Making pizza dough is straightforward and satisfying. It can be made by hand in a large bowl or whizzed up in a food processor. In either case, it will require a few minutes of kneading. The flavour and the lightness will be in a different league to any pizza base that you might buy.
Makes 750g prepared dough (enough for three 25cm pizzas)
YOU WILL NEED
450g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
½tsp caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action dried yeast granules
300-350ml warm water, or as required to make a softish dough
Place the flour in a food processor together with the salt, sugar and instant yeast. Turn on at full speed and add 2tbsps of olive oil through the feeder tube, followed by half the warm water in a thin stream.
The dough will now have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the rest of the water little-by-little until the dough forms a ball and becomes soft and slightly sticky.
Alternatively, to make the dough by hand, place the flour in a large bowl with the salt, sugar and instant yeast and mix well. Drizzle in 2tbsps of oil and most of the warm water and mix by hand.
Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead (see instructions below) for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic. When it has been kneaded, choose a bowl big enough to let the dough expand.
Rub 1tsp of olive oil around the inside of the bowl. Place dough in the bowl and rub a drop of olive oil over the surface.
Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to prove, until it has doubled or tripled in size. This will take between 1 and 1½ hours. At the end of the proving time, the dough should look lighter, with air bubbles on the surface.
Pre-shaping the dough into rounds
Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. With a knife or a dough scraper, divide it into three or more pieces. About 250g of dough is perfect for a 25cm pizza.
Place one piece of dough on an unfloured section of the counter. Working with unfloured hands, cup your right hand over the dough and using a little downward pressure, move in an anticlockwise direction.
The left hand should be active too, guiding the movement with an open palm and aiding the rolling motion until the dough becomes perfectly smooth.
Follow the same procedure with the remaining pieces of dough, then leave on the counter to rest for about 10 minutes.
If not to be used immediately, the dough can be put on a tray, covered and refrigerated for several hours. It should be brought back to room temperature over a period of at least 15 minutes before being rolled.
Shaping the pizza by hand
Flour the work surface and flatten one piece of dough into a round shape, stretching with your fingers or using a rolling pin. The dough should be rolled quite thin if the pizza is to go on a pizza stone, a bit thicker if not.
If you are feeling more ambitious, then forego the rolling pin and use your hands. Press the tops of your fingers into the dough just in from the edge to form an outer rim.
Inside the rim of the pizza, flatten the dough with the tips of your fingers and then, picking it up, gently use your thumbs to stretch the dough -- not from the edge and not from the centre (you don't want to weaken the middle) -- but on that circle just inside the rim of the pizza.
Don't get too hung up on making a perfect circle, but if a hole appears, pinch it together at an early point. You have the rolling pin at hand if your early attempts should run into difficulty.
It's important to have all the toppings ready and to hand before transferring the dough to the pizza paddle (or light breadboard or quiche base), otherwise the dough may stick.
Flour the paddle, place the dough on it and quickly add all the toppings. Shake the paddle to make sure that the dough will slide off easily.
If it's sticking, loosen with a long metal spatula. Quick, confident, jerking movements of the wrist should make for an easy transfer.
Have a go with a small pizza if you are uncertain and you will be amazed at how proficient you will become.
How to knead
Kneading is a slow and rhythmic process. Flour the work surface lightly, dust your fingers even more lightly and you are ready to start.
Put the four fingers of your working hand over the back of the dough, then lift and fold the dough towards you. Next, with the heel of the same hand, push the dough away from you.
Now, with your other hand cupping the side of the dough, give the dough a quarter turn.
Keep following the procedure -- pulling the dough towards you, pushing it away with the heel of your hand, and each time giving it a quarter turn. Find your rhythm and keep going until the stickiness is a thing of the past.
Don't be tempted to continuously add more flour to the work surface -- as you knead, the dough will become less sticky.