My favorite food is pizza. There. I said it. It’s not a fancy seafood dish, it’s not a healthy salad, it’s not accompanied with couscous or quinoa or whole-grain anything. It is–at its core–bread, tomatoes, and cheese. And I love it.
My husband and I have been to New York three times together, and I’ll admit part of our return is for the pizza. While there, we ate pizza every day, sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes at 11 o’clock at night. And we ate it ALL. These pizzas are the size of me, and he and I put a whole thing away every time.
My love for pizza, especially NY-style pizza, led me on a quest to make a truly delicious crust at home. And guess what? I’ve learned that the secrets for great homemade pizza crust are the same for a great life! Okay, maybe I’m over-simplifying. But this what I’ve found:
- Active rest periods are essential to a chewy, flavorful, dare-I-say exciting crust. I call them active rest periods, but you wouldn’t know it. The lump of dough sits there, seemingly doing nothing. You’re tempted to move on to the next step, to get yourself one step closer to taking a bite of cheesey goodness. Oh, but so much is happening! Yeast is working, gluten is forming, and your basic ingredients are transforming into something remarkable. So how does this relate to life? We need active rest periods, as well. At face value, rest simply doesn’t seem productive. In fact, it is counter-intuitive to rest when we feel we have so much to do. But rest, whether it be found sleeping, meditating, reflecting, or walking, is exactly what we need to be at our best.
- Quality ingredients really do make a difference. Make sure you use a good, high-protein flour and fresh, active yeast. Get a truly delicious olive oil. Splurge a bit on the cheese, and use a tomato sauce as pure as possible. And life? There are ingredients that make up our lives, aren’t there? We can choose to fill our lives with good things, things that matter and give us purpose, things that reflect truth and beauty and goodness. Or we can fill them up with junk, things that will only bring us down and hamper a happy life.
- At the end of the day, you need the right tools. In this case, a hot oven and seasoned stone are necessities. Even the most perfect dough will remain an inedible lump if it is not molded, shaped, and heated. A hot stone in a hot even will cook a pizza to perfection in minutes! In life, it is the people around us who are our molders and shapers, the ones who help move us from being lumps to being what we were meant to be! And the ones who can stand the heat are the ones worth keeping around.
If you keep those tips in mind, you can continue to practice and make your pizza–and life–as delicious as can be. Here is my basic but delicious pizza dough recipe, a great place to begin.
Perfect New York Style Pizza Crust
3 cups bread flour (which is a high-gluten flour) + another cup to add
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 cups ice cold water
olive oil (optional. not really though.)
Pizza stone, pizza peel, parchment paper, pastry cutter, oven, mixer
- Stir together 3 cups of the flour, the salt, the yeast, and the water. Use a large metal spoon (or even your mixer on low with a dough hook), mix well (see Image A), then cover with a damp cloth and let it sit for 20 minutes.
- After sitting, turn your mixer on low and mix for about 8 minutes, going up to medium about halfway through. (See Image B.) 5 minutes into start adding more flour, just 1 tablespoon at a time, but remember you want your dough to be a wet dough! (See Image C.) Let the flour be fully absorbed, then add another tablespoon if necessary. The dough should be sticky and will clear the sides but still stick to the bottom. (See Image D.) If you add too much flour, put in another teaspoon of cold water. Typically I add about 4-6 tablespoons of flour, but it’s not an exactly science! A test to see if your dough is ready: It should be sticky, but if you sprinkle just a tiny bit of flour on it, it should feel soft on the outside. (See Image E, below.)
- Let rest for 20 minutes. (Yep. Again.)
- Sprinkle a little flour on your counter and “pour” the dough onto the counter. (Seriously, it should not be a hard dough at this point. If it is, it is too dry.) With floured hands and perhaps a sprinkle of flour on the outside, gently mold it. (See Image F.) Do not knead it. Using a pastry cutter, cut the dough into two pieces and mold each one of them into pillows. (See Images G and H.)
- Your dough pillows are now going to go in the fridge, so have containers or glass bowls ready. Put a bit of olive oil on your hands and rub it into the inside of the container. Put your dough balls in individual containers, cover with plastic wrap or a lid, and let rest again another 10 minutes. (That’s right. Yet another rest.) Place in fridge 1 to 6 days. If you can’t wait, you can always let it rise right then and cook it up that day.
- When ready to make the pizza, remove dough from fridge 1 and 1/2 hours from when you want them in the oven. You should see that your dough has already started rising. After the hour and a half or so, it should rise a total of 50% to 100%. (Most recipes say it needs to double–which would be 100%–but even a 50% rise works just fine. See image above.)
To Create and Bake:
- Put your pizza stone on the bottom rack in your oven and crank up the oven as hot as it can go. On a piece of parchment paper that will fit the entire stone (trim it up as needed), create your pizza. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on the paper and gently push the dough out with your fingertips so that you have a thin (much thinner than you’re probably anticipating) circle with a slight ridge all around the edge. Do not knead or roll! If it’s springing back, let it rest a bit.
- Add your sauce, your cheese, and toppings. (See below: About Toppings.)
- Slide the parchment paper on a peel or cookie sheet, and slide the whole thing (including the parchment paper) onto the super hot stone.
- Bake for only a few minutes! Mine usually is ready in about 6 minutes. Be sure and check the bottom to make sure it isn’t burning. You can always move the rack up if you’re having problems with it charring too quickly.
- Use less than you think, from sauce to cheese to other toppings. Remember that sauce and toppings tend to pool in the middle.
- The best sauces come from crushed tomatoes that are quickly pureed and have just a few seasonings in them (basil, garlic, salt, oregano). Jar sauces usually don’t work as well because they’ve already been cooked too many times.
- High quality mozzarella does make a difference, but don’t worry if you don’t have it. You may find that cutting it into thin pieces instead of shredding it gets you a more authentic taste. Again, less is best, especially if you do the next step.
- When we were in NY, the bakers added a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese, a handful of basil, and a dash of olive oil after the pizza came out. I really like doing this.
I’ve shared my secrets with you, dear friends, but if you have one to add, please do! The art of perfect pizza crust continues to astound me, and I believe there is still much to learn. And stay tuned for some fabulous pizza creation recipes coming your way!
These are a few of the tools I use and love!
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