Back to the Beginning: Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Dough

“The universe is hilarious! Like, Venus is 900 degrees. I could tell you it melts lead. But that’s not as fun as saying, ‘You can cook a pizza on the windowsill in nine seconds.’ ”          -Neil deGrasse Tyson

Is there a guilty pleasure more well-rounded than pizza? Not the cauliflower or whole-grain or pita crust type. The type of pizza you order in the personal size after you’ve had a bad day, when the warmth of the box on your lap fuses with the glow of your favorite television show. The type of pizza that comes in a “jumbo” size that sits open on a coffee table while you and a group of four friends are playing Mario Kart, the latest edition of FIFA, or Borderlands.

Don’t get it twisted. Pizza is a beautiful thing, but the combination of bread (low in nutrients, full of blood-sugar-spiking glucose, bloat-causing, you know the stuff), cheese (saturated fat), and potentially some form of red meat (sorry vegetarians and vegans) isn’t the wisest one as far as various nutritionists are concerned.

Yes, I comprehend that the basic ingredients needed to make a pizza have the potential to be less-unhealthy and full of clean-eating-good-karma. I also comprehend that the amount and type of cheese, processed meat toppings, and amount of pizza consumed in one sitting also contribute to diet-busting. I fully realize that making a healthy pizza is possible. I just chose not to do that.

I’m not going to get into a discussion analyzing what went into this pizza besides the dough. I refuse. Pizza toppings and condiments are enough to inspire arguments, and the choice between swallowing glass versus discussing the pros and cons of pizza crust iterations is an easy one for me. After this post goes public, I welcome combinations of cheese, toppings, and condiments from all walks of life. I’m an equal-opportunity pizza eater, as long as my crust isn’t burnt.

When I was in middle school, my mother’s boss hosted an office party. The brick pizza oven imported brick-by-brick from Italy was the centerpiece of his backyard. He’s a nice gentleman, but very intimidating. Growing up, I always shied away from him behind my mother’s skirts when he attempted conversation during my in-office visits. At this party, I lingered transfixed on the edge of adult conversation I didn’t understand. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pizza dough being kneaded and tossed into the air. I couldn’t believe this man with flour on his t-shirt and glass of beer in hand joking with those around him was the same person I’d been scared of. Pizza has a way of making whoever is preparing it look jovial and festive.

The idea of making my own pizza dough always appealed to me, but I had a strange mental block about working with active dry yeast. In many ways, I still do, but cooking with a glass of wine next to me alleviates that stress long enough to be productive.

Wolfgang Puck’s recipe and methodology saved me with this one. I recommend having a friend over to help you (thanks Saylor, love you girl) so you can make all sorts of inappropriate jokes about yeast and balls. Sexuality aside, pizza dough made from scratch is equivalent to a small child. Take it seriously, or things will get messy and annoying. Remember, yeast is a living thing.

Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 package Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 teaspoon Honey (I used Buckwheat Honey)
  • 1 cup warm (105 – 115 degrees F) water
  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Don’t be too proud to use a stick thermometer. Remember, the yeast will die and you will fail miserably in your task if the water is too hot.

Heat water in a kettle or on the stove until the temperature reaches 105-115 degrees F. Any warmer than this, and the yeast you are trying to wake up and activate will die.

Once the water is the correct temperature, dissolve 1 package of active dry yeast in 1/4 cup of the water with 1 teaspoon of honey. (The honey gives the yeast something to eat when it wakes up. It’s alive like Frankenstein’s monster, guys. Treat it with respect.) Let the yeast dissolve for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes have passed, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 3/4 cup of water (still in that 105-115 degrees F range), and the yeast mixture together until it barely forms a dough-like substance. Turn the dough onto a work surface sprinkled with flour (make sure there’s plenty of flour on your hands, as well) and knead in the remaining 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Put the dough in some sort of vessel (a large bowl) and cover with a damp towel/washcloth and let rise for 30 minutes to 2 hours. (Yes, 2 hours. This is why a friend coming over to help you with this is helpful.)

Pizza Dough

It started at approximately 1/3 this size. Who said playing with yeast wasn’t fun? Wait….

After the dough has suitably risen, turn it back onto the floured work surface and pat it down with your hands. Yes, deflate it. I know you’re incredibly proud of your hard work, but just do it.

Quarter the dough, and divide it into 4 balls. (Make as many inappropriate jokes as you like.) Pull down the sides of the dough balls (this just keeps getting worse) and tuck the dough under itself 4 or 5 times until it is smooth and firm. Cover with a damp towel/washcloth and let rest for 1 hour.

Pizza Balls

Direct Quote: “When I grow up, I’m going to teach my children all about these balls.”

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let chill for 24 hours.

To Make the Dough Into Pizza:

Heat your oven to 500 degrees. (If you’ve got a pizza stone, use it. If not, sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet to make sure the dough crisps up properly.)

Stretch 1 ball of dough into a 12-inch round (or something close to round) pizza shape. Leave a 1/2-inch border for the crust, regardless of what toppings you put on. The general rule of thumb for things not getting too soggy is 1/2 cup sauce for every 3-ounces of cheese. I can’t be more specific than that at this time, because I’m too busy getting excited over all the dough I have to experiment with this week.

Play around. Have fun with it. It’s PIZZA, for crying out loud.

Pizza Puck

So I missed the “round” memo, which makes this pizza look like a diorama of the Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was delicious.

One thought on “Back to the Beginning: Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza Dough

  1. Dad says:

    Before you were born, I had the time and energy to make home-made pizza many times. This recipe is quite similar to the basic dough I would make. I would start slightly larger, aiming for a single 14″ thick crust pizza. 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 packages dry yeast, 1 1/2 cups warm water, and 2 teaspoons of light brown sugar. After making the first ball of dough, the bowl would be coated with the olive oil to keep the dough from sticking and the top of the ball would be coated with the oil, too. The second punch down would be used to make a soft thick crust. To make two thin crust pizzas, the second punch down would be skipped. I never used a 24-hour refrigerated wait, just go straight to the pizza paddle after the second punch down. Perhaps the wait would be cool, because occasionally the dough would seem overly yeasty after baking.

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