It occurred to me midway through making this recipe that I might want to share it with you, so forgive the lack of process pictures. Not that you can’t deal with the fact that you’re missing a picture of yeast. In ACTION! Life doesn’t GET much more exciting than that, does it, reader? Organisms eating sugar and expelling gas! Science! Bill Nye! Mr. Wizard! Rock Candy! Geodes! Stalagmite, stalactite!
Now that free association science word time is over, let’s talk about pizza dough. So, hi, I live in San Francisco. There are several decent pizza places here (east coasters, please quiet your rages for like ONE MOMENT while I explain what that means), and few of those serve what this Long-Island-born-and-bred girl would call “New York pizza.” That being said, I’m no New York pizza purist. When I lived in Eugene I used to frequent this place called the Pizza Research Institute, and they put potatoes on their pizza. And canned peaches. And ricotta. And asparagus. All at once! Because they were god damned dirty hippies with no respect for the traditions of gruff accent-heavy Italians from Brooklyn. Here in San Francisco, the burrito has replaced pizza as my quick, cheap, go-to meal. Pizza here is more of a gourmet event, as only San Francisco would have it. Slightly snobby, yet in actuality quite tasty, still rarely worth the money, too-crowded and after a period of exaltation on Yelp, a slow steady stream of hipster criticism until the place has become passe, and why would you go there, don’t you know about this little hole in the wall with no store sign out front run by a couple of foreigners, but I swear they got their recipe from some old Italian dude in Brooklyn and they play Pakistani music in there and it’s kind of divey but it’s AUTHENTIC, you know?
So it’s not like there is a dearth of pizza in San Francisco, not by any means. But all those gourmet places, and even some of the hole-in-the-walls, they don’t produce anything that I can’t make at home. There, I said it. I’m no Italian. Not even close. Not even one blonde hair of mine ever whiffed the air in Italy (and in fact, my grandfather has a lifelong ban on Italian food–he won’t touch the stuff ever since Italy beat out Finland for the agricultural seat of Europe [shocker, what with all the NOT GROWING of vegetables Finland does]), but I have in my possession the following items: instant yeast, water, sugar, salt, and flour. So pizza dough is like, within my grasp.
So on Saturday when I decided to walk from my house across the Golden Gate Bridge and back (a cool 15 miler), after I stopped at a pizza joint on the way home, my craving was not yet satisfied, and as soon as I stepped in the door I mixed together the small amount of ingredients that constitute nearly all pizza doughs. Because pizza dough? It’s easy. Sure, according to most New Yorkers I’ll never be able to create authentic pizza, because of some lack of something in the water, or some sort of natural yeast that is present only in any one of the 5 boroughs. But, here on the West Coast, where I can travel 20 minutes and be in the wilderness, where my morning run takes me through one of the largest urban parks in the US, where I’m 15 minutes from a surfing beach, where In-N-Out exists, where the farmer’s market is open all year round, here where I live…well, that doesn’t really bother me at all.
And with a nominal amount of mixing, a short period of rising, and minimal fuss, I can have homemade pizza dough with whatever toppings I damn well please, which in this case is pancetta, spring onion, spinach, and mozzarella. It’s not Tony’s Pizza, but it’s pizza, and fuck-all it’s good.
Perfect Pizza Dough
from the Bread Bible
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour (4 ounces), preferably unbleached all-purpose
½ tsp. instant yeast
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
⅓ liquid cup water at room temperature (70 to 90 degrees)
4 tsp. olive oil
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, instant yeast, and sugar. Whisk in the salt (this keeps the yeast from coming into direct contact with the salt, which would kill it).
2. Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, gradually stir the flour into the water until all the flour is moistened and a dough just begins to form, about 20 seconds. It should come away from the bowl but still stick to it a little, and be a little rough-looking, not silky smooth. Do not overmix, as this will cause the dough to become stickier.
3. Pour the oil into a 2-cup measuring cup (to give the dough room to double in size) or a small bowl. With oiled fingers or an oiled spatula, place the dough in the oiled cup and turn it over to coat on all sides with the oil. Cover it tightly.
4. If you want to use the dough soon, allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour or until doubled. For the best flavor development, make the dough at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours ahead, and allow it to sit at room temperature for only 30 minutes or until slightly puffy. Then set the dough, still in the measuring cup, in the refrigerator. Remove it 1 hour before you want to put it in the oven.
5. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone (or a baking sheet) on it before preheating.
6. With oiled fingers, lift the dough out of the measuring cup or bowl. Holding the dough in one hand, pour a little of the oil left in the cup or bowl onto the pizza pan, and spread it all over the pan with your fingers. Set the dough on the pan and press it down with your fingers to deflate it gently. Shape it into a smooth round by tucking under the edges. If there are any holes, knead it very lightly until smooth. Allow the dough to sit for 15 minutes, covered, to relax it.
7. Using your fingertips, press the dough from the center to the outer edge to stretch it into a 10-inch circle, leaving the outer ½ inch thicker than the rest to form a lip. If the dough resists stretching (as will happen if you have activated the gluten by overkneading it), cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes longer before proceeding.
8. Brush the surface of the dough with any remaining olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to sit for 30 to 45 minutes, until it becomes light and slightly puffy with air.
9. Set the pizza pan directly on the hot stone and bake for 5 minutes.
10. Remove the pan from the oven and spread toppings over the dough. Return the pan to the stone for 5 minutes or until the toppings have melted and the crust is golden; or, for an extra-crisp and browned bottom crust, using a pancake turner or baker’s peel, slide the pizza from the pan directly onto the stone. After 2 minutes, slip a small metal spatula under one edge of the pizza; if the bottom is golden, raise the pizza to a higher shelf.
11. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and cut with a pizza wheel, sharp knife, or scissors. Serve hot.