My mum used to make the best pizza. She’s from Napoli so that’s not surprising. About once a week, she’d roll out a large tray of dough, top it with a light dusting of sauce and ham and mozzarella. I’ve never had pizza that good. My mum doesn’t make pizza anymore and I don’t eat pizza anymore but I do like to make it for my family. Here’s a recipe I found years ago and use when I have time to make my own dough. It’s similar to the pizza I used to help my mum make with the addition of precise measurements (my mum used to eyeball it).
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed until smooth and sticky (about 5 to 7 minutes). The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and slightly sticky.
Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lightly oiling. Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas). Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.
Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough. The dough will keep for up to 3 days. If you want to save some of the dough for future baking (we are making enough for six pizzas) you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Before freezing, dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.
When you’re ready to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, then dust the counter with flour. Place the dough ball(s) on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. Now let rest for 2 hours. We let it rest so the gluten can relax and is easier to shape.
Preheat oven to 500F. Generously dust a pizza stone or a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. This is tricky and takes some practice. Don’t get discouraged. If you need to resort to a rolling pin, feel free to do so. If tossing and the dough begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn’t as effective as the toss method.
When the dough is stretched to 9 to 12 inches in diameter, lay it on the stone or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. My mum would use only sauce, ham and mozzarella. The more toppings you put on the pizza, the harder it is for the crust to cook. Usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.
Slide the topped pizza into the middle rack of your oven and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. You can also cook it at a lower temperature of 400F. The pizza should take about 20 minutes to cook. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move you rack to a lower shelf before the next pizza. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the to a higher shelf for subsequent bakes. Every oven is different so be sure to experiment until you find the right setting for you.
Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.