin because it preserves more of those lovely air bubbles. You’re welcome to flour your counter-top and roll the crust out super thin if you like.)
Now, before any toppings go on, it’s very important that you give each crust a light drizzle of olive oil…
And a light sprinkling of salt. (And I do mean light. Don’t accidentally drop too much in one place.)
I really feel that this last salt step is a crucial one. It makes a big difference and I always notice when a homemade crust is missing that last pinch of brightness.
Now,with a thicker crust like these… you’ll want to pre-bake the dough for 6 minutes at 400 degrees before topping your pizza. However, when I’m in a thin-crust mood I don’t pre-bake the dough at all.
At this point you can pop these in the oven right away for a short pre-bake… or let them sit and rise for fifteen minutes first… or if you’ve rolled them out extra-thin, start piling on the toppings and bake them off. I usually bake the topped pizzas at 375 for about 17 minutes (the last two on broil.) But I’ll save the actual pizza recipes for another day.
Like any yeast bread, homemade pizza dough is a process but one that I’ve found to be well worthwhile.
And if it’s summer and you’re lucky enough to have fresh herbs growing outside, then don’t forget to snip a few onto your crust under the toppings!
Rosemary is my favorite addition to any chewy Italian bread! And it’s quite surprising and special when added to a pizza.
Buon Apetito! That’s Amore! Pizza Pizza! Enjoy
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