But first, a small detour. Alex and I went to brunch at a friend’s apartment in the Upper East Side yesterday, stopping at Eli’s on the way home for provisions. Despite it’s unseemly pricing structure, I used to love this store but yesterday it just left a funny taste in my mouth as I realized that I’m just not the customer they’re after. Pre-made cookie and dinner roll dough? Pre-chopped vegetables? Day old chocolate cake? I suppose if I was frightened of my kitchen and had endless funds at my disposal, this place would be a godsend. But instead I just felt like pleading to their customers: pizza dough is so easy to make! Lately this has become like my battle cry, trying to convince people not to be so afraid of failing at a recipe that food choices are instead left to companies who possibly have their best interests in mind, but most definitely not before their bottom line.
To wit: Three-quarters of a teaspoon of yeast, one teaspoon of salt, one and a half cups of flour, half a cup of lukewarm water and a tablespoon of olive oil. Stir. Knead. Let sit for one to two hours, until it has doubled. Deflate. Wait twenty minutes. Roll. Add toppings and seasonings. Bake at your oven’s top temperature for about 10 minutes. Eat the best pizza for two, ever, brimming with self-satisfaction.
Except now I have a huge hankering for Eli Zabar’s Health Salad — also called Eating My Words as it is the one prepared food I am physically incapable of resisting the purchase of whenever I’m in either neighborhood, and they had none available yesterday. Have I tried my hand at it in my own kitchen with great success? Does the salad cost about $4 for forty-two cents worth of ingredients? Why can’t I see the big picture and stop buying it when I can make it myself? Er, ah… Well, it tastes better after it sits for a couple days, and I’m not that patient. You see? We all have our reasons, and I promise, I’m not judging yours. But, do hope you try my pizza dough, at least once, and see if it makes a convert out of you. And I’ll do my best to come up with a fail-proof formula for that crunchy salad.
Really Simple Pizza Dough
Makes enough for one small, thin crust pizza. Double it if you like your pizza thick and bready.
1 1/2 cups flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Stir dry ingredients, including yeast, in a large bowl. Add water and olive oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. Dump all clumps and floury bits onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a homogeneous ball.
If you are finding this step difficult, one of the best tricks I picked up from my bread-making class is to simply pause. Leave the dough in a lightly-floured spot, put the empty bowl upside-down on top of it and come back in 2 to 5 minutes, at which point you will find the dough a lot more lovable.
Knead it for just a minute or two. Lightly oil the bowl (a spritz of cooking spray perfectly does the trick) where you had mixed it — one-bowl recipe! — dump the dough in, turn it over so all sides are coated, cover it in plastic wrap and leave it undisturbed for an hour or two, until it has doubled in size.
Dump it back on the floured counter (yup, I leave mine messy), and gently press the air out of the dough with the palm of your hands. Fold the piece into an approximate ball shape, and let it sit under that plastic wrap for 20 more minutes.
Sprinkle a pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat your oven to its top temperature. Roll out the pizza, toss on whatever topping and seasonings you like. (I always err on the side of skimpy with toppings so to not weight down the dough too much, or if I have multiple toppings, to keep them very thinly sliced.)
Bake it for about 10 minutes until it’s lightly blistered and impossible to resist.