Lessons learned…or, how to make rockstar pizza

In college, I studied in Malta (the country in the Mediterranean, not the tiny sheep-herding town in the backwilds of Montana!).  I was there for a semester and some change, and I learned a lot of things while I was there (and not necessarily academically-speaking).  For instance, I learned that the Knights Hospitaller and the Ottoman Empire were not on good terms in the 1500s.  And I learned that tequila sunrises and I will never be on good terms the morning after.  And that watching the sunrise over the Mediterranean is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  And that I’d give someone’s left foot to live 4 blocks from the sea again.  And that when a country joins the EU, they put on one hell of a party!  But, I digress.  You see, the thing I want to blog about right now is the local pizza crust that I learned to make.

It’s one of those life lessons that seems inconsequential when you first learn it, but that you use over and over and over and over, like calculus long division how to use a calculator.  It’s fairly simple to make (like all great bread!), but always tastes like there’s a lot more to it than five simple ingredients.  I got the recipe from the woman who ran the tiny grocery store below my flat.  I made it at least a couple times a week when I lived in Malta because it was a) so cheap, and b) so tasty.  I could buy whatever veggies looked awesome, a scoop of goat cheese, whip up a crust, and voila!  Dinner!  And I’ve been making it ever since. I don’t need a recipe, and while my methods have changed a bit with the acquisition of a few American kitchen tool standbys (OK, the stand mixer.  It’s life-changing.), it’s still the same awesome pizza crust it’s always been.

Start by weighing your flour:

Yes, weighing.  If you don’t have a kitchen scale, get one.  Your baking will thank you, because although the volume of flour will change with the fluctuations in humidity, the weight will not.  So you don’t have to futz as much with the liquid to dry ratio!  Win!

Then add your salt, water, yeast, and a bit of honey.  Use your handy dandy stand mixer to knead it into a cohesive ball.  It will start off pretty shaggy.

And then get a bit smoother after a minute or two.

And finally, a smooth, elastic, ball!

I like to put a bit of olive oil in the bowl so the dough doesn’t stick as it rises, and also for the flavor, but that’s optional.  If you do go that route, just a tablespoon or so will do.

Then cover the bowl tightly (see the rubber band!) and let it rise for a bit.

I usually let my dough raise in the oven since that’s relatively draft-free.  Just turn it on for a tiny bit to get a little warmer than room temp, and turn it off so it doesn’t cook your dough yet!  Then pop the dough in, shut the door, and let it go!  (Yes, I also have a loaf of bread also rising in there…it’s the first day under 80 degrees in ages, so I’m baking up a storm!).

When the dough has doubled (about 30-45 minutes), pull it out.  See how bubbly and puffy it gets?!  Don’t punch it down!

Gently take the dough out of the bowl and stretch it out to the size you like and place it on your pan.

I always pre-bake it to make sure the crust gets done all the way through and isn’t soggy, so pop it in the oven un-topped for a few minutes, then pull it out and top it!

And bake it a few more minutes and presto!  Tasty pizza on the best crust ever!

Maltese Pizza Crust

  • 12 oz. (by weight) bread flour
  • 3/4 c. warm water, plus maybe a tablespoon or so if it needs it
  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • drizzle of honey, about 1 teaspoon
  • 1 tsp. salt (less to taste if you like)
  • olive oil (optional)
  1. Measure flour into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer).  Stir in salt.
  2. Combine water, yeast and honey in a measuring cup; stir to dissolve yeast and let it sit a minute or two till bubbly (so you know your yeast is good!)
  3. If using a stand mixer: turn mixer (fitted with dough hook) on to medium low speed.  Give your water/yeast mixture a stir, then stream into flour.  Continue mixing till the dough comes together into a shaggy mess (if it’s not coming together, add that tablespoon of water).  Once the dough starts coming together, increase speed to medium and let the machine knead the dough for 3-4 minutes.  The dough should be smooth, elastic, and non-sticky when you’re done.
  4. If not using a stand mixer: Give your water/yeast mixture a stir, then make a well in the center of the flour an pour liquid into the well.  Slowly stir the liquid in the well, incorporating a little bit of flour from the edges as you go around (this will keep it from getting lumpy!).  Once the liquid is all stirred in, turn the ball of goo out onto a floured board and knead till the mass is smooth, elastic, and non-sticky.
  5. Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil (if you want!) into the bowl you mixed the dough up in.  Form the kneaded dough into an even ball and roll around in the oil to coat.  Smear some oil up the sides of the bowl, too.  Cover tightly (airtight!) and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or so.  (You can use it right away if you need to, but the texture improves with a rise thrown in).  If you want to use it much later, throw it in the fridge to raise, then take it out about 30 minutes before you plan to bake it so it warms up.
  6. To shape the dough, pull gently in a circular motion (so pull dough ball a bit thinner, turn a bit, pull again, turn, pull, etc.) till desired size is reached.  This is enough dough for a stout 16″ pizza or two thin 12-14″ pies.
  7. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Pre-bake the crust on a pizza pan for 3 minutes before topping.
  8. Top as desired, bake an additional 10-15 minutes (depending on thickness of crust and toppings).  Let cool a few minutes before slicing.

Tonight’s pizza ended up being granny smith apple, smoked ham from the Scandinavian store (that deserves its own post sometime!), goat cheese, and mozzarella.

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