Thursday, July 26, 2012

Now That's A Pizza Pie!

For years, I dreamed of making homemade pizzas. I'm not talking about the kind you make on English muffins or French bread or some Pillsbury stuff in a tube; I'm talking about a pizza on made-from-scratch dough. 

But I was intimidated for two reasons. First, yeast concerned me. Although it is a common ingredient in who knows how many baked goods, I was led to believe that yeast was temperamental and difficult to work with. 

Second, the kneading and shaping of the dough seemed technically challenging. To make a decent homemade pie, I thought I would need skills like this guy:

So I avoided the issue for a long time, quietly eating my takeout pizza and leaving well enough alone. 

Until the most powerful change agent known to mankind showed up in my kitchen, in the form of my firstborn daughter. Fascinated by cooking at a very young age, this six-year-old girl with pig tails turned my world upside down when she said, "Mama, can we please make a pizza from scratch??!!"

Well. I'm the kind of mother who would move a mountain for her child. (Aren't we all?!) So I hid my fears, drew a deep breath, and took a look at the children's cookbook she was holding out to me. 

Published by the wacky folk at Klutz Press, this Magic Spoon Cookbook offered a straightforward recipe for pizza dough that I have now made approximately four bazillion times. Here are some before-and-after shots of a recent batch:

Beautiful and delicious. And here is what I've learned about making pizza.

First, yeast is not scary at all. However, it is somewhat temperamental. In order to wake up and set itself to bubbling and brewing, yeast wants water that is EXACTLY 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. 

So here's the thing: respect your yeast's needs and use a cooking thermometer to heat that water to the perfect point. It's not so hard. And your yeast will thank you for your thoughtfulness by springing happily to life, just as you want it to, each and every time.

Second, you don't have to be a ninja twirler to make decent pizza crust. I knead the way my grandma used to do it, and if your grandma didn't do much kneading, then head on over to youtube, where there are plenty of grandmas waiting to show you how it's done. As for spreading out the dough, I just oil up a cookie sheet, plop the dough down in the middle, and push it around until it reaches the edges. I twirl nothing. 

When my dough rips or tears, as it invariably does, I just smush it back together until the hole is closed up. No drama. And if a particular batch is really giving me a hard time, I just grab my rolling pin and gently roll it into submission, right there on the cookie sheet. Honestly, it works just fine.

Once I overcame my fears, making homemade dough became a snap, and I was able to indulge my attention and interest on toppings. Yummmm. My current go-to favorites are basil, onion and mushroom; I will allow pepperoni on the other half of the pie because I am a team player. 

Here is my tried-and-true recipe for the dough that holds all this yummy together, straight from the pages of Klutz. I hope you will give it a go!

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Make Your Own Pizza
Open a pizzeria in your own kitchen with a friend.

Prep Time: 30 minutes (but with rising, baking, and topping time, figure 1 hour and 40 minutes total)
Serves 4

Tools: mixing bowl, spoon, clean kitchen towel, pizza pan or cookie sheet, rolling pin

1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup of warm water (use your thermometer!!)
2 1/2 cups flour plus extra flour (to throw on the counter top)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

Sauce and toppings of your choice

Getting Ready:
1. Put the yeast and sugar in the mixing bowl with warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes until bubbly.

2. Add the flour, salt, and oil to the bowl.

3. Mix with your spoon. It should get thick and hard to stir. Mush together with your hands into a ball.

4. Spread some extra flour ont he counter and dump the dough out onto it.

5. Gently turn the dough over and over and press it with the palm of your hand, folding the dough from the sides to the middle. This is called kneading. Do this 100 times until the dough is smooth and elastic. You can do it!

6. Place dough in the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, dry place about 1 hours until double in size.

Get your toppings ready. 

7. Punch the dough down with your fish. Rub a little oil on the cookie sheet. Roll the dough out or spread it out with your hands to cover the pan. You can make one big pizza or four small ones with different toppings.


1. Heat oven to 425˚F. Top your dough with pizza sauce or chopped tomatoes spread almost to the edge. Add the rest of your toppings. Bake for 30 minutes. Don't burn it!

Note: Make two batches at the same time for two large pizzas.

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I like to write stories about pies. If you like to read stories about pies, try these:

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