A long time ago I shared with you all my most favorite pizza dough ever.  It completely changed my feelings about homemade pizza, and finally I preferred my own creations over carry out by far.  Recently I realized that a lot of the tips and tricks that have become second nature to me have never been shared with my readers, since the first time around I basically only shared the recipe itself.  After talking with several friends and coworkers about various techniques and methods, I thought a pizza dough tutorial might be useful.  Once you realize how easy it is to make your own dough, and just how much better it tastes than store-bought, you’ll never want to go back.  (Also, I think most store-bought pizza dough should be illegal.  Ick.)  When you can make your own delicious dough and have it in the freezer ready to go whenever you need it, it truly is every bit as convenient as any premade version.

 I’ve harped on it before and I’ll do it again – measure your ingredients by weight.  This is a much more accurate way to measure flour, and will eliminate the guesswork of mixing up your dough.

If you don’t plan on using your dough immediately, freeze it.  To do this, mix up the dough as usual and let it rise as normal.  After dividing the dough into two equal portions, wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and store inside a freezer-safe bag, and transfer to the freezer immediately.  (Reuse these bags to avoid being wasteful!)  The double layer is important here.  Even after the dough is moved to the freezer, it will continue to rise a bit before the rise is completely suspended.  It always, always pops through the plastic wrap so the extra layer of protection is needed to prevent exposure.

Freeze the dough until it is ready to be used.   The day you plan to use the dough, transfer it to the refrigerator in the morning to thaw in time for dinner that evening.  (If using the dough for lunch, transfer to the refrigerator the night before.)   The dough that has been frozen tastes every bit as good as fresh, so it is incredibly convenient to have available for a quick, throw-together meal.

I’ve had many questions pertaining to the need to freeze the dough if you plan to use it the very next day.  It seems logical that you could simply refrigerate it immediately after the rise and use it the following day.  However, I have tried this and it didn’t go well.  The refrigerator is not cold enough to stop the rise quickly and the result is an over-risen, crazy puffy monster dough.  My solution?  I still use the freezer initially to completely stop the rise, and then I transfer the dough to the refrigerator until it is ready to be used.  (I think another solution would be to use less yeast in the dough initially, but I don’t feel super comfortable altering recipes and changing amounts of yeast, so this is my preferred method.)

A pizza stone is an integral part of really good homemade pizza.  Why?  The stone is preheated with the oven, producing a very hot surface for baking the pizza.  When you slide the assembled pizza onto the stone, the bottom of the crust starts baking immediately, producing the perfect crisp bottom that provides the slices structural integrity, while the top portion is still soft and chewy.

Before making the pizza, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes to take off the chill. Preheat the oven and the pizza stone at 500˚ F for 30 minutes as well.  During this waiting period, I like to get all my toppings ready.

After the dough has been at room temperature for 30 minutes, it is ready for shaping.  You have two options for your shaping surface – a pizza peel or a piece of parchment paper.  Up until now I have always used parchment paper just because it is convenient and I don’t yet own a pizza peel, but I would like to cut down on my use of parchment so I think a pizza peel purchase is in my very near future.  Whichever surface you use, sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal.  Shape the dough using lightly floured hands.

If the dough springs back a lot while you are trying to shape it, let it rest for 15 minutes and try again. This allows the gluten in the dough to relax and should make shaping easier.  Sometimes my dough requires multiple resting periods for gluten relaxation, other times it shapes perfectly right off the bat.  It’s a mystery to me, but at least I know how to handle it.

Brush the outside edge of the crust lightly with olive oil.  This gives it a nice golden sheen after baking.

Top your pizza as desired.  (We’ve been reeeally loving the chicken ranch pizza lately.  Using pepper jack and cheddar cheese takes it to a new level.)

 Transfer your pizza to the heated pizza stone.  If you are using the parchment method, slide a cutting board underneath the parchment for transfer (the parchment itself is not sturdy enough to transfer alone.)

 Bake, and voila!  With all the endless topping combinations available (or fillings in the case of calzones), you can get rid of those carry out menus.   Oh, and don’t forget about pizza bites.  Mmmm, pizza bites.