Thin Crust Pizza: On the Road to becoming a Pizza Genius
Why I Love This Recipe
Home-made pizza is my new favorite weeknight meal. With a little planning ahead, it's quick and easy to throw together when you come home starving after a long day of arguing with authors and other sundry folk. It's also a great dinner party meal, FYI. Here's the deal:
Home-made Thin Crust Pizza Dough
(with inspiration from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook, by Cook's Illustrated)
Ingredients You'll Need
Makes 2 pizzas--serving size ~1/2 pizza
3/4 c. + 2 tsp (6.2 oz.) water (warm but not scalding)
1/2 tsp. yeast
2 c. (10 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
Pour water (already warmed) into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Add yeast and allow to dissolve for a few minutes.
Stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time, reserving about 1/2 cup for kneading, until the dough forms into a shaggy, clumpy mass (yes, those are scientific terms).
Pour the rest of the flour (1/2 cup) onto a clean counterspace and turn the dough out onto the flour.
Turn the dough a few times to coat with flour and then knead until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is smooth and silky to the touch. The dough should still feel moist and slightly tacky, but if it's sticking to your hands and countertop like bubble gum (and like mine did in the humidity this afternoon) work in more flour one tablespoon at a time until it's smooth and silky. Total kneading time should be five minutes or less. Since we're not making bread dough, we don't need to worry about developing the gluten (gluten is what helps bread dough to become elastic and take shape--more on this in future posts). In fact, if you want an extra crispy crust, very minimal gluten-formation is even better.
Divide the dough in two and place each piece into large ziplock bags or tupperware containers. Refrigerate overnight and use within 48 hours.
That's the planning ahead part. In a pinch, I've made the dough in the morning or early afternoon and refrigerated it until dinner time. The longer it has to sit in the fridge, the more the flavor is developed, but honestly, pizza is good no matter what, right?!) (P.S. Later that same recipe...I admit that I've made this dough and baked it right away--not as much flavor, but still an excellent and crispy vehicle for toppings.)
Making the Pizza
About 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees. If you have a baking stone (which I recommend) make sure that it's on a rack in the low to middle level.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and from the plastic bag, and set it on a clean part of your counter. Cover and let sit for about 10 minutes while you prepare the toppings.
Set a large piece of parchment paper on the counter. Work the dough in your hands and form into a large disk. I haven't quite yet accomplished the pizzeria method of twirling the dough in the air, but I'm working on it. Lay the disk of dough on the parchment paper. Working from the middle of the dough out, continue to stretch the dough until it's about 1/4 of an inch or less thick all over. The dough will stick to the parchment paper, but that's ok. Every so often, pull the edges of the parchment paper so the dough lies flat. I haven't quite achieved the perfect circular pie crust yet--most of mine end up looking like one of the Great Lakes, but I just call it Culinary License and go with it.
For pizza sauce, I use crushed tomatoes with Italian spices. Many recipe recommend simmering the crushed tomatoes until they thicken, but I think it doesn't actually make much difference. If you've got the time and the inclination, go for it. If not, spoon a few table spoons onto your dough straight from the can. Cover with all your favorite toppings EXCEPT THE CHEESE. See my toppings suggestions below, but we've all had pizza, so pile on your favorites.
Using a bread peel (long paddle-like thing you see decorating the walls at Bertucci's--yes, people actually do use them!) or the backside of a baking sheet, slide your pizza still on the parchment into the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, just bake on a baking sheet.
Bake for about 5 minutes and then rotate the pizza for even baking (most ovens have 'hot spots' and whatever you're baking will bake un-evenly if it's not rotated). Bake for another 3 minutes and then sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake for another 2-3 minutes until the edges are golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. At this point, you can slide the parchment paper out from under the pizza. Let cool for about five minutes (I know it's hard to wait!) and serve.
1/2 red pepper cut into strips--raw
1/2 onion cut into strips and sauteed/caramelized
mushrooms cut into slices
Most meats work well: pepperoni, sausage, chunks of chicken, steak, etc.
Most cheeses also work well: mozzarella, Parmesan, feta, gorgonzola, etc.
My current favorite combo is very thin round slices of potato topped with arugula and gorgonzola cheese. Mmmmm, good!
*Note: The Cook's Illustrated version (and just about every other pizza dough recipe I've found) includes a lot more ingredients in the dough, particularly olive oil and sugar. Olive oil will make your final product more tender. Sugar helps the yeast to grow and multiply, and also, obviously, makes your final product sweeter. None of these ingredients is truly necessary to make the dough 'work,' and are primarily there to add flavor and texture. I like to keep my recipes as basic as possible, primarily because I just happen to like the pure bread flavor, and also because the basic taste of the dough balances the complex flavors in the pizza toppings. Feel free to experiment with other ingredients if you like!
*Note: if you want a slightly risen crust, roll out your dough and let it sit for about 10 minutes while you do the veggies and whatnot. Bake it BY ITSELF for 2 minutes, then take it out and add all the toppings. Bake another 7-8 minutes until crust is golden.
*Note: I've recently started adding sourdough starter to my pizza dough. If you happen to have starter on-hand, I highly recommend it! Adds a little kick to the final flavor. Just be sure to sub out equal amounts of water and flour from the total in the recipe: 1 cup of starter roughly equals 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour.
*A note for those among us watching our figures: The lack of oil in the pizza dough means the only thing truly adding fat and calories are the meats and the cheese. If you're following the Weight Watcher's plan, 1/2 of one pizza is about 4 points before you add toppings. Crushed tomatoes (as the sauce) is zero points. Most veggies are zero points. I usually top my pizza with about 14 grams of cheese per half, which is roughly 1 point. Sargento makes a great line of reduced-fat, pre-shredded cheese mixes which are all exactly 1 point for 14 grams. It might not sound like a lot, but a little flavor can go a long way. Pile on those veggies and you've got a great filling meal for about 5 points.