Ideally, I would start this post with: "This was my first time making pizza" but in truth, it was my second. The first one didn't turn out to be anything pizza-like (it was more of a dense flat-bread) but I'm blaming that on the yeast. I also didn't have a pizza stone when I embarked on my first foray into pizza, and while I know it's not a necessary investment to make a great pizza, I found myself in this new apartment, baking sheet-less and ready to rationalize the purchase of a $45 pizza stone. I did, however, forget that we also do not have a rolling pin around here and ended up rolling out the dough with a floured bottle of apple cider vinegar, but more on that later... on second thought, that's quite enough of that.
In stark contrast to my first pizza, this one turned out to be restaurant quality. The crust was crackly and hard on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside and flecked with cornmeal along the bottom. Really, it was nothing short of amazing. It did get a bit soggy in the middle which, due to some amateur pizza tossing skills, was the thinnest part, but I also think it was partly because I went a little heavy on the toppings (and so did my boyfriend, but such excess is to be expected when he and meat are in close proximity).
Now, I don't want to give the pizza stone all the credit for how well this turned out because as others have said, and as I know from baking bread, you can get a perfectly good crust without a pizza stone; however, the pizza stone does help. So I will leave you with just the crust recipe (a la your very own high minded foodie Jeffery Steingarten), because I'm sure you've all been thinking up the toppings for your own homemade pizza as you've been reading this.
By Sam Sifton, adapted from Jeffery Steingarten via New York Times Magazine
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
cornmeal for dusting
1. The morning or ideally the day before cooking, prepare the dough. Using a hand whisk, combine the flours, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in 1 1/2 cups cold water and olive oil until a rough dough forms. Set the bowl on the mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat for 4 to 6 minutes, until it becomes a wet and vaguely menacing mass. (If it forms into a ball, lower the mixer speed to medium-high. If not, stop the mixer to scrape down the sides once.)
2. Scrape and pour the dough onto a heavily floured work surface. Keeping your fingers, the countertop and the dough well floured, fold one dough end over the other so that half the floured underside covers the rest of the dough. Let rest for 10 minutes.
3. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Place each ball on a well-oiled plate, generously dust with flour and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it is at least doubled in size, about 3 hours.
4. Punch the dough balls down, shape into rounds and place each in a quart-size freezer bag. Refrigerate dough between 1 and 24 hours. Makes 2 balls.
Here is the link to the article that went along with the recipe; it gives some helpful notes on the baking process. I let my pizza stone heat up in the oven for an hour before putting the pizza and I baked it for about 13 minutes at 500 degrees F. I also used a sheet of parchment dusted with cornmeal to transfer the dough from my cutting board onto the pizza stone and from the pizza stone back out of the oven.