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Easy pizza dough recipe to help you celebrate Pi Day

Salami Pizza topped with Basil
Salami Pizza topped with Basil Special to The Kansas City Star

Pi Day is coming. And this year it is truly special. Most people celebrate March 14th as Pi Day, especially if you’re into math.

The number that represents the symbol π or Pi is 3.14159263…. Unique to this year, is that the first five digits are 3.1415 or 3/14/15.

To me, that’s just another reason to talk about my recent obsession: pizza pie.

Most people I know love pizza. Some enjoy it as a junk food, and some actually consider pizza a food group all its own. But what really blows me away is that even though many of my friends are really good cooks, most are afraid to cook pizza at home.

Oh sure, they’ll get the take-and-bake, but they’re not really cooking from scratch and making tasty and creative pizzas. And guess what the number one reason that everyone gives? They’re afraid to make dough.

So today, I’m dedicating this article to demystifying pizza dough for the home cook. As Alton Brown says, your patience will be rewarded.

First of all, don’t get caught up in the different types of dough styles. Should you make deep dish, Napoletana, Artisan Italian, New York, Nouveau, Sicilian or Cracker Crust? That alone can cause “analysis paralysis.” For simplicity, I’m going to tell you how to make a New York-style dough.

The next concern people have is the mechanics of the dough — use of a stand mixer, kneading, automatic dough maker? I’ll make that easy for you, too, with a couple of options.

The next concern is time. You may not have the 2 to 4 hours of time to make the dough. Again, I have a great solution for you. With a little planning, this can be very easy and pay off in a more flavorful pizza crust.

Finally, how do you cook a pizza? There are just as many ways to cook a pizza as there are doughs to cook: On the grill with direct heat, on the grill with indirect heat, on the grill with a pizza stone, in your oven, in a wood -ired oven. The options can drive you crazy and make you want to quit before you start.

Here’s my suggestion: For today, let’s just use a standard home oven with a pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can purchase one at discount retailers for as low as $10 to $19. I highly recommend it.

Let’s start off with the cold fermented dough recipe:

Cold Fermented Pizza Dough

22 1/2 ounces bread flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons instant yeast

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

15 ounces warm water (110-120 degrees)

Put the bread flour, sugar, salt, and instant yeast in a food processor and pulse 3 to 4 times until everything is combined. Add the olive oil and water. Turn on the food processor and run until the dough forms a ball that rides around the bowl above the blade, about 15 seconds. Continue processing 15 seconds longer.

Note: If you don’t have a food processor, first combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then add the oil and water. Using a wooden spoon and your hand, combine all of the ingredients until there’s no more loose flour. Let stand for 10 minutes, then knead on a well-floured board for 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough ball to a floured surface and knead two to three times by hand until a smooth ball is formed. Don’t overwork the dough. Divide the dough into three even parts and place each in a plastic ziplock freezer bag.

Place in refrigerator and allow to rise at least one day. This process is called cold fermentation and it produces a better flavor for your crust. The dough will last up to seven days in the refrigerator, so this makes it easy to plan ahead.

At least two hours before baking, remove dough from the refrigerator and shape into balls by gathering dough toward the bottom and pinching shut, placing the seam side down. Flour well and place each ball into a separate medium mixing bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise at warm room temperature until roughly doubled in volume.

One hour before baking, place a rack in the top of your oven, 8 inches from the broiler element. Place the pizza stone in the center of the rack. Turn the oven to the highest possible temperature (usually around 500 to 550 degrees) and allow the pizza stone to heat up for a full hour.

Using your fingertips, gently flatten out the dough into roughly an 8-inch circle, leaving the outer inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch the dough by draping over your knuckles into a 12- to 14-inch circle about 1/4-inch thick.

Transfer to a pizza peel covered with parchment paper or the back of a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Once on the parchment paper, you can spend a little time shaping the dough to a circle.

Note: The parchment paper keeps the pizza from sticking to the peel and does not affect the cooking. Be sure to remove the paper from the oven when you remove the pizza so the paper won’t catch on fire.

Now let’s build the pizza. I like to build flavors from the ground up. Follow these steps to make many of your own creations.

For most pizzas, use the following protocol:

Lightly cover pizza dough with kosher salt before topping. Brush dough with a little olive oil, especially the edges. Evenly sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes onto dough. Add 1/2 cup of your favorite pizza sauce (or my Grill Mayor Sauce.) Add 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese and then 2 to 4 ounces of meat or main ingredient (pepperoni, cooked sausage, bacon, whatever you want.) Top with 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Trim the parchment paper to roughly outline the pizza. Place the pizza in the oven on the pizza stone (parchment paper should be in between the pizza and the pizza stone). Close the oven door. Cook pizza for 4 minutes if oven at 550 degrees or 5 minutes if at 500 degrees.

After designated time, turn on the broiler and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Note: Keep an eye on this especially after the first minute. Even 15 seconds can make a difference from brown to burnt.

When cooked, remove from oven and let pizza rest on a wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing. While resting, garnish the pizza with more sauce, basil or other goodies, if desired.

Here’s a good example of a pizza to make as well as an excellent red sauce.

There, you did it — your first homemade pizza. Now, don’t forget, you have about a week to make two more pizzas. See I tricked you so you could get hooked.

With practice and planning, you’ll see that making pizza at home is easy as … well, Pi.

Sure, Pi Day this year is special with the 3/14/15 designation, but don’t forget Pi Day in the future. If you’re a math buff like me, you’ll notice that if you round Pi using standard rounding convention, 3.14159 rounds to 3/14/16. So guess what? We get to do this all again next year. Well, that just might be another excuse for me to write about my pizza obsession, but can you blame me? It’s a delicious hobby.

Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting, and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.