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Throw Your Bobolis to the Birds and Impress Your Guests with Homemade Pizza Crust

June 09, 2002|LEE GREEN

There are certain foods most of us never prepare at home because they're more trouble than they're worth, particularly since we can buy them ready-made. Ice cream, ravioli, tamales. High on the list is pizza, due mainly to that pesky dough. The contemporary American isn't fond of recipes that say things like "allow to rise for two hours" or "refrigerate overnight." Nor does the thought of kneading hold much joy for anyone but a massage therapist. Why wrestle with a yeast ball when for $12 you can get a stranger in a beater car with a lighted sign on the roof to deliver a perfectly good pizza to your door?

That certainly was my attitude until I discovered that making pizza dough is a snap and the result is a crowd-pleaser. True, frozen pizzas have come a long way in the past decade, and prefab crusts offer the illusion of pizza-making for the harried and the dough-a-phobic. But these options impress no one and permit none of the smug satisfaction that comes of baking a pie from scratch. I say fling your frozen Pucks discus-style into the soft night air and kiss your Boboli goodbye.

Hands-on labor for dough requires 20 minutes tops--half that if you have a bread machine or a food processor. The only catch is that you have to plan ahead, since dough needs at least an hour or so to rise. Make it at your convenience and let it rise on its own time: Refrigerated dough rises despite the chill and keeps for a week.

It's the toppings, not the dough, that can make pizza labor-intensive. When rushed you can utilize commercially prepared items such as bottled sauce, shredded mozzarella and sliced mushrooms, and no one will be the wiser. Your signature creation, the one loaded with Thai chicken, grits, croutons, Velveeta cheese, fava beans and licorice, can always wait for a more leisurely occasion.

The dough itself could hardly be simpler. Cookbook and Internet recipes abound, but most pizza dough consists of just five ingredients: yeast, flour, salt, water and olive oil. Some also contain a sweetener, usually sugar or honey, but that's it. Anything else is superfluous.

Preparing pizza dough is a forgiving art, but you would never know it from the strict and often misleading advice found in recipes. A 500-degree oven isn't necessary (450 degrees will do), dry yeast doesn't need to be proofed, the water doesn't have to be between 105 and 110 degrees, pizza stones aren't essential for crispness, and dough doesn't have to rise twice or live in an airtight glass bowl or be refrigerated overnight to produce excellent crust.

I've yet to find a recipe that reveals the best tip of all: If you roll your dough on parchment cooking paper, you can slide the paper and pizza directly onto an oven rack and bake perfect crust without a pan. And what the heck, here's a helpful corollary: If the whole thing ignites, that's not parchment cooking paper you're using.

Thin-Crust Pizza Dough

Makes two 12-inch pizzas

1 cup warm water

2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 3/4 to 3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine water, sugar, yeast and 1 1/2 cup flour in a large bowl and mix well. Add the oil, salt, and remaining flour. Stir until you can no longer work the dough with a spoon. Knead for five minutes, adding small amounts of water or flour if necessary to achieve dough that is moist but not overly sticky. Let rise for one hour in lightly oiled bowl covered with towel or plastic wrap.

Divide into two equal portions. Cover with towel and let rest for 10 minutes before rolling to 1/4-inch thickness. Add your favorite toppings. (For a classic Margherita pizza, top with 2 cups sliced Roma tomatoes, 8 ounces sliced mozzarella, 8-10 fresh basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste.) Bake on an upper rack at 450 degrees, for 8-10 minutes or until crust is golden. (If using a bread machine or food processor, follow manufacturer's directions.)

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Lee Green last wrote for the magazine about secular ethicists.

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Food stylist, Christine Masterson

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