I have a 9-year-old nephew who doesn't seem to like food at all. I once interrogated him on his food preferences when he was in a vehicle together with me (and therefore could not escape his nosey aunt): "Is there any food that you like?", "Do you like any meat?", "Fish?", "Rice?", "Potatoes?", "How about vegetables?", "Any fruits?" The considered responses I managed to elicit from my nephew were consistent variations of "No".
Needless to say, to food-lovers like me, my nephew's nonchalance to food is nothing short of stupefying. So I couldn't help getting a buzz when my husband told me he spotted the said nephew scarfing down TWO slices of a salami pizza AND the crust of a slice of a crab pizza (my nephew rejected the crab meat topping on that third slice) at a family gathering recently. In food-nonchalance-speak, I think my nephew conveyed the following:
(1) He liked the taste of the first slice of pizza enough to actually finish it.
(2) He enjoyed the first slice of pizza so much that he went for seconds.
(3) By going for just the crust of a third slice of pizza and rejecting the crab topping in it, what my nephew really enjoyed about the pizzas was the crisp, chewy and flavoursome crust.
Why the buzz? Well, you see, I made those pizzas.
Homemade pizzas can be really easy to make because above everything else, pizza doughs are very forgiving (compared to bread dough). If you use the right oven temperature and good quality ingredients for the pizza dough and the pizza toppings, your pizza will taste great every time even if it's not shaped perfectly into a circle. Shaping the pizza dough, on the other hand, can be quite a challenge if you are a stickler for perfect rounds. But since we are talking about homemade pizzas, any shape goes.
There are other aspects of pizza-making (aside from getting that perfect round shape) which can get overwhelming for the occasional or beginner baker . These include kneading the dough, twirling it in the air and struggling to get the shaped dough off the pizza peel without burning some cornmeal in the process, etc. And that is why the recipe I use (see below) is such a gem. The steps involved in the recipe are fuss-free (You can shape and bake your pizza on the baking pan itself!) and the recipe produces a pizza that is great both in terms of taste and texture. The creator of the recipe wanted to make a pizza that is a cross between the crisp Italian thin-crust pizza and the old-style American doughy pizza and those who had tried my homemade pizzas would attest to the success of this recipe. So, to the home-bakers or aspiring home-bakers who want to make pizzas at home for your family as a healthier, tastier, (dare I say "classier"?) and more cost-effective alternative to store-bought or frozen pizzas, this recipe is for you.
The recipe below is largely based on Rose Levy Beranbaum's Perfect Pizza Dough recipe which can be found in her award-winning book on bread baking, The Bread Bible.
1. 2 small metal baking pans or 1 large metal baking pan (Circular or rectangular; it doesn't matter)
2. Baking stone (I would say that the pizza stone is almost essential to ensure a crisp crust.)
3. Pizza peel (For sliding the pizza onto the baking stone directly for extra crispness. Otherwise, you can gear up with some oven mitts, the underside of a large baking pan and a metal spatula.)
Ingredients (Makes one 10-inch pizza or two 7-inch pizzas):
1. Unbleached all-purpose flour (Use Gold Medal, King Arthur or Pillsbury) - 113 grams or 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
2. Instant yeast (Use Fleischmann's or Red Star) - 1.6 grams or 1/2 teaspoon
3. Sugar - 2 grams or 1/2 teaspoon
4. Salt - 3.3 grams or 1/2 teaspoon
5. Water at room temperature - 79 grams or 1/3 liquid cup
6. Olive oil (A strong fruity one will do very nicely) - 18 grams or 4 teaspoons
Note: (1) I strongly recommend weighing your ingredients instead of measuring them with measuring spoons or cups. The margin of error can be fairly high when measuring. (2) The picture above shows the ingredients in amounts that are 4 times of what the original recipe calls for. If you want to make a few pizzas at one go, just scale the amount of ingredients accordingly.
Whisk together the flour, instant yeast and sugar in a mixing bowl. Then whisk in the salt. (Note: Whisking in the yeast separately from the salt is crucial because direct contact with salt will kill the yeast. Yes, those things are alive!) Make a well in the centre and pour in the water. Using a rubber spatula/wooden spoon/your hand, gradually stir the flour into the water until all the flour is moistened and a rough dough forms. That takes about 20 seconds. Do not overmix. The mixed dough will look rather shaggy.
Pour the oil into another bowl/measuring cup and place the dough into the oiled bowl/large measuring cup, turning it over on all sides to coat the whole ball of dough. Cover the bowl tightly with cling-wrap. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 1 hour until the dough is doubled in volume
(Note: (1) If you live in the tropics like me, the dough doubles in volume in much faster time than what the recipe suggests. Check on the dough after 30 to 40 minutes instead of waiting till the 1-hour mark. (2) If you have the time and want the dough to develop maximum flavour, mix the dough at least 6 hours to 24 hours ahead and allow it to sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes or until slightly puffy and then allow the dough to rise slowly in the refrigerator instead.)
Preheat the oven to 250 degree Celsius (or 475 degrees Fahrenheit) 1 hour before baking. Put an oven shelf at the lowest level in the oven and place the baking stone on it before preheating.
With oiled fingers, lift the risen dough out of the bowl/measuring cup. Pour what's left of the oil onto the baking pan and spread the oil all over the baking pan. Set the dough on the baking pan and press it down with your fingers to deflate it gently. Shape it into a smooth round by tucking under the edges. Cover the dough with cling-wrap and allow the dough to sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Using your fingertips, press the dough from the centre to the outer edge to stretch it into a 10-inch circle leaving the outer 1/2 inch thicker than the rest to form a lip. If the dough resists stretching, cover it with cling-wrap and let it rest for a few minutes before proceeding. Brush the surface with any remaining olive oil. Cover with cling-wrap and allow the dough to sit for 30 to 45 minutes until it becomes light and slightly puffy with air.
(Note: I never seem to be able to stretch out the dough to a 10-inch circle myself because I am always concerned that the dough becomes too thin to hold the toppings. It doesn't really matter either way; the pizza will still taste delicious. Do what works for you initially and improvise in subsequent attempts.)
Step 6: Set the baking pan directly on the hot baking stone and bake for 5 minutes.
Step 7: Remove the par-baked pizza from the oven and put on the desired toppings. Return the baking pan to the baking stone for 5 minutes or until the crust is golden. For extra crispness, slide the pizza from the baking pan directly onto the baking stone.
(Note: (1) Use good quality ingredients (or leftovers!) for the toppings; you will thank yourself for it. (2) You can make the par-baked pizza base ahead of time and freeze it for use on another day. Let the par-baked pizza cool down completely and then freeze it. When you are ready to use this par-baked pizza base, take it out from the freezer (do not de-frost), put on the toppings and stick it straight into a pre-heated oven to bake for 5 minutes. Use of baking stone recommended, as always.)
Step 8: Remove the baked pizza from the oven. Serve and enjoy!