Add 1 and 1/2 cups warm water to a large bowl or stand mixer. The temperature should be like nice bath water: not so hot that you can't hold your finger in it comfortably. I like to check with my wrist, it is more honest than fingers when it comes to temperature.
Add 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar to the water. Wait about 3 minutes until you see bubbles forming. It should look slightly foamy. If no change has happened, you have killed your yeast. Murderer! Dump it and start over.
OPTIONAL SPONGE STEP: You can skip this. I promise. But it sure tastes good to let your yeast ferment a little while. Here's how to do it: Add 1 cup of flour to your bowl of water, yeast, and sugar, and stir together. You don't need to get all the lumps out. Let rest uncovered on the countertop for 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours. It will foam and sponge and get all lovely and fermenty. Mmmm.After it has rested, continue with adding the remaining ingredients called for in the recipe (2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 and 3/4 cups flour added one cup at a time). Because that first cup of flour had a long time to absorb the water while it sat, it is likely that you will need to add an extra few tablespoons of flour to get your dough workable. Remember, don't overdo it. Stiff dough=tough pizza crust. You want a nice, softy, slightly sticky dough. Continue with step 5.
STRAIGHT METHOD: Follow these instructions if you are skipping the Sponge step. Once you have added you yeast, warm water, and sugar to a bowl and you know for sure it's not dead (should be bubbly), add 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 3 and 3/4 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time.
Once all your flour is incorporated into your dough**, it's time to knead for 5 minutes. You can do this by hand on a flour-dusted countertop (in which case you should knead more like 7 minutes), or using the dough hook on a stand mixer. The dough should be smooth, elastic, slightly sticky, and soft. If after a couple minutes of kneading, the dough has not come together in a ball (still sticking to the sides of the bowl) then it's time to add a bit more flour. See notes for more details.
Shape your dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl, turning over once so the top of the dough is greased. Sometimes I cheat and just leave it in the bowl I kneaded it in, but know that it will stick to the sides (often I just lift up the dough, spray the bowl with nonstick spray, and set it back down. Spray the top of the dough too so it doesn't dry out.) You just need a nice spot for the dough to rise.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place. I like to turn my oven on to 350 for about 45 seconds, then turn the oven off. This creates a nice warm environment for rising dough. If the oven racks are too hot to touch with your fingers, the oven got too hot, wait until it has cooled to put your covered dough in. (Make sure you remove dough before preheating your oven for pizza baking!!)
Rising time: This is totally up to you. 20-30 minutes is the minimum if you are in a rush. (I do it all the time.) You can rise 1 hour. Or 2 hours if you want. You can let it rise 4 hours, or 8 hours, coming back every 2 hours or so to punch it down. The longer you wait, the more flavorful and textured your crust will be. See below for overnight instructions.
Once your dough has risen, punch it down and separate into two balls to make two 12-inch pizzas. (Separate the dough in 3 balls if you like super thin crust!) Place each ball on a greased or floured surface and let rest, covered with a tea towel or plastic wrap, for another 5-20 minutes, whatever you have time for.
Deflate each ball with your hands. Your pizza dough is ready to go! Here is my Easy Pizza Sauce Recipe, as well as my Homemade Pizza Recipe, with all the instructions you need for rolling out the dough and baking. That recipe picks up right where this one left off: it has all my rolling-out and baking instructions, plus so many tips.
Overnight instructions: Place the kneaded dough (no need to rise first) in a large covered bowl or a gallon ziplock that is well sealed. Let rest overnight in the refrigerator. Punch down and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 1-2 hours before rolling out.
Freezer instructions: Separate the dough into 2 balls (for faster thawing). Place the kneaded dough (no need to rise first) in 2 labeled ziplock bags and freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw on the counter or in the fridge. Once it is completely thaw, let rest at room temperature at least 1-2 hours before rolling out. (I've even tried the hack of putting the well-sealed bag of frozen dough in a bowl of warm water to speed up thawing. Works great. Just make sure once it's completely thaw, you give it plenty of time to rest/rise.)