Start to Finish: Approximately 2 hours
Servings: 4 (2 pizzas)
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Because it distributes the internal air with with a fan, the convection oven’s high heat and even cooking makes light work of a pizza and completes the task in a marginally shorter time than is done in a conventional oven. Most of the work is in making ready the dough, which can be prepared hours in advance for the best results.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 sachet or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup tomato sauce or passata
- 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- Basil leaves, shredded
Prepare Homemade Dough
Preheat the convection oven, ideally with a pizza stone or baking tray inside, to its highest setting, typically 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for a domestic oven. The pizza stone or tray hugely enhances the pizza quality by crisping the crust from beneath.
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, sifting first if necessary through a sieve to remove any clumps. In a separate bowl, add the yeast and sugar to 1 cup of warm (not hot) water and stir gently. Wait for a light brown froth to form on the water’s surface, an essential sign that the yeast is activating.
Make a well in the center of the flour and start to add the warm yeast broth slowly, working the flour into a paste with a wooden spoon. Once all the water is added, start mixing the dough with your hands. Add the oil last so that the flour has a chance to absorb as much water as possible. If the flour is still bright and tacky, add small amounts of flour until it is dry enough to pull away from the side of the bowl.
Transfer the dough ball to a chopping board dusted with flour and begin kneading the flour with purpose. After 5 minutes or so, the dough should have an even texture and a noticeable increase in its elasticity. At this point, put the dough ball into a glass bowl brushed inside with olive oil, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise. After an hour at room temperature, the dough ball should have doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the bowl and punch it down with your knuckles, rolling them around its surface to expel the gas inside. Divide the dough into 2 balls, cover in plastic wrap and allow to stand for an additional 20 minutes. If making well in advance, you could refrigerate the wrapped dough balls at this point overnight for an even tastier dough, but you must allow the dough to return to room temperature the next day.
Dress the Crust
Roll out the dough balls on a chopping board dusted with flour into a circle, making sure to keep a regular thickness with no weak points. Sprinkling the chopping board with cornmeal will prevent the dough from sticking. Brush the pizza surface with olive oil, then start to dress it with toppings, tomato first, then the grated cheese. Resist the temptation to overload the dough with sauce and toppings, which will render a soggy pizza.
Remove the pizza stone or baking tray from the oven, dust it with cornmeal and slide the first pizza on top with a wide spatula. Transfer the stone to the bottom rack of the oven, using a wooden pizza paddle if available, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 450 F. Withdraw the first pizza from the oven but leave the stone in, ready for the second one, which can be inserted next.
Allow the pizza to cool for a few minutes to mitigate the effects of scalding cheese, then cut it into slices with a pizza wheel.
Tips and Suggestions
Skip the rising step for a thin-crust pizza, or if pushed for time. Allowing the dough to ferment gives a spongier crust, but as long as the dough is kneaded sufficiently, it will stretch enough to form a circle and support a topping. For an extra crispy crust destined to hold more topping, the dough can also be heated first in a hot skillet for a couple of minutes before adding the toppings.
Make the job easier by kneading the dough in a blender with a dough hook. Although many cooks enjoy the tactile process of kneading the dough by hand, not everyone has sufficient arm and hand strength to knead the dough sufficiently.
Use Italian ‘00’ flour if available. The finely ground flour gives a softer dough and is the flour of choice for professional pizza restaurants.
Substitute Instant Dry Yeast for Active Dry if desired. In this case, the yeast can be added directly to the flour mix and requires neither proofing first nor warm water.
Precook any meat toppings that are not smoked or cured. Because the pizza is only in the oven for a short time, toppings such as chicken, sausage, bacon or ground beef will not cook through and should be sauteed first until cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160 F.