A big shout-out to all the wonderful folks who came out today for my pizza demo class at Williams-Sonoma. I had an amazing time sharing my passion for the kitchen with you, and sincerely appreciate all the great feedback and encouraging words. By popular demand I am going to post the recipe that I used for the dough, as well as for the specific pizzas we made today (including a vegetarian option). This will be a longer-than-usual post with a lot of moving parts, so I’ll try to keep it all sorted out as best I can. At the end of the day, though, the fun of pizza is all about your own creativity and sense of culinary adventure. Hopefully today’s class sparked more of that for you.
Neapolitan Style Pizza Dough
I received many compliments on the flavor and texture of the home-made pizza dough. There is nothing especially complex about making a good dough, but it is a process based on certain principles and it requires both some good technique and some patience. Two of those important principles are:
- Moister doughs make chewier pizza crusts, and
- “Low and slow” fermentation produces better flavors over a longer time.
One other caveat: in any of my posts involving bread-baking or doughs, you will notice that most ingredients are listed by metric weights, rather than by volume. That is by design, because baking tends to require more precision in measuring, and using weight provides that precision. I use metric for many of these because that it how I learned the formulas and it just makes for easier math. The exception tends to be with the yeast because the amounts I use are just so darned small that the scale can’t really register them. All that being said, if you don’t already have one in your kitchen, a digital scale is a must. It should function in both metric and standard, and be sensitive to at least 1 g or 0.1 ounce.
All that being said, I am including volume conversions at the request of some readers. The catch with these is there may be some variation in weight, and it is essential to level off each scoop of flour to the top the measuring cup with a knife.
Now to our formula, which will make enough dough for three 12” pizzas:
- 600 g (4⅔ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur brand)
- 420 g (1⅔ cup + 2 tbsp.) warm water (90-95°)
- ¼ tsp. instant yeast
- 12 g (2¼ tsp.) fine sea salt
You will note that I use instant yeast in this formula. You can also use fresh yeast or active dry yeast, but if you do that you will need to activate it in a little of your warm water before it can be added to the dough.
Our first step is called autolyse. In a large bowl or, preferably, a plastic mixing vat with a snap-on lid, mix the water and flour together until they are just blended, and allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes. During this step the water begins to break down the starches and sugars that will feed the yeast. This hydration period also begins to form the gluten network.
Next, add the yeast and salt, and mix thoroughly with a wetted hand. This will be a very sticky dough because it is so moist, so you’ll just have to learn the love the feel of globs of gooey dough clinging to your hand. Your goal here is to ensure that the yeast is distributed throughout your dough as evenly as possible. When that is finished, cover your container and give it 30 minutes to start percolating.
The next step is folding. It is not necessary to knead the dough to develop the gluten. We can do that instead with the following method: grip one side of your dough lump and stretch it up as far as it will go, and fold it across to the other side. Turn the dough 90° and repeat until all four sides have been folded. Wait 15 minutes for the dough to relax, then repeat this folding procedure once.
After folding, cover your container and let it ferment at room temperature until it has expanded by two to three times its original size, which should take about 6 hours. During this time the yeast is happily devouring the sugars in the flour and putting off carbon dioxide, which is being trapped in the gluten network and making your dough rise. More importantly, during those hours your dough is beginning to develop some complex, delicious flavors. You can speed up your fermentation quite a bit by doubling the yeast to 1/2 tsp. but you won’t get the same degree of flavor development.
After the fermentation is complete, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. A large wooden cutting board or other wooden work surface makes it easier to handle the sticky dough. Using a dough cutter, divide the dough into three equal portions and gently shape into balls, taking care not to degas the dough. The best way to do this is to gently stretch the dough in opposite directions and tuck the ends up underneath. This creates surface tension on the lump and helps maintain the desired shape.
After shaping, set the dough balls onto a floured surface, seam side down, cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let them proof for about 1 to 1 ½ hour, during which they will continue to rise. After the proofing time, the dough is ready to shape into pizzas and bake. If you don’t need it all today, wrap the extras in lightly oiled plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Refrigeration will slow down any further fermentation to almost a stop, but flavors will continue to develop during that time. Also, this dough makes for some great focaccia bread if you want to use your extras for that.
To shape the dough for pizza, simply place a ball on a floured surface, sprinkle a bit more flour on top, and gently pat it down into the shape and size you want, again taking care not to mash out all the gas. You can also grip the dough like a steering wheel (hands at 10:00 and 2:00) and gently stretch it out some more, being careful not to let it tear. When the dough is done shaping, lay it on a pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina flour or corn meal, either of which will help the pizza slide off the peel and onto your baking stone. The stone, by the way, should be preheated at least 30 minutes at 450°. At this point we’re ready to start adding the toppings…
Barbecue Chicken Pizza
So now that our dough is ready and our pizza is waiting to be built, here is what we used for that truly yummy barbecue chicken pizza that we enjoyed today:
- ½ cup barbecue sauce (we used Williams-Sonoma Sweet Onion Applewood sauce)
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup shredded cooked chicken
- ½ cup sliced red onions
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
- ¼ cup cotija cheese crumbles
- Fresh chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
To assemble this one, spread the barbecue sauce over the dough, leaving about a half inch clean around the edge. Top with the cheese, chicken, onions and optional jalapeno. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to the baking stone and bake for about 10 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the crust shows some nice browning. Using the peel again, remove the pizza to a cutting board, and sprinkle with the cotija cheese and cilantro leaves. It’s ready to enjoy.
Vegetarian Flatbread Pizzas
For these pizzas we used pre-made naan as our base, although any store-bought flatbread will do the trick when you don’t have time to make dough (think Tuesday night after work). This one requires a little prep work for your vegetables, but after that is done the pizzas come together quickly. This will make enough for 4-5 naan-sized flatbread pizzas.
- 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. minced garlic
- 1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked peppe
- 2 medium zucchinis, spiralized
- 8 oz. sliced mushrooms (cremini or baby portabellas)
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
- 1 cup Williams-Sonoma Creamy Tomato Parmesan sauce
- 1 cup Gruyere cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Williams-Sonoma dried pizza seasoning blend
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish
For the onions: in a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they become well caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme leaves, season with some salt and pepper, and cook about 5 minutes more, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
For the mushrooms: in the same skillet you used for the onions, add another tbsp. of oil and saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper until well browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
For the zucchini: toss the spiralized zucchini strands in about 1 tbsp. olive oil with some salt and pepper.
Now we’re ready to build our flatbread pizzas. Spread some of the Creamy Tomato Parmesan sauce on each flatbread. Top with some of the caramelized onions, zucchini and mushrooms. Sprinkle with some of the Gruyere and mozzarella, and add a sprinkle of the pizza seasoning. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to the baking stone and bake until the cheesy is bubbly, about 6 minutes. Remove the finished pizza to a cutting board, and you’re ready to rock and roll.
Whew! That was definitely the biggest post I have ever done. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of making these recipes at home as we did making them today at the store. When you do, be sure to munch them down with a big happy grin on your face – after all, it’s pizza night! All is right with the world. I look forward to seeing many of you again at a future demo class. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!