I’ve got pizza on the brain.  Apparently last week was some kind of national pizza week, and then yesterday my daughter’s preschool class field tripped to a pizza joint to see how it’s made.  Well, Annie should already know how it’s made, considering I make pizza pretty often at home. 

Upstate NY is known for many wonderful things.  Pizza is not one of them.  Bad pizza should be a crime, same goes for bad cookies, by the way.  Something that looks so delicious, with oozy gooey cheesy goodness, should just not taste bad.  In Upstate NY, it’s just too often the case.  The crust is a little too thick, the sauce a little too sweet, it’s just not right.  I suppose I would have never been the wiser had I not experienced good NYC pizza as a kid, visiting my Aunt who lived there for years, and subsequently having New Jersey Pizza via my New Jersey husband.  I suppose I would have stayed blissfully happy with what passes for pizza up here.    
Instead, I do my best to provide a great home made alternative.  Nothing is going to beat some of the pizza you find in NYC.  Their ovens are wicked hot, their stones are well seasoned, they have some guy who flips dough in his sleep and probably sauce recipes handed down through the ages.   BUT, I try. 
The first trick to great home made pizza is the stone.  You must have a good pizza stone.  Now that I have one, I use it for all kinds of baking projects.  Breads, and sometimes even cookies.  It’s a very versatile kitchen piece, and it doesn’t take up any room since I just leave it in the oven full time.  

Then there is planning.  Most of the time, pizza is the last minute I-don’t-feel-like-making-dinner-let’s-call-for-pizza dinner, but when you want good home made pizza you have prepare a day in advance.  I actually really like it because it splits the work and the day you make the pizza it’s faster than calling it up.  

The process begins with chilling your flour.   Your 4 ½ Cups of flour in a bowl and into the fridge, or freezer.  I just throw it in the fridge while I’m getting breakfast ready in the morning.   I just use all purpose flour, you can use bread flour or high gluten flour too which will have better spring and holds together better with handling.  The all purpose flour will have a softer chew, but will be more prone to tearing in handling.  (It has to do with the protein in the flour, more protein, harder flour) 

When you have sufficiently chilled your flour you can make your dough

You need: 
4 ½ cups Flour (chilled) 
1 ¾ teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Instant Yeast
¼ cup Olive Oil
1 ¾ cup ice water
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

You really cannot use regular yeast, don’t bother.  I have made pizza after pizza with regular yeast, it’s not as good.  It’s bad pizza. Crime.

Stir together your dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (I think you can do this by hand…I have never tried, and I imagine it’s quite a workout, so if you want to burn some calories before consuming this pizza, go for it!).  Then stir in the oil and cold water until it’s all mixed together to a blob.  Now switch to the dough hook attachment and keep it mixing for another 5-7 minutes.  You want to have a smooth sticky dough.  Err…I hate when people say smooth sticky dough.  Really, it’s tacky…so it’s not sticking to your fingers, but it has a little tack.  Should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom. 
Now you can take it out, and split it up into 6 parts.  You can do less parts, resulting in larger pizzas, but it’s harder to toss/form the dough when it’s larger, so I always go with 6.  You’ll roll each part into a little ball and place on an oiled cookie sheet, or hotel pan, wrap up in saran wrap (or if you happen to keep ziplocs large enough to put your pan in).  You want to completely wrap the pan, so that air isn’t getting in.  Now you put it in the fridge and leave it until the next day.  
Now, go make something else for dinner.  Beef stew, that butternut squash of Marlo’s…seriously good, I made it last night.  Mmm.mmm… 

Okay, so 24 hours later, or thereabout.  You take your dough out to warm up a bit on a well floured surface.  Mine is my kitchen counter.  Give it around two hours.  During this time you can make some sauce.  Oh yeah…sauce.  If you have a favorite sauce that is suitable for you, use it.  Sometimes I’m really lazy, and I just use the smooth marinara that Wegman’s makes, but if I’m in the mood to have real sauce I’ll make it. 
28 ounce can of diced tomatoes undrained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3-4 cloves of garlic finely minced 
Salt and pepper to taste

Now that your dough has rested, you preheat your oven as high as it will go.  Most normal ovens will only go up to 550, if yours goes higher, crank it up.  The commercial pizza ovens are running at 800 to 1000 degrees.  Sprinkle some cornmeal or semolina onto a pizza peel (I don’t actually have one, so I use a cookie sheet).  Now remove rings, and flour your hands, and you’re ready to toss some dough. 
I find it easiest to just gently let the dough hang from my knuckles until it starts to turn into a sort of circle and then continue to form it by holding onto the edges and rotating in a circular motion.  But if you are interested in teaching yourself to really toss dough, go for it!  

After you’ve got a semblance of a circle, you can add toppings.   Notice your dough is pretty thin here and the more toppings you add, the harder it is to get it off your “peel”  and in the end, less is more with this pizza.  So you can go easy on the sauce and cheese.  

Now you can carefully slide the pizza off your peel on to your already heated (because it’s already in the oven) pizza stone.  5-7 minutes, or less if your oven is  hotter than 550, and you’re ready to eat pizza.  
I have a system, of toss dough, top dough, bake, toss another dough and top while first pizza bakes, take pizza out and place on cutting board, place second dough in the oven, eat first pizza….and on and on.  So no one really ends up “sitting down to dinner” on pizza night.  But it’s fun and it’s the best pizza I’ve had in Upstate NY.   Enjoy!



Kelly Schwenk
01/19/2012 18:27

Sounds delicious. I love the way you talk about cooking. I can just picture you in the kitchen, cooking away, kids, dog, and cat running in and out of your legs, glass of wine never too far away. Makes me want to pull up a stool and just watch.
Could you poor me a glass too? Oh and I like roma tomatoes, ham and extra basil on my pizza please. :)

01/20/2012 06:28

I think you need your own cooking show, Midge. Brett & Dan Kiely could help you produce it! They have lots of experience with cable access ;}

01/20/2012 10:42

How funny would that be! Now all I need is the time. I could just set up a live stream on my computer in my kitchen.

01/22/2012 19:25

I love the folks who are pushing for a cooking show...we need more readers like them! You are a gem....we'd be lost without you and Marlo! XOXO E


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