At Chez Bullhog, we take pizza pretty darned seriously. In the lead-up to building our woodfired oven in 2004, the fervor stepped up a couple of notches. Sure, we can always work the toppings, but it’s the dough that has become most important. As any aficionado can tell you: every great pizza begins with a great crust.
In my quest for truly great pizza dough, I’ve scoured books and chatroom conversations looking for snippets of inspiration. Talked to pizza makers. Read interviews with formidable pizzaoli. On one glorious October morning several years ago, my wife had to drag me away from the window of Il Forno in Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, where I stood open-mouthed watching burly men form 10-foot slabs of white pizza from buckets of spongy dough.
Now while I don’t profess to have all the answers, the smiles that light the faces around the table these days are proof positive that I’m on the right track. Whether you use our recipe below or your own tried and true favorite, following these steps will put you on the path to similar results. Come on, let’s make pizza!
Ten Steps to Great Pizza Dough
1. Expect your dough to take a minimum of 5 hours. Believe me, I’ve tried to cut down the time, but so many aspects of the dough – from texture and bite to the strength of the dough – depend on a slow rise. If you really want to make pizza in less time, consider making pan pizza.
2. Create a 75-80° environment for proofing your dough. Put a clamp-on light and a thermometer inside a cabinet that has a shelf large enough to hold your bread bowl. Check the temperature hourly. If you want to get fancy, put a dimmer switch on the light to more accurately control the temperature.
3. Use a bit of Italian flour in the mix and don’t stint on the salt. I use a 50-50 mixture of Type 00 Caputo flour to all-purpose flour. This gives the dough enough stretchiness to make pizza blanks without compromising on strength. The salt enhances flavor and color.
4. Give the dough a rest before kneading. Once the flour, yeast, salt and water are mixed, you’ll do best to give the dough 10 or 20 minutes to relax. This gives the gluten in the flour some time to form and makes the dough less sticky and thereby easier to knead.
5. Knead your dough vigorously for at least 15 minutes. Turn your dough out onto a well-floured surface and get to work. Some Italian pizza makers insist you should knead pizza dough for 20 minutes, but I find that 15 minutes is ample. If you get tired, stop halfway through and come back to it.
6. Add oil to the bowl, not to the dough. Many pizza dough recipes call for oil in the mix. I find the dough to be puffier without it. Instead, I add the oil to the bowl and ‘marinate’ the dough in it.
7. Follow the 2½ – 1½ – 1 method. The first rise will take 2½ hours at 75-80°. The second will take 1½ hours. After that, let the dough rest for 1 hour before dividing the dough for individual pizzas.
8. Careful with those gluten strands, Eugene. Your dough should be half puffy when you cut it into individual pizza sizes. (Avoid the temptation to tuck the top over like a bun. This is the easiest way I’ve discovered to make a thin spot in the center.) Once you’ve arrived at this point, the dough can rest for an hour or two at room temperature. Lightly oil a deep baking pan or some quart-sized plastic tubs to hold the pieces until you’re ready to make pizzas.
9. Give your dough some final warmth before stretching. Flatten the dough pieces slightly and put them two at a time onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Pop them into the warming cupboard again for 10 minutes before shaping into full-sized pizzas. One Italian baker told me that his dough had to be 80° in order to make the best pizza. I believe him.
10. Make your oven as hot as possible. This is what the woodfired thing is all about. For that great dough to become a perfect pizza crust, it has to get hot very quickly. To replicate this in a conventional oven, use quarry tiles on the center rack and preheat them to at least 450° before slipping the pizzas directly onto them.
Bonus tip: Add a little day old dough if you have some. The addition of mature dough adds a new dimension to your pizza crust. You can refrigerate a piece of dough for up to 3 days and still achieve similar benefits.
Chez Bullhog’s Pizza Dough recipe:
Makes four 12” pizzas
2½ cups (13 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
2½ cups (13 oz.) type 00 caputo flour
1½ teaspoons of sea salt
1¼ teaspoons of dry yeast
2½ cups of water at 105°
10 ounces of yesterday’s dough (optional)
3 Tablespoons of good olive oil
1 cup of flour for bench work
In a large bowl, briskly mix all ingredients except for the oil and the benchwork flour with the handle of a wooden spoon. Follow the steps above, cleaning out the bowl before adding oil to it. After kneading, put the dough into the bowl and lightly cover with a cloth or piece of plastic wrap. Let rise according to the schedule, deflating and turning the dough before the next rise.
Divide into 12 ounce pieces, stretch out the dough into 12” rounds and top with your favorite toppings. Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the cheese is bubbly.