A good pizza dough is a miraculous thing. It’s easy to make, easy to freeze, takes all kinds of abuse and is still alive at the end of it all. We make 50 to 100 pounds of dough each day at Angeli, my small café in Los Angeles. And yet, after sixteen years, I still smile each time I see that large mound of dough on the pizza table waiting to be portioned. It feels good to know you’ve got dough rising, and it feels even better to sink your hands into the lively mass and work it as you transform the dough into pizza or bread.
But to be honest, in these sixteen years, I’ve never made pizza dough at home. Any time the urge to eat pizza has overcome us at home, we often haven’t planned ahead. So the simple idea of eating a homemade pizza gets nixed because I don’t feel like making dough right then.
But after working on this article, I think I’ve solved this problem—in two ways. First, I’ve got a dough that comes together in a food processor very quickly (from measuring to mixing to portioning, the whole thing takes less than 15 minutes). So if you want pizza tonight, all you need to do after mixing is to proof the dough for about 45 minutes—time to get your toppings prepped and your oven heated. The pizzas bake very quickly in a hot oven, so you could potentially have homemade pizza in little more than an hour.
Second—and I’m really pleased with this idea—you can make the dough ahead of time, at your convenience, say some day when you actually have a free 15 minutes. This is because the dough holds really well, either overnight in the refrigerator or for a few weeks in the freezer. After mixing and portioning the dough, just dust the individual balls with a little flour, tuck each one into its own zip-top freezer bag, and toss it in the freezer. Now you’re prepared for any pizza emergency that may arise. Yes, you still need to remember to defrost the dough (you can do this the night before, if you like), but you’re still definitely ahead of the game.
The quick mix—make pizza dough in the food processor
The pizza dough I’ve developed for home comes together quickly in a food processor. It’s a fairly soft, somewhat wet dough, so you do have to scrape and pull a bit to get the dough out of the food processor bowl and onto a floured board, but this is easy. I use a good amount of olive oil in the dough to add flavor and to create a pizza with a soft crumb. I go easy on the amount of salt in the dough, however, because salt retards the action of yeast. By adding a smaller amount of salt, you add insurance that your yeast will reactivate quickly when you remove the frozen dough ball from the freezer and bring it back to room temperature. In addition, the dough tastes fresh and sweet without too much salt.
I use this dough to make my favorite kind of pizza—neapolitan style. It has a supple crust that’s just thick enough to hold a good amount of topping without becoming a soggy mess. But sometimes I roll out this same dough to make a thinner, crisper pizza, which is more Roman style. It’s delicious either way, with all kinds of toppings.
If you want to bake the pizzas as soon-as possible, put the dough balls on a lightly floured surface, cover them with a clean dishtowel, and let them rise until they almost double in size, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, turn your oven on, with the baking stone in it, to let the stone fully heat.
If you want to bake the pizzas tomorrow, line a baking sheet with a floured dishtowel, put the dough balls on it, and cover them with plastic wrap, giving them room to expand (they’ll almost double in size), and let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. To use dough that has been refrigerated overnight, simply pull it out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before shaping the dough into a pizza.
Pizza next week
To freeze the dough balls, dust each one generously with flour as soon as you’ve made it, and put each one in a separate zip-top bag. Freeze for up to a month. It’s best to transfer frozen dough from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before (or 10 to 12 hours before) you want to use it. But I’ve found that dough balls pulled straight from the freezer and left to warm up on the counter will be completely defrosted in about 1-1/2 hours. The dough is practically indestructible.
Topping your pizza
For some people, pizza isn’t pizza without the scarlet of tomatoes peeking through the cheese, but there are many delicious savory combinations that show off fresh seasonal produce. It’s better to use winter vegetables like greens or even canned tomatoes when fresh tomatoes are out of season.
To get you started, here are two of my favorite ways to top a pizza—plus lots of suggestions for combinations to inspire your own designs.
To make the Angeli Caffé’s favorite, Pizza al Caprino:
Over the shaped pizza, scatter 10 to 15 cloves roasted or slow-cooked garlic, 5 to 6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (drained and sliced), 3 ounces crumbled goat cheese, a few capers, and a pinch of oregano. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
To make a simple flatbread:
Scatter sliced garlic (3 to 4 cloves), minced fresh rosemary (from 1 small sprig), and coarse salt over the dough. Make several 1/2-inch slashes to keep the dough from puffing up. Drizzle with lots of extra-virgin olive oil before baking, and garnish with Parmesan. Serve this delicious “Pizza Aglio e Olio” with a salad or cheese.
To design your own pizza:
Use any of these topping combinations to inspire your own creation. A generous drizzle of olive oil is a great addition to just about any pizza.
• Sautéed onions, fresh sage leaves, grated pecorino romano, grated Parmesan.
• Basil pesto, toasted pine nuts, slow-cooked garlic, grated Parmesan.
• Sautéed leeks, chopped artichoke hearts, a bit of crushed tomatoes, grated Parmesan.
• Italian Fontina, Gorgonzola, sun-dried tomatoes.
• Garlic, olives, capers, anchovies, and crushed tomatoes.
• Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil.
• Thinly sliced prosciutto, ricotta, fresh basil, grated Parmesan.
• Cooked Italian sausage, sautéed onions, Italian Fontina, mozzarella.
• Sautéed mushrooms, thinly sliced cooked potatoes, Gorgonzola, crumbled cooked bacon or pancetta.