This past summer (both in Canada and Greece), I found myself experimenting with different pizza dough recipes. I was looking for something easy, great tasting, didn’t take too long and with consistent results. The ingredients are basic: active dry yeast, tepid water, olive oil, honey, sea salt and all-purpose flour. I like substituting honey in a recipe whenever I see sugar and in the instance of pizza, the yeast loves honey as much as sugar.
Some points on making pizza: a proper pizza peel is a good buy. With this valuable baking too, you can slide bread, pizzas, flat breads with east into your oven (and remove). You will also need semolina flour or corn meal – either is fine so that when you sprinkle it on the pizza peel, your pizza won’t stick and it will slide off the peel and into your oven.
Since we’re talking oven, you should also invest in a pizza stone. Pizza stones are now available at most kitchenware stores and they can start at $20. The pizza stone’s purpose is to emulate a brick oven. The stone is placed in the oven (with semolina or corn meal sprinkled on it) and then you pre-heat your oven. Pizza should be baked at a high heat. I like 450F and some even go as high as 500F!
This pizza recipe is relatively quick….you need wait just over an hour for your dough to rise and then be ready for the toppings. The first step is activating the yeast: active dry yeast is added into a large bowl with honey (or sugar), and tepid water. Tepid water is body-temperature water. DO NOT add hot water as it kills yeast. If anything, the water can be cooler – the dough will later just take longer to rise.
After 10 minutes, you add your remaining tepid (warm) water, the sea salt, olive oil and all-purpose flour. Like in any bread recipe, flour amounts can vary depending on the weather and temperature you’re experiencing on that day and even altitude can play a role (dough rises in 1/3 the usual time at high altitudes). Practice makes perfect and you have to get used to the fact that some kneading will be done. Kneading the dough is imperative to activating the gluten in the flour and you will get and learn the “feel” of when your dough is ready.
Your dough is ready when it’s smooth to the touch and no longer sticky (tacky). I’ve made this recipe with as little as 3 cups and a bit of flour to almost 4 cups! Learn the feel of the dough. It is also forgiving: too much flour, add a little water and conversely if too wet – add some more flour.
This recipe requires two periods of rest: one 10 minute break to allow for the yeast to come alive and after kneading the bread, approximately another hour for the dough to rise to about double. Again, times may vary, depending on the temperature and humidity of the day or altitude. I’ve seen dough double in size in as little as a 30 minutes or take as long as ninety minutes.
Don’t sweat it, don’t you have some toppings to prepare? In the summer I’m a big fan of the Pizza Margherita – the simple classic from Naples. The Margherita contains tomato sauce, slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. I deviate by sprucing up the sauce with some olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic and some dried Greek oregano. It should also be mentioned that the Margherita should be a think crust pizza.
This recipe will yield you two large thin crust pizzas. If you’re like many Greeks and you want something thicker, you’ll probably get just one pizza out of this recipe. Another reason (it’s a big one) is that the dough is easy to handle. If you’ve allowed your dough to rise to dough the size, after punching it down you see that the dough is very pliable and one can simply stretch and shape your pizza with your hands. You may still use a rolling pin if that’s how you roll.
Toppings? That’s the easiest part of making pizza. Place the toppings of choice on your pizza. If you have a party, create a toppings station with an array of choices. Allow your guests to build their own pizza. You’ve got kids? Let them choose their own toppings. You can make a mini-pizza just for them! The only caveat I can share with you on toppings is to not overdo it with toppings on a pizza. A heavy pizza will weigh down the dough, make it soggy and likely slide off. Not cool.
Pizza Dough Recipe
(makes 2 15-inch pizzas)
2 tsp. of active dry yeast (1 packet or 11gr.)
1 tsp. of honey
1/2 cup tepid water + 1 cup tepid water
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 all purpose flour
semolina or corn flour for pizza peel and pizza stone
- In a large bowl, add the yeast, 1.2 cup tepid water and honey and gently swirl to mix. Wait 10 minutes for the yeast to activate. Now add the olive oil, sea salt, remaining cup of tepid water and begin adding the flour one cup at a time – all the while mixing the dough with your hands. Keep on adding flour in increments all the while working it into the mixture until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky (tacky).
- At this point (important), knead the dough (inside the bowl) or on a counter-top for 10 minutes. Rub some oil on the ball of dough (so it doesn’t form a crust), place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free spot (I simply place the dough in my oven). Allow the dough to double in size (takes approx. an hour). If making two pizzas, divide into two and reshape into balls and place in bowls
- Once your dough has doubled in size, punch it down and tuck the outer edges inwards and remove your dough ball and place on your work surface. Spread some regular flour on your work surface and press your fingers down on the dough to spread it out and form your pizza. Use a rolling pin to help open the dough. Sprinkle some semolina flour or corn meal on your pizza peel and carefully transfer your pizza dough onto it.
- Pre-heat your oven to 450F and set your rack to the middle position. Sprinkle some semolina flour or corn meal on your pizza stone and place in the oven to pre-heat as well. In the meantime, add the toppings to your pizza and remember not to overdo the toppings.
- When your oven has reached 450F, take your pizzas (on the peel) to the oven and slide it onto the pre-heated pizza stone in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the edges of the pizza are golden-brown. Carefully remove from the oven, cut into slices and enjoy with a good wine or ice-cold beer.
*Note: If you do not have a pizza peel or pizza stone, simply open your pizza with fingers and then rolling pin and sprinkle some semolina or corn meal onto your round (or rectangular) baking pan and then bake.
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