Being from New York I have a need for pizza. It’s in my blood. When we go back to visit (both of our families still live on Strong Island) we get pizza. We get it as often as we can. We eat it for dinner, then have the leftovers for lunch the next day. It’s that good. And I don’t have to give a specific pizza place as a frame of reference. It’s all good. Any place.
I feel the water in California is what makes the pizza taste….different. I think we may have a harder water with more stuff in it and that truly changes the flavor of the dough.
There is a small chain, New York’s Upper Crust Pizza, that has the right idea, but not 100% flavor. It’s good in a pinch. I’d recommend it if you’re here and need a slice (don’t even get me started on how many pizza places here don’t do pizza by the slice).
In any case, I’ve been staring at my slowly wilting basil and thinking I can either make tomato sauce or pizza. I went for pizza.
Once it does, then it’s fun. Flour your surface, split the dough into two equal balls and start stretchin’ each one out.
Have your pizza stone (or baking sheet) ready. Dump a handful of cornmeal onto it making a nice layer for when you lay your pizza dough down. This makes it super easy to get the pizza off when it’s done baking, also, it gives it a classic pizza parlor like taste.
Get all of your toppings ready and you’re pretty much set. I julienned some basil, thinly sliced some tomatoes and had a few slices of mozzarella ready.
Makes 2 14” pizzas
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tbl olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup (approximately) corn meal
In the large bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer, add the warm water. Sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Stir it a little to dissolve the yeast completely if needed at the end of 5 minutes.
Attach the mixing paddle to the mixer. Mix in the olive oil, flour, salt and sugar on low speed for about a minute.
Remove the mixing paddle and replace with a dough hook. Knead using the mixer and dough hook, on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can mix and knead by hand. If the dough seems a little too wet, sprinkle in some additional flour.
Place the ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm place until it doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or several hours longer, a longer rise will improve the flavor).
Place your pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour.
Remove the plastic cover from the dough and punch the dough down so it deflates a little.
Divide the dough in half. Form two round balls of dough. Place each in its own bowl, cover with plastic and let sit for 10 minutes.
Prepare your desired toppings. Don’t go too crazy or you’ll have soggy crust.
Working one ball of dough at a time, take one ball of dough and flatten it with your hands on a floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2 inch thick. Turn and stretch the dough until it will not stretch further. Let the dough relax 5 minutes and then continue to stretch it until it reaches the desired diameter. Use your palm to flatten the edge of the dough where it is thicker. You can pinch the very edges if you want to form a lip.
Repeat with the second ball of dough.
Sprinkle your pizza peel (or flat baking sheet) with corn meal. Transfer one prepared flattened dough to the pizza peel.
Time for the toppings. Don’t make the cheese slices too thick or they won’t melt in time.
Sprinkle some cornmeal on the baking stone in the oven. Gently shake the peel to see if the dough will easily slide, if not, gently lift up the edges of the pizza and add a bit more cornmeal. Slide the pizza off of the peel and on to the baking stone in the oven.
Bake pizza one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes.
Once you get that sucker out and it’s all bubbly and melty, let it rest for a couple of minutes. This is good for two reasons. For one, you won’t have so much trouble trying to cut it once the cheese has settled. And two, trying to eat pizza straight from the oven will only end one way: new layer of skin on the roof of your mouth. Just be patient and wait a moment or two, your mouth thanks you in advance.