Basic Pizza Dough

2 12-inch pizza crusts
1/4-ounce active dry yeast (that's one packet)
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups to 4 cups unbleached flour

Place the yeast in a large bowl and add the warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the yeast, then set aside in a warm place until creamy looking, about 15 minutes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of oil and the salt, then add 2 cups of the flour. Sti r to mix using a large wooden spoon. The mixture will be very sticky. Add 1 more cup of the flour and continue to stir until the dough begins to form a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough until it is soft and smooth, abo ut 10 minutes, adding the remaining flour as needed, a little at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. But don't use much flour -- it will result in a dry dough with a tough crust.

Lightly oil a large bowl with the 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Place the dough ball in the oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire surface with oil, and cover the bowl with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for the doug h to rise until it doubles in volume. After it has risen, punch the dough down with your fist or fingertips to press out most of the air. (Don't punch too hard.)

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and divide into 2 balls of equal size. Working with 1 ball at a time, flatten it with your hands into a circle about 4 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Now begin working from the center, pressing the d ough outward with the heels of your hands. If the dough sticks to your hands, sprinkle lightly with flour. Push the dough into a 12-inch round pan, and push the edges so that they are slightly thicker than the bottom.

If you don't want to make two pizzas right away, you can freeze the other dough ball, wrapped tightly in plastic, for up to 3 months if you wish. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours, then roll out and follow directions according to invididual pizza recipes.


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