According to industry calculations, Americans eat roughly 100 acres of pizza per day. And those pizzas are built on roughly 100 acres of pizza crust. Whether you prefer thick crust, thin crust, crispy crust or stuffed crust, that doughy foundation can make or break the eating experience. If creating crust, one of the simplest forms of yeast bread, is an impediment to your making pizza at home, read on. Making a tasty cornmeal pizza crust isn’t so daunting as parlor managers would have you believe.
When I was young, about the only kind of pizza that ever came through our house was homemade. So delicious was my mother’s sliced Smokie Link–topped pie that for many years I requested it for my birthday supper, along with chocolate mousse pie for dessert. Part of what I really liked about Mom’s pizza was the crust … crisp, yet yeasty and not too thick. Since homemade pizza only materialized once or twice per year, I always thought it must be terribly difficult to create. I figured the tough part was creating the crust.
Fast forward close to five decades or so, and homemade pizza hits our table at least once a week and sometimes twice. It turns out that this dish is pretty easy to make – it’s actually simple if you keep a couple of balls of pizza dough in the fridge or freezer. My preference for sauce is homemade pesto, and I enjoy toppings like garden-fresh shallots, peppers and tomatoes along with farm-fresh pork sausage and fresh mozzarella cheese. My favorite crust is one I adapted from a recipe that my Partner in Culinary Crime turned me on to some time ago (a hand-scribbled version of it is clipped to the fridge with a magnet). This crust is simple to make and stores unbaked very well.
First I whisk together 1 1⁄4 teaspoons active dry yeast, 1 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon honey in a large bowl and let it sit until the yeast is active, which takes about 10 minutes. While the yeast is waking up, combine 1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup whole-wheat flour, 3⁄4 cup coarse cornmeal and 1 teaspoon salt in another bowl – be sure the components are well-mixed. Next, I add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the liquid (whisk briefly) and combine it with the dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon. Turn out the well-formed ball onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is soft and pliable – 3 to 5 minutes or so. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat, and let it sit, covered, for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled or tripled its volume. Finally, cut the dough in half (makes two large crusts; store in ziplock bags up to 2 days in fridge or weeks in freezer), roll out on a floured surface and transfer to a preheated pizza stone or cast-iron pizza pan. Add toppings and bake at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
There, now you can see that creating your own pizza crust is not as mysterious as pizza parlor brand managers would have you believe. In the pages that follow, we’ll show you how to create delicious breads of all kinds, at home, the easy way. You’ll also find expert tips on handling your dough, creating tasty toppings and dips, and selecting tools of the trade. If you still have unanswered questions, be sure to check out the GRIT website, or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Keep on bakin’.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.