Okay, here are some of my tips about how I work with the pizza dough. For now, I'd suggest just buying the dough until you're comfortable, then once you've got the basic techniques down you can start experimenting and/or making your own dough. We get ours at Whole Foods (it's about $5/ball, it's 22 oz., and it'll make about three pizzas on the Baking Steel), but you can get it from a grocery store that makes pizzas or a pizza restaurant.. They'll usually sell it to you if you ask for it. I describe my process with the 3-pizza thing in mind.
Setting the stage
When you buy your dough it will usually be cold, and that cold is the enemy of smooth pizza making. You'll need to let the dough come to room temperature: We usually pull out three round plastic Ziploc containers, spray the containers lightly with non-stick kitchen spray, plop the cold dough into the container, then spray a small square of regular Saran wrap lightly with non-stick spray and cover the top of the containers. You want to block out the outside air (if you let air in the dough will dry out and get hard spots). Leave it for a few hours on the kitchen counter (you can do this at lunchtime or in the morning before you go to work), and it'll be perfect when you're ready to make the pizza.
Begin heating up the Baking Steel for at least 45 minutes before the first pizza goes in.
Forming the dough ball into a pizza Crust
I usually use my hands, a clean countertop, some regular all-purpose flour, and some cornmeal at the end.
Sprinkle a fair amount of flour onto your working surface... You'll want the pizza crust to be about 8" in diameter, so plan for that space (start with getting small pizzas round and right first, then you can adjust your crust's thinness to wherever you want to later). Turn the first pizza dough container upside down onto the middle of the floured surface and let it fall out of the container. At this point you will probably have a somewhat round ball of dough. Sprinkle the top with a little flour, then start gently flattening the dough by pushing your fingertips into it, starting from the center and working your way out to the edges. After the dough ball has about doubled in diameter, start stretching the dough out a little more. With your fingers start gently pulling the dough away from the middle of the ball towards the outer ring, rotating the ball of dough in a circle. The dough will probably be stiff at first but it will relax as your fingers warm it. Keep working from the middle out to the edges two or three more times, keeping the shape fairly round and the thickness fairly even.
Flip the dough upside down and repeat this again until you've got a round disc that's approximately 8" in diameter.
Getting the crust onto the pizza peel
Sprinkle flour lightly onto the top of your disc of dough, making sure to get flour all the way to the edges of the dough (this is crucial for non-stick action on the peel). Pat the flour in gently with your fingers, especially around the edges. Take about 1 T. of cornmeal and sprinkle that on the top of your crust and gently pat that into the dough. This is the bottom of your pizza, and you've just created the non-stick surface you need to get it from the peel to the Baking Steel.
Now comes the tricky part: Grab your pizza peel and put it next to your floured/cornmealed pizza crust. Take your well-floured and cornmealed crust and flip it so that it lands upside down on the pizza peel. Check to make sure it's not sticking by moving the pizza peel back and forth rapidly a few times... It shouldn't stick, but if it does, grab some flour and tuck it under the sticky spots.
Topping the crust
Less is more when it comes to pizza toppings and smaller pieces are easier to work with, especially at first when you're trying to learn how to work with the dough. Put whatever you want on the pizza, then check again to make sure the dough isn't sticking to the peel.
Getting the pizza from the peel to the Steel
Once you're ready to put the pizza into the oven onto the Fires of Hell hot Baking Steel, take the pizza peel and position it over the Baking Steel. Angle it down about 30 degrees, and gently pull the handle of the peel back towards you while doing a gentle jerking back/forth motion with your wrists (you're coaxing the pizza to slide off the peel and onto the Baking Steel. Once you've got it in, set a time for about 7 minutes... Dinner will be ready soon!
Check the pizza, pull it out, give it two to three minutes to cool, then slice and enjoy!
Repeat with each of the pizza dough balls until you have your pizzas made! That's the basic idea. Here are some other helpful things I've found out over the 9+ months we've been making pizza with the Steel:
- Until you have the technique down and feel confident, start by making smaller thicker pizzas. Once you've got the idea, you can make the pizzas as thin as you want. I'm a New Jersey/New York pizza girl, so my crusts tend to be pretty thin.
- Make sure that you flour the bottom of the pizza crust really really well and get it all the way to the edges. Anytime I've had pizza dough stick to the peel, it's because I didn't flour it well enough (it's super frustrating!).
- Work with the dough gently... It will relax, but sometimes it take patience and time. Above all, you don't want to poke holes in the crust... It's disastrous for pizzas. If you do poke a hole, try as fast as you can to pinch the dough together to cover it and reinforce it with a patch of dough from the outside edge of the crust. Floured dough is your enemy here, so make sure to use really sticky dough for this.
- When I'm launching the dough from the peel onto the Steel, sometimes gravity works against me and the dough starts going backwards (it's weird). If that happens to you, pull the peel away from the oven, gently coax the dough back onto the peel, and then retry launching it using a steeper (45-degree) angle to let gravity do the work. At this point you'll probably have some spillage, so open windows too.