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Basic Pizza Dough

1 T sugar
1 cup warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar (which "feeds" the yeast) in
warm tap water. (Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, while
water that is too cold will not activate it.) Sprinkle the yeast
over the water and stir gently until it dissolves, about 1 minute.
When yeast is mixed with the water at the proper temp., a smooth,
beige-colored mixture restults. (If the yeast clumps together and
the water stays clear, discard the mixture and start over). Let
stand in a warm spot until a thin layer of foam covers the surface,
about 5 minutes, indicating that the yeast is effective. (Discard
mixture and start over with a fresh package of yeast if bubbles
have not formed within 5 minutes).

To mix and knead the dough by hand, combine 3 cups of the flour
with the salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center
of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture and the oil. Using a
wooden spoon, vigorously stir the flour into the well, beginning
in the center and working toward the sides of the bowl, until the
flour is incorporated and the soft dough just begins to hold
together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust your hands
with flour and knead the dough gently in the following manner:
press down on the dough with the heels of your hands and push it
away from you, then partially fold it back over itself. Shift it
a quarter turn and repeat the procedure. While kneading, very
gradually add just enough of the remaining 1/4 cup flour until the
dough is no longer sticky or tacky; this should take about 5 minutes.
As you work, use a metal dough scraper to pry up any bits of dough
that stick to the work surface. Continue kneading until the dough
is smooth, elastic, and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Knead the
dough only until it feels smooth and springy; too much kneading
overdevelops the gluten in the flour and results in a tough crust.

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl,
turning to coat completely on all sides with oil. (This oiling of
the dough prevents a hard surface from forming that would inhibit
rising.) Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap to prevent
moisture loss, and set to rise in a draft-free warm place (75 to
85 degrees F - a hotter environment may kill the yeast) until
doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

With your fist, punch down the dough as soon as it has doubled in
bulk to prevent overrising. Shape it into a ball, pressing out
all the air bubbles.

If you cannot bake pizza within 2 hours after rising, punch the
dough down again, turn it in an oiled bowl to coat once more, cover
the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. (The dough
can be punched down a total of 4 times and kept refrigerated up to
36 hours before the yeast is exhausted and the dough unusable.)
Let chilled dough come to room temp. before proceeding.

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