When my sister told me last fall that she had started making her own pizza dough, I thought, OK she’s officially lost it. Like… ??? Who has the time to do such a thing? If you’re craving a real crust, order in. Or go out to one of the excellent pizza joints that our 'hood has to offer. Making your own is the territory of the culinarily crazy.
But last week I became a believer. I was on a major, unprecedented Pizza Express kick at the time. I had been to eat there four times in the past month for one reason or another and was becoming steadily more addicted to the American Hot with each visit (a strangely un-American concoction of pepperoni and hot chillies, the like of which I have never seen in the USA). When I had to talk myself out of Pizza Express for my birthday dinner (I mean really, a chain pizza restaurant for a 29th birthday party?) I realized I was either going to have to move into our local branch, or bring the American Hot home with me.
Because there are too many screaming kids at our neighbourhood location, which I figured wouldn’t allow much peace or sleep, I checked in with my sis on her dough recipe (naturally, it was Mark Bittman’s) and set about creating the American Hot at my house.
Mark suggests the best way to make this dough is in the food processor, but you can also do it by hand. I used my stand mixer. Ever since my KitchenAid came into my life, dough making has taken on a pleasure it never held before; with it, this dough came together in minutes. Even by hand this dough would be simple and wouldn’t require too much effort for a weeknight; the time involved is all hands off, waiting for it to rise.
After two rises totalling about an hour and a half, I was ready to produce my pizza base. The old pizza throwing arm just wasn’t up to the job so in the end I stretched, rolled and pressed to get the dough into shape. (This is the method Mark suggests; I found a rectangular crust to be easier than a round.) What was especially interesting was how elastic the dough was; a couple of times it was so springy that it would give no more, and I had to walk away to let it relax before continuing to shape my crust.
American Hot, my way
After ten minutes in a very hot oven, I had my own American Hot. And it was good. So good that halfway through dinner I looked up at Ed and exclaimed, 'Hon, I think this is as good as Pizza Express!' Which was one phrase I hadn’t expected to leave my mouth.
The crust was simply delicious. I hadn’t managed a terribly even job of all that pressing and pulling so I had some paper thin sections and some fat, chewy bits; yet this just showed off how well this dough can work as either a thin or thick crust pizza.
Pizza Express’s American Hot, my way
The pizza didn’t exactly cure my obsession, though. I was so taken with the dough recipe that I dreamed about it all day and made it again two nights later. In all honesty, I wanted an American Hot again, but because I felt I was in danger of sprouting pepperoni for ears and turning into one, I figured I should go for something new. I decided on a simple margherita and a grilled aubergine and green chilli.
The moral of this story is don’t doubt your sister even when you think she’s a culinary freak. She probably has a point.
Chilli and aubergine pizza
Basic Pizza Dough
Recipe from How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Makes 1 very large or 2 medium pizzas
1 tsp instant or quick rise yeast
3 cups (about 14 ounces) bread flour or plain (all purpose flour), plus more as needed
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
To make in a food processor:
Combine the yeast, flour, and salt in the food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and the oil through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. (If the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time.)
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a minute or so to form a smooth, round dough ball. Proceed to step 2.
To make in a stand mixer: Using the paddle attachment, blend half the flour with the yeast, oil, salt and 1 cup of water in the bowl of the mixer. On slow speed, add the remaining flour a little at a time until it has has become a sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a minute or so to form a smooth, round ball. Proceed to step 2.
To make by hand:
In a large bowl combine half the flour with the salt and yeast and stir to blend. Add 1 cup water and the oil; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add remaining flour a bit at a time, until the mixture becomes too stiff to stir. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and begin kneading, adding as little flour as possible – just enough to keep the dough from being a sticky mess. Knead until smooth but still quite moist, about 10 minutes. Proceed two step 2.
Grease a bowl with a little olive oil and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let it rise in warm, draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. You can cut this rising time short if you are in a hurry, or you can let the dough rise more slowly, in the refrigerator, for up to 6 to 8 hours.
Preheat the oven to its highest temperature (most commercial pizza ovens reach 700F). When the dough has more or less doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and knock it back a few times. Separate into two or more balls and dust with flour; then cover with a damp tea towel and leave to proof for 20 minutes.
Shape your dough by patting the ball into a round disk or a rectangle, and place it in the middle of your baking tray or pizza stone. Stretch it into the desired shape by gently pulling and patting, letting the dough rest every now and then if it is too springy and resists stretching. Cover with toppings and bake 8-12 minutes.
After rising you can wrap this dough in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a month. Defrost in a covered bowl in the fridge or at room temperature.