Whether you are making a thick pizza crust or a thin one, you will need to shape the dough by hand, rather than with a rolling pin. After mixing, kneading and letting the dough rise, punch it down and allow it to rest about 20 minutes. This relaxes the gluten and makes stretching easier.
Working on a lightly floured surface, sprinkle the dough with a little flour. Next use your fingertips to flatten the ball into a six- or eight-inch disk (Step 1).
Turn the dough over. Then, using the palm of your hand and working in a clockwise motion, begin stretching the dough into a larger circle (Step 2). If the dough resists, once again allow it to rest 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled pizza pan or a wooden "peel" (long-handled paddle), previously sprinkled with cornmeal (Step 3). Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled.
You can make a very easy pizza by simply brushing the dough with olive oil (Step 4), then covering it with an even layer of tomato slices (Step 5). Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste; grated Parmesan cheese may be added before or after baking, if desired.
There are several ways to bake homemade pizza so it has a crisp bottom crust comparable to the ones made at pizzerias. We used the same recipe to test four methods.
* Standard metal pizza pan--available in a variety of sizes and varying weights of metal. The pan was lightly oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal. The bottom crust of the pizza, baked in a preheated 425 degree oven about 15 minutes, was browned, but not as crisp as those baked on a stone or tiles.
* Perforated pizza pan--sold in two sizes. Directions instruct you to oil the pan lightly and place the pizza on the lowest rack in a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 500 degrees and bake about 22 minutes. The bottom crust turned out brown and crisp.
* Pizza stone--round and rectangular stones are available in several sizes. Most recommend they be placed on the lowest rack of a cold oven and preheated at 500 degrees 45 minutes.
For our test the temperature was then reduced to 425 degrees and the pizza was baked about 12 minutes. The bottom crust was crisp when first removed from the oven, but softened after the pizza was cut on the usual room-temperature cutting board. For this reason, it's advantageous to purchase the rack sold with some brands of pizza stone so the pizza can be cut and served on the stone.
* Pizza tiles--any unglazed quarry tiles about 1/2-inch thick may be used, but special tiles are also sold that fit on a baking sheet. The baking sheet holds them together and makes it more convenient to place them in the oven--and to remove them. Be certain, however, that the sheet fits your oven with at least an inch of airspace on all four sides.
The tiles we tested were placed on the lowest rack of a cold oven and preheated just until the oven temperature reached 425 degrees. The pizza, baked 15 minutes, had the crispest bottom crust of the four.
One manufacturer suggests using the tray of tiles to cook pizza on an outdoor grill. Pizza screens and metal pans with a waffle pattern on the bottom are also available. These were not tested.
A wooden peel is handy for sliding pizzas on and off stones or tiles. After preparing the pizza on the peel, give the peel a few preliminary shakes to be sure the pizza will glide freely. Then place the tip of the peel at the back edge of the preheated stone or tiles, give a sharp jerk and slowly pull the peel back so the pizza slides off.
Use the peel to retrieve the pizza when it has baked. After removing the pizza from the oven, sprinkle with chopped fresh basil. Use a wheel (Step 6) or a sharp knife to cut it into wedges.
PIZZA AL POMODORO
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 cups flour
1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Thinly sliced Roma tomatoes
Grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh basil
Mix 1 cup flour and yeast. Combine milk, water, sugar, oil and salt in medium saucepan. Stir until warm over low heat.
Add liquid to flour mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes on medium speed of electric mixer. Add 1/2 cup flour and beat 1 minute. Stir in enough remaining flour to make moderately stiff dough.
Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny, 10 to 12 minutes. Shape into ball and place in lightly greased bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled.
Punch dough down. Divide in half. Shape each half to 13-inch circle. Place on lightly oiled pan or wooden peel, sprinkled with cornmeal. If using pan, push up sides to form rim. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled.
Brush dough with olive oil. Cover with even layer of tomato slices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 425 degrees 15 to 18 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle with basil. Makes 2 (13-inch) pizzas.