the miracle of homemade pizza

In East of Eden, John Steinbeck writes of automobiles, “[To start a car] required not only a good memory, a strong arm, an angelic temper, and a blind hope, but also a certain amount of practice of magic, so that a man about to turn the crank of a Model T might be seen to spit on the ground and whisper a spell.”

For most of my life, this was exactly how I felt about baking with yeast. It wasn’t until I began dating my boyfriend, whose mother regularly makes all kinds of delicious breads, that I even considered it a possibility that I, too, could use yeast. Under her careful guidance, I began to learn about bread-making. We started with pizza dough, since their family eats homemade pizza together once a week, and I took copious notes as I helped her make it time and time again. Although I have since successfully made other, more “impressive” breads with yeast (six-braid challah, pita pockets, sandwich bread), this recipe is near and dear to my heart, because learning how to make it opened the world of baking for me.

Favorite pizza:
*makes 1 XL pizza and 2 medium pizzas (halve it unless you are feeding a large group, like leftovers, or want to make bread with some of the dough)

  • 2.5 cups of very warm water (the hottest setting your sink allows should be fine)
  • Slightly under 2 tablespoons of active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 6 3/4 cups of high-gluten flour (this is usually marketed as “bread flour”)
  • 3/4 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
Mix the water, yeast, and sugar together, then add flour, salt, and olive oil. Now knead the dough. I use my stand mixer, so I knead it (using the dough hook) on the first setting until it begins to come together, and then on the second setting for two minutes. You can, of course, also knead it by hand.
After kneading it, shape it into a disc and put it into an oiled bowl, flipping it over to coat both sides. Cover the bowl with a dish towel, and let it rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes, or until it doubles in size. (I usually put mine in the oven with the light on.) You know that it has doubled when you can stick two floured fingers into the dough and the dough stays indented and does not spring back.
Now, punch down the dough and divide it into three pizzas – one XL pizza and two medium pizzas. Roll the dough into pizza shapes, add sauce and toppings, and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. For a really good crust, take the pizza off the pan and put it directly on the oven rack when you have three minutes left. That step is helpful if you’re baking pizza on cookie sheets, but with the pan that I just bought, it’s an unnecessary step because the pan has holes in the bottom and gives you a nice, texturized crust without having to move the pizza off the pan at any point.

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