Pizza Dough

Pizza Dough

Enough dough for three 10-inch pizzas or foccacia, or 5 individual pizzas
Fermentation: 2 1/2 to 3 hours at room temperature, 70°F to 72°F
Retardation: 4 to 36 hours in the refrigerator, 37°F to 45°F

This dough makes a pizza crust with the taste of bread and the character of pizza--equal parts crunchy and chewy. I use it to make focaccia and breadsticks as well as schiacciata. It is best when it has a long, slow rise.

There is a widely held belief that the best pizza dough is made with high-gluten flour. I disagree, as do the great Italian pizza makers of Naples, the birthplace of pizza. They use a flour that has less gluten than our all-purpose flour. For the food processor, use all-purpose for similar results. This recipe hits a home run, so don't adulterate it with the most virgin of olive oils.

After the dough ferments, it will be softer and stickier than when it was first mixed. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on your hands and work surface when rolling it out and shaping it.

Unbleached all-purpose flour: 500 grams or 1 pound or 3 1/3 to 4 cups
Fine sea salt: 10 grams or 2 teaspoons
Instant yeast: 1/2 teaspoon
Water: 300 grams or 9 1/2 ounces or 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons
Cornmeal for the peel or baking sheet

1. Place the flour, salt, and yeast in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Using an instant-read thermometer, adjust the water temperature so that the combined temperatures of the flour and water give a base temperature of 130°F if using a Cuisinart or KitchenAid or 150°F if using a Braun. (See page 33 for other models.) With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the water through the feed tube. Process for 30 seconds. Stop the machine and if the dough seems too dry, add the remaining water during the last 15 seconds of processing for a total of 45 seconds.

2. Stop the machine and take the temperature of the dough with an instant-read thermometer, which should read between 75°F and 80°F. If the temperature is lower than 75°F, process the dough for an additional 5 seconds, up to twice more, until it reaches the desired temperature. If the temperature is higher than 80°F, remove the thermometer, scrape the dough from the food processor into an ungreased bowl, and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Check the temperature after 5 minutes; it should be 80°F or cooler by that time.

3. Remove the dough from the processor, place it in a large ungreased bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to ferment for 21/2 to 3 hours at room temperature, 70°F to 72°F. It will not double at this point, but it will increase in volume somewhat.

4. Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator and retard for at least 4 hours or up to 36 hours. Proceed with any of the recipes for pizza, focaccia, or schiacciata.

5. Leftover pizza dough may be formed and baked like The Best Bread Ever (page 50).

Pizza Margherita

One 10-inch pizza

Margherita is a fancy name for a simple pizza topped with a small amount of tomato sauce, slices of fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Pizza Margherita is a universal favorite among children.

1. One hour before baking, put the oven rack on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and place the baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 500°F.

2. While the oven is heating up, remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. With the palms of your hands, flatten it to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Generously sprinkle a
baking sheet with flour, place the dough on the sheet, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to come to room temperature. This will take about 30 minutes, but do not let it sit longer than 1 hour before forming and baking.

3. If your kitchen is very cold, place the baking sheet of dough on top of the stove. The warmth of the oven will help it to warm up so that the dough is soft enough to stretch easily. Don't leave the dough there more than 10 minutes; it could overproof. Turn the dough over once or twice during this time so that the heat permeates it.

4. Place the dough on a generously floured work surface. Using your fingertips, press it all over so that it begins to stretch out. Gently pull to stretch it into a round disk. The dough will be noticeably soft when pulled. Lift it by the edges, place your fists underneath it, and move your fists outward to stretch the dough into a circle about 10 to 11 inches in diameter, or the size that fits your peel or the baking sheet you are using to slide it into the oven. If it resists shaping, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for another 10 minutes.

5. Sprinkle a peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal, then carefully transfer the stretched pizza dough onto it. Spread the dough thinly with the tomato sauce, leaving a 1/2-inch edge all around. Scatter the mozzarella over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the pizza with the basil leaves and the Parmesan and season it with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle it all over with the olive oil.

6. Open the oven door and carefully slide the pizza directly onto the baking stone. (Hold the baking sheet or peel with two hands and reach deep into the oven, directly over the stone where you want the pizza to land. Use a firm back and forth movement to shake and slide the pizza from the peel or baking sheet onto the stone. As the pizza slides forward, gently pull the peel or baking sheet out from under it.)

7. Bake for 5 minutes. Check it and rotate so that it bakes evenly. Continue baking for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the edges of the crust are just beginning to get dark brown. To remove from the oven, slide the peel under the pizza and use it to lift the pie out. Or slide the baked pizza onto the back of a baking sheet. Transfer the pizza to a wire rack to rest for 2 minutes, so that some of the steam escapes and the crust doesn't get soggy.

8. Place the pizza on a cutting board and slice into 8 pieces.

Excerpted from The Best Bread Ever by Charles Van Over Copyright© 1997 by Charles van Over. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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