Pizza Night!

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Today I want to start to demystify bread making. Nothing seems to get more awe from dinner guests than a homemade loaf of bread or a handmade pizza, as if it’s something almost magically unattainable by the home cook. But with just five simple ingredients (plus whatever toppings you love), you can whip up a couple of large, tasty pizzas in less than two hours.

Two hours???

Yes, two hours. For most of that time, you’re sitting with your feet up, cat on your lap, beer or wine in hand, while the dough is rising (1 hour), or the pizza is baking (12-15 minutes). The remaining 45 minutes or so is the mixing, kneading (I use my KitchenAid mixer and dough hook), stretching, and dressing it up pretty just the way you like it, and even running to the store for the pepperoni you thought you already had. That’s not so bad, right?

Let’s dive in!

Dough:

  • Two cups all-purpose flour, plus more for forming a firm dough (I’m a flour snob, so I like unbleached, preferably King Arthur brand, but don’t stress about that and just use whatever all-purpose flour you have, and it will be a work of art (I promise!)
  • Two cups slightly warm water (Just take the chill off of it. Don’t worry about temp. I just zap in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. You don’t want hot, or you’ll kill your yeast)
  • One tablespoon active dry yeast (I like Red Star yeast that I buy at Costco, but again, you’ll be just fine if you have another brand.
  • One teaspoon salt
  • I tablespoon olive oil (food-snobby me likes extra virgin, but any will do. Your pizza will still be wonderful if you use vegetable or canola oil instead, but olive oil adds a lovely flavor boost)
  • Jar of basic spaghetti sauce (I like tomato/basil that comes in a glass jar from Aldi) or pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Optional toppings, including mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, grated Parmesan cheese, anchovies, bits of ham, pineapple–whatever makes you happy

Instructions:

  • Place two cups of flour into a mixing bowl, and combine with the yeast and salt. Add the water and olive oil, and beat at medium speed for no more than two minutes, until somewhat smooth. Slow down the mixer a bit and begin to add flour gradually to the mixture, until it begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. At this point, I usually switch to the dough hook, and then continue to add no more than about 1/4 cup flour at a time until you have a nice, smooth, and only slightly-sticky-to-touch dough.
  • Grease a large glass or ceramic bowl (I avoid metal to prevent any reaction that could slow the dough rise) with olive oil or vegetable/canola oil. Place your pretty dough ball into the bowl, flip it over (so it gets a nice oil coating top and bottom) and cover very LOOSELY with greased plastic wrap. There’ s a reason it needs to be loose that I will show you later.
My super-sized Pyrex bowl is where I let all of my dough rise
  • Place the dough in a warm place, either inside a slightly warmed oven (my oven has a “Proof” setting that works beautifully(, on top of stove, warm windowsill, or even inside Instant Pot on “Yogurt” setting (I’ve never tried this, but I’ve seen lots of people vouch for this online).
  • Pour yourself a glass of something, put your feet up, and relax for one hour while the dough rises and doubles in bulk.

One hour later…

What happened here? Remember how I said to loosely cover your bowl with greased plastic wrap? It was a warmish, humid day today, and sometimes the yeast can get a little overeager on days like this. It’s all good. Don’t stress over it. Dough is a lot more forgiving than people think.

  • Punch down the dough to deflate it. Well, don’t actually punch it–just a gentle push downward to the bottom of the bowl with your fist. This will remove air and prepare your dough for stretching into the pan. Shape dough into a log, divide it in half, form each half into disk, and allow to rest for a few minutes. This relaxes the gluten strands a bit and makes it easier to work with the dough.

After allowing the dough to relax a bit (5-10 minutes) go ahead and roll out each of the disks into large circles (about 14 inches).

What? It’s not perfectly round and smooth? No one cares.

Now it’s time to prepare the oven. I like to bake my pizza right in the middle of the oven, so move those racks around so they’re not too close to the top or bottom of the oven. Being a food snob, I bake mine one at a time, so I don’t worry about one getting more brown than the one below it, but if you keep a close eye, you can bake them both together. Preheat your oven to 420 degrees.

Grease the heck out of two large pizza pans. You don’t have a pizza pan? Roll out a rectangle and use a cookie sheet, but make sure it’s well-oiled to prevent pizza from sticking. If you’re worried, you can sprinkle a little bit of cornmeal on the greased pan for a little extra stick prevention (that’s a pizza-parlor thing). Lift up your dough and carefully stretch it into your pan.

I love these pans with the holes for ventilation. They make for a beautifully crisp crust. Just be careful not to press the dough too hard into the pan, or it will get inside the holes and grab on for dear life when you’re trying to remove it from the pan.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. You want a nice, relatively thin-crust pizza that will still have a nice rise in the oven (my personal favorite)? Go ahead and brush the edges of the crust with a little olive oil (because it’s good) and then add your sauce, cheese, pepperoni, sausage-whatever you like. If you want your pizza a little softer and spongier, with a taller rise, cover the dough and allow to rise for another 20 minutes or so before adding your toppings.

Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes, keeping a close watch until the cheese is slightly browned, and the crust has a beautiful golden color. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to let the cheese set up before slicing.

Gratuitous cute dog picture. The pizza got Bagel’s attention, too, when it made its debut out on the patio.

Look at this beauty. Piping hot, crisp, fresh, and yeasty. Your family and friends will think you’re a wizard!

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