Now that you've gathered together a basic pizza making toolkit, let's start actually making one...
Ingredients for Our Basic Pizza Dough
Proofing the Yeast
1 - 1/4 cups warm water (about 115 degrees F)
1 packet instant or "instant" yeast (or 1 tablespoon packaged/dry yeast)
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
Mix the yeast and honey with the warm (115 degrees F) water in a medium size measuring cup. Set aside to "proof" (foam up). To understand what's going on, the honey (or sugar) feeds the yeast and makes it create bubbles to lift the dough... pizza dough is a leavened crust (more akin to bread). A dough without yeast (or less yeast) makes more of an unleavened bread--like a cracker.
In case you don't have a thermometer around, here's a method I've come up with to ensure the water is the right temperature... Turn your water on HOT and then try to hold the inside of your wrist in the stream of water coming from the faucet. At first it'll be way to hot to hold it for even a second. Start turning down the temp (add cold or turn the valve toward the cold side if it's a mixer valve) and try holding your wrist there again. When you can comfortably hold your wrist in the stream of hot water, it's hot enough without being hot enough to kill your yeast. I've tested this method with a thermometer and it usually lands me around 110-115 degrees F.
Preheating the Oven and Pizza Stone
Oil up a separate bowl (use olive oil) and set aside (this is to rise the dough in later). In the meantime, get your mixer ready. I use a standard mixer with a dough hook, but you can also use a large capacity food processor with a dough blade (metal blades will cause the gluten development to happen to fast, making it rubbery). Now is a good time to place your pizza stone in the oven on the center rack, and preheat your oven as hot as it can go... around 515 degrees F for American ovens (this is only for pizzas baked directly on the stone. For pan pizzas, the rule is low and slow... less heat, more time). Remember, your stone needs to preheat along with your oven. I'd recommend letting it preheat for a minimum of one hour before putting a pizza in the oven. If you are doing a second, slow rise (see below) then wait a bit before preheating.
Ingredients for the Dough
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (all-purpose is needed to create a more crisp crust)
1 - cup bread flour (bread flour makes pizza more bread-like, I recommend King Arthur's)
1 - tablespoon sugar
1 - teaspoon salt
1- tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Making the Dough
While your yeast is proofing, place the one cup of bread flour, sugar and the salt in the mixer bowl and mix dry for a few seconds. Once your yeast looks foamy (no more than 10-15 minutes or so) pour it in with the flour and mix on a slow speed setting. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, if needed. During this first mixing, add the olive oil. Once the dry flour mixes with the yeast into a slurry, add one (1) cup of the all-purpose flour. Mix and then scrape until the dryness is gone and then add another 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour until the dough starts to form a slightly sticky ball that will climb up the dough hook. If it looks too wet or sticks to the sides of the bowl, add another 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour.
The photo on the left needs more flour but is almost there.
The center one has the right amount of flour--it's still a bit sticky.
The third shows the dough as it looks on the bench before kneading.
You want to mix the dough until it separates from the bowl--but it should still be a bit sticky. Go slow with adding more flour. A dough that's too dry will make a tough, leathery crust. You want it soft and a bit sticky. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl a little, you can dust the sides of the dough ball with a little flour, then use a spatula to separate it from the sides before turning it out onto your work surface. Flour your work surface in an area about the size of the pizza you are making.
How much flour to add really depends on the humidity... on a rainy you might have to add more flour, ile on a dry winter's day you would add less. Making pizza dough, or bread for that matter, is a "feel" craft. It's not as precise as cake or pastry baking.You really have to learn the "feel" of a dough that works well for you. This will come with time and after having made many pizzas. Pay attention to if it's too wet, too sticky, a little bit sticky (good), too dry or rubbery (you've added too much flour), etc. Just remember that you can always add more flour, but you can't take it out once you've added too much. Go easy on adding flour toward the end and see if you can handle, knead and shape the dough. You can always add a bit more when it's on the work table.
I might mention why I use two types of flours in this recipe. If you were to use all bread flour, the pizza crust would be a bit softer and meatier--more like a focaccia or a deep dish pan pizza. If you use only all-purpose flour, it will be leaner--as with a thin crust pizza. I find using both types is a good compromise between the two types for most pizzas I make. Experimenting with this ratio is a good way to learn how to control what type of crust you need. After gaining experience, you'll experiment with adding 1 cup of whole wheat flour, rye, corn flour or even buckwheat into the mix. I tend to use either all bread flour, or a mix of bear and wheat or rye when I do pan pizzas, Chicago style and focaccia, for a thicker, more luscious bready texture. When adding heavier flours (like wheat), I also tend to add a touch more yeast to help rise the heavier dough. Use less yeast with a bread-wheat flour mix and you can have a thin wheat pizza crust.
Kneading the Dough
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand. Flour both your hands and flour the top of the dough on the board. Fold the dough over toward you, push forward with the heel of your hand, then turn 1/4 turn and keep repeating until the dough looks smooth, soft and slowly bounces back when you stick it with your thumb.
Some say you must knead the dough for 5 or even 10 minutes or more, but I think this produces too much stringy gluten--the glue in dough--and causes the dough to be tough. Gluten development happens even without much kneading. Besides, I'd rather be eating my pizza sooner rather than later.
Tuck in or pinch together the bottom of your dough round and make it into a flat round shape, then put it in the oiled bowl to rise. Coat both sides--there should be oil on top of the dough round and the bottom of your rising bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 45 minutes. On dry days, I usually help along the humidity a bit and lay a damp paper towel on top of the plastic wrap. You could even use a damp cotton chef's towel.
There are two ways to proceed now. One is the quick way--a single rise--the other is longer... a double rise. Typically, for our weekly, Saturday night pizza, I'll do a short, single rise, unless I'm trying something a bit different:
If I'm trying to make a special artisan pizza or focaccia recipe I'll do a double rise:
The longer the rise, the more complex flavor develops in the crust... something I think is unnecessary for a quick "get dinner on the table" pizza.