Good pizza dough takes a while. There's no help for that. Think of it as a flat bread with toppings. You may think it's all about the cheese and sauce, but the crust--the flat bread--is a crucial flavor component. Bread takes a while. If it didn't, there wouldn't be an entire grocery store section devoted to mass produced (and often additive-laden) varieties for our convenience. It's not always expedient, but it isn't hard to make. Small children were once able to do this. It just takes a little practice, like tying your shoes. Once you get the hang of it, you don't even need a recipe.
That said, this is a recipe for the quickest way I know to make a decent pizza crust... and I've tried a lot of ways. It takes about 2 hours [most of it inactive for you while the yeast is working] and you can start this recipe days before or the morning of and keep it in the fridge, just bring it out a couple hours before you turn the oven on. The flavor comes from yeast development and fermentation, which is why great pizza places have dough going at all times. If you have a sourdough starter, it'll add a lot more flavor and you can still add the instant yeast if you want it to go faster.
If you think you might make pizza or any other bread more than once a year, this is well worth the ~$35 investment for a 14”x16” baking stone. [You can also throw the stone on the grill when it’s too hot to turn on the oven – May to October in central Texas.] A pizza peel is great, but a cookie sheet will work as well. Stretching the dough on parchment paper and removing it once the initial crust has formed (~7 minutes of baking) is significantly easier than flouring the bottom and praying it doesn’t stick when you try to slide it in.
Recipe: Pizza Dough
Makes 1 large, 2 medium or 4 individual pizzas
It's important to heat your stone completely; make sure you heat the oven to 450 degrees for thirty minutes before you start baking.
1 cup water, preferably distilled, warm but not hot (no more than 110-115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups flour, divided use, plus more for shaping crust
[use no more than 1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour or more than 1/4 cup of rye flour]
1 teaspoon honey, sugar, or agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope) or 1 cup starter
olive oil (or cooking spray) for oiling bowl, plus extra for brushing dough
1. Turn oven on to 200 degrees for ten minutes, then turn off. You can do this while you’re measuring out things, just be sure to set a timer because you don’t want the oven to actually reach 200 degrees... yeast dies around 117.
2. Mix 2 cups flour, water, sweetner, and table salt in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook on low speed until no patches of dry flour remain, 3 to 4 minutes, occasionally scraping sides and bottom of bowl. Turn off mixer and let dough rest at least 17 minutes for gluten formation.
3. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over dough. Knead on medium speed for 5 minutes until long strands form from the edges of the bowl to the hook (this is your gluten). Add remaining ½ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from sides of bowl, another 2-3 minutes. (Dough may only cling to the hook while mixer is on. When mixer is off, dough may fall back to sides.)
4. Coat a large bowl or stock pot with ~1 Tbs of oil, dump in dough and drizzle another ~1 Tbs oil over top. Flip dough over once so it is well coated with oil; cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in warm oven until doubled in volume and large bubbles have formed, 40 minutes.
5. Remove dough from oven and turn oven on to 450 degrees. Turn out the dough onto a well-floured piece of parchment paper, dust top with flour and stretch it out to the desired size (or you can roll it out with a rolling pin. I won’t tell.). This will be a sticky dough, handle it gently. For a thinner crust, let it rest 10 minutes, then stretch it out further. If it tears, stop, squish it back together, let it rest, and avoid that area while stretching out the rest. [I also roll the edges over for a thin crust, just for something to hold onto in the final product.]
6. Brush entire crust with olive oil. This is also a moisture barrier to keep the sauce from sogging your dough. Add toppings. Drape with plastic wrap until oven is ready.
7. Slide pizza (with parchment) onto stone, pulling the peel back with a quick jerk. Bake 7 minutes or until crust is set, then insert the peel between crust and parchment and lift the crust enough to pull the parchment out. Continue baking until cheese is completely melted and starting to bubble and brown, another ~5-7 minutes.
JG and I use some combination of the following ingredients; whatever’s on hand.
Pizza Sauce [with variations]:2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or sliced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3/4 lb tomatoes
or 3/4 lb tomatillos, husked and chopped,
or one 14 oz can of dices tomatoes or a can of Rotel with chiles,
or a jar of salsa: green, red, chipotle, whatever
salt & pepper to taste
red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, anchovy fillet or a squirt of anchovy paste (all optional)
Saute garlic until golden, add tomatoes or variants and mash with spoon or spatula, add salt and spices. Simmer until almost all of the liquid evaporates.
Mince garlic fine, sautee in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and use this oil on the dough before topping, sauceless.
Fresh mozzarella and parmesan are our primary cheeses (~4:1) and then maybe gruyere, or cheddar, or crumbles of fresh goat, or dollops of gooey bleu; no more than a cup total… super cheesy pizza is a waste of other good ingredients… but if you want that, use fontina. (Italian is better than Swiss) and a little parm.
The more the merrier!Caramelized White or Red Onion. During ~20 minutes before kneading dough, thinly slice, toss with olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until rest of pizza is ready.
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes or Bell Pepper Strips. During ~20 minutes before kneading dough, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, throw in a toaster oven at 275 degrees until rest of pizza is ready.
Shake pan occasionally.
Fresh Tomatoes, Onions, or Shallots. Slice them very thin so they’ll cook quickly.
Arugula. Peppery; scatter a couple handfuls on raw. Definitely top with cheese to hold it on.
Spinach. Good raw, better wilted. The leaves glop together, so you have to pull them apart and kind of smear them across the pizza.
Sun Dried Tomatoes. Chop into strips or dice. Use the oil in place of regular oil on the crust.
Mushrooms. We usually saute, but you can just slice them thin. Thyme and mushrooms belong together.
Olives. Kalmata or nicoise meld with the other flavors best, but assertive green olives have their place.
Basil. Whole leaves work if baked with toppings, scatter raw chopped basil after it comes out of the oven.
Usually on top of the cheese so it gets a little crispy. Use sparingly if at all.Prociutto. Our favorite. Keep a hunk in the freezer (a charcuterie no-no) and shave off maybe .5 ounce at a time.
Ham or Canadian Bacon. Slice thin, or dice and pan fry.
Pork, Lamb, or Chicken Sausage. Pre-cook and sliced thin or crumbled.
Pepperoni or Spanish (hard) Chorizo. Spicy. Slice thin.