I fancy myself a pizza connoisseur, having spent my formidable years in the sprawling suburbs of New York City, indulging on the area’s quality pies for nearly two decades. In my book, nothing can compare to my beloved NY pizza, and for a long time I turned my nose up at anything that even tried. Although I now think that California-style pies can sometimes come close, Chicago can keep its deep dish “casserole” (calling that overdose of bread, cheese, and toppings a pizza only encourages its bad behavior).
What makes NY pizza is its crust. Serious Eats explains it pretty accurately, all the way down to the science of exactly what thickness each crust layer should be. Me, I’m not that picky (although I know it sounds like I am). Give me a chewy, doughy crust—well toasted on the bottom, please, because we all know that caramelization = flavor—with just enough crisp snap, and I’m a happy camper. Nothing bready or crunchy passes muster, though. If it tastes like French bread pizza, it’s dead to me.
Last year, I embarked on a mission to recreate NY pizza at home, or at least come up with a suitable alternative that I could proudly serve and happily eat. Yeast doughs and I have a long and storied history (I might go so far as to call them my culinary archnemesis), but I was determined to master the recipe. I know, sometimes you can find decent premade pizza dough at the store, but it’s just not the same as making it yourself. I started with Serious Eats’ recipe, then tried a few from various culinary magazines such as Saveur and Food & Wine. They were good attempts, and I learned a lot along the way.
- Making good yeast dough requires a lot of kneading. I would often spend 15 minutes or more kneading the dough, and it still wouldn’t pass the windowpane test. This is an essential step that you can’t skimp on; otherwise you end up with crunchy French bread pizza rather than chewy NY pizza. It’s all because of the glutens you’re developing, which are the driving force behind that chewy texture.
- After you’ve made your dough, it’s best to let it rise slowly in the fridge overnight or over the course of a few days. I found that a minimum of two days was best, but you can let it go for up to five days, really. This adds flavor and improved texture to your final dough.
- When you’ve finally shaped your dough and you’re ready to bake it, use a pizza stone and the hottest temperature your oven will keep. And preheat it for close to an hour. Just be careful.
Whew. A lot of effort for pizza, even if it’s good pizza, right?
Which is why I was so excited earlier this year, when my March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit arrived with the most beautiful cover in the world. That drool-worthy cover corresponded to a recipe for Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough.
You may be familiar with Lahey from his popular no-knead bread recipe that took the home-cook food world by storm. Well, this pizza dough recipe had a similar effect on my life. Most of the work I told you about earlier? Just like with no-knead bread, the pizza dough’s slow rise at room temperature takes care of all that. No more kneading or waiting days for the dough to mature in the back of my fridge—now, I toss all the ingredients in a bowl the night before, give it a few quick stirs, and then I’m ready to shape the crust about 18 hours later. Now this is so easy a four-year-old can do it.
We now eat pizza at home at least every other week, and I can’t tell you the last time I ordered it from a local pizza shop. It’s so easy and takes literally no time at all. If you’ve mixed the dough the night before, it’s faster than ordering delivery, probably healthier, and definitely more rewarding.
Easy, No-Knead Pizza Dough
Modified from Jim Lahey
(Makes two 12” to 14” pies that can be cut into 6–8 pieces each)
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (500 grams; I strongly encourage weighing your flour for better precision.) (You can substitute up to a quarter of this amount with whole-wheat flour for extra nutrition.)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ cups water
Stir together flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Gradually add the water in stages, stirring very well after each addition to ensure all of the water is incorporated before adding the next amount of water. This is very important; otherwise you are left with extra flour and the dough can form dry patches. When the full amount of water is incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and the dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours.
Place two large pieces of parchment paper on the counter and sprinkle the center of each with flour. Divide the dough in the bowl in half; shape each half into a ball, using extra flour if needed, and place on prepared parchment. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest and rise for about an hour.
While the dough is resting, place a pizza stone in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to its hottest setting, about 500–550 degrees, for 1 hour. When the dough has finished resting, shape each ball into a pizza, using additional flour as needed. (I like to flatten the ball with my hands, then pick it up, holding the edges in my hands and letting gravity stretch it out.) Put the dough back on the parchment and continue to stretch it until it reaches the shape and thickness you want.
Brush the edges with olive oil, top as desired, and place the whole thing, parchment and all, on your preheated pizza stone in the oven. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the bottom is crispy and the top is browned.