Before adding cheese to the work bowl of a food processor, brush the steel blade lightly with vegetable oil. Cut cheese into small pieces and use the pulsing button to maintain best control. If grating in batches, remove the first batch of grated cheese before adding the next batch. Also, when emptying the work bowl (between batches), check the inside of the steel blade shaft for any stray pieces of cheese (especially the softer types of cheese) and remove them. Otherwise, when you reinsert the blade onto the shaft, the cheese acts like glue and it might be difficult to remove the blade.
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Brush the interior of a 5-quart mixing bowl generously with olive oil and set aside for rising dough.
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 2 cups lukewarm water, 1 generous tablespoon of the olive oil, salt, the 2 teaspoons sugar, and pepper, if using. When yeast mixture is creamy and starting to bubble, add to mixing bowl and briskly stir in just enough flour, a little at a time, to create a mass that is not easily stirred in the bowl. Turn out dough onto a lightly flour wooden board. Using floured hands, knead dough in a brisk push-fold-and-turn motion, until perfectly smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Add only as much additional flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to your hands and work surface. Use a pastry scraper while kneading to scrape dough off board cleanly as you continue to knead in a sufficient amount of flour.
Place dough in the prepared rising bowl and turn to coat it with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and then with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down dough with several swift swats with the back of your hand until dough is totally deflated. Although dough can be used right away, it’s preferable to refrigerate it for at least 1 hour and as long as 2 days before shaping crusts. (This chilling relaxes this high-gluten dough so it won’t fight back as much when being stretched into shape. This extra time also allows the dough to develop a deeper, more satisfying flavor.)
Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and, if using, place a sheet of quarry tiles or a large pizza stone onto rack. Preheat the oven to 450o F for at least 30 minutes before baking. Lightly brush both perforated pizza pans with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal; tilt to coat pans and tap out excess meal. If using, set egg-white glaze and sesame seeds next to your work surface.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board and gently knead just to release air pockets. Using the blade of a pastry scraper, divide dough into 2 equal pieces. If dough is not chilled, cover and let rest for 10 minutes to relax dough. If not working with a double oven and thus can only bake 1 crust at a time, return half the dough to the bowl, cover and refrigerate until the first pizza crust goes into the oven. Pat the remaining half dough into a low round on the floured work surface.
Spread the fingers of your hand and smack dough several times until visibly flattened but still round. Flour your fists, lift up dough and drape it (centered) over your floured fists. Stretch dough by pointing your fists upward and gently pulling them away from each other. Take care to stretch evenly; if dough starts to feel bottom heavy and is becoming too thin, lay it on your work surface, rearrange it, then lift and continue to stretch. Use as much flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to your hands, which can cause it to tear. (Be aware that if you’ve used whole grain flour in your dough, this will reduce the overall elasticity, making the dough more likely to tear when stretching.)
Lay stretched dough in the prepared pan, arranging it so the edges of dough meet the rim. Press and pat out dough until it totally covers the pan, building up the rim of dough so it’s a little thicker and higher than the interior of the circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just not overly thick in one spot and paper thin in another. If dough resists at any point, just throw a towel over it for 5 minutes. If dough should tear, just pinch it together with floured fingertips. And if the rim seems too thin, simply fold 1 inch of the edge over onto itself and press to adhere.
Brush the interior of the circle (excluding the 1-inch rim) with some olive oil and prick the oiled section of the dough deeply all over with a docker or the prongs of a large fork. Sprinkle oiled dough with freshly ground black pepper. If desired, brush the raised rim of dough with egg white glaze and sprinkle rim generously with sesame seeds.
Prick the interior surface of crust once more and place pizza pan directly on hot tiles, stone or oven rack and shut the oven door. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. (Check once during baking. If the center starts to bubble up, prick the interior again and continue baking.) Remove pan from oven using a baker’s peel and place it on a wire rack to cool. Meanwhile, as crust is baking, remove the reserved half of dough from refrigerator and prepare the second crust completely through the preceding step. As soon as you remove the first crust from the oven, prick the second crust again, place in oven and bake, as directed above.
After pre-baking the crust is sealed so, if you like, you may remove quarry tiles or pizza stone from oven. If baking 2 pizzas in the same oven, position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds; if using a double oven, use the center rack for each pizza. Preheat oven to 450o F, for at least 1 hour.
Scatter some grated cheese over the interior of the pre-baked crust. Spoon or ladle about 1 cup sauce on top of cheese (not too much or your pizza will be soupy). Spread sauce over crust, stopping just before the rim. Scatter one or more of the suggested toppings over sauce, along with chopped basil leaves. Scatter half of the grated cheese over the top, allowing some of the toppings to be visible through cheese. Drizzle 1 teaspoon fruity olive oil over pizza and then finally top with some sliced pepperoni, if desired. Grind on some fresh black pepper. Repeat with the remaining pizza.
Bake pizzas in the hot oven until crust is deeply golden, toppings are piping hot and cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. If using the same oven for both pizzas, switch positions of pies after half the baking time for even heat exposure. To serve, insert a baker’s peel under the pizza pan and place the pie on a solid (non-perforated) pizza pan. Slice into wedges using a pizza wheel and serve immediately.
Although not necessary, allowing the dough (as described above) to rise for an hour or two at room temperature (especially when baking a free-form raw pizza) contributes to an even lighter texture and also deepens the flavor of the baked crust. You do not need a perforated pizza pan for this method (but you will need a solid one, without holes, for serving) and you do not need to pre-bake the crust before assembling and baking. Position the rack and quarry tiles or pizza stone as directed for pre-baking crusts. When preheating, increase the oven temperature to 550 F (or the highest your oven will go, without activating the broiler). If the dough is chilled, allow it to sit out of the refrigerator (uncovered) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours (the top of the dough will develope a slight skin which is good–since this will be inverted as the bottom of the crust, and will help the assembled pizza to release from the peel. Sprinkle a baker’s peel generously with cornmeal and a bit of white flour and rub this into the peel, covering it completely. Place the dough onto the prepared peel (top side down) and stretch dough as directed. Rearrange the thin round, to correct the shape. Brush the interior of dough with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh pepper. Docking is not advised or necessary since the weight of the toppings will prevent dough from swelling underneath. (If applying seeds to the rim, be careful not to let the egg white drip onto the baker’s peel since this will cause dough to stick to the peel.)
Top dough as you would a pre-baked crust, without using too many toppings which will weigh the dough down. Lift the loaded baker’s peel and give it a gentle shake to make sure that the pizza is not stuck. Open oven door and insert peel all the way to the back of the oven. With one swift jerk, remove peel, leaving the pizza on the hot tiles. Bake until golden and bubbling, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove pizza by sliding the peel underneath it and place on a non-perforated pizza pan. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
The day before serving, prepare a double batch of dough (2 separate dough) and either rise it once at room temperature for 2 hours, then release the gases, turn the dough over in the bowl, and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight, well covered. You can also divide the dough immediately after assembling and, after shaping into two taut rounds and placing them on separate oiled baking sheets, cover the sheet with well oiled plastic wrap and then with a towel and refrigerate, well covered, several hours or overnight. Make your sauce and grate your cheese. Early the next day, pre-bake 4 crusts and, once cool, let them sit “stacked” at room temperature. A few hours before “show time,” remove the sauce from refrigerator and gather your assorted toppings. 3o minutes to 1 hour before “chow time,” preheat oven and ask your guests “who wants what” on their pizza. Then, assemble and bake away!
After the dough completes the first rise at room temperature, it can remain in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before shaping.
The sauce can be made well in advance and frozen in small heavy-duty freezer containers.
The crusts can be partially pre-baked early in the day and left at room temperature.
The toppings can be gathered a couple of hours before assembling pizzas.
After pre-baking and cooling the crust, you can either freeze the empty crust or a fully assemble pizza. Wrap both well in aluminum foil. Let an empty crust thaw (wrapped) before topping it and baking. Bake a fully assembled frozen pizza directly from the freezer (unwrapped) on a perforated pizza pan in a preheated 400ºF oven until crisp and hot throughout.