Perfect Pizza Dough
We’ve been making pizza at home for years. It’s a great casual and rolling family meal, even better with family and friends. You get your ingredients together, heat up a pizza stone to around 500 degrees in the oven or on the grill, and just start cranking out pies. Red sauce with mozzarella, white with mozzarella, or goat cheese, or a combo of both and toppings like spinach, caramelized onions, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, sliced cherry tomatoes, shredded chicken breast - all kinds of ways to get creative and embrace your inner Ed LaDou.
The foundation of all of this creativity and savory goodness, of course, is the dough. It all starts with the dough. It’s funny, when you first introduce the notion of homemade pizza, the fundamental stumbling point for people is almost always this essential platform, and how it’s sourced. Finally, you convey the unthinkable - you made it yourself - a revelation that is met with the kind of verbal and non-verbal reactions David must have experienced right after Goliath hit the dirt.
Over the years, we have experimented with many, many dough recipes - white flour, white whole wheat, whole wheat, sugar, honey, olive oil, hand-mixed, Kitchen Aid-mixed, active dry yeast, rapid rise yeast, overnight rest, rise at room temperature, rise in the refrigerator, punched down three times, not punched down at all, kneaded while the name “Frank Pepe” is rhythmically chanted, you name it. I think the first dough we ever made was right out of The California Pizza Kitchen Cookbook, and it was good and respectable, a fine start. Then, we moved on to a kind of modified Peter Reinhart and stayed there for years, happy, while continuing to tinker.
But, a few weeks ago, I had a random encounter with a personal chef named Lisa Schoen and, as is to be expected, we got to talking about pizza. More specifically, pizza dough. Esteemed cooking school, a few years as a baker, time in the kitchens of NYC restaurants you’ve heard of, the inevitable brush with Food Network fame, she had all the prerequisites to be taken seriously, and when she offered up her recipe for arguably the most important handmade concoction to ever come out of a kitchen, I broke out the iPhone and started typing.
We took our maiden voyage last weekend and it was like my eyes opened for the first time. We found it. We found the perfect pizza dough, and that brief encounter changed my life - changed all of our lives - because in a complicated world, this very important piece is now set. Forever. And, like the culinary equivalent of Jerry Seinfeld’s “move,” it’s too good not to be passed on, but appropriate care is required.
So here it is:
1 package, active dry yeast (1/4 oz.)
1 Tbsp, sugar
1 Tbsp, kosher salt (seems like a lot, go for it)
4 cups white flour (can substitute white whole wheat, whole wheat, etc.)
1 cup warm water
1 cup ice cold water (may need a little more based on dough consistency)
Olive oil drizzle on bottom of holding pan, and for the top of the dough balls
The preparation of this dough could not be easier, which was surprising given how far superior it was to versions we have slaved over, here are the detailed instructions, in steps.
1. Combine the packet of yeast with one cup of lukewarm water and the Tbsp of sugar, stir and leave to the side, the yeast will react with the sugar and start bubbling, you will see it is “activating” and working.
2. Put four cups of flour and the Tbsp of kosher salt (course) in a food processor, with a plastic dough blade. Pulse a few times to mix the flour and the salt.
Note: The way this recipe was given to me, only white flour is used. We’re pretty partial to whole wheat flour around here, so for the initial run we made two batches - one with all white flour, the second with half white flour and half white whole wheat. They were both incredible, and the next time out we’re going to try half whole wheat and half white whole wheat and see how it goes. I’ll report back.
(Editor’s Update: We tried this recipe over the weekend with equal portions of King Arthur whole wheat and white whole wheat flour - full health - and it was terrific. More dense than the other versions, very good and crisp crust. One thing to keep in mind is that you do lose some elasticity when you are working with this wheat version of the dough, you have to be much more gentle with it to avoid it pulling apart and creating holes when you’re in the stretching out process.)
3. Add the warm water/yeast/sugar mix to the flour in the food processor, and pulse a few times to combine.
4. Begin to slowly add ICE COLD water to the mixture, continuing to pulse. The amount of water you need will be about one cup, maybe slightly more, watch the dough in the machine and when it becomes a fairly solid clump moving around together with each pulse, you are there. If you over-water, add more flour, but try to avoid adding too much water and having to “save” the dough in this way.
5. Remove the dough from the food processor, put on a counter or cutting board that has been liberally dusted with flour and knead the dough for about five minutes. You want to end this process with a nice uniform ball.
6. Cut the dough into four equal portions - one cut from top to bottom, the other from side to side - and shape the dough into individual balls. You want a smooth top, so work from top to bottom and use the sides to sort of fold the dough over onto itself, pulling together the “loose ends” on the bottom of the orb.
7. Drizzle some good olive oil on a baking pan and place the individual balls on the pan, smooth side up, leaving enough space between for them to about double in size. Then use your fingers to lightly coat the “perfect” top sides with olive oil and cover the tray in plastic wrap. Doesn’t have to be snug or too loose, doesn’t need to be air tight - the oil on the top of the dough is intended to keep the plastic from sticking to it. Once you have completed this step, it looks like this (white/wheat mixture on bottom, all-white on top):
8. Place the pan on a counter and leave aside to rise, the dough balls will roughly double in size over the next hour or two. When this has happened, put the tray directly into the refrigerator to rest overnight. Don’t punch the dough down. Don’t put on fresh plastic wrap. Don’t do anything else. In the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, “Don’t touch it, don’t even look at it.”
9. About a half hour before you are ready to make your pizzas the next day, pull the dough out of the refrigerator and let it come back to room temperature. These will now be pretty flat and, as you work with the individual balls, you’ll want to get them into flour pretty quickly, work them, stretch them out on a pizza peel, top appropriately (a lot of discretion here, see above) and slide onto a searing hot pizza stone in the oven or on the grill.
One step left at this point, let’s call it #10.
Get ready to be happy.