What’s the secret to easy homemade pizza from scratch? Make a big batch of dough to store in the fridge for a couple of weeks, pull off a chunk whenever you need it, roll it out, and bake for 10 minutes or less. There’s no resting or rising time required, and your active participation will be less than five minutes. The best part? Your stored dough will develop tasty sourdough flavors as it ages in the refrigerator, making each pizza better than the one before it.
Thin-crust Pizza Napoletana (Neapolitan-style pizza) is our touchstone for great pizza. The standard version — with mozzarella, tomato and basil — is known in Italy as Pizza Margherita, after Italy’s Queen Margherita, for whom this patriotic pie topped with the three colors of the Italian flag was developed in 1889. It’s crispy, thin and delicious.
The crispest crusts are those baked right on a hot baking stone, having been transferred there from a pizza peel (see Pizza-Making Supplies: Build Your Arsenal for our recommended pizza products). The trick to getting the pizza to slide right off the peel and onto the stone is to minimize the time the dough spends sitting on the peel. That calls for one crucial step: Have all of your toppings prepared in advance. You can also bake pizza on a sheet of parchment or a cookie sheet. The following easy homemade pizza recipe makes enough dough for at least 8 pizzas about 12 inches across. It freezes well, and is easily doubled or halved.
3 1/2 cups lukewarm water*
1 tbsp granulated yeast
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
7 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup tomato topping (Use sliced, garden-fresh tomatoes, Italian-style plum tomatoes straight from the can, or prepared tomato sauce, with or without seasonings.)
Fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch chunks or slices
6 fresh basil leaves, whole, thinly slivered or torn
Olive oil for drizzling over pizza
Flour, cornmeal or parchment for pizza peel
* Substitute 1/3 cup of olive oil for 1/3 cup of water for a marvelously flavorful, slightly richer dough.
1. Warm the Water Slightly. It should feel just a bit warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Using warm water will allow the dough to rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold tap water and get a great final result, but the initial rise will take longer. (Some people prefer the flavor of slow-risen dough.)
2. Add Yeast and Salt. Combine with the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, a lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don’t worry about getting the yeast and salt to dissolve completely.
3. Measure and Mix In the Flour. Use the “scoop and sweep” method: Reach into the flour bin with your cup and scoop up a full measure all at once, then sweep it level with a knife. Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon, food processor with a dough attachment, stand mixer with a paddle, or a dough whisk. (See Pizza-Making Supplies: Build Your Arsenal for our favorite pizza-making products.) You may need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate, but do not knead the dough. You’re finished with this step when everything is uniformly moistened and the dough is loose enough to conform to the container.
4. Allow the Dough to Rise. Cover the dough with a lid (not airtight). Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top (approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature). Do not punch down the dough. With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks out gas and will make your pizza dense.
5. Refrigerate. After the dough has risen, refrigerate and use it over the next 2 weeks. The dough will develop tangy sourdough characteristics over that time. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature, so the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before use. After it’s chilled, the dough will collapse, and it won’t rise again in the bucket, which is normal.
6. Prepare and Measure Toppings. Doing this in advance will help you top the pizza quickly so you can get it into the oven before it sticks to the pizza peel.
7. Preheat a Baking Stone. 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, place your baking stone in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to the oven’s highest temperature. (Consider a longer preheat if you’re finding the crusts too soft.)
8. Shape a Ball. First, prepare a pizza peel with flour, cornmeal or parchment to prevent your pizza from sticking to it. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a half-pound (about the size of an orange) piece of dough using a serrated knife. Add a little more flour to the dough as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all 4 sides, rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go, to form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off (it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough). The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out when you roll it into a pizza. This entire process should take no longer than 20 to 30 seconds.
9. Roll Out and Stretch a Crust. Flatten the dough with your hands and a rolling pin on the counter or directly onto the pizza peel (or shape the disk by hand) to produce an eighth-inch-thick round, dusting it with flour to keep the dough from adhering to your work surface. However, a little sticking to the surface can be helpful in working with the dough and overcoming its tendency to spring back. Use a dough scraper to unstick the dough as needed, and transfer it to the prepared pizza peel (if you didn’t stretch the dough directly on one). When you’re finished, the pizza should be about 12 inches across and should have enough flour under it that it moves easily when you shake the peel. As you add toppings, continue to test for sticking by gently shaking the peel. The pizza should move freely. If it doesn’t, use the dough scraper and some flour to unstick.
10. Add the Toppings. Spread the tomato topping over the dough, leaving a half-inch border at the edge, and then add the cheese and basil (if you prefer fresh basil flavor, add basil after baking). Try using well-spaced chunks of cheese so the cheese gradually melts and spreads, giving the crust more time to crisp before toppings burn. Drizzle a little olive oil over the pizza.
11. Slide the Pizza Onto the Preheated Stone. Place the tip of the peel near the back of the stone, close to where you want the far edge of the pizza to land. Give the peel a few quick forward-and-back jiggles and then pull it sharply out from under the pizza (if you’re using a sheet pan, place it right on the stone). Check for doneness in 8 to 10 minutes, and turn the pizza around in the oven if one side is browning faster than the other. It may take up to 5 more minutes in the oven. Using a spatula may be helpful in getting the baked pizza back onto the peel. Allow pizza to cool slightly — preferably on a wire cooling rack — so that the cheese sets.
Let’s get cooking! Learn more about products to help you get started in Pizza-Making Supplies: Build Your Arsenal.
You can double this recipe and freeze extra dough as half-pound dough balls, rolled-out disks, baked pizza shells or even finished pies. Whichever you choose, store the dough in airtight containers and the prepared pies in plastic wrap for up to a month. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.
This recipe was adapted from Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day. The authors of the popular five-minutes-a-day bread cookbooks that rely on the same basic dough to make numerous breads have applied their easy method to pizzas. Check out the book for delicious ideas that use the pizza dough recipe featured here to make pitas, flatbreads, naan, breadsticks and more. You’ll also find nearly endless variations in pizza crusts, sauces and toppings, plus troubleshooting tips and instructions on tossing pies pizza parlor-style right in your own kitchen.
Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoë François will help you troubleshoot any pizza-making quandaries that might come up in your kitchen. Go on over and have a chat with them at Bread in Five.
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