Making pizza dough at home requires just a few readily available ingredients and perhaps no more than a handful of dry-runs to master the technique. You might surprise yourself at how well the end product compares to commercially made pizza. Some cooks prefer to prepare the dough the night before baking for the best crust, but otherwise the dough can be ready for topping in half an hour.
Choosing a Flour
Pizza dough is a combination of flour, water, yeast and oil. One pound of dough is generally enough for two 10-inch pizzas. The gluten content in the flour makes it rise, and standard all-purpose flour is more than up to the challenge — although it requires kneading with the hands or a dough mixer to bind the proteins. Pizza aficionados tend to go for Italian 00 flour, which is readily available in most supermarkets and fine-milled for a light, crisp base. Because the aim of kneading the dough is to stimulate bubbles, use 00 if possible, as it yields a fluffier dough and requires less water. Mix the flour with salt and dry yeast and sift through a sieve to eliminate any clumps.
Working with Yeast
Without yeast, the pizza dough will not rise. The fermentable sugars from the live culture trapped within the gluten cause the bubbles to form. Instant yeast is a fine enough powder to add directly to the flour mix, but active dry yeast is slightly coarser and requires “proofing” by first mixing with lukewarm water and sugar until it produces a noticeable foam. If the yeast mixture shows no signs of coming to life, check the expiration date on the packet. It is possible to use baking powder as the rising agent, mixing it in with the dry flour as with instant yeast, but the pizza crust will be denser than a pizza using dough made from yeast.
With the flour and yeast you’ve selected, mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl and form a well in the center. Add just over half as much water as flour and a dash of olive oil slowly, working the dough with a spoon or your hands until you have a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to the bowl’s sides. Continue mixing the dough for at least five minutes until it becomes elastic. You may need to dust your hands with flour to stop the dough from sticking. Fashion the dough into a ball shape, transfer it to a clean bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Leave the bowl in a warm room for at least an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. The final phase is to “knock back” the dough by kneading it and punching it to expel the air. Break up the dough into smaller balls ready for rolling out into circles.
For a lighter, crunchier crust, prepare the dough the day before and refrigerate it overnight to give the proteins the longest possible time to bind. From the initial ball of dough, create smaller balls on a dry surface dusted with semolina flour or cornflour to prevent sticking. Arrange the dough balls on a tray and cover them with plastic wrap, then transfer the tray to the refrigerator. Keep them refrigerated overnight or for as long as three days. When you are ready to use them, remove the tray from the fridge and allow the dough to warm for at least half an hour before rolling each ball into a circle.
References and ResourcesSerious Eats: The Pizza Lab, On Flour Types, Foams and Dough
The Kitchn: Peter Reinhart’s Best Pizza Dough Ever
101 Cookbooks: Peter Reinhart's Napoletana Pizza Dough Recipe
Serious Eats: Pizza Protips, Yeast
Jamie Oliver: Pizza Dough
BBC Food: Pizza Dough Base
New York Times: A Little Pizza Homework
The Kitchn: How to Make Really Good Pizza Dough at Home
The Kitchn: Homemade Thin Crust Pizza