You've probably heard it before: The secret ingredient to making great dough is the right H2O. "Water is what makes New York pizza so great," says Mark Bello from Pizza a Casa Pizza School in New York City's Lower East Side. "If you have highly chlorinated water, it can mess with the yeast and compromise crust sizes."
Those of us in areas with less pristine watersheds now know why their homemade crusts are, well, inferior. Fortunately, there's an answer, and it doesn't involve a $1,200 water treatment system: Try beer.
Sam Adams recently challenged Bello to replace his pH-balanced, gravity-fed water from the Catskills with one of its brews. The result: a surprisingly tasty (slightly malty) crust that you can consistently make with or without pristine water supplies.
Not all beers are equal to the task. Bello recalls a time when he tried using a chipotle-infused brew that fell flat (obviously, this wasn't the first time he's made beer-y dough). If you're trying any old brew, you need to experiment to find the right flavor profile and pH – so that it rises in time and is workable into rounds.
For this recipe, Bello found Sam Adams Boston Lager fit the task. In his small oven-filled classroom, he walked us through the process. Here's how to make a just-right-every-time beer-infused pizza dough.
Makes: Two rounds of dough for 12" to 14" pizzas
• 3 1/2 cups (20 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
• 1 packet instant, high-active yeast
• 1 tablespoon fine granulation salt
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 1 bottle of Samuel Adams Boston Lager warmed up to 120-130 degrees
Warm the beer in a bowl of very warm, not boiling, water. If you don't have a thermometer, the beer should end up feeling very warm to the touch.
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt, and oil and then build up a pile in the center.
Crack open a cold beer (for you), and use the warmed brew to make a moat around the flour and stir with a fork until the dough is lumpy. Then, go in with your hands. The dough should be a little sticky, so you can gradually add flour as you knead until it is just slightly tacky. Knead slowly by pressing down, folding it inside-out, and repeating.
Break the finished dough into two equal pieces.
Ball each piece up and place each in a separate airtight plastic container lightly greased with olive oil (we used quart-sized takeout deli containers).
Set dough aside to rise in a warm location (about 70-80 degrees is good). After it has doubled in size (about 1 to 2 hours), remove from container and on a floured surface, methodically stretch the dough so it fits on a lightly greased 12" or 14" cookie sheet, pizza pan, or pizza screen.
A note on working with the finished dough: Take your time. The strategy Bello takes is to push down on the fresh-risen dough from the container and gently knead it into something resembling a circle. Then, "play DJ" by spinning the dough in a circle with one hand as you stretch it equally in a circle with the other.
Add your sauce, cheese, and toppings and place the pizza in a 500-degree (or more) oven for about 15 minutes.