Chewy, crunchy crust. Rich, savory sauce. Browned, bubbly, stretchy cheese. Pizza is the epitome of comfort food and one of my favorite homemade meals. It is also a family winner, since the toppings can be adjusted easily for picky eaters and special diets.
Try a BBQ chicken pizza, shrimp divan or go meatless with mushrooms, eggs and sage. The possibilities are endless! Making your own pizza is easy and fun for the whole family. Here are my go to recipes for homemade pizza dough and easy pizza sauce.
Basic Pizza Dough
1 and 1/3 cups warm water (not more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit-if the water is too hot for you to touch, it is too hot and will kill the yeast)
1 package (equal to 2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey or molasses
2 ½ to 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or combination of all-purpose, white wheat or whole wheat flours)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Place the honey or molasses into the large bowl of your mixer (fitted with a dough hook or the paddle attachment if you don’t have a dough hook), then pour in the water and one cup of the flour. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let it sit for 20 minutes to let the yeast dissolve and begin to bloom. It should be bubbly. If it doesn’t look bubbly then your water was probably too hot-killing your yeast and you should discard it and start over.
If it is bubbly, turn your mixer on low and blend the mixture for 3 or 4 minutes. Add another half cup of flour to your bowl, the salt and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix again until well blended. Continue adding flour by the quarter cup, mixing well after each addition.
Your dough will begin to look shaggy as you add flour, tipping you off that it is almost to the point where you will no longer need to add flour.
Add two more tablespoons of flour at a time, mixing in between, until the dough begins to pull dough remnants from the side of the mixing bowl and looks smooth.
Stop the mixer, remove the dough from the dough hook, and roll into a smooth ball with your hands. Place it back in the mixing bowl, pour the last tablespoon of olive oil over it and turn the dough over to coat in the oil, rubbing the sides of the bowl with the oil as you turn it.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a warm damp towel and let it rise for at least 40 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.
If you are using quick yeast, you can skip the rising time, but you will need to let your dough rest at least 10 minutes before shaping and using. I personally give my dough a decent rise even when I use quick yeast; I believe it gives the dough time to develop flavor and a better texture.
Gently push the dough down with your fist once to deflate it and let it rest at least 10 minutes before using, or place it in a lightly oiled plastic bag, seal it and place it in the refrigerator for later use.
You can roll out the dough with a rolling pin, if you like. I prefer to shape by hand as I like as many air bubbles to remain and I think pizza crust should have some variation in texture. I don’t worry about making it perfectly round; it sometimes bears a striking resemblance to a giant amoeba (which actually makes for an awesome impromptu science lesson for kids).
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for pizza baking.
This dough will make approximately 3 twelve inch pizza crusts or 4-6 smaller six to eight inch crusts depending on how far you can stretch it and how thin or thick you want it.
Divide your dough into equal sized portions for your crusts. Place your dough on a sheet of parchment paper, or a floured surface and pull it and stretch it until it is the size you want. Top your pizza with your choice of sauce and toppings and bake on a baking sheet or a pizza stone for 5-8 minutes. Slice and serve to your happy diners!
*A note about flour and sugar choice
Think of your homemade pizza as an opportunity to introduce more nutrition into your meal (and sometimes hide what your family won’t eat). Using a mix of flours, fibers and grains or seeds can add depth of flavor and texture while elevating the nutritional value of your pizza.
For my standard whole wheat crust I use 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, 2/3 cup whole wheat flour and 1/3 cup buckwheat flour. The buckwheat flour really lightens the dough and adds a nice crispness to it. I also occasionally add ground flaxseed, oat bran or wheat germ to it (just trade ¼ cup of the flour for ¼ cup ground flaxseed, oat bran or wheat germ).
I also like to vary my sweetener depending on what flour blend I am using. If I’m using unbleached all-purpose flour, I use honey. When using whole wheat flour or a blend, I use molasses for the sweetener. It gives it a deeper flavor and complements the nuttiness of the wheat flour.
You could also use agave nectar, white or brown sugar or even fruit or vegetable puree. Just make sure you don’t leave it out as it provides instant energy for the yeast to eat and grow as well as adding flavor.
For Easy Homemade Pizza Sauce:
2-4 cups pureed tomatoes (canned in juice or fresh peeled and seeded then pureed)
1-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce heat to low. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, on low for at least 30 minutes. Check seasoning before using, adding a pinch of salt or pepper as needed. I leave my garlic whole as I have picky eaters that won’t eat it if they see it in the sauce. I love garlic, so I smash the cooked garlic into my crust before I put my sauce on.
In a hurry and don’t have time to make the sauce? Rummage around your fridge and freezer! Pesto, mayonnaise with a little garlic powder, mashed sweet potato or butternut squash or thinly sliced tomato make great substitutions for pizza sauce. Be creative!