Three ingredients. Flour, yeast and water. The stuff of life.
I could just give you a set of instructions for making the dough, but that wouldn't let me tell you about how I came to use the methods that I do. I have been making pizza at home for more than 15 years and have worked out ways to make the best of my home kitchen.
I'll admit to adding salt and a little bit of sugar to these three ingredients to make my pizza crusts. And I do all the work by hand.
I like thick crusts on pizza and so that is what you'll initially get instructions for. As time goes on we can discuss variations. This quantity is for a 40cm base. You can freeze any leftover dough. We'll talk about that another time.
I am mindful of the fact that I have an ordinary home kitchen and do not have the same conditions as a traditional kitchen with wood fired stove or those of a pizzeria with the attendant heat and atmosphere. What I will tell you about here are some of the techniques I have used to make the best of what I have.
I use 400 grams of hard flour, 2 teaspoons of dried yeast and 350 ml luke warm water. Then a good pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of sugar.
To prepare my yeast, I run my hot water tap until the water is just warm and then collect 350 ml. To that I stir in 2 teaspoons of dried yeast, half a teaspoon of sugar and stir to dissolve. I also let it sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes.
The water temperature is important. Too cold and you risk losing the heat that has started the fermentation of the yeast. Too hot and you risk the 'gluten hardening' of the flour that will make the dough more difficult to work with. Not getting it right does not change the taste of the dough, but does make a difference in working with it. This is why it is important to run the water over your hand to gauge the temperature. With experience you will get to know what a good temperature is.
My knowledge of flour and its properties was fairly limited until recently when I went looking for 'continental flour' to make pasta. I live in a town with a strong Italian influence, and this flour had been easy enough to get hold of in the past but no longer. What I have learned is that hard flours will give the dough more elasticity and bounce. Soft flours have no 'body' for the tough work of the kneading and rising process. Soft flours have resulted in doughs that slip through my fingers like jelly and become cake like because they fail to rise.
In Australia, the flours are not labelled according to variety, so talking to your grocer can help identify which ones you need. Don't buy flour off the supermarket shelf either. You can never tell how long the flour has been there.
I measure out the 400 grams and add the salt. I mix the two with one hand, feeling all the time for the temperature of the flour. My flour gets stored in a cool dark place. But that coolness will affect the effectiveness of the yeast when the two are combined. If I feel that the flour is too cool, I will put the bowl in my microwave for 10 -15 seconds to heat. I dont want to cook the flour, I simply want to get it to body heat temperature.
I then make a well in the centre of the bowl and slowly pour in the yeast and water mix. I start the mixing process straight away and can immediately feel the dough forming. If the yeast mixture was too warm, I can feel the hardness of the dough like the start of a good rye bread. If too cool, the dough can feel soft as silk and light as fairy floss. I am aiming for neither of these two options. I want a dough that is soft and firm. One that incorporates all the flour in the bowl and then becomes a soft ball.
All the recipes for bread and such products talk about kneading the dough for 5 minutes and then leaving to rise in a warm place. Quite frankly, for me, at this point, my hands are sticky, I've forgotten to put flour out on the board and I just want to get out of this mess. I will often leave the dough in a just prepare state and let it rise for 30 - 45 minutes without kneading.
I will end up kneading it two or three times over the course of the next two hours. Each time, I liberally dust with flour and eventually end up with a dough that does not stick to everything around it.
I haven't managed to learn to swirl the dough to get it to stretch before it goes on the tray. I use my rolling pin, very gently so that I do not sqeeze out all that precious air.
The dough needs high temperatures to cook fast to produce the best crusts around. Domestic ovens are not capable of delivering the required heat for good pizza crusts. So we can improvise somewhat and then be happy with what we have.
I preheat my oven to the highest temperature I can get for a good 15 - 20 minutes before the pizza goes in. I oil my pizza tray and place that in the oven for 5 minutes prior to putting the dough on it. I find that the heat of the tray starts the crisping process of the baking and prevents some of the heat loss associated with rolling and spreading the pizza.
I put the tray and the dough back in the oven for a few minutes while I clean u the bench, take a deep breath and make sure all my ingredients are ready.
Quick handling to make sure that the oven or the dough do not loose too much heat will result in a better pizza.