PIZZA IS a cook's best friend. When you have a lump of dough in the fridge, you have a ready answer to "What's for supper?"
Moreover, when a pizza is made with homemade dough and creative toppings, even adults will be willing to treat it as a legitimate meal.
In my experience, there are two tricks to making good, homemade pizza. The first is knowing that you have to make the dough hours before you want to sit down and eat.
You have to give the dough time to do its thing. It ferments, or rises, for a few hours. Then, in this recipe, you stick it in the fridge and let it chill, or retard, for at least 4 hours. This gives the dough terrific flavor.
The second trick to making good pizza is having a stone. A pizza stone, sold in most kitchen supply houses, can make an ordinary dough-slinger, like me, into an accomplished crust master.
Sliding your homemade dough onto a hot baking stone is a skill. Your first pizza may look a little wrinkled. But after a few trys, you'll be a premier dough slider.
Basic Pizza Dough
3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup tomato sauce
4-5 slices mozzarella basil leaves to taste
3 tablespoons Parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
Place flour, salt and yeast in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. With the machine running, pour all but 2 tablespoons of the water through the feed tube. Process for 30 seconds.
Take the temperature of the dough with an instant read thermometer. It should read between 75 and 80 degrees. If the temperature is lower than 75 degrees, process the dough for an additional 5 or 10 seconds. If the dough is higher than 80 degrees, scrape the dough into an ungreased bowl and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is 80 degrees.
Remove the dough from the food processor, place it in an ungreased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to ferment for 2 1/2 to 3 hours at room temperature, 70-72 degrees. It will increase in volume, but not double.
Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator and retard for 4 hours and up to 36 hours.
Put pizza stone on second shelf from bottom of oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
While oven is heating, take 1/3 of the pizza dough and, on a lightly floured work surface, flatten it until it is about 1/2 inch thick.
Generously sprinkle the back of a baking sheet with flour, place the dough on the sheet, cover it loosely with a plastic wrap, and let the dough sit for about 30 minutes, until it comes to room temperature.
Place the dough on a generously floured work surface. Using fingers, gently stretch it into a disc, about 10-11 inches in diameter.
Carefully transfer the dough to back of baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. Apply tomato sauce, mozzarella, sprinkle with basil leaves, Parmesan, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil.
Transfer to stone in oven, by sliding dough off baking sheet.
Bake until edges are just beginning to get dark brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove using large metal spatula. Transfer to wire rack to let cool for 2 minutes. Place on cutting board, and cut into 8 pieces. -- From "The Best Bread Ever" (Broadway Books, 1997) by Charles van Over