Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To: Pizza Dough + Calzones

Sparky has this story that he likes to tell people about me, about this one time when he had some of his friends over and they decided to order pizza, but unfortunately, all the pizza places were already closed. So, with a little flour and the toppings that I could rustle up from my fridge, I made them pizza at about three in the morning. 

Um, you guys? When I pulled that pizza from the oven, they looked at me like I was magic. I might as well have conjured the pizza from thin air for the way they were treating me. Seriously. And two years later, Sparky still talks about it. 

So hey. . . Can I teach you a magic trick? 

It’s really easy to capitalize on the idea that a lot of people seem to have nowadays that bread baking is black magic, that it takes a bunch of time and a bunch of fancy equipment and a bunch of skill, and that’s why it’s so impressive when you produce bread (or pizza) in your home. 

Luckily, making pizza dough from scratch is secretly really easy too. So easy, and so versatile, that I’m planning on doing a Things You Can Do With Pizza Dough series here at Miss Maillard. The recipe I’m going to give you produces enough dough to create two large pizzas, but if you don’t need two pizzas, you should still make the whole recipe. You can stick half the dough in the fridge and use it for another meal later in the week. 

(That little shaker on the board is filled with flour, and that is one of my black magic secrets about working with bread dough.)

Today we’re making calzones. . . which are not just little pizzas folded in half. Probably.

Calzones don’t traditionally have sauce inside them; instead, sauce is served on the side instead. But I’m a rebel. Garlicky, herby green basil pesto on the left. . . smoky fire-roasted red pepper and tomato sauce on the right. . . You can be a rebel , too, if you want. 

We did a little his-and-hers. I wanted to show you a vegetarian option, so I did one with garlic, spinach and red onion. The other one has Italian sausage, pepperoni, bacon and red onion. Can you guess which one Sparky ate? 

Alright. . . I might’ve wilted the spinach in bacon fat. But don’t do that if you’re going actual vegetarian. 

This isn’t the only pizza dough recipe I use – sometimes I go whole-wheat, sometimes I want the really fancy one that you have to start 18 hours in advance, and sometimes I need pizza start-to-finish in thirty minutes – but this is a really good, basic dough that takes only a little planning ahead. The crust bakes up crispy where it’s thin and tender at the edges where it’s thicker, neutral enough to let the toppings shine but with a really great bread flavor on its own. 

Mmm. Maybe this is black magic. Delicious, delicious witchcraft. More likely, though, it’s a judicious application of food science to create something in your own home that easily outpaces anything you’d find in the frozen food aisle. 

Check after the jump for the recipe and a short photo tutorial about gluten formation (aka the secret to an excellent crust). 

yields 2 crusts (or 8 calzones)

4 cups flour (if you’ve got bread flour, use bread flour. if not, all purpose is fine)
1 ½ cups water (room temperature. if your tap water tastes funky, use filtered or bottled)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil (extra virgin, if you’ve got it)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then add the yeast. Direct contact with salt kills yeast, remember? Please don’t kill your yeast. Next, whisk in the olive oil until it’s evenly distributed throughout the flour. Switch to using a wooden spoon. Form a well in the center of the flour mix, add the water and stir. 

Important: this dough’s going to be super sticky at first. Do not add more flour! Stir the heck out of it with your wooden spoon until it comes together enough to turn it out onto a floured surface so you can knead it. Now knead the heck out of it. Seriously. Gluten formation is really important. Check below about ‘the windowpane test’ to see why. Your dough is ready when it is smooth and elastic…and it passes the windowpane test. 

Put your dough in a clean, oiled bowl and turn it so it is coated in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled, or about two hours. If you’ve got more time, you could also leave it in the fridge for about 12 hours for a slow-rise that’ll also help enhance flavor. 

For Pizza: Press the risen dough down and knead it a couple times, then divide it into two equal balls. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let it rest for five minutes before you begin to roll or stretch it out to your desired thinness (thin is good!) and to fit whichever pan you’d like to use. You can use a fancy pizza stone if you like (more on that in another post) but all you need is a sheet pan. If the dough is giving you trouble, cover it with a clean dish towel and let it rest for five or ten minutes, then come back to it. Once the dough is rolled, brush it lightly with olive oil (all over the surface), then put whatever toppings on it you like. Don’t overload it, though, okay? Less is more. Bake at 500 F for 10-15 minutes, til golden. 

For Calzones: Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (aka, in half, and then those halves into half, and then once more). Cover the ones you’re not working on with a clean dishtowel. Roll the doughballs out into circles or rectangles, then spread with a very thin layer of sauce (if desired). Add toppings to one half, then fold the dough over and crimp the edges with a fork. Roll the crimped dough into a crust if you like. Put the calzones on a foil on a sheet pan, slash them twice with a knife (to let steam escape) and brush with olive oil. Bake at 500 F 10-15 minutes, til golden. 

A note on toppings/fillings: Ingredients should be cooked before you add them to your dough; the short time the pizza or calzone spends in a hot oven is meant only to bake the crust, and if your ingredients are uncooked they may release moisture that will leave you with a soggy crust. 

Storage: Dough keeps in the fridge up to 3 days (just keep deflating it if it tries to crawl out of the bowl) or in the freezer (tightly wrapped in plastic and then a layer of foil) for six months. To freeze unbaked calzones, put them on a sheet pan in the freezer until they’re frozen (this is called flash freezing) and then you can remove them to a durable freezer bag or wrap them individually. Bake at 500 F for 20-25 minutes. 

The Windowpane Test: The best pizza dough has advanced gluten formation. Why? Stretchy dough traps air bubbles better. How can you check for this? By checking how stretchy your dough is with the windowpane test.  

1. Pinch off a small golfball-sized ball of dough.
2. Begin to slowly press and stretch the dough to thin it out, like you’re making a mini pizza. 
You should be able to stretch your dough so thin that when you hold it up to the light, light penetrates through. See how you can see my fingers behind the dough? If your dough rips and tears before this happens, it’s not ready and needs more kneading.


  1. these look awesome!!!!!!! i made pizza dough once for pizza. it turned out way too thick lol. i gotta try again! love the photos btw. natural light is definitely a winner.

  2. The boy and I are making this finally. I can't wait to tell you how it goes. <3


Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear what you have to say!