…and anyone else who's looking for a recipe that's not going to force you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. The idea is that you can have plenty of time to write and make a delicious meal. The key is to make stuff that doesn't take long to prep, but takes an hour or more to rise, cook, set, steep, etc., so you're in your chair at the keyboard making up worlds and killing off characters. All you have to do is listen for the timer.
I'm going to make a versatile pizza dough that you can use for any kind of tasty flatbread kind of treat or meal. I'll save the what-do-you-put-on-the-pizza? question for another post. (I did add a Quick Start Guide at the end with simple instructions for baking fresh pizza dough).
You can do a lot with this dough. You can make plain flat bread–think of it as a thick tortilla or naan like bread. You can make focaccia, basically a flattish bread with some interesting stuff on top, olive oil, green onions, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and cheese.
This dough also keeps well in the fridge for days–I'd say up to four, although no batch has ever lasted that long. (TIP: The dough's actually easier to work with–roll out–the second day, so if you have the time, make this recipe the day before you plan to use it). If you want to have pizza tonight, I'd recommend starting the dough no later than 1:00 PM or so. Even though total prep and rise time (you're writing during two hour-long rise times) is around 2 hours and fifteen minutes, you should probably let the finished dough sit in the fridge another couple hours.
Let's start with the tools you'll need. In spite of one book review in which I'm referred to as Ms. Howard (I think the reviewer assumed that I was a woman since my novel Seaborn has two strong female protagonists, and it's published under an imprint that's very much geared toward female readers). In fact, I'm a guy, so I'm going to start with tools.
You don't need a lot. I've tried several mixers, and you know what? I think they all worked well enough for this recipe. However, if you can get a stand mixer like a KitchenAid, you will not regret it. My wife bought me the manly gray KitchenAid several years ago, and it makes everything easier.
Here's my mixer:
And here are the only other tools you will need: a table spoon measure, a one cup (or half cup as shown here) to measure the flour, and a flexible spatula of some kind.
Flour, yeast, and then it's pretty free after that. I recommend this ingredient list:
2 cups warm water
3 cups Flour (I like a mix of 2.5 cups unbleached all-purpose and .5 cup whole wheat)
2 tbls Yeast (doesn't matter what kind, RapidRise or the regular old stuff)
1 tsp Olive oil (used later in the bowl to stop the dough from sticking)
1 tbls Cornmeal
1 tbls Spices
1 tbls Parmesan cheese (optional)
Before doing anything, I turn on the oven for a minute or so, and then turn it off, leaving the oven light on. We're going to let our dough rise in the oven. Keep the oven off after the initial minute warm-up, but leave the light on–and leave it on the entire time we're letting the dough rise. That's important. The oven works because it's out of the way, and it's a box in which we can maintain a somewhat consistent environment. If you're in a warm climate, you probably won't need to do this, but this what it looks like outside our window:
Just to jump back to guys and tools for a moment. I know the barbeque is the typical guy cooking thing, but what can you do when it's 12 below outside? Baking is the cool wintertime cooking activity because, well, here's what the barbecues look like–and not that I can barbecue that well. Alice is way better at it than I am. Okay, moving on.
Here we go:
STEP 1: Mix all the dry ingredients.
Use a measuring cup to put in 3 cups of flour. (If you're doing this for the first time, don't mix anything. I would not recommend starting out with whole wheat flours because they complicate the rising process. Get a few successful pizza doughs made, and then start playing with other stuff. Use plain old unbleached all-purpose flour. I use King Arthur from Vermont, but I haven't had problems with any of the name brands).
I put in the flour first, then the cornmeal (which I think gives pizza dough a traditional flavor), spices (I like Penzeys Pizza Seasoning (basically Italian herbs with some pepper) and a little "Sandwich Sprinkle" but you can use any off the shelf Italian herb mix), and some Parmesan cheese.
Note on the yeast: you can prep it in a separate bowl, a tsp of sugar and hot water for 10-15 minutes, letting it foam up, but I like to mix it in dry. It's just easier, and works as well.
Here's a shot of the bowl with all the dry ingredients:
Next, you're going to work with the most beautiful, the most powerful, the most life-sustaining substance in the universe. Yeah, it's water. (<plug>See Seaborn for more on my opinions on this </plug>)
Put 2 cups of water in a measuring cup and microwave it for 1 minute. It needs to be pretty hot, somewhere around 120 – 130 degrees F (around 50 – 55 degrees C). I typically don't use a thermometer on the water. Stick your finger in it. It shouldn't be so hot that it's uncomfortable. If that's where your water is, then you're good.
NOTE: Bread baking can be difficult and unforgiving. Think of it as chemistry as much as cooking. For the most part bread recipes have to be followed exactly if what you're after is bread instead of mush or bricks. Experimenting is difficult because one ingredient–say a spice mixture with salt–can kill the yeast and you won't get anything but some not very pleasant tasting goo as result. Simple is the way to go. I've learned the hard way, throwing out mix after mix of dough.
That said, this recipe shouldn't give you too many problems if you keep the ingredients to a minimum. In the mixing stage, don't be afraid to add a bit of flour if the mix looks too wet, or a little more warm water if it's dry.
STEP 2: Mixing
Stick the bowl in the mixer, use the dough hook attachment, and turn it on low for 5 or 6 minutes. Add about half the water (1 cup). While it's going, use the spatula to scrape the sides and get the dough into the center. It will look very dry–too dry–for a minute. Add a little more water, and keep the dough moving off the sides of the bowl. You shouldn't need any more than 2 cups of water to 3 cups of flour. Keep some extra of each handy, but don't use it unless it's really not coming together.
This is where the stand mixer makes things easier. It does all the work, and I just stand there shoving the spatula along the bowl walls. The dough should eventually come together in a thick doughy–heh–lump. Let the mixer go for a few minutes after this, using the spatula to bend and shape the dough, otherwise the lump just spins around the bowl and doesn't do any more mixing.
When it's done mixing, you should have something that looks like this on the end of the dough hook:
Pull the bowl from the mixer and toss in a bit of flour to thinly coat the dough. Roll it around–use your hands, and it should end up like this:
Stick it in the very slightly warm oven with the light on. You can transfer it to a ceramic bowl, but I usually do the first rise in the original stainless steel mixing bowl.
Set the timer for an hour, and get back to your story. Write. Write. Write. You're done for now.
STEP 3: The timer goes off.
We're done with the first rise. My bowl of dough looks like this, and yours should–hopefully–look similar:
The top of the dough might be a little crusty. Don't worry about it. Don't scrape it off. It won't be a problem. We're just going to fold it into the mix where it'll soften up.
For next step, we need to get the dough away from the sides of the bowl without sticking, and then we're going to punch it down. Take half a handful of flour and sprinkle it around the edges. Then lift away the dough. It should all come away neatly. Let it roll in the dry flour to coat it.
Let's punch it down, which involves pressing the dough, folding it in half, and pressing it again. I use my open hands and fists to punch the dough. You don't need to get all Ultimate Fighting on it, but you do need to work it, roll it, folding it, and pressing it together.
I do all of this right in the mixing bowl. You can get the dough out on a flat surface if it's easier for you, but to me that's one fewer thing I have to clean up afterward. Do it in the mixing bowl.
When you're done punching down the first rise, it should pretty much look like we're starting over again. That's good.
Time for the olive oil–just a little. I pour about a teaspoon into a ceramic mixing bowl and use my hands to coat the bowl. Stick the punched down dough inside and shove it back in the oven for another hour.
Don't stand around the kitchen. Go write or something!
STEP 4: After the second rising
Oh yeah. Isn't that beautiful:
You're pretty much done now. Sprinkle some flour around the edges, pull it up and punch the dough down one more time. Now give it another light coat of flour to prevent sticking and slide the whole thing in a gallon ZipLock or Glad bag. Refrigerate until you're ready to use the dough. (Keep an eye on it. It will continue to rise even in the fridge).
This is enough dough for 4 dinner plate sized individual pizzas.
Quick Start Guide:
I won't go into the actual pizza making–saving that for another post. Here's the general idea:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (232 C)
Cut off a piece of dough around the size of a baseball
Use a rolling pin or just your hands (floured) to flatten it into a disk. Make it as thin or thick as you like.
Place the pizza round on a sheet of parchment paper (NOT waxpaper). I like to place the sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet without walls–basically a flat sheet of metal. This makes it easy to slide the parchment paper with prepared pizza off the cookie sheet and right onto the oven rack.
Add sauce, olive oil, cut green onions, pepperoni, cheese, whatever you want.
Place the parchment paper sheet with pizza directly on the oven rack.
Bake for 5 minutes, enough to allow the crust to crisp up a bit, then slide it off the parchment paper right onto the rack. I re-use the sheets of parchment paper–they'll turn brown with the heat, but they still work.
Total baking time is around 10-12 minutes for each pizza.
I'll follow up in another post with some interesting, fun, tasty pizza recipes.
If you have questions, comment below or email me.
Oh, hey. Turn off the oven light.