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Adventures in Pizza I: The Dough

Pizza 4

(Here’s the second part of the series that deals with the technique of cooking this pizza.)

We eat a lot of pizza.  More to the point we eat it a lot of different versions of pizza.  Pizza for Kat and me can be a quick lunch, a convenient delivery when we don’t feel like cooking or a more involved from-scratch process.

When making pizza at home the shortcut that I am least willing to take is the use of pre-baked shells.  I find that they taste both inauthentic and, well, bad.  Canned tomato sauce: Serviceable and with a bit of spices mixed in even very good.  Pre-shredded cheese: Not great but not totally offensive.  The pre-baked shells though, have the taste and mouth feel of the cardboard they are packaged with.

Having reached this point I have turned a bunch of times to either making my own dough or buying the balls of dough from the grocery store and using them that day or later, out of the freezer.  I have definitely had varying degrees of success, especially when it comes to transforming the dough from a  ball into a very thin round that can be topped and slid into the oven without tearing.  Repeatedly, I read the recommendation that if the dough resists being stretched thinly enough it should be left to rest for five to ten minutes.  This sometimes works but nearly as often just gives the dough round an opportunity to slowly recede in the inward direction while maintaining its resistance to stretching.

The Paupered Chef / Serious Eats posts about making pizza the Heston Blumenthal way definitely made me want to get back in the pizza-from-scratch game.  The guys at PC went to Domino’s and after some haggling managed to buy a ball of dough.  I’m going to save this experiment in “non-optimal customer service interaction” for another day and therefore decided to make my own dough.

Right now I am working my way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart.  I have only had positive experiences with this excellent guide so I had high expectation for his pizza napolenata recipe.  Reinhart also wrote American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza in 2003 whch is currently Amazon’s bestselling cookbook devoted entirely to pizza (BBA is running third among bread-only cookbooks).

Like most of Reinhart’s recipes (or “formulas” as he calls them) this one calls for some day-before prep. He claims (and I believe it) that a night fermenting in the fridge really adds to the dough’s flavour.  When stretched thinly and loaded with full-flavoured toppings pizza dough needs any help it can get asserting its flavour.  I don’t know if it was the night in the fridge or the two hours that the dough rested before shaping, but this dough was amazingly easy to work.  When made (a couple of weeks ago) with only all-purpose flour when I picked the dough up from the counter it immediately wanted to start stretching all I had to do was keep it moving so that it stretched relatively evenly.  No tearing, no pulling, no pushing it with fingertips like focaccia and definitely no rolling pins.  This time around I substituted whole wheat flour for two-fifths of the all-purpose and the dough turned out slightly stiffer but still a dream to work with.

Lots of cornmeal on the peal is essential (this is the all white flour pizza)

Lots of cornmeal on the peal is essential (this is the all white flour pizza)

In adapting the recipe I cut the quantities in half to make a more manageable three pizzas.  As well, I replaced 40% of the white flour with whole wheat.  During the first run of this experiment I tried to cut down total prep time by making two pizzas instead of three.  If you’re going to use the Heston Blumenthal method (that I’m going to go over in detail tomorrow) I definitely don’t recommend doing this (stick to three smaller pies) but if you have a particularly large pizza stone go for it.

Not every pizza can be perfectly round (with 40% whole wheat)

Not every pizza can be perfectly round (with 40% whole wheat)

Ultimate Dough for Pizza Napoletana

Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
  • 116 g (7/8 cup) whole wheat flour
  • 174 g (1 3/8 cup) good quality all-purpose flour
  • 6.25 g (1 teaspoon) kosher salt
  • 1.5 g (1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast
  • 28.25 g (1/8 cup) olive oil
  • 198.5 g (7/8 cup) water, really cold

Note: I have listed all of the ingredients by weight first because this is the method that I strongly prefer for measuring when baking.  The flour and salt in particular should me measured this way because different brands or even different methods of scooping these two ingredients will yield appreciably different results.  The yeast can be measured by volume because it’s such a small amount, and so can the two liquids though I find that it’s easiest to just keep the bowl on the scale and press the tare button after each ingredient.

  1. Use a large metal spoon to stir together flour, salt, and instant yeast in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the oil and cold water.  The objective here is to get all of the flour hydrated.  Once that point is reached dip the metal spoon in water to keep it from sticking and use it mimic the action of a stand mixer’s dough hook while using the other hand to spin the bowl.  Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, occassionally reversing direction and dipping the spoon in water.  You know that you have the right balance of flour and water if the dough sticks to the bowl a bit on the bottom after a couple minutes of this.  If it doesn’t stick at all add more cold water, a teaspoon at a time; if it sticks to the sides add flour.  (Not surprisingly, imitating a stand mixer is a good arm and shoulder workout and I sometimes find myself tempted to cheat on the time so I set a timer for six minutes.    The original also has instructions for how to do this with a KitchenAid.)
  2. Transfer the dough to a floured spot on your counter and using a dough knife or a serrated knife divide into three equal portions.  With your well-floured hands shape each piece into a ball and place all three on a floured plate (optionally line with parchment paper).  Mist the dough balls with spray oil and cover the plate with plastic wrap.  (The idea here is to make the plastic wrap loose enough to give the dough some room to expand but sealed tightly to the plate so that it doesn’t dry out.  The original recipe (which makes six balls instead of three) uses a sheet pan instead of a plate and a food-grade plastic bag instead of plastic wrap.  I can’t imagine where I would find a food-grade plastic bag big enough to fit a sheet pan.)
  3. Place the plate in the fridge, at least overnight, but for no more than three days.
  4. Check back tomorrow for my post on how to shape, top, and bake the pizzas.  Here is the second part of the series that deals with cooking the pizzas.

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8 Comments

  1. Kat says:

    The best part about the homemade dough is the way it’s cooked. Apparently that is the next post.

    Ta ta for now,
    Doughy Girlfriend.

  2. Ash says:

    This was the best dinner I’ve had in a long time. Head’s up: I will be angling for another invite to pizza part two.

  3. Katharine Peterson says:

    I’m waitting for pizza part deux!

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