Make Your Own Pizza. Seriously. All the Way Down to the Dough.

homemade no-knead pizza

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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5 responses to “Make Your Own Pizza. Seriously. All the Way Down to the Dough.

  1. Yum! I make homemade pizza dough all the time, and it really is the best thing ever.

  2. I’m not sure what went wrong, but this recipe was a disaster for me. I used a scale and did everything by weight but the dough came out very wet and almost unworkable.

    • Hi Sean, thanks for your comment! I’m so sorry to hear that the dough didn’t turn out for you, but I’d like to try to troubleshoot it (although I’m not a dough expert, I only know what I’ve experienced when making this recipe on my own). At what point did the dough get too wet? I find that when I first mix the dough, it seems dry. The first time that happened, I tried to add more water before letting it rise for the 18 hours, and the dough did end up being very wet after the 18 hours, although I managed to use it. When I tried it the second time, I trusted the recipe even though it didn’t look right. After 18 hours, the dough had absorbed all the water and was covered with tiny bubbles as Jim Lahey instructed.

      I should also say after the 18 hours are up, even when I followed the recipe correctly the second time, the dough does appear to be fairly wet and can be slightly difficult to work with when you go to divide it and shape it into a ball. I sometimes need to use a little more flour when shaping it, and I’ll add this to the recipe above for clarification. However, after the ball has rested for another hour, it’s always been very easy for me to work with and stretch into a pizza shape.

      Finally, although I weigh my flour, I measure the rest of the ingredients by volume, so there is the risk that my water measurement is slightly less than if it was by weight.

      I hope this helps! This recipe has truly changed my pizza making and I’d hate to have it disappoint you.

  3. I will certainly try it again measuring the water by volume instead this time. Mine came together fine which may indicate that I had too much water from the get go. After the 18 hours I did see bubbles but when I scraped in onto the counter, it was a sticky wet blob. Maybe I’ll reserve an ounce or so at the beginning until it barely comes together if at all. I’ll be sure to update you on the second attempt. Thanks for the tips!

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