Making pizza dough is often looked on as a time-wasting frippery: why bother, when you can buy frozen pizza bases at the supermarket? Well, yes, it’s true that frozen pizza bases are a quick and easy way to get home-made pizzas up and running, and there’re times when I just can’t be buggered and go for the easy option, but let’s face it, they’re not a patch on the real thing.
The same goes for using pita bread bases – handy enough for making a quick snack, or if you’re in a rush, but still not the same.
The good news is that making a reasonable pizza dough isn’t all that hard, it’s just takes a little bit of elbow grease and some waiting. Maybe you won’t be twirling around the dough like the guys at the pizzeria, but you will impress with a pizza base that beats a frozen one, hands down.
What do I need?
- 3-4 cups of plain (all-purpose) flour
- 1 x 7g sachet, or 2 tsp of dried yeast
- ½ tsp sugar
- About a cup or so of warm water
- Pinch of salt
- Dribble of olive oil
What do I do?
I always prefer to activate the yeast first, by mixing it with warm water.
Keep in mind is that yeast is actually a living thing – a microscopic fungus (bet you’re glad you know that now) – so if you mix it with water that’s too hot, you’ll kill it, and it won’t do its magic dough-rising thing. I also keep yeast in the the freezer. Dry yeast will keep for at least a year that way, and can be used straight from the freezer.
Mix the yeast and sugar in a small bowl of lukewarm water – not hot, and most certainly not boiling.
Put the bowl in a warm place and leave it to activate. An oven set on extra low, say, 50° or 60°C (about 120°-130°F) will do nicely, or use a warming setting if your oven has one. The idea is to provide enough warmth for the yeast cells to come alive and start doing their yeasty thing, without overheating and killing them. Even in front of a heater in winter, or a warm spot in the sun will do.
After about 10 minutes, the mixture should be all foamy, and it’s ready to use. The reason it’s all bubbly and foamy is because the activated yeast cells are eating the sugar in the water, and excreting carbon dioxide – that’s right: yeast poo makes the dough rise! Yum!
Now put the flour and salt in a large bowl, and make a well in the centre. Pour the activated yeast and a dribble of olive oil. Mix the flour and liquid with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
Keep adding water a little at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until the dough is too stiff to stir. Now use your hands to bring the dough together. Add a little more water if you need, until you’ve got a smooth dough that’s not too wet.
Turn the dough out on to a floured board, and knead it for about 10 minutes.
To knead it, flatten the ball of dough with the palm of your hand, then fold it back onto itself, then flatten it again. Fold back over, flatten, fold back over, flatten. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic – you should be able to stretch out a piece of the dough without it breaking straight away.
Now, if that sounds like a bit of hard work, well, yes it is. Kneading is by far my least favourite part of this process.
So, if you’ve got an electric mixer with some dough hooks, take it easy on yourself and use that. Put the mixer on low (or the “knead” setting if it has one) and let it do the work for you.
Brush a large bowl lightly with some more oil (I usually just wipe out the bowl I mixed the dough in – no point making more dishes to wash up), and once the dough is kneaded properly, put it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with some gladwrap (cling film) and put it in a warm place (as you did with the yeast), and leave it to rise.
It should take about 15 minutes to half an hour to rise: it’s ready when the dough has about doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen enough, turn it back out on to your floured surface and knock it down a little and knead it lightly.
Divide enough dough off to cover a pizza tray – you’ll be able to make an educated guess at how far it will stretch. This recipe usually makes at least 2 large pizzas.
Place a ball of dough on a lightly oiled or sprayed pizza tray and pat it down and push it out from the centre to the edges of the tray. You could also roll it out on the bench with a pin if you prefer.
I’ll discuss making pizza sauce and some varieties of toppings soon.
Here’s a great technique I’ve recently started using, to get really crispy bases on your pizzas:
When the pizza is cooked, put it on the actual floor of the oven for a few minutes. The direct contact with the metal will conduct a lot of heat, really quickly, and crisp up the base brilliantly.
I’ve watched guys in pizza shops do this a million times, and it never clicked. Duh.