Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough: Take One

We make pizza at home. Even as a child I remember doing this with my family. We would buy frozen pizza dough, and after school I would set it on the countertop to thaw. We stretched it to fit our rectangular baking sheet, slathered it with sauce and shredded cheese, and bam. Pizza.

I still make pizza at home, but over the last few years we’ve gotten more adventurous with our toppings. That, and I make the dough from scratch now. I started making bread in 2008, when I still lived in New York. I didn’t own a stand mixer or a bread machine, so I did it all by hand. I made a loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread, and to my surprise I got two perfect loaves the first time out. I’ve had many failures in bread-making since then (if you’ve ever browsed my facebook photo albums you know that I can’t make a French baguette for love or money. Some of those failures are pretty epic). Bread may be temperamental, but it’s not difficult to make. Having been lucky with my first loaves of bread, it was no big deal to start making my own pizza dough. I started making it every once in awhile. Then we moved to Minnesota, and I started making it a lot.

Pizzas we’ve made: olive oil, potato & scallion, white sauce, asparagus, bacon, & eggs; tomato sauce, mozzarella, & venison pepperoni; tomato sauce, assorted veggies, & mozzarella; Margherita pizza.

 

Minnesota doesn’t have good pizza. I apologize to everyone I’ve just offended. If there’s an excellent pizza joint you think I’ve over-looked, feel free to let me know about it in the comments, but be aware that I grew up outside of Boston and then moved to New York and I promise you that the bar is very, very high. In the three and a half years that I’ve lived here I have yet to find pizza that hits the spot (see also: bagels, Chinese food).

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My homemade pizza is nowhere near as good at the professionals back East. But I’m determined to make it as close as I can get. Hence, the Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough. I’ve tried half a dozen pizza dough recipes over the years. Some of them are great; some less so. But I never keep track of which is which, and it’s about time I started. David and I make pizza from scratch on Friday nights, and I plan to try a new dough recipe each week. I’ll report back here with the recipe and the results.

I suppose I should mention the things that I believe make a great pizza crust–since I’m sure there’s a lot of varying opinions. I’m a pizza crust LOVER, so I have high expectations. I want a dough that’s easy to work with, the produces a flavorful crust that blisters and bubbles up along the edge of the pizza. Sometimes I am in the mood for something crispy, but floppy pizza can be ok, too (I’m the type of person who folds her slices in half before eating).

First up?

Smitten Kitchen’s Rushed Pizza Dough

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Yield: Dough for one pizza

photo_1I love Deb Perelman, and I love all things Smitten Kitchen. Her website is my go-to resource when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired. I was so, so excited when her cookbook was released this past fall. She’s got two pizza dough recipes in there, this “rushed” dough, which comes together comparatively quickly, and a “leisurely” dough, which requires an overnight rise in the fridge. I decided to try the “rushed” dough first.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup warm–not hot–water (I always need more than this).
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more to dust the counter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Olive oil, for coating the bowl

Directions

  • Turn oven to warm (200 degrees) for five minutes, then shut it off.
  • Pour the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it stand for 5 minutes. The yeast will start to bloom as the granules expand. This is called “proofing” the yeast, and is done to make sure that the yeast is still alive.
  • Add flour and salt and mix until a shaggy dough forms (if you find you need more water to keep it together, as I often do, add warm water one tablespoon at a time. Don’t overdo it). If using a stand mixer, knead for 5 minutes with the dough hook. If kneading by hand, flour your counter lightly and go for ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic when its ready; tacky to the touch, but not sticky.
  • Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into a bowl, and place your dough inside, rolling it around in the oil so that all sides are coated. Cover your bowl (tip: a shower cap is the absolute best thing for this. Cheap, reusable, and SO MUCH EASIER than struggling with saran wrap. I keep half a dozen shower caps in my kitchen at all times) and place it in the oven for one hour. Make sure the oven is shut off!
  • Remove the bowl from the oven. The dough should have risen until almost double in size. Press a finger gently into the dough; if the dough remains indented and doesn’t spring back right away it’s ready! Gently press down on the dough to deflate.
  • Roll, toss, or stretch to your desired shape, top with deliciousness, and bake (usually at your oven’s highest heat, for 10-12 minutes)

Verdict

This dough is designed to be done quickly, and the number one rule of breads is that time = flavor. Flavor was lacking, here. David described it as “neutral” but I’m going to go ahead and call it bland. My other main complaint about this dough is that the outer edge of the crust just did not rise at all. I’ve made this dough a few times recently, and that’s been a consistant problem every time. I am a crust-loving gal. I want to get to that pillowy, bready crust at the end of each slice, and it’s just not happening here.

I did love how quickly this came together, and although it was disappointing it wasn’t offensive, or anything. I’d keep it on the back burner for weeknight emergencies, but the quest for the perfect pizza crust continues!

Toppings

We topped this pizza with olive oil, fresh ricotta, grape tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, bacon, and fresh basil. This was delicious and fresh, a perfect reminder that spring IS on the way, even if there’s still snow outside. (Yes, it’s still snowing in Minnesota. Yes, it’s mid-April). The toppings made up for the lackluster crust; I’ll use these ingredients to top more pizzas in the future!

Do you have a pizza dough recipe you think I’ll love? Leave a comment and let me know, or shoot me an email! This quest is serious business.

About Kelly

Kelly grew up in the suburbs of Boston, mere minutes from the Atlantic ocean. For several years she lived in New York City where she found the two loves of her life: Publishing and David. She moved to the Twin Cities for her husband, and eventually managed to pick up the pieces of her career as well. Although she’s learning to appreciate lakes, she misses the ocean ferociously.

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4 Responses to Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough: Take One

  1. margosita May 9, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Have you tried Black Sheep Pizza? Unless your heart is set on foldable greasy NY style pizza, you should love this. It is, by far, my favorite pizza in Minnesota.

    Of course if your heart is set on NY style pizza then you may be out of luck. I haven’t found that here, either. (Though, to be fair, that’s not my favorite kind, so I haven’t looked very hard!)

    • Kelly May 9, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      I have! I met a friend for lunch at Black Sheep several months ago and it was far and away the best pizza I’ve had here. Very tasty. I’m also excited about the newest venture from the Travail gang–Pig Ate My Pizza–though that promises to be anything but ordinary.

      There are bright spots of hope, but so far no reliable lazy-night delivery service pizza I can count on.

  2. Elizabeth June 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Hi Kelly – I found my way over here from Better in Real Life. I grew up just outside of the Twin Cities and had to ask: have you been to Punch Pizza? It is Neapolitan rather than New York, but it is beyond delicious. Also, I think Cosetta’s in downtown St. Paul comes close to the giant, floppy triangles of NY-style pizza. But then, my experience with real New York pizza is limited. :) (Also, maybe check out Rainbow Chinese in Minneapolis! It is by all accounts amazing. Can’t think of any good bagels, though.)

    • Kelly June 24, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Hi! I have tried Punch pizza, and you’re right. It is quite tasty! I’ve heard a lot about Cosetta’s but have yet to give it a try. Perhaps in a few weeks when morning sickness relents and I can eat real food again!

      As for Rainbow Chinese, I’ve never heard of it! I’ll have to put it on my list. We love finding new places to eat!

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