Kneading helps the gluten in the wheat form long strands that hold the dough together and give bread its customary chewiness. Gluten also develops and becomes stronger as dough rises.
By increasing the rising time, you can spend less energy on kneading. I usually do the initial mixing of the dough in the morning, let it rise throughout the day, and roll it into pizza crusts at dinnertime. If you prefer, you can mix the dough the night before, stick it in the fridge overnight, then put it on the counter to rise at room temperature until lunch or dinnertime.
The other key to a great crust is a preheated pizza stone. Putting the dough on the hot surface helps moisture escape quickly, producing a light, crispy texture. I like my crust thin – if it’s crackery, I won’t complain, though I usually don’t make it quite that thin. It’s great even without pizza toppings – just brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before baking. If you don’t have a stone, you can use a baking sheet, but the crust won’t turn out as crispy. So check your local thrift shop or garage sale for pizza stones. They’re pretty easy to find second hand, since lots of folks who don’t cook seem to get them for wedding gifts.
I adapted my proportions from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Since hers is an older book, the hard copy can be gotten for pretty cheap on Amazon (you can find it here) and used book stores. It’s also available as an ebook.
For pizza topping ideas, see my pizza tag.
- Bread board, pastry board or clean countertop
- large bowl
- pizza peel
- pizza stone
- cookie sheet (if you don’t have a peel and stone – might also come in handy if you do)
- cooling rack
- 1½ cups lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4–5 cups whole wheat flour
- white flour or corn meal for dusting
- Mix water, yeast and 1–2 tablespoons oil in a small bowl. Let sit for about 10 minutes until foamy. Stir in salt until it dissolves. Add enough whole wheat flour to make a shaggy dough. It will be slightly sticky.
- Knead dough in the bowl for a couple minutes, adding more whole wheat flour if it sticks to your hands. Pat it into a nice ball.
- Choose to make pizza dough the easy way or the hard way:
- The easy way: Smooth oil over the surface of the dough. Set it into a large bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for 12 hours or so.
- The harder way: Turn it onto a bread board dusted with white flour or corn meal. Knead until smooth. Smooth oil over the surface of the dough and place it in a bowl covered with a damp tea towel. Let sit until double in size (about an hour in a warm kitchen, colder in a cool kitchen).
- Empty dough out onto floured bread board. Knead gently (I do this by folding the dough over onto itself a few times, taking care not to press too much air out). Divide into pieces that weigh 8–11 ounces apiece (about 2 or 3). If you prefer a thicker crust, divide into fewer pieces.
If you like, you can wrap the pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for later use. Refrigerate up to two days.
- Reflour the bread board and form the dough lumps into balls. Set the balls on the bread board and dust them with more flour. Cover with a dry tea towel. Let rise for 30–60 minutes, until 50% to 100% bigger. (If you stored the dough in fridge or freezer, you need to let the balls reach room temperature, then rise for the additional 30–60 minutes.)
- Flatten the balls into circles using your fingers or a rolling pin, and/or by tossing the dough. I flatten the dough until it’s about 12 inches across, which will be ¼-inch thick or less. You may need to flour the dough as your work.
- Dust the peel or cookie sheet with cornmeal (or use white flour, but I prefer the cornmeal texture). Set a rolled circle of dough on it and prick holes in the dough with a fork. This keeps large bubbles from forming in the dough when you bake it. Let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes. Brush the dough with olive oil and put other desired toppings on the pizza. (I’ll be posting recipes in future weeks using the tag “pizza“.)
- Bake the pizza for 7-8 minutes:
- If using a pizza stone, heat it in a 500°F oven for 30 minutes (you can do this while you’re rolling out the dough). Slide the pizza from the peel to the preheated pizza stone.
- If it’s on a cookie sheet, put the sheet in a preheated 500°F oven.
- Remove and serve immediately.
- BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU OPEN THE OVEN. HOT STEAM MAY FLOAT TOWARD YOUR FACE. Also, THE STONE OR COOKIE SHEET IS EXTREMELY HOT. PROTECT YOUR HANDS.
- I typically double or triple this recipe and refrigerate or freeze some of the dough for later – or make a party of it and bake one pizza after another until my table is buried in pizzas, since the oven’s already hot anyway.
- If you are using a pizza stone and want to make another pizza right away, the best way I’ve found to do this is to use a metal spatula to slide the pizza from the stone onto a cooling rack or baking sheet.