Homemade Pizza

When I first decided that I was ready to take the step towards pizza dough self-sufficiency, I scoured the web for recipes, hints, and ideas. Unfortunately, I realised there are many pizza dough recipes online, each one claiming to be the easiest way to make a pizza. Sure, the various recipes all have the same basic idea; flour, water, yeast - and something like sugar to activate it. But then they all differ in ratios, resting time, and the order of operations. After bready, soggy, floppy, and uncooked crusts, I finally stumbled upon a combination of ideas that has worked consistently.

Let me preface by saying that making pizza dough is not necessarily easy, nor quick (despite what some recipe sites love to claim). You can follow my recipe - or anyone else's recipe - to the letter and still end up with a different crust. But with patience, you will learn to 'feel' the dough. You will just know the right amount of moisture, the development of the gluton, and your pizzas will only get better.

For example, I say below that you will need "about" three cups of flour, because there is no exact measurement. And here is a secret: Pizza places do not have a set recipe either. Ask any pizza maker how much flour he uses, and he will probably shrug and say, "as much as I need."

Before we begin, I should point out that this is a quick-and-easy (yes, I know!) way of making European style pizza dough. Don't expect thick, American style pan pizza. Also, this recipe does not require the dough to rest overnight, so you can make it a few hours before eating, which is quick by pizza standards. And finally, pizza dough making is an art that constantly must evolve, so if you have any suggestions, tips, or corrections for my recipe, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

Now for the pizza!

To make enough dough for two, 15-inch pizzas, you will need:
  • One packet of yeast (7 grams)
  • One teaspoon of honey
  • One cup of warm water
  • About three cups of flour
  • Two tablespoons of olive oil
  • One teaspoon of salt
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Resting time: 90 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

In a large bowl, add a teaspoon of honey.

Next, add about 1 cup of warm water. When I say warm, about 40-45 degrees C (110-115 F) is the target. If you don't have a thermometer, you will have to guess; the water should be warm to the touch, but not so hot it feels uncomfortable or painful.

Mix the honey to dissolve it in the water. Don't worry too much about dissolving it all perfectly, in fact try not to stir the solution too much, as that will cool the water down.

Add your packet of yeast and a teaspoon of olive oil, and mix everything together. Now we let this sit for about five minutes, or until it gets foamy and really starts to smell awful.

Add one teaspoon of salt to the activated yeast solution.

Mix the salt into the activated yeast solution with a wooden spatula. Do not take a large whiff!

Now add one cup of flour.

Mix it in well.

When the mixture is homogenous, continue adding the flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, and pretty soon you will find the wooden spatula to be quite useless. Time to get your hands in there. But first, dust your hands with flour, to help prevent the dough from sticking.

Scrape off the dough that is stuck to the wooden spoon.

With your hands, continue incorporating the flour until you end up with a smooth dough.

Uh-oh, added too much flour and now your dough is dry? Just add a little more water.

Uh-oh, added too much water and now your dough is sticky? Just add a bit more flour!

Your dough is ready when it separates easily from the sides of the bowl and it forms itself into a lump.

When the dough is just right and you can form a ball in the bowl, roll it out onto a dry, floured surface.

Toss it around to get it well coated in flour.

Now it is time to build some muscle. The way to knead the ball of dough in front of you is to press down and forward with the base of your palm, pushing the dough away from you and stretching it.
Then, fold it back onto itself, turn it 90 degrees, and do the same motion.

Or, use the method of thirds; push the dough away from you, then fold the furthest third back in, and then fold the nearest third over it. Turn 90 degrees and continue.

Knead for about 5 minutes. If it gets tiring, you can take a break for a few minutes, it also allows the dough to rest, and it will make it easier to knead when you continue.

Finally, when your dough feels like it is getting tough and really pushing back at you, start shaping it into a ball by turning the edges under themselves while constantly turning the ball of dough. This will help stretch the dough and create a membrane over the top.

If the top of the ball breaks, instead of forming a membrane, your dough is too dry, add a little water and knead it some more.

Line a large bowl with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place your ball of dough in it, turning to make sure the dough is well coated in oil.

Now we need to leave the dough to rise. If you live in a warm country, good for you. Just cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it somewhere away from drafts. If you live in a cold country, you could place it in your oven. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, place your bowl with a damp cloth over it, and turn off your oven after the door is closed. The residual heat will be enough to make the dough rise.

An hour and a half later, the dough should be doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and roll it out onto a floured surface. You can divide the dough into two by cutting it with a knife. If you are only going to make one pizza, place one part in a bowl, cover it with cling-film, and place it in the fridge. I strongly suggest using it the next day; the day after at the latest. Make sure your cling-film is tight around the bowl; that dough is going to continue rising and it will try to push its way our of the bowl!

With the half that you are going to use immediately (or for each pizza if you're making two), knead it a tiny little bit more to wake it up, similar to stretching after a nice nap.

Use the same kneading technique for a few minutes, after which you can do the "windowpane" test to see if your dough is ready. Break of a small piece and stretch it gently while rotating, and the membrane should stretch enough where you can almost see through it, without tearing. You have to make sure that you are turning the piece while stretching; any dough will tear if you only pull in one direction.

If your dough has passed the windowpane test, it is time to get your oven ready and to form your pizza.

First, the oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it at the bottom (yes, I mean the very bottom) of your oven before you pre-heat it. Also, pre-heat your oven to its maximum, and let it stay at that maximum for at least another 30 minutes after your oven says it is pre-heated. Why? When the oven thermostat says it is pre-heated, it is telling you that the air in the oven is as hot as you would like. Air heats by convection, it circulates and heats much more efficiently than your stone, which is heating by conduction from the air and from the bottom of the oven. Its needs more time for the stone to be nice and hot so you get that crispy crust.

If you don't have a pizza stone, place your oven rack on its lowest possible rail and preheat your oven to its maximum.

Now for the shaping. I make my pizza into its shape, and then let it rest for a good 15-20 minutes before adding the toppings. I think this helps the dough relax into form, but perhaps it is all hogwash - so feel free to skip this step if you are in a rush.

How do you form your pizza? Well, the safe bet is to roll it with a rolling pin, and nobody is going to judge you for that.

You could also press the dough until it forms a rough circle, then pick up the dough by its outer edge (letting the rest dangle) and quickly turn the pizza in your hand. This allows gravity to stretch the pizza, and the faster you turn - the more evenly the pizza will be shaped.

Want to flip it? You still need to roll or press it into a basic circle, then lay that circle on your knuckles, and flip it up while spinning it. The spinning is the most important part; not only will it keep the trajectory stable (hopefully causing the dough to come back neatly onto your knuckles), the centrifugal force stretches the pizza.

More importantly, make sure you have somewhere to put your pizza after it is formed. Ideally, parchment paper or wax paper that you can then directly place in the oven, on your pizza stone or baking pan. Using paper such as this also makes it much easier to move your pizza around, place it in the oven, and slide it out when its done. I have a pizza pan that I use when forming my pizza, and then I use it as a pizza peel to transfer it to my stone. Of course, if you have a pizza peel, you can form and build your pizza directly on your peel.

While your dough is resting, make the pizza sauce. You can buy pizza sauce from the store if you like, or you can use my recipe for pizza sauce. Avoid using pasta sauce if you can, it has a much higher water content and will soak your crust. If you must use pasta sauce, cook it over low heat, uncovered, until it reduces to a thicker sauce.

So, your dough has been formed and is rested, and your sauce is ready. What kind of pizza are you making? The thing I love about pizza is the wonderful freedom to top it as you like, and there are enough sites out there with suggestions. In fact, just visit the website of your favourite pizzeria and see what they offer, that should give you a starting place.

Start by adding your pizza sauce.

Sprinkle some grated cheese of your liking. Grated mozzarella is always fantastic on pizzas.

Then your toppings (I used mushrooms and parma ham!)

And finally finish with some more grated cheese, and any other speciality cheeses you like (I added goat cheese). Garnish with some oregano and you're ready to pop it into the oven.

Put your pizza in the oven (has it been at least 30 minutes since it was pre-heated?) and lower the temperature to 200 C (390F). This should give you a nicely cooked and browned crust, without burning or drying out your toppings. Don't go too far, though. Keep your eye on the pizza as a slight temperature variation could change the cooking time by as much as a few minutes and mean the difference between beautiful or burnt pizza.

When the pizza looks good, the cheese is melted and the crust is browning on the outside, you can always open your oven and carefully lift the edge of the crust, either by hand or with a flat spatula. Your crust should be firm and dry, ideally even browned on the underside. If so, take it out of the oven.

And look at that lovely, browned bottom! If you don't have a pizza stone, I highly recommend purchasing one.

Phew! I know that was a lot of work, and now you certainly deserve to enjoy that pizza.

The next day, I made a pizza with smoked ham and mozzarella.

As with all the other recipes we put on this site, this is meant to be easy to follow. We are hobby chefs who love to cook, and we are always up for learning new techniques. If you know of anything in this recipe which can be done a different way, whether for increased ease of preparation or better taste, please add a comment below!

Whipped up by Shyamal Addanki.

Special thanks to Charline Leblond for taking the photos while I kneaded and shaped the dough.

1 comment:

  1. Phew! I almost thought there was flour on MY hands, as I was reading and looking at the wonderful photos. Beautifully explained.

    I always made my pizza dough with 4cups of flour, one table spoon of sugar , one and half tablespoon of dry yeast , one cup of warm water, a little salt and one table spoon of oil. Easy and flaky. Oh! I want to eat it NOW!!!!