The Basics of Pizza

by CRAIG LEE

I started making pizza at home about 12 years ago when I was in college. After extensive research and development, I have pretty much standardized on the following recipe for the crust. This works great if you have a food processor capable of kneading bread dough. If not, you will get a pretty good upper-body workout.

The Crust

Dissolve sugar in warm water. Stir in yeast. Let mixture set for five minutes so the yeast foams (like a head on a good draft beer). If the yeast doesn't foam, the crust won't rise, so start over if it doesn't foam and remember to check the expiration date on your yeast before you go shopping.

Combine flour (should be bread flour, not all-purpose--though this will work, but the crust will have less character--and definitely not self-rising--we're not making biscuits here), salt, and oil (peanut works well because it doesn't burn as much in the high oven heat) in a large bowl or food processor. Add yeast mixture, stir. Slowly add cold water and stir until all is absorbed and crust forms a ball. Let crust rest for two minutes before kneading.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes on a smooth, lightly floured surface; or knead it in the food processor by running it for 45 seconds.

Form the dough into ball and let it rise, covered, in a warmed place for about an hour. Near the oven is usually a good place to let it rise. While it's rising, preheat the oven to 475. After it's risen, punch it down, flatten it out and make a crust. Note: this also makes a pretty bread too.

What to cook it in and how to cook it

I usually cook my pizzas on a brick that's almost the size of my oven interior, or in a restaurant-weight pizza pan (for deep dish). I don't think everyone has one or both of these so I recommend a big cookie sheet or a 10"x15" shallow pan. You could also use a cast-iron skillet and make deep dish (use whole recipe for big [12" or greater] skillet or divide for smaller skillets). However you do it, form the dough outside the pan and then transfer it to the pan. You probably also want to lightly oil whatever pan you use as a sticking preventative.

Cooking time will vary with crust thickness, type of pan used, etc. Check it frequently after 8 minutes, take it out when it looks done, it probably is. If the cheese is bubbling, the crust is probably done.

A few words about toppings

This crust is capable of carrying a lot of topping around. The bare minimum is usually a light coating of your favorite tomatoe sauce (ok, so I don't use homemade sauce, I'll stack a doctored bottled sauce up against almost anyone's homemade anyday; homemade is also usually too thin) and about eight ounces of shredded cheese. Have fun.

Variations on the theme

Try adding 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese to the crust at the dry stage. Try using beer (I am not making this up, I have done this) instead of cold water--especially if you're going deep dish. Try topping it with olive oil, raw spinach, red onions, greek salad peppers, and feta cheese to make warm greek salad pizza.


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