Why you should definitely make your own pizza

With basic tools, you can bang out a decent pizza in 3 hours — and your stomach will thank you.

My wonderful pizza. It could be yours too.

But why is making pizza so intimidating? First, spook stories like this NY Times version make it sound like climbing Everest. Second, I think people see themselves spending hours Swedish Chef-style sweating over a sticky glob of dough that quickly becomes Bartholomew’s Oobleck, coating the kitchen, spreading out into the dining room.

Or maybe it’s just the primal caloric call of the local Dominos that keeps you chained to pizza made by machine.

But either way, give DIY pizza a shot once in your life. It’ll be healthier, light and crispy and you won’t feel anxiously sick after like you might need to stay in close proximity to a bathroom. Plus (secret bonus): It’s the gateway dough to making the other breads of the world.

DO:

  1. Go to store and purchase ingredients (they’ll all fit in a handheld basket)
  2. At 4 p.m., start the dough (follow recipe below) — 20 minutes
  3. Set the dough aside to rise — 2 hours
  4. At 6:30 p.m., crank your oven to its highest setting, screaming hot
  5. Divide the risen dough, shape into two loaves and let rise again — 20 minutes.
  6. Stretch out the dough, add sauce, cheese and toppings and bake — 20 minutes
  7. At 7 p.m., slide it out of oven and enjoy.

DON’T:

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, go to any hardcore cookery/baking sites for recipes for your first pizza. All recipes at these places are for folks who are willing to invest 12–24 hours in the process and obsess over the ingredients and kitchen hardware. You don’t need that right now.
  2. Do not go out and spend a bunch of money on bullshit kitchen stuff for pizza like a pizza peel, baking stone or cutter. A cookie sheet, spatula and knife will do. Later on, if you want the specialty goods, go for it.
  3. Stay away from Boboli. It’s crust cardboard and it’s not homemade. Stay away from packaged pizza “kits” in the super market — they’re cruddy because the dough isn’t a bread; it’s more like pizza cake (Ewww).
RECIPE (makes two pizzas):
1 cup lukewarm tap water
2 ¼ teaspoons (or one packet) of Fleishman’s RapidRise yeast [in the baking aisle or dairy section]
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur brand)
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup yellow cornmeal
Toppings: Pizza sauce, cheese, mushrooms, olives, onion, pepperoni, etc. (no more than three toppings per pizza. Yes, I’m serious.)
This is the way yeast looks when it foams up. Did you know yeast comes alive when it has a chance to feed on something (like honey)? It’s bread’s (and beer’s) magic, living ingredient.

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast and honey and one tablespoon of the olive oil (reserve the remaining olive oil for coating the bowl the dough will rise in). Let this sit for five minutes so the yeast can foam up a little.

Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and salt. Mix until all is incorporated and the mixture is smooth.

Continue adding flour one quarter cup at a time, working in the dough after each addition, until dough is smooth but slightly sticky.

Me kneading the dough. At first you’ll wonder: “Am I doing this right?” but soon, you’ll find your own rhythm. Kneading isn’t supposed to be ballet.

Dust a flat surface with a tablespoon of flour, turn the dough out, set a timer for five minutes and knead the dough, gently folding it on top of itself again and again.

A lovely risen pizza dough, all puffy and nice. Don’t knock too many of those air bubbles out; you’ll need them later in baking.

Oil a separate large mixing bowl with the remaining olive oil and place the dough inside, turning to coat it on all sides with the oil.

Now cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and set it in draft-free spot in your kitchen to rise for two hours.

Open your oven, and place the rack in the middle. Then close and crank your oven to it’s highest setting and let it preheat. Now, turn the risen dough (it should be doubled in size) onto a slightly floured surface and divide it two. Roll the two pieces of dough in cornmeal and place on a cookie sheet and cover with the plastic wrap and towel. Let the dough rest and rise for another 20–30 minutes.

Streeeetch it. But stretch it gently.

Now that the dough has risen again, take one dough ball (this is your first pizza) and place it on a cookie sheet and gently stretch it into a circle about 12 inches wide and ¼ inch thick. Be careful not to tear the dough and be sure to take your time with this step.

Go easy on the cheese and the toppings.

Now cover the dough with about a quarter cup of pizza sauce, cheese and no more than three toppings. Stick to light toppings like pepperoni, prosciutto, mushrooms, onion, green pepper and don’t go overboard as they could weigh the pizza down while it’s baking.

Now turn your oven down to 500 degrees and put the pizza inside to bake for 10–12 minutes until crust is a golden brown. Remove pizza from oven, let it cool for five minutes, then cut into slices and enjoy.

Congratulations on making pizza! May this be your first foray into the wonderful world of bread-baking. Our ancestors figured out how to make bread 10,000 years ago and, once they did, they liked it so much our species has never given it up. I guess that alone, for me, makes it worthwhile.

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