Today’s post is an homage to the pizza that mom makes, but like many Americans, I grew up with a broad spectrum of different foods that were all called “pizza.”
At the far end of the thin-crust spectrum, we see things like the cracker-thin Neapolitan-style pizzas, light on toppings and baked to bubbly, lightly blackened pies in ultra-hot wood or coal-fire ovens.
On the other end, you see emphasis on crust thicknesses rising all the way to the casserole-like excess that is Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, which can be so overloaded, it’s like an entire meal in a single slice. (To my mind, that’s less a “pizza” and more a savory pie, but people have strongly-held feelings on that topic.)
Somewhere in the middle, we find homemade pizza: not cracker-thin, not exactly deep dish. Usually rolled out rather than spun in the air. Ranging from thick, bready borders to the thinnest crust that’s achievable by mere mortals on standard grills and ovens.
While we can all appreciate the work of the professionals, homemade pizza is a particularly special pizza, because we get to involve outselves in the processs, transforming dough and cheese into something delicious and personal.
I’m also a huge fan of involving kids in the homemade pizza-production process; pressing out the dough and distributing the toppings, then seeing the baking transformation. Experiencing pizza first-hand helps to demystify the food and make it an achievable skill. When you make pizza together, you’re making memories together.
My mother often makes pizza when I come to visit, and she does a lot of experiments with the toppings. On the night before I was born, she made a green-tomato pizza, which was a great way to use September’s excess of green garden tomatoes.
A killing frost as early as Labor Day was not uncommon in Aberdeen, so the green tomatoes had been picked off the vines and stored in the basement by mid-September. I’ve always been an improviser-type of cook and what’s on hand pretty much dictates what toppings are on the pizza. In this case, it was green tomatoes.
Was it the defining factor in the timing of my birth? We’ll never know. But I present to you mom’s recipe with the hope that you can make some happy family memories while you make a delicious pizza pie.
“Baking can be tricky, so for a pizza I do use a recipe for the crust adapted from a book accompanying the bread machine we got in 1990. I use the dough cycle on the bread machine and a pizza stone for finishing. The rest is whatever sauce (typically tomato-based), cheese, and toppings I have on hand. Oregano, basil, and garlic are commonly used spices.”
Tomato sauce really isn’t the star of the show here (some pizzas don’t use it at all), so it can be a simple layer of your favorite marinara, or if you happen to have a can of tomatoes, simmer them (covered) with a bit of olive oil and salt, a crushed garlic clove, a bit of oregano, rosemary and basil, if you have it. After 45 minutes, taste and see if you need to add a bit of sugar. (Some tomatoes are more bitter than others.) Puree for a smoother texture and use for your pizza, pasta or as a dipping sauce.
To make your dough ahead of time, let it rise at room temperature, then gently deflate it, cover the dough and put in the refrigerator overnight. Later on, or the next day when you’re ready for pizza, stretch the dough out in a pan. Let it rest and warm up until slightly puffy, then proceed with the recipe steps for topping and cooking it.
Mom's Homemade Pizza (Thick or Thin-Crust)
(2 or 3 thin-crust pizzas, or 1 thick-crust 12-inch pizza)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 heaping Tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) water
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 3/4 cups (480 grams) bread flour, plus extra for rolling
- Toppings of your choice (A few tablespoons of tomato sauce; cheese and sliced garlic; fresh basil and ham, sliced green tomatoes and oregano, etc...)
- If you have a bread machine, add the ingredients to the container in the order recommended by the manufacturer. (Usually the liquid goes in first, then the dry ingredients.) Choose the dough cycle and let the cycle run.
- If you're making crust by hand, dissolve the active dry yeast and sugar in 2 tablespoons of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before adding it to a mixing bowl with the sugar, salt, water, olive oil and 480 grams of flour. Blend by hand with a mixer until you've made a soft, smooth dough. It should form an elastic dough ball that doesn't stick too much to the sides of the bowl. If it sticks, add a bit more flour.
- Divide your dough into 2-3 balls for thin-crust, or just make one big ball for thick-crust pizza. You'll want about 255g (9 ounces) of dough for a 12” crust, or 370g (13 ounces) for a 12” x 15” crust. If you're making thick-crust pizza, place the dough balls in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise until it's puffy. This will take from 60 to 90 minutes, depending on your yeast and the warmth of your kitchen.
- For thin-crust pizza, skip the rise... you want it to be thin! Just roll or press each ball into a circle or oval.
- You can try to twirl the dough in the air using your fists if you're feeling brave. I normally roll dough between two sheets of greased parchment paper. Go for a 1/8”-thick circle or oval for thin-crust.
- For thick-crust, simply roll out to your desired thickness and shape. You can also make it heart-shaped if you're feeling romantic!
- Brush the rolled dough with a little olive oil and let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400ºF/205ºC or as hot as your oven will go.
- Lay the dough across a sheet pan, or on parchment or a lightly floured pizza peel. Spread the dough with a thin layer of olive oil, tomato sauce and/or toppings of your choice. Thin-crust pizzas can only accomodate a sprinkle of toppings, so try not to overwhelm them. If you're going thick, feel free to get creative and go crazy.
- Bake your pizza on a sheet pan (or a preheated pizza stone, if you happen to have one!) about 8 minutes for thin-crust pizza; about 10 to 12 minutes for medium thickness; and 12 to 14 minutes for thick-crust pizza. Keep your eye on it and pull it out when the crust is browned and the cheese is bubbly.
Naturally, if you’re making your own pie, it’s easy to make it dairy-free, vegan or whole-grain, as you like. Mom says, “Whole wheat flour substitutes for half the white flour called for in the recipe. Add a little more yeast and a few more grains of sugar.”
Here are some of mom’s favorite homemade pizza toppings: