Accomplished pizza chefs consider the dough-making process an art form. The specifics of dough-making vary depending on whether the final goal is a thin, crispy crust or a thick, soft one. The mandatory ingredients in pizza dough are flour, water and yeast. Shortening, salt and sugar are also included in many basic recipes. These extras provide more taste and texture options.
- Flour is the "meat" of the dough recipe. Chefs use high-gluten flour because gluten makes the crust tough enough to stand up to the water and other ingredients.
- Water is vital to the recipe because it brings all the ingredients together. It encourages the production of gluten and works with starch in the flour to bind the gluten. This is what makes a pizza crust nice and firm. The amount of water used in a pizza dough recipe varies. The dough can be made to be pliable or stiff, as desired by the chef.
- Without yeast, pizza crusts would lose pretty much all texture and softness. Yeast, a leavening agent, makes the dough rise. A living, single-celled plant from the fungi family, it ferments (digests) sugars and starches. Fermentation causes the dough to rise by trapping gas bubbles inside it. It also makes the dough more pliable and easy to maneuver.
- Salt provides extra flavor. It also slows the fermentation process.
- Shortening increases the pliability and moisture of the dough by providing lubrication. Some chefs use canola or olive oil to add a little extra flavor.
- The amount of sugar changes the fermentation rate. More sugar equals quicker fermentation. Sugar also helps the crust to brown and keeps water inside the crust.
Balling: Use your hands to roll balls of dough. The skin should be tight, not cracked. Place balls on an oiled sheet pan.
Proofing: Cover the dough with wax paper and let it sit at room temperature until it doubles in size.
Retarding: Place the dough balls in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours to slow yeast activity.
If these steps are completed properly, the dough stays usable for approximately three to five days.
You can bake pizza in a variety of ovens. Chefs use a peel, a long, paddle-like utensil, to slide pizzas into electric deck ovens. The pizza is baked directly on a screen or hot bricks. Conveyor belt ovens are used primarily in large chain restaurants. Gas canister ovens position stone bricks directly above the heat source. "Brick-oven pizzerias" use coal or wood-fired brick ovens, which often lend a smokier taste.
Sauce and Cheese
Pizza sauce is usually tomato-based. However, the list of unconventional pizza sauces includes pesto, alfredo, ketchup and barbecue. "White pizza" recipes often eliminate the sauce entirely, replacing it with garlic butter.
Traditional pizza is made with mozzarella cheese sprinkled on tomato sauce. Many chefs like to experiment with blends of cheeses, herbs and seasonings like oregano and basil.