California Style Pizza Dough
From James McNair's New Pizza: Foolproof Techniques and Fabulous Recipes
Truly the best, easiest and most delicious pizza crusts I've ever made.
Hands-on time: 10 minutes + 10 minutes just before baking
Rising/kneading time: 1 ½ hours on the counter or 24-36 hours in the fridge ( which then needs 1 hour to get to room temperature before baking)
Baking time: 10 minutes or so
Makes 1 thick – 2 thin 12” crusts
1 cup water 110-115°F/37-46°C (warm)
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast (or 1 pkg)
3 ¼ cups unbleached all purpose, bread or semolina flour
1 tsp finely ground kosher or sea salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil plus more for oiling the proofing bowl
coarsely ground cornmeal for the pizza peel to enable easy sliding of prepared pizza onto the hot pizza stone in the oven.
Additions/alternatives - add while kneading the dough the first time:
Cracked pepper crust - add 3 tbsp freshly cracked/coarsely ground black pepper
Herbed crust - add 3 tbsp fresh herbs minced or 1 tbsp dried
Seeded crust - add ¼ cup lightly toasted sesame or poppy seeds
Spicy crust - add 2 tbsp paprika & 1 tbsp cayenne powder or other chili powder
Whole wheat crust - increase amount of warm water to 1¼ cups. Substitute 1 cup of whole wheat flour for equal amount of white flour.
Directions for Stand mixers:
1. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over top. Stir to dissolve and set aside.
2. In the mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of flour with salt. Attach the paddle beater and mix well at lowest speed for 10 seconds (just enough time to incorporate the salt).
3. Add the yeast mixture plus the olive oil and mix well at lowest speed for 1 minute. Change beater to dough hook and knead at medium speed for about 5 minutes. This is when you'd add any additional herbs &/or seeds, spices to the dough. You might have to stop midway and rearrange the dough. Mine crept up the hook. After 3 minutes or so, break off a piece and feel for texture – too sticky = add just enough flour while kneading to remove stickiness; too dry and crumbly = continue kneading ad gradually add more water – 1 tbsp at a time until the dough holds together.
4. Rising/proofing the dough: use a pastry brush to generously grease a large bowl. Shape the dough into a smooth ball by stretching the outer surface of the dough underneath itself, rotating the dough and continuing the process until a smooth ball is formed with seams underneath. Place the dough smooth side dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil all over. End with the seam side down and cover with plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss.
5. Resting - two alternatives:
a) set aside in a draft free warm place for the dough to rise until doubled in bulk (1-1 ½ hours);
b) transfer covered bowl to fridge and let rise for 1 hour. Uncover, gently punch down to expel air, recover tightly and return to fridge for 24-36 hours. You will need to punch the dough down 1-2 more times during the rising. If using this method, let the chilled dough come to room temperature before prepping for baking.
6. Prepare for baking:
a) Once dough is at room temperature, cut dough in half for 2 12” pizzas or into 4 for individual ones. Form each piece into a smooth ball ( see step 4) We lightly floured the dough again in the forming of a ball ready for stretching.
b) I used a ceramic pizza stone for baking in the oven. Preheat at 450-500°F/230-260°C for at least 30 minutes ( and since my oven is slow to reach the optimal temperature, I give it even more time) so timing is everything. If you’re not using a pizza stone, I would still preheat the pizza pans to give the crust a really good crispiness, but you probably only need 10-15 minutes. Lay the stone or baking sheet on the lowest rack for electric, on the floor of your oven for gas ranges.
c) Rolling out the dough: Shape into round, square…or whatever creative shape you come up with. Stretch or roll the dough – stretching = softer & chewier; rolling= crisper.
To stretch – shape dough ball into a flat disc about 1” thick and lightly flour both sides. Start at center and using the heels of your hands, quickly press around the dough until it’s the required shape until ½” thick. Dust with flour whenever needed to prevent sticking. We actually needed very little extra flour at this point and my very deft pizza making son-in-law used his fingers to spread out and flatten the dough, lifting it off the counter and flipping it over a few times in the process until the crust was ¼" thick and measured about 12".
Stop stretching before it reaches the outer edge of the dough so it can form a rim. Rest one hand on the surface and lift a portion of the dough with your other, pulling gently away from center, stretching as thin as possible, moving around the pizza, which should be ¼” or less in thickness. Pinch any holes closed. We just did this by gently lifting and stretching then placing back on the counter and using finger tips again around the pizza. Next, rest one hand near the edge of the dough and other hand to push against it and form a slight rim working your way around the pizza. (about 5 minutes - don't skimp on time - it keeps the dough from rising too much in the oven)
To use a rolling pin – lightly flour both sides of dough ball, and using heels of your hand, press into a circle or whatever desired shape and roll out with lightly floured rolling pin until ¼” thick, keeping edges slightly thicker than center. When rolling, pick up the dough and turn it over several times to stretch it. Add a little flour when needed. (Ruth's note: - the stretched & pulled by hand still had a very crispy, crunchy crust, so this might be overkill)
d) Oven ready: once the dough is shaped, lay it on a cornmeal dusted pizza peel or oiled screen or ventilated pizza pan. Add your favorite toppings – putting the cheese before the other toppings keeps the crust from getting soggy. If you like your cheese on top, then place the pizza with all BUT the cheese in the oven for the first 5 minutes and then add the cheese and return to the oven until bubbly (another 5 minutes or so, which really does keep the cheese melty and bubbly rather than burned and rubbery, while allowing the crust to crisp). Real pizza making experts can jerk the oven-ready pizza off the peel onto the stone without losing the shape –or having half the pizza fall into the oven directly. Remember practice makes perfect and in the meantime, you have "Artisan" free form pizzas that still taste amazing.
7. Bake on the lower shelf until the edges puff and brown, toppings are hot and the cheese is bubbling (10 minutes or so). We actually cooked two large pizzas on separate stones - bottom and middle racks and both were crispy and delicious.
8. Remove the pizza from the stone, sliding the peel back under it by using a metal spatula to guide the way and to make sure the pizza doesn’t stick to the stone. Transfer to a wire rack to let the pizza cool and crust firm up for 2-3 minutes before placing on a cutting surface. This keeps the bottom of the crust from steaming up and getting limp. We didn't do the last step - wire rack...just transferred the pizza to a cutting board and our crust was crisp and delicious.
Over the top fantastic when topped with Caramelized Onion & Sausages, but Marinara - basic tomato and garlic with cheese is perfect on its own or with your favorite additions.