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California-Style Pizza Dough
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California-Style Pizza Dough
From James McNair's New Pizza (Canada, UK), by James McNair.

Over the years, I have tried countless versions of pizza dough, yet I've never found one that I like as much as this version that I developed for my first pizza book in the 1980s. It has undergone a few refinements since then, but the basic recipe stands. The olive oil imparts a subtle flavor and richness and the crust bakes up tender yet chewy.

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water (110°F 115 °F; 43°C to 46°C)
2-1/4 teaspoons (1 packet or 1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
About 3-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose, broad, or semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

Instructions:

Pour the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water, stir to dissolve, and set aside.

To mix and knead the dough by hand:

In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour in the yeast mixture and the 1/4 cup oil. Using a wooden spoon, vigorously stir the flour mixture into the well, beginning in the center and working toward the sides of the bowl, until the flour mixture is incorporated and the soft dough just begins to hold together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough gently, pressing down on the dough with the heels of your hands and pushing it away from you, then partially folding it back over itself. Shift it a quarter turn and repeat the procedure. While kneading, very gradually add just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup flour until the dough is no longer too sticky; this should take about 5 minutes. As you work, use a dough scraper to pry up any bits of dough that stick to the work surface. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth, elastic, and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Knead the dough only until it feels smooth and springy but still slightly moist. Too much kneading overdevelops the gluten in the flour and results in a tough crust.

To mix and knead the dough with a food processor:

In the processor bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt and process to mix well, about 5 seconds. Add the yeast mixture and the 1/4 cup oil and process continuously until the dough forms a single ball or several masses on top of the blade, about 30 seconds. Pinch off a piece of dough and feel it. If it is too sticky, continue processing while gradually adding just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup flour for the dough to lose most of its stickiness. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add warm water, a tablespoon at a time, and process until the dough is no longer too dry. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand as described in the previous paragraph for about 2 minutes.

To mix and knead the dough with a heavy-duty stand mixer:

In the mixer bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt. Attach the flat beater and mix well at the lowest speed for about 10 seconds. Add the yeast mixture and the 1/4 cup oil and mix well at the lowest speed for about 1 minute. Replace the flat beater with the dough hook and knead at medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. (After about 3 minutes, pinch off a piece of dough and feel it. If it is too sticky, continue kneading while gradually adding just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup flour for the dough to lose most of its stickiness. If the dough is dry and crumbly, continue kneading while gradually adding warm water, about a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is no longer too dry.)

To mix and knead the dough in a bread machine:

In the mixing compartment, combine the ingredients in the order suggested in the manufacturer's manual. Run the machine as directed in the manual.

After mixing and kneading the dough by one of the preceding methods, using a pastry brush, generously grease a large bowl with oil. Shape the dough into a smooth ball by stretching the outer surface smooth and tucking the sides of the dough underneath the bottom of the ball. Place the ball, smooth top down, in the bowl, turn to coat the ball all over with oil, and rest it seam-side down in the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss and set aside in a draft-free warm place for the dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 10 minutes if using quick-rising yeast or about 1-1/2 hours if using regular yeast.

Alternatively, transfer the bowl of dough to a refrigerator and let rise for 1 hour, then uncover and use your fist to punch the dough down gently to expel air. Cover tightly, return to the refrigerator, and let rise for up to 24 hours, punching down 1 or 2 more times during the rise.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, use your fist to punch it down gently to prevent over-rising. If you are using bread flour or semolina flour, turn the room temperature-risen dough in an oiled bowl to coat once more, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free warm place until the dough is once again doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes if using quick-rising yeast or about 1 hour if using regular yeast (omit this step if using all-purpose flour). If you cannot bake the dough risen at room temperature within 2 hours of its rising, punch the dough down again, turn it in an oiled bowl to coat once more, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. (The dough can be punched down a total of 4 times and kept refrigerated for up to 36 hours before the yeast is exhausted and the dough unusable.) Let chilled dough come to room temperature before proceeding.

Leave the dough whole for a large pizza, or divide it into 2 equal pieces for two pizzas, 4 equal pieces for individual pizzas, or 8 equal pieces for appetizer-sized pizzette. Form each piece of dough into a smooth ball in the same manner as the original large ball. If you wish to freeze dough for later use, wrap the pieces tightly in plastic wrap or seal in airtight plastic containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to 4 months. Before using, thaw in a refrigerator for 1 or 2 days or for a few hours at room temperature.

Yield: Makes enough dough for one 16-inch round pizza, two 12-inch round pizzas, four 8-inch round individual pizzas, or eight 4-inch round appetizer-sized pizzette; for 8 servings

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