Gourmet Pizza Dough
Pizza is my favorite food.
I mean, I love vegetables (haven't you heard?) and I couldn't live without lentils, but there is a special place in my heart for that hot mess of cheesy goodness, topped with salty toppings on a bed of crispy, golden crust.
I don't discriminate against pizza. I love it all. Veggie pizza and meat-lovers pizza. Plain cheese pizza and fancy pizza with artichokes and eggplant. Classic tomato sauce and rich basil pesto pizza. Homemade pizza and (ahh, I can't believe I'm admitting this publicly) frozen pizza.
The best pizza by far? The pizza at the local joint we find on the way home after a 4-day-long backpacking trip during which we only ate tuna, cous cous, and way too much trail mix. That pizza is hella good.
Let's be honest, though - while all pizza might be good, it's definitely not always good for you. So, as I often do to rectify the cognitive dissonance of loving the deliciousness of my favorite food with my great need for fueling my body with quality nutrition, I like to make pizza at home.
At home, I can choose low-sodium, plain tomato sauce (without added sugar), select my favorite stinky cheeses, and pile toppings so high that the pizza takes twice as long to cook as the recipe calls for. But my favorite thing about making pizza at home? It's that delicious crust.
Having parents who still live on a working wheat farm in Kansas affords me the luxury of freshly ground whole wheat flour. Did you almost just die of envy? That might be appropriate, except that I'm happy to share.
It took me several years to find a recipe that included whole grains that I was happy with, but this recipe finally came to be. Let me be clear, I'm not against including processed flour in my diet in moderation (let's face it - whole grain chocolate cake is just silly). Whenever possible, though, I try to at least follow the USDA's guidelines to make half your grains whole.
Why is that? Different parts of the kernel contain different nutrients, so if you only eat part of the grain (i.e. after it's been refined), you only get part of the nutritional content.
A whole grain is just that - its flour made from grinding the entire kernel of grain. Grains have three basic components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
The Bran is the outermost part of the kernel, made mostly of fiber. It contains the fiber, some important B vitamins (including thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folate), and minerals (including magnesium, iron, and selenium).
Although arguably the most nutritious part of the kernel, the bran is removed when flour is refined. Leaving the bran in place gives whole grains a nutty flavor, but the sharp edges that remain after grinding whole grains can cut the strands of gluten that allow bread to rise. Thus, whole grain bread tends to be more dense than bread made with white flour.
The Germ is the part of the kernel from which a new plant germinate. It is nutrient-dense and contains healthy fats, protein, B vitamins, and Vitamin E. It is removed during refining and is not found in white flour.
The Endosperm is the delicious, starchy middle of the kernel of grain. The endosperm is responsible for the carbohydrates found in grains, but doesn't contain many other nutrients. Once refined, the endosperm is the only part of the grain that remains in white flour.
I find that when cooking with whole grains, I'm always working to find a balance of flavor and texture. The bran especially can cause grain products to become dense and heavy - not what you want in your favorite sandwich bread.
Thus, for my pizza dough recipe, I usually use half whole wheat and half bread flour. Bread flour has a higher protein (gluten) content than all-purpose white flour; the added structure of this gluten helps to overcome the sharp bran that cuts some of the strands.
I start my crust by activating the yeast. To do so, add two tablespoons each of olive oil and honey (measure the oil first so that the honey doesn't stick to your measuring spoon) to a small bowl, then add one cup of warm water.
The water needs to be between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit (about the temperature of a hot tub, to give you a point of reference) - too hot and you'll kill the yeast, too cold and it won't wake it from its slumber. Mix together and add one and a half teaspoons of dry active yeast. Stir well to combine and set aside while you mix your dry ingredients. In five to ten minutes, your yeast will visibly start to multiply. How cool is that?!
Meanwhile, in a large bowl mix together one and a half cups each of whole wheat flour and bread flour, then stir in a teaspoon of salt.
Note: it's really important to include the exact amount of salt called for in yeast bread recipes, as the salt impacts how quickly yeast multiply. Over-salty bread doesn't rise as well, while bread without salt can rise too quickly and fall. If this knowledge tickles your fancy, check out King Arthur Flour's website for more information.
Once your yeast has activated, make a well in the flour and pour in wet ingredients. Stir first with a spoon to combine. When dough is loosely held together, pour onto a well-floured surface and knead.
To knead, fold dough in half, turn a half-turn, then fold in half again. Repeat this process for five to ten minutes until dough springs back when touched. Test by poking the dough and watch how quickly it comes back into its shape.
Form the dough into a ball and drizzle another teaspoon of olive oil over the dough, using your hands to coat the dough with oil. Place dough back in the large bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, until dough doubles in size.
Once risen, divide dough in two. Stretch each half of dough to form two separate pizza crusts on oiled baking sheets. Use your fingers to press dough from the middle outward onto the pans to form the desired shape.
Poke bottom of crust with fork, then bake crust (without toppings) at 400 degrees for five to seven minutes until baked but not browned. If you go (very) light on toppings on your pizza, you can get away with skipping this step; however, pre-baking your crust gives you a solid, firm crust that can withstand a mountain of delicious toppings.
Finally, top pizza with favorite toppings, then continue to bake another ten minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
Best enjoyed served hot with friends, but (let's face it), pizza is good anytime and anywhere.
Gourmet Pizza Crust
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 1/2 tsp. yeast
- 1 c. warm water (105 - 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- In a small bowl, combine oil, honey, yeast and warm water. Mix together and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to allow yeast to activate.
- In a separate large bowl, mix together flours and salt.
- Make a well in the flour and pour in wet ingredients. Stir to combine, then knead for 5-10 minutes until dough springs back when touched.
- Rub a tablespoon of oil over the surface of the dough and place in the large bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, until dough doubles in size.
- Once risen, divide dough in two. Stretch each half of dough to form two separate pizza crusts on oiled baking sheets. Use fingers to press dough from the middle outward to form the desired shape.
- Poke bottom of crust with fork, then bake crust (without toppings) at 400 degrees for 5-7 minutes until baked but not browned.
- Top pizza with favorite toppings, then continue to bake another 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden brown.
Serves 16 - Serving Size: 1/8 of one pizza (toppings not included) - Nutrients per serving: 107 calories -- 2g total fat -- 0g saturated fat -- 0mg cholesterol -- 163mg sodium -- 19g total carbohydrates -- 2g fiber -- 2g sugar -- 3g protein