Promise not to leave my blog if I tell you a secret?
I feel better now that it's out there. The truth is when we want pizza we prefer to just make our own. I like spices on my pizza, but delivery (or Digiorno) can be a little too...much. Occasionally I will leave work late and I know Tim will be hungrily waiting for me so I pick up a $5 pizza from Little Caesars. Those times are rare, though, because we always plan out our menus for the whole week and if we don't follow it food will spoil. I'm never one to waste anything so we do our best to keep up with the menu.
Lately, I've felt inspired in the kitchen to try out new things and leave our habits of cheap convenience behind us. I have mentioned that meals at our house these days are often experimental. I like to try out new techniques, new ways to eat chicken, new flavor combinations. Tim is eating better for it, even if he won't admit it!
My latest challenge was to make pizza dough. That may not seem to challenging to others, as I have asked many acquaintances about it and they offhandedly say, "I always make my own dough." Am I the last one to make my own pizza dough? It can't be true. I know some swear by Trader Joe's frozen dough so there are definitely some other corner cutters out there.
I want to know what is so special about homemade pizza dough and if it is really worth it. I've decided I'm going to try several, document them here, and then compare them to one another, allowing you, my (devoted?) reader, to also have an opportunity to try out some new recipes for pizza dough. Therefore, if you have a recipe you'd like me to try (something that is tried and true at your house?), send it my way! Or if there is a frozen brand that you think beats all homemade dough, please also tell me about it!
The first recipe in my pizza dough challenge was from Emeril Lagasse. I chose this recipe because it appeared to have the simplest (and fewest) ingredients and seemed the most difficult to screw up.
The first step is to activate the yeast. Seems simple enough, right?
On my first try I combined the active dry yeast, sugar, and 110 degree water in the mixer bowl and waited. Nothing happened. I panicked. Ugh, I had already screwed it up. But how? My guess is that the bowl was too cold, and cooled down the water immediately. That didn't occur to me right away so I decided to mix some yeast with 110 degree water and leave out the sugar. I didn't really want a sweet dough, anyway. Nothing happened. When that didn't work, I called my husband and begged him to tell me the secret of activating yeast. He said the water has to be the right temperature and the sugar is important because it wakes up the yeast. I checked this out and he's right: the sugar is food for the yeast. Smart man, I married. Well, smart and he also worked in a bakery for a while!
Soldiering on (more than 45 minutes had passed by this time), I warmed a cup of water up again, leaving it in the same cup that I warmed it in, and added the yeast and a teaspoon of granulated sugar. After a good stir, I waited, my nose practically at the lip of the cup, daring the yeast to make a move.
And it did. What first looked like air bubbles began to come up to the surface of the yeast mixture. Then I realized I could see the granules of yeast popping up the surface and a slight foam collecting on the top of the mixture. It's alive! It's aliiiiive!
I waited about 3 or 4 minutes until I was sure that I wasn't going to ruin it (when in actuality, I probably could have moved on as soon as the yeast had been tested to show it was active) and then I added it to my mixer bowl. Then I began adding the flour in increments, as well as the salt. The trick is to add the flour until it just incorporates with the wet ingredients, and then add more. I felt after I had added the 3 cups of floor that the dough wasn't quite coming together as it should. I added a few teaspoons of water, just until it incorporated, and it really came together nicely.
Then I had to wait for it to rise. The wait was an epic nail biter. I didn't feel like I had any space in my kitchen that was "warm and draft free" so I opted for warming the oven to 200 degrees and then turning it off. I filled a glass pie plate with hot water and put it in the bottom rack of the oven. Then I put the dough in an oiled glass bowl and covered it with saran wrap and a towel and put that on the top rack of the oven.
Then I waited an hour. I didn't even peak once. And guess what? It rose. This recipe calls for a second rise, so after I took it out of the bowl, punch it down, cut it in half and shaped it into two round balls, and covered those in saran wrap, I had to leave them out on the counter for another 20 minutes. The result was a puffy, light dough that easily rolled out to two 10-inch thin crust pizzas.
We topped one with olive oil, shredded fontina, crumbled goat cheese, fresh basil, and halved cherry tomatoes.
For the second one, we went traditional: home made red sauce, shredded mozzarella, and pepperoni.
As I took a bite into a slice of the pizza, I had a revelation: with the simple flavors of the crust, the flavors of the pizza really stand out. It was like getting back to pizza, and it's the same way I felt when I ate at Dewey's Pizza for the first time. There was no hiding behind extra seasonings and garlic butter slathered all over every bite--it was about the ingredients.
As far as it comparing to the pizza dough in a can? It blew it out of the water. My biggest complaint about the canned dough was that it was too sweet. It lent too much to the overall pizza flavor, and always bothered me. I also think it's too thin and flat--no dimension to the texture. The home made pizza dough was light and puffy, but still crisp on the bottom--a perfect balance.
Tim says it was the best pizza he's ever had. He may be biased, considering he loves me, but I must agree--there is a difference.
Emeril Lagasse's Basic Pizza Dough
adapted from foodnetwork.com
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup water at 110 degrees F
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for spreading on the counter to keep dough from sticking
1 tbsp olive oil
In a bowl, combine warmed water, yeast, and sugar and mix well. Set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the yeast mixture, salt, and 1 cup of the flour to a bowl and set bowl under stand mixer. With the dough hook, turn mixer on low and mix for 60 seconds. Add 1 cup of the flower and mix for another 60 seconds. Add the last 1 cup of the flour and mix until the flour is mostly incorporated into a ball, turning up the mixer after 2 minutes and mixing for an additional 3-5 minutes. Dough should be incorporated into a ball. If necessary add additional water or olive oil, 1 tsp at a time, while mixing for the last 3-5 minutes until dough comes together to be a smooth elastic ball. If you feel that you need to move the dough to the counter and knead by hand to get the flour to combine, that will also work.
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F and then turn off. Set a pan of water on the bottom rack to encourage a warm, moist environment. Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough over once to coat the dough in oil. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and a towel and set on the top rack of the oven. Let rise for 1 hour.
After an hour, remove the dough from the bowl and set on a lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch down the dough, and then cut the dough in half and create two small rounds, which will make two 10-14 inch pizzas, depending on how much you roll them out. Cover the dough rounds with a damp towel or saran wrap and allow them to sit for 15 minutes, in which they will go through a second rising.
Put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Roll out the dough to your desired size and thickness. You can either par-bake the dough for 6 minutes and then add toppings, and then bake for another 8-10 minutes, or top pizza with toppings and bake for 12-18 minutes. I have found I get a crisper crust if I par-bake the dough first.