Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Perfect Pizza Crust

I've tried lots of different kinds of pizza dough over the years, beginning at age 10 with a Chef Boy-ar-Dee mix at our apartment in Kaiserslautern, Germany. That was the very start of my passion for cooking. We had fallen in love with the pizza served at an Italian restaurant at nearby Ramstein Air Force Base, and I was determined to recreate it! Of course, my first efforts were soggy, but I got better and better with each try.

Making dough from scratch can be intimidating, and I am not really sure why. Maybe it's the chemistry involved...will it rise? Can I make it into something worth eating? I don't know the answer to the anxiety, but I can provide you with an almost foolproof recipe for perfect pizza crust -- not too thin, not too thick, and just chewy enough.

Believe me, it's not as hard as you think it is!!

Pizza Crust Dough

2 level tsp. dry yeast or 1 package (I buy it by the jar and keep it in the frig)

2/3 c. warm water (105 - 115 degrees)

2 c. all purpose flour, divided

1 T. cornmeal

1 T. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

vegetable cooking spray

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large, heat proof bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1 3/4 c. flour, cornmeal, oil and salt, to form a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes), adding enough of the remaining flour to prevent dough from sticking to your hands or the surface.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Spray top of dough. Cover, and let ride in a warm place (~85 degrees), free from drafts, about 40 minutes, until doubled in bulk.

STOP!! What? How warm is 85 degrees? What does "doubled" mean? How will I know? How can I tell if the water was warm enough? Was it too warm? Will it kill the yeast? This is too hard for me.....

Your body temp is 98.6. Water that is 105 - 115 degrees will feel warm to your fingers, but not burning hot.

In my kitchen, I have under cabinet lights that illuminate the countertops. If I put the covered bowl right under these lights and leave it about 40 minutes, I can clearly see that the dough has grown much larger. Try that. Or, put it into your oven (unheated) with just the oven light on. Again, our body temp. is 98.6, so 85 degrees is a little cooler than we are. If either of these spots feels "hot" to you, then it is warmer than you are, so a little too warm for the dough! See, it's not so mysterious, after all!!

Next, punch dough down and roll into a 15" wide circle. Spray the pizza pan of your choice with cooking spray. If you have a dough mat, like you make pie crust on, it really helps here. I find it easier to put the dough in the middle of your pizza pan, and simply pat it into place, just like you do with the packaged dough. Top with your favorites and bake according to recipe directions. I recommend that you cook it at about 400 degress for 15 - 20 minutes. Less time with less toppings, more time with heavier toppings.

Now, go for it! You CAN do this! It's easy, and really good too.

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