Recently, I had the most amazing experience cooking at a weekend long food photography and styling workshop in Point Reyes. it was aa picture perfect weekend…pun intended! The farmhouse (it was a working dairy and cheese farm!!) we stayed at was utterly amazing, the views of the rolling hills were beautiful, and sounds of the baby goats and chickens were enough to make you want to move there permanently
Among all the raw and unbridled awesomeness happening that weekend there were two things that happened that really made the weekend special. One was the people we had staying with us that I got the pleasure of cooking for all weekend long (seriously, if you guys are reading this, all of you are amazing), and the other was the hands on pizza demo.
Just a little background into me as a cook and in general food lover…I love pizza! It’s among my favorite things in life. Though I grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s alongside the teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I guess that’s no surprise. I love it so much that I’ve learned to build wood fired ovens so that I could get as close to the perfect pizza as possible. SO when I say that I was excited about hosting a hands on pizza demo with the wood oven at this workshop, you can understand the magnitude of that sentiment!
The pizza dough formula and method I use is actually very near and dear to my heart. The reason being is that it is something I’ve built and honed over the years. You see, unlike most recipes and formulas (baking or otherwise), bread doughs are in my opinion unique. There are only essentially four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. So you would think it would be simple to make a good loaf of bread or pizza. But it is anything but simple. For instance, the temperature of the water you use can impact the final taste and texture of the dough. If your water is hotter than 120°F, the yeast will die. But if it is too cold, the yeast will not ferment properly…and in between too cold and too hot there are subtle differences that the water can have on your final product. Another example, how often do you check the humidity of your kitchen? The water in the air can significantly change the hydration of your dough. And even the way the ingredients are mixed and rested can have profoundly differently impacts on your dough. There are a hundred different factors that can impact your final product that you can and should experiment with, but, basically, bead and pizza dough can be a lot trickier than the recipe you google says it is.
In fact, some of my obsession for making incredible dough comes from the fact that the information and techniques for making it properly at home is just not on the internet. Believe me, I’ve met a lot of artisanal bakers and they are not too keen on sharing old word techniques. So needless to say, I’ve had a lot of trial and error, reverse engineering, and just plan guessing in making pizza dough in particular.
Why am I telling you any of this? Well I just want to highlight how important the little things are when making pizza dough so that you know to pay attention to the texture, the wetness, and even the smell of the dough as you are creating it. And at the end of the day, making dough is fun. Watching it come together, kneading it, watching it rise, and baking it is in my opinion one of the most satisfying things in all of cooking.
So let me stop beating around the bush and get to the good part.
- 7 oz bread or high gluten flour
- 7 oz water (at body temperature)
- a pinch of instant yeast
- 14 oz bread or high gluten flour
- 7 oz water (at body temperature)
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tsp salt
Ok, so there are a couple things for me to go over before we can start.
First of all, don’t be intimidated by making a polish. Its actually really simple..and optional! A poolish is just a type of pre-ferment. The idea is that at least 12 hours before making your final dough(or the night before), you would mix together some of the flour and water with a pinch of yeast to start the process of forming gluten strands and flavor. When making your dough, simply mix in the poolish with the dough ingredients and knead it together. There are upsides and downsides to incorporating a pre-ferment to your dough. The downside is the time it takes. Let’s say you want pizza today, but haven’t made a poolish. It can be discouraging to know you have to wait 12 hours for your poolish to ferment before you can even make the dough. In that case, simply add the polish ingredient amounts to the rest of the dough without pre-fermenting. Your dough will still be delicious. The upside to making a poolish is that it admittedly improves the flavor and texture of your dough to a noticeable level. Yes, it is delicious. There is no doubt about that. But I would rather you make a pizza dough without a poolish then not make one at all.
Another thing to note is the water temperature. If a professional baker were to read this post, she or he might say that you want to use cold water to mix into your flour…and that person may be right. Colder water and colder ferment temperatures mean that the dough will take a lot longer to develop. This in turn is will help the dough to develop better texture and flavor. In my experience, however, it just isn’t practical to do this at home for the average person who has other things to do than monitor the temperature of dough. Using body temperatures will neither be too hot or too cold (just right). However, if you are adventurous I say experiment with colder temperatures and you will be rewarded, just know its not a necessity. Another reason I say body temperature water is because I think it is easier to use your hands to feel temperature rather than bust out your thermometer. If you have a good drinkable source of tap water, simply run the water over your hands so that you don’t feel either a cold or hot sensation. If you are using bottled or filtered water, heat it gently in a pot while stirring until you feel the same sensation of neither hot nor cold.
Finally, know that special equipment is not necessary to make good pizza…but that being said, it does help out a lot to have the right tools. A pizza peel, for instance makes delivering and removing the pizza from the oven sooo much easier, but you can also use the back of a cookie sheet. Also, a pizza stone can help somewhat mimic the effects of a wood oven. It wicks away moisture, while also providing a source of intense heat that gives the crust better texture and color. If you don’t want to spend $40-60 on a glorified piece of terra cotta, and I don’t blame you, you can pick up either firebricks or unglazed quarry tiles for a bout a dollar a piece from your local building supply and piece them together in your oven just like a pizza stone…just make sure you clean them first. Or you could even turn a cast iron skillet upside down….there are a lot diy hacks. But if you want the convenience of a dedicated pizza stone…well, I don’t blame you either!
Now lets talk about dough!
If you ARE going to use the poolish, just mix the ingredients together with a spoon until well combined, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set out of the way somewhere in a cool corner of your kitchen
When you’re ready to make your dough, measure out all your ingredients, and mix the yeast and water together as thoroughly as you can to wake them up. I like to use my countertop to make my dough, but you could just as easily use a stand mixer, in which case attach a kneading hook and add all your ingredients. Mix on the second speed until everything comes together and let knead for at least 5 minutes. If you’re using your countertop, just make sure it is clean and dry. Make a large mound of flour in the center of your surface and use your knuckles to create a well in the center of the mound. This will create an area you can pour your water, yeast, and salt, and it will not escape. In order to bring them together, use a fork (or your fingers…you’ll be getting them dough-y anyway) to gently swirl way the walls of the well into the water. it will thicken pretty quickly to a gooey pile, just keep incorporating flour until it holds its own shape. From there, you can begin kneading. Just keep adding flour to the surface so that it doesn’t stick. keep kneading and adding flour until the dough is just barely tacky. You may have enough flour in your well, or you may have to add a few spoonfulls more. This is something that will take practice and experimenting to get the right feel, but you will know the dough is perfect when it is soft, supple, and just barely grabs your skin to the touch. Just remember, when in doubt, it is better to have a wetter dough than a dryer one. Form the dough into as tight a ball as you can manage.
Now, find a large bowl or container(more info here) your dough can double in. Add in a tablespoon of oil and make sure you coat the surface of the dough. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes in a warm area of your kitchen.
Now comes the most important part of this whole process, the folding. The folding is important because it is what will determine the final texture and structure of the dough. The idea is to fold the dough over like a book so that you are laminating it with thousands of the tiny bubbles that are forming as a result of the fermentation. Make sure your hand is wet so it wont rip the dough, and gently tilt the bowl or container onto your countertop. You want gravity to do all the work. if it sticks, gently use your hand as a spatula to separate it. Try not to rip the dough or destroy any of the bubble you see forming. Now stretch the dough a little and fold 1/3 over on itself. Take the other side and do the same. Now turn the dough 90° and do the same. Congratulations, you have completed your first fold. Repeat the 45 minute rest and stretch/fold 2 more times. And take notice of how the texture of the dough changes after every stretch and fold
Once you have completed al the folds. Let the dough double. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this could take between one and two hours…or you could let the dough rest in the fridge for up to a week, folding it at least once a day. Now the dough is ready to use. If you have cold dough, just bring it to room temperature again before using. Use it to form whatever size or shape pizza you wish with whatever toppings you like. Believe me from here there are no wrong ways to make your pizza.
If making the dough seems like a lot of steps or a large investment in time, keep in mind that the steps are all very passive and easy to do. This whole process only takes a few hours to do and most of the time the yeast does all the work. Plus this method is very forgiving. if you need to run to do errands in between folds, that’s perfectly fine. If you have to stop what you’re doing, that’s cool too. Just refrigerate what you have and come back to it later. And if you want to speed up the fermentation process, you could always turn your oven to the lowest setting and (with the door open and the bowl resting on the door) shave a lot of time off the fermentation process. Just be aware that the best results are low temperature and slow fermentation, but better to have quick pizza than no pizza at all.
So that’s it! You can make great pizzas, flatbreads, and other breads at home in your oven with this dough method. And the great thing about this method is that you can tweak temperatures, resting times, oven temperatures, and even ingredients to get wildly different results.
In these photos below, I collaborated with Bella of Ful.filled to make a delicious pea pesto (click the link for the recipe) and mozzarella pizza. We finished it with parmesan and fresh shaved asparagus. And It was delicious! But don’t just take my word for it…go and make your own
SO go experiment and leave a comment below and let me know what you came up with!!!