Pizza Variations

Nothing is better than pizza made from scratch! And if you’re at all like me, I mean really from scratch. I love to stretch fresh mozzarella for the pizza, I love making tomato sauce from good tomatoes, I love to use basil fresh from the garden, and of course I love to make the dough. A few times a year I have extended access to a superb wood-fire oven, and using that very hot oven with temperatures in excess of 800 degrees I can make a truly sublime pizza in about two minutes — cheese molten, crust crisp and charred and chewy all at the same time.

Fantastic cheese pizza made with my Classic Pizza Dough recipe, homemade sauce, and fresh hand-pulled mozzarella.

Unfortunately I don’t have a wood-fire oven to use every week, so frequently I have to use a conventional oven. You can get good results using a conventional oven, but you need a decent pizza stone, which you should heat up for a minimum of 30 minutes. I find I get better results letting the stone pre-heat for nearly an hour, but doing so can get your kitchen mighty hot.

Now I know few people are as detail-oriented as I am. I don’t expect everyone to pull their own mozzarella or even make their own tomato sauce (certainly store-bought stuff is perfectly fine and can make great pizza), although making dough from scratch is pretty easy and, once mastered, will yield you fantastic results.

I’m providing two recipes for dough: one for classic pizza dough and one containing whole wheat flour and flax seeds for a healthier, more “fiber-conscious” option. Both are easy to make and easy to work with. The Classic Pizza Dough is going to be more elastic and easier to stretch. The Flax & Wheat Dough will not puff up as much during the cooking process and is more fragile, making it easier to tear when you roll it out. Both doughs are delicious and make great pizza!

These recipes call for mixing the dough in a stand-up mixer (Kitchen-Aid being my fave.) but you can certainly knead the dough by hand. You will need to knead each batch for about six minutes, folding over and turning repeatedly to work the gluten and to create the dough “cell structure” necessary to have dough that puffs on the interior and is crisp on the outside. Since kneading requires some practice you may want to do some further reading on your own.

Special Equipment

pizza stone, pizza peel, stand-up mixer (optional)

Classic Pizza Dough

You will need:
1 package active dry yeast (about 1.75 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1 tablespoon sea salt (fleur de sel, preferably)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups white flour (Italian ’00’ flour or bread flour)

Flax & Wheat Pizza Dough

You will need:
1 package active dry yeast (about 1.75 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1 tablespoon sea salt (fleur de sel, preferably)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 cups white flour (Italian ’00’ flour or bread flour)

Classic Pizza Dough right out of the mixer.

Make the dough (each version) by pouring the yeast, sugar, and water into the bowl of a stand-up mixer. The yeast will start foaming and releasing that sweet-sour “yeasty” aroma. Let the yeast stand for about eight minutes until it looks creamy. If this does not occur then your yeast may be old, or your water too hot or too cold. Buy new yeast or a new thermometer!

Add salt and olive oil to your water. Now attach a dough hook to your mixer and on low speed mix the yeasty water until it’s all combined. Turn off the mixer and add one cup of flour. If you’re making the Flax & Wheat Dough add the whole wheat flour first AND the flax seeds. Turn mixer to medium-low (setting 3) and mix until the dough begins to come together. Now slowly add another
1 1/2  cups of flour in increments of 1/4 – 1/2 cup, stopping between batches to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. When you’ve added all the flour in the recipe except for a 1/2 cup, turn the mixer up to setting 4 and knead for about 6 minutes. Your dough will pull away from the sides, although it might stick to the bottom of the bowl. Your dough when finished will be smooth and slightly elastic.

Flax & Wheat Dough right out of the mixer.

Lightly flour a cutting board with some of the remaining flour and knead the dough a few times, folding it over onto itself. Form dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Also oil the dough with a little olive oil by smearing a small amount on top with your hands. Tightly cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for about two hours, or until the dough expands to twice its previous size.

Classic Pizza Dough, kneaded and ready to rest.
Flax & Wheat Dough, kneaded and ready to rest.
Classic Pizza Dough after resting.
Flax & Wheat Dough after resting.

After the dough has risen, punch it down to deflate it a bit. On a floured board cut the dough into four equal pieces. Form balls of dough by folding the corners of the cut pieces up to the center of each piece and kneading gently. Flip the dough over (smooth side up), place the ball in one hand and with your other hand “tuck” the underside of the ball with a scooping motion, forcing the “skin” of the dough to stretch smoothly over the top. Turn the dough ball and repeat this process several times until you have formed a nice, plump dough ball. Repeat this process with the remaining pieces of dough. Each dough ball will make a pizza approximately 10 inches in diameter.

Cut dough into four pieces and begin forming individual balls.
Form dough balls by tucking and turning.

At this point you should allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes prior to making pizza. When making in advance I like to store the dough in individual containers sprayed with Pam. They will keep for about four days. You’ll need to remove the dough from the fridge twenty minutes before working it to make a pizza crust, so plan accordingly. 

Individually stored pizza doughs.

Now, to make pizza place a pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat the oven to 550 degrees F. Spread out pizza dough (on a floured board) by stretching, tossing (which I like to do), or using a rolling pin. Sprinkle the pizza peel (giant paddle) with semolina flour or regular white flour so the dough doesn’t stick. Place a round of dough on the peel and top (quickly) with sauce, cheese, basil, and whatever else you desire. Slide pizza directly onto stone and cook for about 15 minutes or until slightly charred around the edges. Remove by sliding the peel under the pizza in a quick, deft motion and pull it out of the oven. Top with grated parmesan cheese. You should wait at least five minutes before cutting into slices.

Flax & Wheat dough makes a delicious and slightly healthier pizza!

To novices this may sound very troublesome and confusing, but you should give it a whirl! After a few batches you’ll be cranking out beautiful pizza in no time! Never fear!



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