A friend asked me for my pizza dough making secrets. I am not sure I have any secrets, as such. I have been making pizza for my family for a while now. I am happy to share what I’ve learned over the last several months.
First, the recipe I use is pretty simply, from AllRecipes.com. This recipe doesn’t call for proofing the yeast. The only change I make is to use half and half white and what flour.
I do a few specific things when I make the dough. I don’t know if they help, or not, but I am pleased with the results.
I mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly with a fork. Then I add the oil and mix that before pouring the warm water in. I knead the dough a little longer, between 8 and 10 minutes. I let the dough rise in covered, oiled bowls.
When the dough has risen, I’ll punch it down once. A quick tap on the surface will cause the dough to deflate, then I’ll scoop out the dough and basically toss it back into the bowl with a little force a few times. I give it a few minutes for a second rise. Doing this seems to make the dough a bit more elastic when I start to work it to go into the pan.
When I don’t prepare the dough in this way, I find it can be tough to stretch out in the pan. It may snag on the hot pan, despite the corn flour coating, resulting in thin spots. Sauce can then sometimes leak out of the thin spots. The acid in the tomato sauce can weaken the cast iron pan’s seasoning. Seasoning is what lets the pan release the food. Thin spots, especially with new pans, can create a sort of downward spiral that though still delicious, is a mess.
My friend asked specifically for help with dough that won’t rise. I haven’t really had this problem. I get yeast in a jar rather than a packet. I’ve found it is usually perfectly fresh. I do proof the same yeast for another recipe, for bread, and have never had a problem. I keep it refrigerated to ensure freshness. Making several pizza pies a week and a batch of bread every other week, I don’t think my yeast has a chance to go stale.
I think the extended kneading helps. I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere that kneading is both about developing gluten so the dough stretches and adding energy to help the yeast do its job. I’ve had good success helping a slow rise by adding a little heat. Putting the dough on a pre-heating oven is usually enough. Take care, adding heat can also dry the dough, making it harder to work later.
I start working the dough for the pan by making a sort of almost doughnut, thin in the center and thick at the edge. I’ll work the dough, hand over hand, flattening and stretching it from the center out. Gravity works well enough to just pull the dough on its own initially. At a certain size, I can continue to rotate but flipping it from hand to hand, spreading my fingers to continue to gently expand the dough. Lately, I’ve even given it a few tentative tosses. Usually the shape is too lopsided for me to toss it more than once or twice.
Once on the pan, I continue to work the dough from the center out. I’ll usually use both hands, just gently pressing and stretching the dough out to the edges. Take care to avoid over working the dough. You don’t want thin spots, as noted above. If you do tear the dough a bit, if you catch it when small, you can pinch it back to together. This only works if you aren’t over zealous when spreading the dough.
I use some really nice cast iron pans from Lodge. I pre-heat them and that actually seems to make a huge difference in terms of the crust ending up chewy but firm. I can feel the dough starting to bake as I work it on the hot pan. This can help keep it from sticking and seems to encourage the dough to spread even better. Take care not to take too long spreading the dough if you use a pre-heated stone or pan. The dough can actually get too soft, if you do, and tear more easily.
Once the dough is spread out, top as you like. I use a pretty nice canned sauce and a healthy amount of cheese. I’ve have recently dialed the cheese back a bit. Too much seems to trap moisture in the baking dough resulting in a slightly soggier pie. Since I par-bake, freeze and then finish the pizzas later, the trapped water can prevent the re-heating from fully finishing the pie.
Hope that helps! This is just what works for me but if anyone else more experienced with making pizza dough has tips and experiences, I’d love to hear them.