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This dish requires about three hours' preparation time, though that includes two hours and fifteen minutes for your crust dough to rise.
Pans needed: A cast iron skillet, griddle, dutch oven, or other pan, 10 more inches in diameter. (In January of 2012 I prepared this dish using the Lodge 14-inch cast iron pizza pan. I used exactly the same amount of ingredients…and the results were incredible!)
I've tried using the no-knead bread method to raise dough, which requires only 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and 8 to 12 hours rising time. Almost every time I've tried this method, the yeast has spoiled and given the dough a fermented, alcoholic scent and flavor. I've found more success using the "turbo" method, which is to add more yeast and use a shorter rising time. Even so, using a mixer does produce a more satisfying dough, and if you have one available this is the better method.
The dough preparation is very simple: in a large bowl, add the dry ingredients: bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast. If you're using a mixer start mixing the dry ingredients on low speed; or you can mix them with a whisk. Mix them all together until well combined. Add water, a little at a time, and mix thoroughly to create a dough. If you're using a mixer, increase the mixing speed to medium and mix for about 5 minutes. Separate the dough into two equal sized balls.
Add extra virgin olive oil to either a plate or bowl, and roll the dough balls on it to completely cover the outsides with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand for about 1 and 1/2 hours, or longer if possible. Alternately, let the covered bowl stand for one hour to rise, then place the bowl into your refrigerator for a slow rising dough, and leave it for at least 12 hours…or up to three days (72 hours).
The risen dough will be enough for two large-sized thin crust pizzas, of the size baked in a large 14-inch pizza pan; or three typical pizzas (which can be cooked in a 10 to 12-inch cast iron skillet). When you are ready to use this batch of dough, separate the dough into two equal-sized balls of dough. One ball of dough will be enough to make a pizza pie of up to 14 inches in diameter. The second ball of dough can be used to make a second pizza, or a second layer of the same pizza (if you're making a stuffed crust!); or it can be frozen for another time.
If you've risen your dough in the refrigerator, or if you're using store-bought (and chilled) dough, allow the dough to come to room temperature before use.
At least one hour before baking your pizza (up to three hours at most), take out your cast iron skillet or pan (with a diameter of 10 to 12 inches). Coat the surface of the pan (including the sides, if you're using a cast iron skillet) with extra-virgin olive oil. Over this, sprinkle on a light coating (not thick – light) of corn meal or semolina flour. Add on a sprinkle of black pepper, to add spice to your pizza crust.
On your countertop, sprinkle one to two tablespoons of flour. Spread the oil over your entire work space. This will keep the dough from sticking to the countertop as you spread it out. Place the dough onto your oiled work space, or simply scoop or dump it out of the bowl. Spread the dough out until you have a flat, round dough about a little wider than your pan. You can rolling pin to help roll and spread out the dough.
Pick up the dough, and spread it into your oiled pizza pan. Spread it out so that the dough covers the entire pan. Sprinkle on about a tablespoon of corn meal or semolina flour over the top, to give it a dry surface without drying the dough. Don't add the toppings yet: let the dough rest and rise more while it is in the pan. (If you're going to let it rest in the pan more than an hour, cover the pan with plastic wrap.) It will rise very slowly at first; but if you are letting it rest for a long time, after two hours there will be a considerable increase in the rising.
No two pizza sauces are ever alike, and I'm not going to start a holy war here. (Maybe elsewhere, but not here.) My basic pizza sauce is very simple:
Drain the tomatoes through a strainer to thicken it, then mix in garlic powder, oregano and grated cheese. You can add peppers and hot sauce and whatever you want – it's your sauce, so make it the way you like it.
45 minutes to an hour before baking the pizza, preheat the oven as hot as it can go! (My oven used to reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but it was replaced in 2018 and I was able to crank it to 550 degrees.) As the oven is heating, prepare your ingredients. Have your pizza toppings ready to be added (mushrooms sliced, meats cooked and prepared if you use sausage, hamburg, chicken, or other meats as toppings).
When the oven temperature has reached its maximum, it will be time to prepare your dough to go into the oven. Uncover the pan and with your fists, gently punch down the dough to remove the gas. This is very easy, as you can see from this YouTube video on how to punch down pizza dough. This will condense it and remove the extra gas from the dough. The resulting dough will be very spongy and moist – but you will be able to press it into a flat pizza dough. This is all you need for a thin crust pizza. The dough will still rise in your pan when it cooks.
Add your pizza toppings!
Alternately, you may want to add the mozzarella cheese last, or just add more cheese to cover everything else.
Place the whole pizza into the hot oven. Bake for 13 minutes at 550 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 minutes at 500 degrees F. Remove from the oven and place the cast iron pan onto a trivet, cooling rack, or stovetop. Leave the pizza in the pan for another five minutes: the hot iron will continue to cook the bottom of the pizza. This is the best reason to make pizza in a cast iron pan!
The pan will still be hot. Using your gloves and a heavy spatula, slide the blade around the edges of the pizza to release it from the pan (especially any parts where the sauce touched the side of the pan and cooked into a seal). Now, using your spatula – or a pizza peel, if you want – you can slide the pizza out of the pan and onto your serving tray.