I could tell you stories about the years before we had children — how we thrived on utmost spontaneity, spent nights going to late-night shows and afterparties, ending our forays by watching the sun rise from our booth at the local Waffle House. I could tell you these stories, but they would be entirely fictional. If you know me, you also know that while I enjoy going to a good show now and again, it’d better start before 9 o’clock, and I’d better be home and in the bed by midnight. Otherwise, I might very nearly fall asleep wherever we are.
Most times, I don’t mind being a person who tends to drift toward routine. I do rebel in certain areas of my life, and one of those areas tends to be food. Now wait — stop laughing. It’s true that I plan my menu every week, and, well, ok — I grocery shop every Monday, without fail. But that’s not the kind of routine I’m talking about. I mean I avoid eating the same menu on a regular basis. Example: I once dated a guy who’s mother cooked the same thing, every week, for his entire life. There might be some nuances here and there (a different sauce for “Pasta Wednesday” perhaps), but for the most part, it was the same. I would go completely insane. It would be like Chinese water torture. I would probably just stop eating, my tastebuds in full revolt.
Some people find comfort in that type of routine — and in one teensy way, I’ve joined them. I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point in the past few years, during the cool months, Saturday night has become pizza night (this tradition turns into “grilling night” when the weather turns warm). The foremost reason we do this is because we like homemade pizza. We’re actually spoiled now, having gotten so accustomed to our delicious creations that we’re inevitably disappointed when we have the take-out version. A secondary reason is that it makes it easier to plan the menu; I always know what’s going on Saturday night.
A few things have made this an easier venture for me. First, I make a pizza dough recipe that is enough for two 12″ crusts, and I par-bake and freeze the one we don’t use — so I can just pull it out of the freezer the next week. I also make my tomato sauce in triple batches, so that’s another item I’m only making once every few weeks. (My favorite tomato sauce is “No-cook Tomato Sauce” from The Cook’s Bible. Kimball makes the astute point that twice-cooked tomatoes lose their freshness, so he just purees canned tomatoes with some garlic, olive oil, and seasoning. It’s PERFECT.) The toppings vary by the week, but we’ve recently been on a kick of Italian sausage, caramelized onions, and sometimes sautéed mushrooms.
My dough recipe is adapted from one passed on by a friend. This makes more of a thick crust, and it has become my favorite because of its consistency and ease. I’ve made thin-crust doughs before, and while they are delicious, I find them harder to work with, and too much hassle for even a bi-weekly venture. I now make the dough in my Kitchenaid, but for a year or so I made it entirely by hand, so that’s the version I’ll share. Little details make a big difference here: brushing the dough with olive oil, salting the crust before it bakes, adding a touch of whole wheat flour to the dough. It all adds up to a Saturday night that others will envy. Others in very small, introverted, pizza-loving circles.
Saturday Night Pizza Dough
This method uses a pizza stone, but if you own/prefer a pizza pan, adjust accordingly. Also, I’ve found a pizza peel to be quite handy in sliding a formed crust onto a hot stone; but if you don’t have one, you can accomplish the same purpose by using a large, inverted baking sheet.
- 1 1/3 cups wrist-temperature water
- 3 Tbsp light brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or 2 tsp instant yeast)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp table salt
In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine the water, honey, oil, and yeast. Stir gently to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, then sprinkle on the salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a scrappy dough is formed. Knead in the bowl for about 3 minutes. (The dough will be quite sticky, but this is ok — avoid adding more flour, only flouring your hands to assist the kneading.) Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few more times, until dough is fairly cohesive and lumps of flour are dispersed (it will not be as smooth as a bread dough). Rinse out your bowl, and dry thoroughly. Lightly oil the bowl with another Tbsp of olive oil, and turn the dough around in the bowl so it’s coated with the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit in a relatively warm place in your kitchen until the dough doubles in size, about an hour. After about 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 450º, and place a pizza stone (if using) on a rack toward the bottom of the oven.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in half (best done with a bench scraper or a knife). Knead each half into a ball, and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
Shape the first crust on a floured surface, by pressing the dough outward, beginning in the center. Stretch, pull, and continue to press gently (you don’t want to tear it!) until it’s about 12″ in diameter. (If it gets tough and refuses to be shaped, let it rest, as-is, for another 10 or so minutes, then continue to shape.) When crust is almost shaped, transfer carefully to a parchment-lined peel or inverted baking sheet. Finish shaping, then brush the top with olive oil, prick all over with a fork (this helps avoid bubbles), and sprinkle lightly with salt. Slide the parchment and crust carefully onto the hot pizza stone. Bake for 5 minutes. If for future use, let the crust cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and freeze. If using immediately, top the pizza as you wish, and return to the pizza stone for another 10-12 minutes.