Homemade Pizza Dough

Just because you know the pizza guy's number by heart doesn't mean you have to use it.

You could bake sauce and cheese on a dog's Frisbee and call it pizza, and my kids would gnaw on it delightedly, marveling at their luck ("Pizza!"). But don't, because they'll like actual homemade pizza better, plus it's deliciously satisfying to make, a helpful first lesson in the miracle of yeast, and an edible enterprise in creativity.

Don't get the wrong idea here. The Bruno's delivery guy knows us by name; we're not the kind of fascists who insist on making it from scratch when we're tired or just home from work or for a child's birthday party, with all those bright and hungry little faces watching expectantly while we singe the hairs off our forearms and curse into the oven. But we do cook a lot of pizza at home — not just because it's yummy and as nutritious as we care to make it, but also because dough is a ball for kids to work with and easier than you might fear. And because once they've stretched and sauced and topped to their hearts' content, children have that I-made-this feeling about dinner that translates into their actually eating it. Of course, in between the delightful creating and the sublime eating is an awkward middle part where you're wrestling pizzas in and out of the superhot hellhole of your oven and screaming at the kids to stay away — but this is why God invented TV.

For topping ideas, check out our recipes for classic and pesto pizzas and Corn and Tomatillo Pizza.

Hands-On Time: 30 minutes
Ready In: 90 minutes
Yield: dough for 4 12-inch pizzas or 8 6-inch pizzas

Pizza Dough 101: 3 easy methods

You can buy fresh dough from a pizzeria or frozen at the market, use a ready-baked crust, or top English muffins, French bread, bagels, or tortillas with sauce and cheese, and your kids will love it. But making your own dough is easy to get the hang of — and it gives you a nice, smug feeling. Feel free to experiment with the flour — rye and wheat make nice additions, as do flaxseed and wheat germ. Don't skimp on the salt in any case, or the crust will taste bland.

Ingredients

    1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
    1 3/4 cups warm (not hot) water
    Pinch of sugar
    3 cups all-purpose white flour mixed with 1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 tablespoon each toasted wheat germ and ground flaxseed (both optional)
    1 tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    A pizza stone, for baking, and a wooden peel, for sliding pizza onto the stone (both optional)
    Cornmeal for dusting the peel or pan

Directions

  1. Sprinkle yeast over water in measuring cup, add sugar, and let dissolve for about 5 minutes. If any dry yeast remains on the surface after that, stir briefly to mix in. Proceed with one of the following three methods.
  2. Food processor: Pulse flour with wheat germ and flaxseed, if using, and salt. Add oil to yeast mixture and, with processor running, pour liquid slowly into the feed tube. The dough should cohere and form a ball that sits on top of the blade. If it doesn't, it's either too wet or too dry, and you should add water or flour accordingly, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the ball forms. Scrape dough (it will be sticky) onto a lightly floured counter, sprinkle with flour, and knead 2 or 3 times to form a ball.
  3. Stand mixer: Pour yeast mixture and oil into bowl of mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix in dry ingredients on low speed (adjust dough with flour or water as directed above if it seems too wet or too dry) then switch to dough hook and knead about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and springy.
  4. By hand: Pour yeast mixture into a large bowl with oil, and stir in dry ingredients until the mixture coheres into a mass of dough, about 1 minute. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then knead, adding as little flour as possible, until dough feels smooth and springy — 8 minutes or so.
  5. Next, whichever method you've used, place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour, or until it doubles in size.
  6. Flour your fist and punch down dough, then turn it out onto a lightly floured counter, knead once or twice, and use a sharp knife to cut it into desired number of pieces — 4 for 12-inch pizzas, 8 for 6-inch pizzas, or some combination. Shape each piece into a smooth ball, cover balls loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for 5 minutes. At this point you can freeze the dough if you like: I usually make one 12-inch pizza and two 6-inch pizzas (one for each child), then freeze the rest. It also keeps fine in the refrigerator for a few days — just bring to room temperature before using.
  7. Shaping the dough is a trial-and-error exercise: The idea is to stretch it in a kind of coaxing way until it's thin but not tearing. Begin by using the heels of your hands to flatten dough as much as possible, then hold the dough down in the middle with one hand while using the fingers of the other to gently pull the dough outward around its perimeter. If it stops stretching, let it rest for a few minutes. Try holding the dough aloft on your knuckles and gently stretch and turn it, letting gravity do some of the work for you, until the dough is 1/4 inch (or less) thick. If a hole forms, pinch it closed. Kids can do quite well stretching their dough to a 6-inch size, and you don't need to worry if it's a bit thick because they really won't care. Nor will anyone care if the crusts aren't perfectly round (mine are often amoeba-shaped).
  8. Place stretched dough onto a wooden pizza peel that has been dusted with about 2 tablespoons cornmeal (if you're using a pizza stone) or onto a pan that has been brushed with olive oil, then sprinkled with 2 tablespoons cornmeal (any large pan — a cookie sheet, with or without sides — is fine; a round pan works too). Proceed with topping and baking.

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