By Carol Traulsen
It all started out as a way to save money. Take-out pizza is expensive and I thought we could still have a good meal and I could save money by buying a refrigerated crust that you just roll out and bake. I added cheese topping and a can or jar of sauce. It was fine but, I missed the crispness and crunch of a “real” pizza crust. Both husband and son had commented that it was an improvement. When summer came around and we began growing our own tomatoes I decided to make my own sauce. We grew our own herbs too. The fresh tomatoes and fresh basil in the sauce made a huge difference in the overall taste of the pizza.
Again I considered making my own pizza crust. The task seemed daunting. I had never made a yeast dough before. It seems simple enough at first, there are only a few ingredients. But anyone who has tried to make pizza dough from scratch knows that’s not the case. If the dough is too wet or too sticky it has to be kneaded more. If you knead it too much it becomes tough, not enough and it doesn’t rise properly. Sigh. This was why I had stayed away. It seemed to me that there was very little room for error for the novice.
I bit the bullet and decided to try my hand at home made dough. I bought yeast, found what I hoped was a fool proof recipe and dragged out the dough hook for my mixer. I followed the directions, but the dough seemed very wet. I set the dough hook on the mixer and let it do it’s work. I tend to be the anxious type and I guess I didn’t let it mix long enough, When I took it off the hook and tried to knead the dough the rest of the way by hand my hands sunk into it and stuck. It was like wet quicksand. I couldn’t get my hands free long enough to punch or roll the dough on the board. I hadn’t even floured the board! It was a mess! I pulled the dough off my hands and sprinkled a little flour on the board. It seemed like enough, but the dough was still wet and sticky. Nowhere near the soft, springy consistency it was supposed to have. I hated the way it felt. I had dough under my nails, on my knuckles, and in the little hairs at the base of my fingers Yes everyone has them. Just try making dough and you’ll find them, trust me.
All that stuff about making bread being a life-changing activity was baloney. It felt gross and I didn’t know how I was going to make it edible. I gathered up the wet mess and put it back in the mixing bowl put the dough hook back on and let it go for a bout five more minutes. It seemed to help. I let the dough rest the rolled it out onto a large cookie sheet using a plastic cup sprayed with non-stick spray and sprinkled with a little flour. The moment had arrived. I put it in the oven and prayed it would be edible.
I peeked in the oven. It appeared to be rising. I hadn’t ruined it. I hoped it wouldn’t turn into a chewy, heavy crust. If after all my effort if it was ruined,it would be the last time I made pizza crust from scratch. Once it had browned at bit I removed it and added the sauce and toppings, then popped it back into the oven to finish. The cheese was bubbly and the crust seemed crispy. My masterpiece awaited critiques from my husband and son. They loved it! Both commented how much better it was than the store bought variety,which my husband said tasted like cardboard.
I was hooked, pun intended. My efforts had been rewarded. It did taste good but, I knew I could make improvements. I opted for the quick rising yeast next time and let the dough hook do most of the work.
The small changes seemed to work. The next time I made the dough it tasted better. I was beginning to get the hang of it. The third and fourth time were even better. I found that after letting the dough rest a bit it was easier to work with. If it went in the refrigerator for a while it was even easier. I got into the habit of making the dough earlier in the day and putting in the refrigerator for the afternoon. In the evening I would allow it to come to room temperature on the counter then roll it out into the pan. I bought a pizza stone in an effort to get the crust crispier. Commercial pizza ovens run much hotter than residential ovens. The pizza stone gathers the heat and holds it allowing the pizza to become crisper than it would without it. It seemed to work but I had to make the pizzas smaller the stone wasn’t the size or the large cookie sheet I had been using.
The next time I decided to brush the crust with olive oil and sprinkle it with Parmesan..It tasted even better. I have developed a “feel” for the dough and an eye for what how it should look. My ideal pizza crust is a little bit chewy and little bit crispy. I don’t care for the thin crust, a little thicker is better. In learning to make pizza crust from scratch I had to accept that it wouldn’t turn out perfectly the first time. I did. With each subsequent effort there have been changes, tweaks, and improvements. So the journey continues. I haven’t made the perfect crust yet, but I’ll keep trying. I’m sure my husband and son are happy about that.