Contributed by: Jan K.
Making pizza from scratch, at home, isn't really as hard as you might think - and once you learn just a few secrets about how to make a great pizza crust, you might never want to "order in" again! First, there is the matter of a recipe for pizza dough. Most of them call for very similar ingredients, basically water, yeast, oil, and flour. Some have a little more oil, some use less oil and add an egg. Whichever recipe you use, making the pizza dough goes fairly quickly and doesn't need to rise for hours like bread dough.
Here's a tip: If you aren't familiar with working with recipes that call for yeast, you might not know that yeast has to "proof" - that is, activate. You do this by combining it with water water (about 110*), and usually a little bit of sugar (1 teaspoon or less). After you combine the yeast, warm water, and sugar, you need to let this mixture "rest" for about 5 minutes. This allows the yeast to activate or "proof."
Don't just assume that you can run hot water from your tap and it will be "warm" enough, without being "too hot." A small cooking thermometer is handy to have. It might be easier to heat up water to 110* rather than run hot water and then try to cool it down (especially if your water heater is set at 120* or above). I put room temperature water in a Pyrex measuring cup and heat the water in the microwave. After a while, you'll know exactly what setting and how long it takes to heat up the water.
After the yeast has proofed, stir in the other ingredients, following the recipe. You'll probably have to knead the dough a bit to mix all of the flour in, so that you have a smooth and dry mound of pizza dough. Be very careful about kneading the pizza dough - it is easy to knead in too much flour. As long as the dough isn't actually sticking to your fingers, it is OK.
Once the dough is ready, let it "rest" for about 5 minutes. That's right, just let it lay there. This gets the rising process started.
Hand form, or use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to the desired size.
After experimenting with the different types of pizza pans and stones that are available, I have concluded that the one-ply pans with holes in them are the best. This helps to bake a crust that is nicely done on the bottom without being burnt, and yet leaves the dough nice a "chewy" in the middle. Depending on your preference for pizza dough, you can experiment by first baking pizza on regular cookie sheets. After that you can get inexpensive pizza pans at dollar stores or discount stores like Wal-Mart to continue to experiment until you find the pan you prefer.
Now you are ready to bake the pizza. Here's a tip: pre-bake just the pizza crust for about 6 minutes before you load on the sauce and toppings. This helps to cook the crust enough so that the sauce won't sink in too much, leaving a gooey crust.
After you've pre-baked the crust, remove it from the oven and load it with sauce and meat toppings (be sure that anything other than pepperoni is pre-cooked, such as sausage or ground beef). If you like onions and peppers, then here's another tip: pre-cook them so that the onions are almost transparent and the pepper is limp. Load on the onions and peppers. Sprinkle on oregano or any other spices that you desire.
Return to the oven and bake for about 13-15 minutes. This is long enough to heat the sauce and other toppings.
Remove from the oven and add the cheese. (If you are like me and like Hawaiian pizza, add the pineapple now, too.) Return to the oven for about 3 minutes, or just long enough to melt the cheese without burning it.
Once the pizza is baked, I like to slide it onto a pizza stone that I've sprinkled with cornmeal. Then, I let the pizza cool for about 5 minutes. The cornmeal keeps the bottom of the crust from getting soggy, and sure adds a nice "zest" to the taste of it! Cut with a pizza cutter (or kitchen shears - which work great!).
Enjoy with your favorite beverage!
For an illustrated tutorial on making pizza dough and then baking the pizza, go to: http://jansdough.janktheproofer.com/Make-Pizza-tutorial.htm For a free recipe for Jan's Dough Sourdough Pizza Crust, go to: http://jansdough.janktheproofer.com/Pizza-Crust.htm
Jan K., The Proofer is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. Visit http://www.jansportal.com for more information about Jan's free information and resource sites, as well as Jan's business services. Be sure to visit Mom's Break (http://www.momsbreak.com/) for free printable crafts and projects. © Copyright 2005 to present. All rights reserved.
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