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Perfecting Pizza Dough with a Portobello Spinach Pizza

March 7, 2007

Portobello Spinach Pizza

I have a cookbook shelf crowded with recipes for pizza dough. They are all very similar: yeast, flour, oil, sugar, salt, water, or some combination of the above. They vary mainly in proportions, or in rising time, and in how much pizza dough each recipe will make. The last time I made pizza, I used Giada’s recipe from Bon Appetit, and I quite liked it (which I suppose proves that occasionally Giada and I can get along). I wanted, this time, to try something new, so I pulled down a cookbook I haven’t yet had a chance to use: Peter Reinhart’s American Pie. (Well, I guess I have had the chance to use it, I just haven’t.)

What immediately frustrated me is the quantity of pizza dough all the recipes make. This is a problem I have with other bread cookbooks as well. I do not need four loaves of bread, or six 10-inch pizzas. I have enough problems with leftovers as it is. Why, oh why, do cookbooks tend to assume you’re cooking for a family of twelve? Despite the fact that Reinhart offers a gajillion different dough recipes, I didn’t want to fuss with any of them, because I just didn’t want to have to do all the crazy math calculations to reduce the recipes. Back to Giada is was. I did, however, pick up some great tips.

The first thing Reinhart suggests in the dough chapter is to refrigerate your dough for a longer rise. He writes:

The goal for bakers is to let enzyme activity draw out the maximum natural sugar trapped in the starchy carbohydrates while controlling the amount of sugar converted by the yeast…the cool temperature [in the refrigerator] slows yeast activity while the enzymes continue to bread down the starches. Thus, less sugar is converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol, leaving more of it available to ou[r] palates as flavor.

I only vaguely understand this, which is why I opted for a blockquote. The general idea, though, is that by letting it rise for awhile (preferably overnight) in the refrigerator, you end up with more of the sugars in the bread, more flavor, and a nicely browned crust. He claims that any pizza dough will be improved by this delayed-fermentation method, so I gave it a try.

Of course, I didn’t have a 24-hour time frame for this slow rise, so I went with the shorter method. I let it rise for about an hour on the counter, then punched the dough down to knock the air out, formed it into a ball again, wrapped it in plastic, and left it in the refrigerator for another two or three hours. You then are supposed to remove it from the refrigerator an hour or two before you intend to cook it.

Pizza with sauce and spinach

His other tip involved the cooking half of the pizza-making process. Without a pizza stone, he suggests heating your oven to its maximum temperature (550F to 550F), and coating a baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil, to lightly fry up the bottom of the crust, making it crispier. He also suggests pre-heating the oven for 45 minutes.

Alas, I didn’t notice the 45 minutes suggestion until it was too late. Double alas, our oven refused to get up to 500F. It started making this terrible puffing, choking, spitting sound. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and while I doubt it’s going to explode and kill us or anything, it sometimes makes me nervous. Anyway, I settled for the 450F the oven seemed willing to attain, and popped in my pizza, topped with deliciousness, for about 12 minutes. The crust was turning a light golden brown, and the cheese was melted, but I suspect I should have left it for another four or five minutes.

It just wasn’t what I wanted out of pizza dough. It was way too soft, with no bite, no crispiness anywhere. I thought I had managed to roll it out relatively thin, but it still seemed too thick once it baked up. The flavor was nice, but I can’t say it was significantly better than last time I made this recipe. Perhaps the 500F temperature is much more important than I expected, but I was unfortunately disappointed.

What I was not disappointed in, however, was my pizza sauce, and the ratio of toppings on the pizza–those elements were perfect. I made pizza earlier in the day, and decided to try some new things.

New and Different Pizza Sauce Recipe

  • about 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 T. or so of concentrated tomato paste (I used double concentrated paste, the kind that comes in a tube. If you’re using regular, you might want to use a bit more.)
  • a small handful of oregano
  • a few pinches of fennel seed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, and sweat the onions for a few minutes, until they start to become transparent, but before they brown. Add the garlic, and saute for half a minute or so, until you can start smelling the garlic kind of strongly. Add the tomatoes and the seasonings, and stir it all up a bit, cooking until it starts to bubble. Reduce the hit, and simmer for awhile. I think I let mine simmer for over an hour. You want the tomatoes to be soft enough to run easily through a food mill.

Once you decide it’s ready, let it cool a bit. Place a food mill over a bowl, and run the sauce through a cup at a time, so you end up with a thinner, finer sauce. I’m not sure what it was, but I felt the blend of flavors in this sauce was perfect–a little bit buttery, with the sweetness and acidity balancing each other out. You’ll probably only use 3/4 of a cup or so per pizza, so you’ll probably have a bit left over, like I do.


I bought pre-sliced portobellos from Trader Joe’s, sliced to about 1/2 an inch thickness. I used bagged, pre-washed baby spinach, which is seriously the only kind you can find anymore. And I used only a little bit, probably 3/4 of a cup, of mozzarella, and maybe 1/4 of a cup of parmesan. I usually overload my pizzas with cheese, because I love it so so much, but this amount was really kind of perfect.

Despite my crust disappointments, this pizza made me perfectly happy for a Tuesday night dinner. Next time, I might try sauteeing the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, but it certainly wasn’t necessary.

I am still, though, soldiering on to find the perfect pizza dough recipe. Next time, perhaps I’ll just go full steam ahead, and make a ton of pizza dough so I can try out one of Reinhart’s recipes. What I really, really want is to find the dough recipe used by Boston’s Pizza Oggi. This is perhaps the best pizza I’ve ever had: flaky, almost buttery dough that makes you almost cry from its deliciousness. Since they closed down their location in JP, we’ve lamented the loss at least once a week. If anyone can help me figure out how to recreate this crust at home, I will be eternally grateful and give you my first born child or something.

And if anyone has any further tips, please, throw them my way. I think I’m becoming obsessed….

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2007 11:59 am

    I just got a new pizza pan that has holes in the bottom, I’ve only tried it once, but it seemed to crisp up the bottom nicely.

  2. March 9, 2007 9:38 am

    Ohhh, I’ve never heard of this holes-on-the-bottom pizza pan. I might have to do a little searching for such a tool this weekend. We used to have a pizza stone, but alas, someone *ahem I love you Crystal* left it in New York. Sigh.

  3. August 24, 2008 5:09 pm

    I was quickly reading through and came across your comments “What immediately frustrated me is the quantity of pizza dough all the recipes make….” I completely agree! Thanks.

  4. Christie permalink
    September 2, 2008 6:09 pm

    a chef freind of mind recommended this book Pizza: Any Way You Slice It (Easy Recipes for Great Homemade Pizzas, Focaccia, and Calzones) by Michele Scicolone and Charles Scicolone
    I read throug it and it is a wonderful read and has many recipes as well. it actually addresses why pizza dough has such poor quality here in the us and ways to remedy it.

  5. Trev permalink
    January 13, 2009 6:12 pm

    1 cup flour
    1/3 cup warm water (115 f)
    1 tblsp yeast
    1 tblsp honey
    1 tblsp olive oil
    dash of salt

    Mix the honey, water, and yeast, let rest 5-10 min.

    Add the rest. Mix and add water a few drops at a time until a dough ball forms. Kneed for 2 minutes. Let rise in a warm place 45 minutes. Punch down, kneed again, and let rise another 45.

    This will make ONE 12″-14″ pizza crust :)

    It’s pretty basic but easily modified for experimentation. I enjoy letting the dough rise in a *very* warm (just cool enough to prevent cooking) place so that it’s nice and chewy.

  6. Victor permalink
    May 6, 2009 7:42 pm

    When someone says “The trick is to let it sit in the fridge for a while,” the truth is at least a day or two and up to a week.

    I’m just now starting to experiment and my first pizza dough was so interesting I had to make it just hours later. This latest batch is on its third day soon, and I tore off a piece just to see how it was doing and it’s a different beast.

  7. May 7, 2009 6:21 am

    @Victor I completely agree–in fact, I’ve discovered over time that you if you make up a batch and keep in the freezer for up to six months, not only do you always have pizza dough on hand (if you can think ahead in thaw it, at least) but it is some of the very best dough when it’s been frozen. Weird how that happens.


  1. Pizza Chronicles, Part Four: Bad dough, but a good idea for leftovers « The Kitchen Illiterate

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