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Piece of Pizza Pie Herb Garden: Master Recipe for Pizza/Focaccia Dough

By The Herb Companion staff
August/September 1997
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Serves 6 to 10 as an appetizer or 4 to 6 as a main course

This recipe can be made into 6 pizzettas about 6 inches in diameter, 4 pizzas 8 to 9 inches in diameter, 2 pizzas 12 to 14 inches in diameter, 1 thick-crust pizza about 12 by 15 inches, or 1 focaccia about 10 by 12 inches.

By using as much as ½ cup of a different flour in addition to white flour, you can produce many pleasant variations in your pizza dough. Whole wheat flour gives the crust a nice color and wheaty taste. You can use up to 2 cups for a chewy, hearty crust. Rye flour lends a slight tang, good with toppings of Taleggio or Fontina cheese and smoked salmon. Cornmeal makes a rather heavier crust with an earthy corn flavor that goes well with spicy toppings such as fresh chiles or hot sausages.

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 3 ½ cups unbleached white flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mixing and kneading the dough

  1. Stir the yeast into ¼ cup water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the flours together in a bowl, mixer with bread hook or food processor. To mix the dough by hand, make a well in the flour. Stir the yeasty water into the well, then gradually add the remaining water while incorporating the flour. Add the olive oil and salt. Stir the dough vigorously to incorporate as much flour as possible, then turn the dough onto a board. Gather and knead it, adding a little more flour if necessary, for 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and lively.
  3. If using a mixer, stir the flours in the mixing bowl. Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and gradually add the yeasty water. With the mixer running, add the remaining water, olive oil and salt. After about 2 minutes, the dough will be clinging together in a rough mass. Stop the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. Knead the dough at the lowest setting for 5 to 7 minutes. All the flour should be incorporated and the dough should be smooth and lively.
  4. At this stage, I always turn the dough out on a floured board and knead it by hand for at least 30 seconds to feel how responsive it is. The texture, strength and resiliency of your dough affect the time needed for rising, punching down, resting, and baking. If it is sticky, I knead in more flour, a tablespoon at a time.
  5. To make the dough in a food processor, place the flours in the work bowl and pulse with the steel blade to mix. With the machine on, pour the yeasty water through the feed tube, then add the remaining water over 20 seconds. Add the olive oil and salt through the feed tube and process for 10 seconds. Turn the dough onto a floured board. If it is sticky, sprinkle it with a little ­unbleached white flour. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and lively.

Storing and resting the dough

  1. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it rise until doubled in bulk, preferably in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. If this quantity of dough is too much for one meal, pack the extra dough in zip-close bags after the first kneading, removing as much air as possible before sealing, and freeze. The dough will still make a nice crust after a month: enough yeast organisms survive to give it plenty of rise. Turn the frozen dough into a lightly oiled bowl in the morning, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough thaw at moderate room temperature (65° to 70°F) all day. By dinnertime, it will be ready to shape and bake.
  3. In the morning, remove the dough from the refrigerator and punch it down. Return it to the bowl, cover again, and let it stand in a cool place (between 60° and 65°F) for as little as 3 hours or as long as all day. The dough will continue to rise slowly.
  4. About an hour before you are ready to serve your pizza, punch the dough down and divide it into portions. Roll each one lightly into a ball, place it on a lightly floured board, and cover it with a damp tea towel. Place the board in a warm place (75° to 80°F) and let the dough rest for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the topping ingredients and preheat the oven.

Shaping the pizza or focaccia

  1. With baking stones on the lowest shelf, preheat the oven at the highest setting for about 30 minutes or follow manufacturer’s directions, especially for thin tiles on a metal shelf. If you are not using stones, preheat the oven to 450°F for 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. This dough is best shaped by hand; a rolling pin tends to compact it so that air pockets do not form. (With a lot of practice, it can be tossed to shape, but the following method lets beginners achieve success right away.) The dough should be completely relaxed, soft, and pliable. If it’s not, let it stand 10 or 15 minutes longer and check it again; moving it to a warmer place will speed up the process. Gently flatten a portion into a round with your hands. If you are using stones, do this on a pizza paddle or baker’s peel dusted with cornmeal, unbleached white flour, semolina, or instant-dissolving flour. Otherwise, do it directly on a heavy, lightly oiled baking sheet or black steel pizza pan sprinkled with semolina or cornmeal.
  3. With your fingers, start at the perimeter to stretch the dough gently into a round. Working from the outside ensures that the crust will not be too thin in the center. Gradually work toward the center of the dough. When stretched to the desired diameter, the dough should be about ¼ inch thick with a slightly thicker outer edge; the crust can be slightly thicker or thinner if you like.
  4. With one hand under the outer edge, use the thumb and forefinger of the other hand to pinch the edge upward. This helps the edge puff, which looks attractive and keeps the toppings from running off.
  5. Now the uncooked crust is ready to be covered with a damp tea towel and to stand for 15 or 20 minutes before baking. Add any topping immediately before placing the pizza on the stones; otherwise, the crust will become soggy.
  6. Check that the crust slides freely on the paddle both before and after adding the topping: shake the paddle gently while holding it level. Loosen the dough with a long spatula if it sticks and sprinkle some cornmeal or flour on the paddle on the sticky spot(s).
  7. Focaccia dough must be also be completely relaxed, soft, and pliable. Shape it into a rectangle about 6 by 8 inches directly on a heavy, lightly oiled baking sheet or black steel pizza pan sprinkled, if you like, with semolina or cornmeal. Cover the dough with a damp tea towel and let it rest, until doubled in bulk, before stretching it to its final dimensions of about 10 by 15 inches. Then cover and let it rest again for 10 to 15 minutes before dimpling.
  8. Brush the rim of the crust with olive oil for a lovely burnished finish.

Baking pizza

  1. To transfer a pizza from the paddle onto the baking stone, position the paddle over the stone so that the leading edge of the paddle is resting on the stone about an inch from its back edge. Tilt the paddle handle up at a slight angle, about 15°, then slide the paddle back toward you with a quick motion of hand and arm, allowing the pizza to slide off onto the stone. Bake the pizza for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on size, toppings, and whether other pizzas are in the oven. After 2 or 3 minutes, as soon as the dough has set, turn the pizza with a paddle, peel, or large metal spatula so that it will bake evenly. If your oven has hot spots, you may need to turn pizzas and focaccias more than once while they are baking.
  2. When a pizza is done, slide it from the oven with the metal baker’s peel or a large, long-handled metal spatula. Let it rest on a cutting board for a minute or so. Brush the rim of the crust with olive oil for a lovely burnished finish. Focaccia is often served at room temperature; brush the crust with olive oil just before cutting and serving. You can use a sturdy pizza cutter to portion the pies (kids love this part), but a good chef’s knife is quicker and makes a cleaner cut. Buon appetito!

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