Pizza is the most perfect food there is.
It isn't a debate. There isn't a question. It just is. There's so many things you can do with a pizza, which is essentially any collection of stuff on a piece of bread. Sauce, toppings, cheese; these things can be included, but really, the only definition of a pizza is Pizza Crust Plus Something Else.
That's why the crust is so incredibly important to pizza. Homemade pizza dough is a thousand times better than anything you'll get at a take-out place, a million times better than pre-purchased pizza dough, and it's cheap as dirt. And honestly, it takes hardly any effort to make.
I happen to have found the most perfect recipe for pizza dough there is. And lucky you; I'm sharing it today, along with a bonus recipe for Margherita pizza!
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
1/4 cup hand-warm water
1/2 envelope (or 1 1/8 tsp) instant yeast
1/2 cup room-temperature water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups bread flour (11 oz), OR 1 cup bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour (5.5 oz each)
1 tsp salt
OPTIONAL: 1 tsp herbs, 2 cloves garlic
You can use a food processor, stand mixer, or just your hands to make this.
1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl or cup and add the yeast. Stir and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. If it doesn't, then your yeast is dead. Toss and try again.
2. Mix the flour (or flours, if you're using whole wheat - I really prefer the whole wheat and bread flour mixture, because it makes the crust better!) and the salt together in a bowl, food processor, or the bowl of a stand mixer.
3. OPTIONAL STEP: if you'd like a herb / garlic crust, add the olive oil to a skillet with herbs and / or garlic. Let cook on medium-low for 2-3 minutes, until aromatic. Allow to cool.
3. Add the yeast-water and olive oil (or cooled flavored oil) to the flour. Mix until combined.
4. Pour in the room-temperature water. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball. Add up to two tablespoons extra water to make the dough soft and VERY slightly sticky. You'll probably have to add at least one tablespoon; two is probably a little too much. You just want it soft enough to knead; if it sticks to your hands, it's going to make it a bad time. Still, a little too much water is better than too little!
5. Now, time to knead. If you have a food processor, you're in luck; pulse for thirty seconds or so. If you have a stand mixer, knead with a dough hook on medium for five minutes. If you just have your hands, knead on a work surface for 7-8 minutes. Please, try not to add any additional flour when kneading. Too much flour and you'll have a tough crust, and no one wants that!
6. Oil a medium bowl and put the dough-ball in. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size; 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
7. If you really want an awesome crust, gently punch down the dough and stick it in your fridge overnight after the first rise. Take it out an hour before you're ready to bake the dough the next day.
And that's it. The best pizza crust you'll have. You can do whatever you like: add tomato sauce and pepperoni and mozzarella, layer with pesto, make Strawberry Pistachio Goat Cheese Pizza... or...
BONUS RECIPE: Margherita pizza (Serves 4)
Preparation time: One hour (most of this is just waiting time.)
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
One recipe pizza dough
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 oz mozzarella
NOTE about pizza stones:
If you want a really amazing rise, use a pizza stone. These are super, ghetto cheap; $10 or so at Target. Here's the thing: they keep a stable, high temperature and ensure a great, absolutely amazing pizza crust. I can't recommend a pizza stone highly enough. If you can't find one or don't want to use one, you aren't going to get the same results... but you'll be okay.
I also really recommend using parchment paper. Pizzerias use cornmeal to slide their pizzas onto the stone. I use parchment paper; it lets me easily slide the crust into the oven without it sticking on anything, and it helps clean-up. Parchment paper is a baker's best friend.
Now, on with the show!
1. Preheat your oven (and, hopefully, your pizza stone) to 500 degrees *one hour* before you're ready to bake. Trust me, wait the hour. You want every inch of the oven to be blazing hot. Pizzeria ovens are 800 degrees; you want to get kind of close to that.
2. Fifteen minutes before the hour is up, roll out your crust. I put the dough on a piece of parchment paper on a RIMLESS baking sheet (this makes it easy to slide the finished pizza onto the hot stone. If you're baking directly on a baking sheet, don't worry about rimless.) Roll it out to a 13" crust. It might be a little thin or refuse to stretch; that's normal. Just roll it as much as you can, wait a few minutes, then stretch a little farther. It may take a while, but you'll get there.
3. Mince the garlic and saute in the olive oil for two minutes, until fragrant.
4. Time to assemble: spread the garlic-oil all over the dough. Add the basil leaves and sliced tomatoes.
5. Some people like to add the cheese here. Me, I hate little brown spots on the cheese for no good reason, so here I slide the pizza into the burning hot oven, bake for 7 minutes, slide it back out, add the mozzarella, and bake for another 5 minutes.
For simplicity's sake, though, feel free to add the cheese before baking and cook until little brown spots form.
6. Slide it out and cut into eighths.
Robert's take: With a good pizza crust recipe, you can do *anything* - pineapple pizza, barbeque chicken pizza, plain cheese. I use this recipe more than any other; it's quick, easy, and fantastic. Better than any other crust I've *ever* tried. And if you use the whole-wheat dough - trust me, you won't know it's whole wheat - it'll be even healthier. What normal, red-blooded American doesn't love more fiber? Or pizza?
Rebecca's take: I've eaten a lot of pizza, and Robert's not lying when he says this is the best pizza crust ever. Yes, sometimes we crave a greasy delivery pizza, but anything made at home is bound to be a lot healthier and taste pretty swell! Also, margherita pizza is perfect for anyone who's not fond of too much tomato sauce on a pizza - you get just the right amount of tomato!