Friday night pizza is a common tradition all around the US. David and I both love pizza, and most Friday nights you can find us snuggled up on the couch, eating pizza and splurging (health-wise) on a coke.
I’m probably going to make some enemies by saying this but I’m going to say it anyway: Southerners stink at making pizza, unless a yankee taught them how. It’s a fact- all good pizza or its recipe comes from somewhere far north of the Mason-Dixon line. I have now lived in Tennessee longer than any other state, but my parents grew up in New Jersey and I was raised to know good pizza;)
Until last year there just wasn’t a place down here to get decent pizza so I’ve been making our Friday night pizza for several years. I’ve tinkered with the recipe so much that I really don’t even know what recipe I started with! I do know that my crusts took a big turn for the better when I adopted some ideas from a basic whole wheat french bread recipe that calls for only water, yeast, flour and salt. I’ve picked up various techniques and tricks and my pizza is pretty darn near Jersey-style these days, if I do say so myself.
There are many factors that go into making the perfect pizza, but I’m just going to focus on the crust in this post. Keep in mind that this is what we like, and you might like a different style crust. We like a thin crust, crispy on the bottom but still chewy in the middle. I can’t stand the cracker-type crust, and the enormously thick, bready kind isn’t much better. I’m very high-maintenance about my pizza crust.
So, a few tips I’ve learned that help me get a great crust.
-No oil in the dough. Most pizza recipes call for some kind of oil in the crust. Fats help bread (and pizza crust) stay soft, in addition to giving it flavor, so I eliminate the fat from my crust because I want a crispy, not soft, crust.
-Lots of salt. More salt than most recipes call for helps bring out more flavor in the crust, and makes up for the lack of depth left by eliminating the oil from the recipe.
-A long rise time. Many times I forget to make the dough until supper time, but when I remember to make it in the morning, the flavor is significantly better. A long rise time really helps develop the flavor and texture. It’s chewier and crispier the longer it rises.
-Bake directly on the oven rack, or, even better, a pizza stone. For as particular as I am about pizza you’d think I would have a pizza stone, but I don’t (yet!). The next-best thing is to bake the pizza directly on the oven rack. Since floppy pizza dough doesn’t hold it’s shape, I bake halfway on the pan and then slide the pizza onto the rack to finish cooking.
-Use parchment paper. It makes sliding the pizza off the pan SO much easier! And it is such a drag if it sticks to the pan, and you have to stand there over the 500 degree oven, scraping and chipping the crust off the pan so it can finish baking. So use parchment paper. Then oil the parchment paper. Then sprinkle it with cornmeal. THEN roll the crust out.
-Bake the pizza as hot as your oven will allow. Mine goes to 500 degrees. I’ve heard of some people breaking the lock on their oven door so they can use the self-cleaning cycle, which goes to 600 degrees or something crazy. That’s a little more hard-core than I am, so I just crank it to 500 degrees and call it good.
-Don’t use all whole grain flour. I’ve tried, believe me, and it’s just not as good. There needs to be at least half all-purpose flour for the crust to get crispy, and stay that way while you’re eating. I really don’t know why, but any time I use more than half whole wheat flour the crust gets soft very quickly after removing from the oven (read: almost immediately). I’m all about using whole grain flours, but I make an exception for pizza. I use half all-purpose flour. Buy the unbleached. It makes me feel better about using it:)
-Spray the pizza with water twice while baking. I keep a little spray bottle of water just for pizza and french bread. I spray once when I first pop the pizza in the oven, then again when I slide it off the pan onto the rack. The steam helps create that crispy/chewy combo that I love.
Honey-wheat Pizza Dough
1 C. warm water
1 t. yeast
1 t. honey
1 C. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
2 t. salt
olive oil, just to grease the bowl
1. In a large bowl stir together the water, yeast and honey. Let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes.
2. Add the whole wheat flour and salt. Mix in, then beat for about one minute.
3. Add 1 C. of all-purpose flour. Work the flour in, then add just enough flour so that you can knead the dough without it being too terribly sticky. Knead for a few minutes, sprinkling small amounts of flour in as needed to keep the dough from sticking too much. Again, add as little flour as possible. You want a nice, soft dough.
4. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough with oil. Cover loosely and let rest/rise. If you are pressed for time (I usually am) let the dough rest for 10 minutes before rolling out and topping. If you have lots of time, let rise for several hours (3-6 is great) in a warm place, or place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If refrigerating, let the dough sit out for one hour before using so that it can come to room temperature.
Notes: This dough freezes very well. When I’m really on the ball I mix up a quadruple batch and freeze three portions. Pizza dough for a month! Just be sure to coat the dough with olive oil before freezing so it doesn’t stick to the bag or container while it’s thawing.
Yield: Enough dough for an 18 inch round pan, or an 11x17 inch cookie sheet, which is what I normally use.