PIE ARE SHARED: Mastering the pizza crust thing at home

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It’s difficult to beat the perfect summer night in Colorado. It usually involves friends around the table, eating good food and conversing over the state’s finest suds.

But let’s be honest, there’s always a way to make something even better. To raise the bar on your summer evenings, all it takes is some gumption, determination and a heck of a lot of instruction.

The Sentinel is here to help you figure out how to build a perfect summer night’s dinner. Last week, we helped get it all started by laying the foundation for the evening with a handmade table. Now it’s time to put something on that table for all your friends to enjoy.

Part 2: A perfect night calls for the perfect food

When inviting friends over for the perfect summer dinner, one might feel pressured to make some extravagant meal with rare and expensive ingredients that cost an arm and a leg and three days worth of preparation.

But instead of trying to convince your friends you’re the second coming of Julia Child, turn to a dish everyone will be happy with — pizza. And we’re not talking about ordering delivery or buying some premade, frozen concoction to heat in the oven. There’s no need to cut corners when making an amazing pizza for everyone to enjoy is as easy pie.

Jordan Wallace, culinary director at Pizzeria Locale, knows his pizza. Specifically, he knows Neapolitan pizza. Wallace spent time in Naples learning how to make pizza. And after spending time with chefs who’ve spent their entire lives making it, he realized just how much artistry goes into making the best slice possible. 

“When I went over to Naples and learned from the source, I learned how special it really it is and how much craft is involved,” Wallace said. “You have guys over there that work the pizza oven as a living for 20 years. In the city of Naples when I was over there, there were 1,600 individually owned pizzeria in the city limits. And everyone has a special recipe.”

While Neapolitan pizza is cooked in a wood burning oven, Wallace said a great pizza can easily be made a standard oven or grill. And everything needed to pull off the perfect meal can be found in the typical kitchen.

“As long as you have an oven or a grill, you have everything you need to do this at home,” Wallace said. “Obviously you’re going to get a slightly different result than you will at a restaurant with a 1000-degree wood burning oven but it still going to work really well and be delicious.”

A big step in making a great pizza is stretching out the dough properly. Wallace said when someone starts making pizza for the first time, dealing with dough can be a tricky thing. The key is to make sure the middle of the pizza is just the right thickness. For the recipe he provided (see below) the dough makes an 10-inch pizza. If the dough is stretched out to that dimension, no matter the shape, it will result in the right level of thickness.

Another big thing is making sure all the excess flour on the dough gets shaken off during the stretching process. Too much flour and it will create a coating on the pizza that can kill the flavor.

“You want to get that pure crust, pure dough,” Wallace said. “Once you’ve pressed the dough, you start dusting it off and stretching it, it never touches flour again.”

And if you think rolling pins are part of the process, Chris Donato, general manager for Pizzeria Locale said simply just don’t.

“Rolling pins will ruin the crust. No if’s about it,” Donato said.

When cooking the pizza, the hotter the over gets the better. If a grill is available, Wallace said he often cooks the pizza dough like pita bread and then folds the cooked dough around the toppings of his choice. But if you want a traditional pizza, he said to oil up one side of the dough, cook it quickly and then turn it over and place all the toppings on the dough and then let cook for several minutes.

While it might seem like bad hosting to make your guests work for their meal, Wallace said he often invites friends over and has them make up their own pizza. It ends up being a great way to start a party and it is such an easy process that everyone can do it without much instruction.

“It’s a blank palate. Anything that’s in season can work. If you want to blow your guests away with peaches and burrata, you can throw that on the pizza and it’s going to be delicious,” Wallace said. “It’s just a vessel for whatever you want to enjoy. It is super easy and even if you’re not a good home cook, with just a little bit of practice you can make this well.

“It is important to realize even bad pizza tastes delicious. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a pizza that doesn’t taste good. Well maybe gas station pizza. But that’s about it.”

Pizzeria Locale home pizza dough recipe

Makes 4, 10-inch pizzas

Ingredients

3½ cups 00 flour

1½ cups cold tap water

2¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dry active yeast

Drizzle of olive oil to coat bowl

Mix the yeast and water together in a metal bowl. Add flour and combine until dough starts to form. There should be no excess flour.

Sprinkle salt evenly over the dough and gently fold the dough over and over until salt is evenly distributed and clumps are gone. This should take a minute or less.

Lightly flour the work surface and place the dough on the table.

Gently fold the dough in half, turn 90 degrees, and fold in half again. Do this 5 times.

Place dough in metal bowl, cover with plastic and let rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.

After 15 minutes again fold the dough the same way on the work surface and then return the dough to the bowl to rest for another 15 minutes,

Repeat this process one more time.  Each time it’s done, the dough should get smoother and spongier.

After the third 15 minute ret, fold one more time, place back into bowl and place in the refrigerator overnight. The dough will be ready after 18 hours and last up to 36 hours.

After the overnight refrigeration, pull the dough out and cut it in half and in half again in the opposite direction of the first cut. Form each fourth into a small ball using the same folding technique from the day before. Let the dough balls rise at room temperature for three to five hours covered lightly with plastic wrap. After three hours, the dough is ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone for 40 minutes.

Stretch the dough to about 10 inches. Do this by placing the dough into a shallow pile of flour and flour both sides of the dough ball. Press crust on the floured counter. Define the crust by pressing just inside the edge of the dough. Shoot for a desired crist width of half an inch and then continue to press all the way around the dough. The middle where the toppings go should be flat and the cust should be slightly taller and untouched.

Pass the dough back and forth between your open hands until the pizza is about 11 inches in diameter, shaking off the flr and then placing back onto the counter. 

Top pizza in order of sauce, cheese and then toppings.

Open oven and slide pizza onto the pizza stone and bake for about seven minutes. If you don’t have a stone, place pizza onto an oiled baking tray and then place in the oven. Add an extra minute or two to the cooking time.

Allow pizza to rest a few minutes on a cutting board before cutting.