The most important part to making pizza is giving it good “bones”. Nothing is more important than the crust. My standard go-to recipe is from my husband’s Aunt Jenny, who was better known in Minneapolis St. Paul area as Mama D.
2 envelopes dry yeast
2 cups warm water
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar
4 T olive oil
Spoon Mage™ Notes:
When measuring flour by volume, spoon the flour lightly into the cup. Never pack and never use the measuring cup as a scoop. The flour packs down and whatever you are baking will be too dense. Spoon it in and you’ll be fine.
Kneading is an important part of making yeast breads. Once you have stirred it together, turn the still sticky dough out onto a liberally floured surface. Sprinkle on more flour. Then fold the dough in half and push it down firmly with the heels of your hands to press it together. Give the dough a quarter turn, fold, and push. Repeat this, going round and round with the dough, sprinkling on more flour whenever the dough feels sticky.
Depending upon how you measured, you may just need half a cup of extra flour or you may use quite a bit more – it all depends upon how heavy or light you are when you measure cups. The feel of the dough is what you want.
The goal is not to measure the added flour, it is to have a lovely smooth round of dough that springs back when poked with a finger. Another test for well kneaded yeast dough is to give the dough a pinch. Does it have the consistency of your ear lobe? Then the dough is ready to rise. Kneading is hard work. It builds up the strength in your hands, arms, and shoulders. It also gets everything activated so the dough rises well.
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Put the flour into a mixing bowl and stir in the salt and sugar. Make a well in the flour and add the yeast mixture and oil. Mix well until the dough is soft but not sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead, adding more flour as needed, for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic – it will pop back if you stick a finger into it.
Place the dough inside a lightly oiled bowl and brush a bit of oil on top of the dough. Cover with a towel and place in a warm place such as inside an oven – not one that is on! Allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the dough is doubled in size and a hole remains if you poke your finger into the dough.
Remove the dough from the bowl and punch it down… I just LOVE doing that! Divide into 2 equal balls for two large pizzas or 4 balls for four smaller sized pizzas, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Taking 1 ball at a time, roll it out or pat and stretch it into a circle about 14 inches in diameter with the dough a little thicker and pinched up a bit at the edges. Place on a pizza stone or a lightly oiled baking sheet and prick all over lightly with a fork. Ok, that sounds so nice and easy. If you can do that, great! Here are more details about the process:
Prep a baking sheet with a little olive oil and sprinkle it with corn meal. The oil helps the bottom of the crust “fry” a bit and the corn meal keeps the pizza from sticking. Add a little extra corn meal to the center of the pizza pan before spreading out the dough. A cookie sheet works just fine. If you use a pizza stone, understand that they work best if you preheat them in the oven and transfer the pizza to the hot still in the oven stone using a pizza peel. This takes a lot of prep and more cookery tools, so I usually just use a pan, you do what you like. Sometimes I will use that terrific non-stick Reynold’s wrap. The pizza crisps up nice and easily slides off the pan onto the board for cutting.
Rolling pins are not good for crust. The smashing makes the dough too dense. Fortunately, you don’t have to form a circle by sending the dough high into the air, spinning dramatically – although it might be fun to try! Place the slightly flattened round of dough between your hands and slightly toss and press, turning it with your hand which should be hovering over the prepped pan just in case.
Whenever you wish or when the center threatens to split because it is too thin, stop the gentle tossing. Now lay it on the prepped pan and gently push, pull, and prod the dough into a 14 inch shape that is thin in the center with a slightly pulled up edge all around. Keep in mind that the dough will rise more as it bakes.
Don’t fuss the bits that might tear in the thin part – just pluck a piece off a thicker part and patch it. If necessary, a tiny dot of water on your finger will help make it adhere.
Let tough dough that wants to shrink instead of stretch rest undisturbed for about 10-15 minutes. This lets the gluten rest a bit, losing its resolve to fight so much when you return to form the crust.
Once the crust is formed, take a fork and poke the crust lightly with pokes about one inch apart not all the way through to the pan. This is called “docking” and prevents steam from building and blowing out of the crust and prevents large air bubbles that do not hold toppings.
Before adding the sauce and other ingredients I like to brush the dough with a touch of olive oil, spread with garlic and sprinkle with Romano cheese. All that is necessary after that is some great sauce, … or this great sauce! …fresh mozzarella chunks and fresh basil leaves!
There is no need to cover the surface if you use fresh mozzarella as it will spread nicely as the pizza bakes. I do not recommend pre-shredded mozzarella. It firms up like cardboard on top of the pizza when pizza cheese should be all browned, melty, and stretchy.
After the bones are topped with the rest of your favorite ingredients, bake in a 400 degree oven until the crust is done – about 20 – 30 minutes.
Enjoy your pizza Mindfully, it’s good for you. Mama said so. After you try this pizza crust, try this equally easy recipe!