What can I say? Greeks love bread. I would wager it's every Greek's favorite thing to eat. So just about any Greek who cooks knows how to bake bread with homemade dough. And they all like to argue about whose dough is the best. I long ago decided that there is no need to argue the point, since my dough is, if not the ultimate # 1 dough, then the ultimate #1.5 dough. A difference of half a point is hardly worth arguing about. Now we come to the subject of pizza. Can you have pizza without dough? Perhaps in an alternate universe that could be possible, but it would hardly be worth the experience. So since pizza depends on dough to become pizza, the pizza with the best dough makes the best pizza. Perfect the art of making dough, and you will have perfected the art of making pizza. Another important thing in pizza making is to have a flavorful sauce. Not a bland unseasoned sauce, nor a strong over-seasoned one, not a runny sauce, and not an extra thick heavy sauce. Pretend you are a politician who has to tread the middle of the political spectrum, and then make your pizza sauce accordingly. It will not be a middle of the road sauce, it will be a balanced sauce.
So I'll tell you how I make my pizza. The recipe is tied and true, it makes pizza shop style pizza, and my family and I have been making it for 40 plus years. It became perfected in the restaurant my parents owned. I miss that place. I worked there while going to college... and beyond. We used 30 pounds of flour to make a batch of pizza dough. That's a bit much if one is making pizza at home. I've adjusted the ingredients to come up with a wonderful home version.
4 cups bread flour
1½ cups very cold water (in summer we used to add ice to the water)
¼ cup vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
a little more flour, cold water and vegetable or olive oil
In the bowl of an electric mixer add the water, the salt, sugar, oil and yeast. Using the paddle attachment mix until the ingredients are incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour in 8 batches, mixing after each addition. Mix until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl. If it’s too wet and does not clear the sides sprinkle a little more flour into the bowl and mix until done. If the dough starts to wrap itself around the dough hook and looks as though it’s heading out of the bowl on its own, add some water. You want a dough that is soft and just a little sticky.
Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough onto it. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly oil the parchment. Cut the dough into pieces and weigh it: 14 ounces are good for a large pizza that will serve about 4 people, and 8 ounces are good for a smaller one that will serve about 2 people.
Form each piece of dough into a round and place it on the sheet pan. Brush the dough with oil, and cover the pan well, using a plastic bag.
Place the pan in the refrigerator. It should stay there to rest overnight. Any dough that will not be used the next day can be individually wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer bag. It can be kept in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.
To make a pizza, place a dough ball on the counter. If frozen, let it come to room temperature. Cover it with flour and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Let it rest for 20 minutes and then flatten it to the appropriate size by using a rolling pin.
I like to bake my pizza in a pizza pan which is placed on top of a pizza stone. So at this point I place the dough in the pan and I stretch it with floured hands until it has reached the sides of the pan. If the dough shrinks back from the sides, let it rest for a few minutes and it will become pliable and stay put. I use a pan with a 14 inch diameter for a large pizza, and a pan with a 10 inch diameter for a small pizza.
Once the dough is stretched out in the pan, it's time to spread on the sauce. Two tablespoons of sauce for the small pizza, or four tablespoons of sauce for the large one. After that I sprinkle on the cheese.
Why not add a nice touch like sesame seeds? With just a touch of olive oil sprayed on the seeds...
At this point the dough has to rest again so that it can rise. Cover it with plastic and let it rise for about 2 hours. If the pizza will not be cooked after the 2 hours, it can wait in the refrigerator. When ready to cook add any toppings that will be used. The oven should be preheated to 500º F. Place the pizza in the oven, on top of the pizza stone. Baking time will be approximately 8 minutes.
If the top cooks before the bottom, next time move the pizza stone to a lower shelf. If the bottom is nice and crisp before the cheese and toppings are browned, then next time the stone should be placed on a shelf that sits higher in the oven.
Take the pizza out of the oven and with the use of a long knife or spatula transfer it to a cutting board. Don’t slice it yet. Inhale all the different aromas arising from the pizza. You will smell the freshly baked dough, the caramelized cheese, the fragrance of roasted vegetables if any have been used. You will feel the heat rising up from the pizza, and the heat will spin all those fragrances around the room. Then look at all the lovely colors. Admire the golden dough, the melted cheese… or the ham, or the mushrooms or the pepperoni… is it any wonder pizza is the world’s favorite food? Is there anyone who does not love pizza? OK, it’s now time to stop admiring. Your pizza, she is ready to be eaten. It needed a few minutes of admiration so that its beauty could be thoroughly appreciated, but also so that the cheese could set slightly and become easier to slice. Well, what are you waiting for? Slice that baby and… you know what to do after that.