Sometimes I'm lazy and I'll buy a frozen pizza shell at a grocery store, but the best pizzas are the ones you can customize. It's nice having finer control over things like crust thickness, size, shape, spices, and even things like Gluten Free or Vegan variants. You can get all that by making your own dough! It's pretty fast, surprisingly easy, and super cheap!
When you've made your own dough a few dozen times you come to realize that the recipe is very resilient. Missing an ingredient? Probably fine. Using rough quantities? Fine too. I'll try to explain what each ingredient does to the recipe as I go here. Learning! Fun!
_(This recipe makes around 2 medium pizzas or 3 small pizzas worth of dough.)_
- Grab a large mixing bowl and a fork. You'll probably want an apron, too.
- Put 2 cups of hot water into the bowl. How hot? I usually just run the kitchen tap as hot as it can go. If it's too hot you'll kill the yeast, and if it's too cold the yeast won't grow fast enough. A large bowl will radiate the temperature from hot back down to perfect temperatures for you, so don't worry about it too much.
- Dissolve ¼ cup of brown sugar into the hot water. Stir it up nicely. This is food for your yeast to eat, it doesn't affect the flavour of the dough too much.
- Add 2 tablespoons of active dry yeast to the water. Stir a teensy bit so there aren't any floating on the top or in big clumps at the bottom.
- Wait 5 minutes or so; you want to give the yeast some time to make babies. You should see it multiplying and foaming up! This is a perfect time to put your iPhone into timelapse mode and film it.
- Add 2 teaspoons of salt and stir. This doesn't affect flavour too much either; instead, salt is used to inhibit the growth of the yeast. If you want your dough less fluffy, you can add more salt, or add it into the water before adding the yeast. If you want more fluffy dough, add less salt here!
- Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the water. This helps bind things together; some people use an egg or two here instead. Eggs will change the flavour profile of the pizza crust, and makes it non-Vegan. I usually stick to Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but if you want to get fancy you can use chili-infused oil, or rosemary oil instead.
- Optional step: Add some spices! A tablespoon of crushed chili flakes, or maybe some oregano or thyme can work really nicely here. It depends on what will go well with your pizza! I recommend leaving the spices in the liquid for a few minutes to spread the flavours out a bit.
- Add 5 cups of flour. If you are aiming for Gluten Free, I recommend an equivalent amount of Cup4Cup-brand gluten-free flour. It's more expensive, but trust me - it's indistinguishable from regular flour. Cheap GF stuff often tastes like cardboard, or lacks texture. I mix my own gluten-free flour these days but I use the Cup4Cup recipe.
- Stir with a fork until your fork-hand hurts or your fork snaps in half, then continue mixing by getting your hands in there. Dust your hands with flour first, and just keep mixing it up until the mixture is consistent. If it's too dry and starts flaking, add a tiny bit of water (way less than you think!). If it's wet, add a bit more flour. The final ball of dough shouldn't stick to you, be slightly dusty-looking, and hold itself together well.
- Now it's time to knead the dough! This is the process of stretching the gluten in the dough out to make the cooked dough have an awesome texture, and gives it that springy elasticity. Dust a cutting board, take your ball of dough out of the bowl, and slap it down. Then start folding and rolling it over and over again. You can probably youtube a good description of dough kneading. If you went for the gluten-free option - congratulations! You can skip this step, you have no gluten to stretch!
- Put the dough back into the bowl. We're resting the dough and letting the yeast continue working for 10 minutes or so. So it doesn't dry out, you should cover the dough with a plate, or if you are in a very dry climate, a slightly damp towel. Pro tip: this is the perfect time to chop some veggies and preheat your oven!
Dough Complete! At this point you can freeze your dough for later if you like, but I usually roll straight into cooking.
Cooking Pizza Dough
The first thing you need to decide is how big your pizzas are going to be. The above recipe creates around 2 medium-sized medium-crust pizzas, or 4 medium-sized thin-crusts.
What I do these days is make a dozen tiny hand-held pizzas, about the size of the palm of my hand, with a thicker crust and a rolled edge. Up to you!
- Preheat your oven to 450 degress fahrenheit.
- Divide your ball of dough into individual balls, one for each pizza you wish to make. Experiment! Figure out how much dough works for you.
- Dust a surface with flour and grab a single ball and slam it down on there. Time to stretch it out into pizza shape! You can get fancy and twirl it in the air, but I just use repeated rolling-pin squeezin's to wrastle the pizza to the right shape. The elasticity of the gluten should make it try to "spring back" on you, so it'll take repeated attempts to make it hold form. Gluten free tip: no gluten to stretch! Just use a rolling pin or the palm of your hands to get it to the rough shape you need. This step is easy!
If you leave it thick, you'll get a nice thick crust (careful how thick: you don't want a Biscuit instead of a pizza!). If you spread it out paper-thin you'll get a nice thin-crust style. You can roll the edges slightly to give a crust, or not! Up to you.
- Transfer the dough (or stretch it in the first place) onto a sheet of parchment paper (NOT wax paper! I made that mistake!).
- Add a base sauce and toppings! The thinner the crust, the less sauce you should use. You don't want to soak the poor thing.
- If you have a pizza stone, great, but a cookie sheet will do. Transfer the pizza to that, and throw it into the oven!
- Cook for 16-ish minutes (for crispy crust) or 13-ish minutes (for a softer crust). Your oven will vary, so keep an eye on it the first few times. Remember that the center of your pizza will cook the slowest; if the outer rim of the pizza looks perfect, the middle is probably undercooked. Make it go a little bit further than you think!
Check that out: making your own dough only takes about 16 minutes, and 15 of those are spent waiting. The pizza is done after a grand total of 30 minutes if you're fast and have a big oven! I often allot myself an hour so I can poke around and go slowly, and cook one pizza at a time.