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Chat Leftovers: Pizza dough woes

Homemade pizza is so worth it -- and not difficult, once you get the hang of dealing with the dough. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

You have questions, we have answers. That's the driving force behind our Free Range chat, which takes place today and just about every Wednesday. Just sign on at 1, bring us your kitchen conundrums and we'll do our best to help.

Did I mention the prizes? Two lucky chatters usually end up with great cookbooks just for participating.

Did I mention the special guests? Today we'll be joined by Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

And did I mention Thanksgiving? Starting this time next Wednesday, I'll be answering questions about the upcoming Mother of All Food Holidays rather than general questions from the chat.

But for today, the topic is pizza dough -- and how. We've gotten several dough questions over the past couple of weeks, so I took four of them to an expert, food writer Tony Rosenfeld, to get his take. Here we go:

1. I've been experimenting with making pizza and am having trouble with the crust. The dough often comes out sort of tough and can be difficult to hand-stretch or roll out. Any tips? FYI, the recipe is a basic concoction of yeast, flour, salt and water. I'm using a stand mixer.

2. When I make pizza dough, it doesn't hold together like a dough should. It breaks into short chunks where there seems to be some gluten, but there's no matrix of long, stretchy dough. I knead it for a long time, and I've used both my stand mixer and my hands.

3. I buy the bagged balls of refrigerated pizza dough in the supermarket. I have trouble getting the dough to even out into a nice, round shape -- or any shape. I leave it out for 20 minutes to warm up, like the directions say, and then try to form it, but the gluten keeps trying to pull it back into a ball.

4. I used The Post's recipe for grilled pizza while I was in Colorado, and it was good, but the dough wasn't elastic at all. Was it something I did, or was it the 8,880-foot altitude?

1. Tony has a few ideas about this one. First, the stand mixer is great, but you also should knead the dough by hand twice: once right after mixing and before proofing, and again after it has doubled and you've punched it down. Next, are you putting your dough in the refrigerator? If so, be sure it has warmed enough before you try to work it. "Dough is going to soften if it's left out at room temperature for an hour or so," Tony says. Finally, if changing your kneading and warming techniques don't help, try adding a little oil to the dough. "A tablespoon or two of oil will shorten the dough and make a little more tender," he says, and that might make it easier for you to deal with.

2. This cook seems to have a good understanding of the doughmaking process, Tony says, but "I wonder if their kneading technique is doing the trick." For this home baker and others in search of expanding their knowledge, he recommends "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," by Peter Reinhart. It's a great basic guide that will take you to the next level.

3. Tony has nothing against packaged doughs: "A lot of them can be quite good," he says. But the manufacturing process "makes for a slightly tougher dough." To counteract that, start by ignoring those directions, and leave it at room temperature for an hour. Or you can take the dough out of the fridge and out of its package, give it a short warm-up and then form it into a small, pudgy disk, maybe 5 inches around. Let it rest; come back to it after 20 minutes or so and finish forming your pie. "Working and resting is good for the dough."

4. Altitude? Not a factor. In this case, the lack of elasticity is intentional; Tony knows that because the grilled pizza dough in question is his recipe. Dough that's intended for the grill "is a very tender dough, not elastic," he explains. "It's got a high water content so the dough can hold up to dry, high heat. You're not really going to be able to work it." So don't try to shape it by picking it up; instead, leave it on your work surface and press/pull it into the shape you want. And as with all doughs, make sure this one is close to room temperature.

That's it for this week. Now everyone get out there and make a homemade pizza.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  |  October 28, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Free Range, Jane Touzalin, pizza  
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I've not been making my dough very long, but I've had good luck following a Lidia Bastianich recipe: 1 tsp. yeast, 1 cup warm water (110-115 degrees), 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour, salt, pepper and some good olive oil. This makes me 2 10-12" inch pizzas. I sometimes add fennel or celery seeds into the dough to liven things up. Last time I wanted to add sesame seeds, but didn't have any on hand. Also, I recently cooked a pizza on my electric grill. Turned out great. My wife is very picky about pizza and she loved it. She said it rated with 2 Amy's. I'll take that any day.

Posted by: socoblogboy | October 28, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

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