Friday, April 8, 2011

Perfect Pizza Crust

Photo credit:  Stacy Cilia

In the Foodie household, we are big pizza people.  By which I mean not that we are large people who like to eat pizza; rather, we enjoy pizza on a fairly regular basis.  In fact, for as long as I can remember, Friday night has been designated as Pizza Night.

That designation was developed, at least in part, to assure Mr. Picky that he’d get to eat pizza in the not-too-distant future–and to give us a way to regulate his pizza consumption.  (On Tuesday:  “No, we’re not having pizza for dinner.  We’ll have pizza Friday night.”  On Thursday:  “Okay, if you want to have pizza tonight, we can.  But then tomorrow night won’t be Pizza Night.”)  Left to his own devices, I’m pretty sure The Boy would eat All Pizza, All The Time.  Which, I suppose, is par for the teenage boy course.

But that’s another reason why I like to make pizza from scratch: so I can regulate the nutrition he’s consuming by the slice.  Truth be told, Mr. Picky prefers a greasy Tony’s Pizza from the freezer case to just about any alternative.  But he’s hard-pressed to turn down any kind of pizza.  Even the kind that’s home made and, therefore, at least somewhat healthy.

This pizza crust recipe came to me many years ago, courtesy of a lovely woman named Luella Harlan.  When we lived in Iowa City, Lu worked with The Hubs at the university’s Student Health Center.  She kept us stocked in produce from her garden each summer, and she contributed this recipe to our friends and family cookbook.  Later, after we’d moved away from Iowa and expanded our family, she made a tooth fairy pillow for The Girl and a blanket that The Boy slept with until he was far too old to admit that he snuggled up with a blanket at night.  I still consider her part of the extended Foodie family.

This recipe produces enough dough for two pizzas–you can use half and freeze half for a future pizza fiesta, or you can feed a small crowd.  My favorite pizza is this crust topped with a thickish version of white Florentine sauce, some shredded mozzarella, and a few whole basil leaves.  Mr. Picky is a traditionalist, of course: tomato sauce with some oregano, a good sprinkling of shredded mozzarella, and nothing else.  But even that version is pretty good when you start with this crust as a base.

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Lu's Perfect Pizza Crust

Ingredients:

1 package dry yeast
1 cup warm water (warm enough to be slightly uncomfortable when you touch it, but not boiling hot)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir to dissolve. Wait until small bubbles appear on the edge of the mixing bowl, then stir in 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Mix until all the dry flour has been incorporated. Add the oil and salt; keep stirring until they're incorporated. Add the rest of the flour in 1/2 cup increments, mixing thoroughly between additions. You should end up with a dough that holds together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Once all the flour has been added, sprinkle a small amount of flour on your counter. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until it's smooth and elastic. Let the dough rest while you rinse out your mixing bowl; when it's clean, spray the inside of the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, then flip it over, oiled side up.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place the dough in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours (more or less--once the dough is twice its original size, you're good to go.) Punch down the dough to release the air and divide it in half. At this point, you can freeze half the dough for later use if you like; just wrap it in plastic, then place the wrapped dough ball in a freezer bag.

Use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a circle or rectangle, depending on the shape of your baking pan and your preference in pizza shapes. Prick the crust all over with a fork, then pre-bake the plain crust for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Top the partially baked crust with your favorite sauce and pizza regalia. Bake the finished pizza for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the crust has browned and the cheese is melted.

(But Foodie, you will ask--is it really necessary to pre-bake? Can't I just plow straight ahead to baking? Pre-baking gives the pizza crust a slightly dry surface, which means it will stay a little crisp beneath the sauce and cheese. If you like your pizza soft and doughy, you might actually prefer to skip this step.)

 

 

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2 Responses to “Perfect Pizza Crust”

  1. 1

    Robin — April 9, 2011 @ 11:28 pm

    Have you ever tried freezing a rolled out or pre-baked crust? Or substituting part whole wheat flour?

  2. 2

    Pam — April 10, 2011 @ 12:28 am

    I've frozen a rolled-out crust, but not a pre-baked one–I imagine the pre-baked crust would freeze just as well. But I tend to freeze the lump of dough as it is because a lump is easy to shove into any corner of the freezer.

    For a whole wheat crust, I've used 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whole wheat flour (plus enough white flour to equal 3 1/2 cups.) I love a pizza with whole wheat crust, but the kids aren't wild about it–and this is one battle I usually let them win.

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