Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Any recipe whose main ingredient is flour is a bit of an undertaking, in my opinion; but the ones involving flour and yeast are full blown chem labs involving constant vigilance, precision, planning, and organization. So it's no wonder I used to make my own sushi more often than my own pizza crust. It always seemed more work than this most casual of all dinners deserved.
My usual pizza dough was from Stella's in Watertown (a pizza shop 5 minutes from our house). They were always willing to sell me a piece of raw dough, allowing me to improvise with toppings and have freshly baked pizza with no dough hassle. But I've gotten a little addicted to Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible (he-he, like you haven't noticed yet ;) and her feelings about the pizza crust were so in tune with mine, I just had to give her crust a shot.

You see, our pizza edges always ended up on our husbands' plates. I came to accept those tough, dry, and doughy edges as a part of life. But Rose, my new hero after Julia Child and James Peterson, was determined to come up with a pizza dough worth eating to the last crumb. When her husband finally didn't get any extra edges, she knew she achieved perfection. When Rose Levy Beranbaum talks about perfection, it's not without a cost. Maybe not blood, but at least some sweat and tears are definitely in order. Imagine my surprise, when the whole dough making process took only 2 minutes. This included measuring the ingredients, by the way. Rose's solution to tender, crackly crust is no kneading. It seemed strange the first time I made this recipe. You combine the dry and the wet ingredients, stir them together with a spoon just until the flour streaks are gone and consider yourself done. But strange as this might seem, the cleverness of this recipes is sublime. If it was a mathematical proof, it would be called "elegant" by any math geek. Since kneading exercises gluten and give the breads their structure and chew, no kneading give you tenderness.

To my relief, Rose also eliminates the cornmeal normally used to slide the pizza onto the hot stone. I hate the grittiness cornmeal gives the crust, and loved her idea of shaping the pizza right in the pizza pan using olive oil to help the dough not stick and brown well. Rose suggests pre-baking the pizza in the pan with no topping, then adding toppings and sliding it directly onto the stone. I don't have a pizza pan, so I tried her method on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It didn't give me the crispness I was hoping for. Without toppings, the dough puffed up in the middle and didn't get a chance to crisp up in the center. On my second attempt, I put the toppings right on the raw dough and slid the parchment paper from the cookie sheet onto the stone. The crust got perfectly crisp throughout, without being hard or chewy, and the olive oil gave it almost focaccia type savoriness. For the first time, Jason didn't get any of my edges, but he decided that the sacrifice was worth it. He even proclaimed it to be the best pizza he'd ever had.

Now we have our pizza ritual about once a week. I make the sauce and the dough the night before. They take about 5 minutes of active work each, and while the sauce is reducing and the dough is rising (about 30 minutes) I can do dishes. I refrigerate both the sauce and the dough overnight. It's more convenient and tastes better when done ahead. On the pizza day, right around Sammy's bath time, I pull the dough out of the fridge, stretch it on a parchment lined cookie sheet and preheat the oven. It keeps the kitchen warm for Sammy's bath, and gets the pizza stone nice and hot. An hour later, Sammy is bathed, fed, and in bed, dough has risen, oven is pre-heated, and I feel like a good multi-tasking mother. To tell you the truth, I suck at multi-tasking, so anything that allows me to fake it makes me feel good. It's time to bake the pizza. The toppings are whatever veggies happen to be in the fridge. The topping in the picture is roasted Brussels sprouts (I know, that's a bit wacky. Roasted portabellas the week before were better, but I didn't take a picture). I slide the pizza in the oven for 8-10 minutes, and dinner is served. Oh, and what would a pizza be without a bottle of wine and a movie? I must say, it goes particularly well with a bottle of Tohu (New Zealand Pinot Noir) and an episode of Foyle's war.

Perfect Pizza
Adopted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible

Special equipment:
Rimless cookie sheet
Parchment paper
Pizza/bread stone

113 grams (4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp SAF instant yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt (or 1 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt)
79 grams (1/3 liquid cup) water at 70-90F
18 grams (4 tsp) olive oil

Make the dough
8-24 hours before serving (or 2 hour before serving for impromptu pizza bakers)

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until the flour is moistened and the dough begins to form, about 20 seconds. Do not over-mix! The dough will be very sticky and rough looking, not silky smooth. Pour the oil into a 2-cup glass measuring cup. With oiled fingers or oiled spatula, place the dough in the cup with oil and turn it to coat on all sides. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap. If making the dough at least 8 hours in advance, let the dough rise for 30 minutes at room temperature, then refrigerate it until ready to use. If making the dough 2 hours in advance, let rise for 1 hour at room temperature and proceed to shaping. The dough should be roughly doubled in size before shaping.

Shape the dough and preheat the oven
1 hour before serving
Line a rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper. Get the dough out of the cup with an oiled hand. With the other hand, pour the oil remaining in the cup onto the parchment lined cookie sheet. Spread it around with your free hand in a large circle (10 inches in diameter). Place the dough on the oiled parchment paper and press it down gently with your hands to deflate it and form it into a disk 5 inches in diameter. Cover the dough with plastic and let it rest 15 minutes.

Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven. Place a pizza/bread stone on it. Preheat the oven to 500F for at least 30 minutes before baking.

With oiled fingers, gently stretch the pizza dough into a circle 10-11 inches in diameter. It should be very thin, but be careful not to rip it. If it does rip, however, don't panic. Just smoosh it back together where it rips. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30-45 minutes.

July 12, 2010 update:
I found that proofing the dough isn't really necessary if you want a very thin crust pizza.  Just stretch, top, and bake immediately.  You still have to preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes.  Alternatively, you can grill the pizza.

Top and bake the pizza
When dressing the pizza remember that less is more. Spread a very thin coating of sauce over the dough (it usually only takes about 1/2 cup of tomato sauce or 1/4 cup of pesto) leaving a thin border around the edges. Sprinkle with 3/4 to 1 cup grated mozzarella and the toppings of your choice. I often include a second cheese (like feta or ricotta in the toppings).

Slide the parchment paper with the pizza onto the stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the crust is nicely browned around the edges and underneath (lift an edge with tongs or spatula to check). Slide the pizza and parchment back onto a cookie sheet to get the pizza out of the oven. Slice and serve immediately.

Helen's all-purpose tomato sauce

This makes enough for about three 10-inch pizzas, but since we don't eat THAT much pizza I usually use the rest of it to top pasta, fish, etc.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (optional)
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice (preferably Muir Glen)
A pinch of chili flakes
1/2 bay leaf (optional)
1/2 Tbsp butter (optional)

Set a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, onions, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until completely translucent, very tender, and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes with their juice, chili flakes, and bay leaf. Simmer until most of the liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens, stirring every 10-15 minutes or as often as necessary to make sure the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on your pan. Take off heat, and swirl in the butter. Cool slightly and puree with a food processor or blender (I use immersion blender) until slightly chunky. Cool completely and use as needed. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.


Sam said...

Sounds great! Pizza this weekend, then.

RecipeGirl said...

I agree with Sam... Friday night pizza night with your tips would be great!

I just discovered your blog... I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

hmmm, I wonder if cake flour would have the same effect as no kneading. also I wonder how not making any crust around the edge would work.

Helen said...

cake flour might have a similar effect, but since using AP is so simple, why not? Not sure what you mean about not making any crust. It is a tiny bit puffier around the edge, but I don't bend it over or anything like that. I just use a very thin layer or sauce and toppings, so there is no need for a thick rim.

Paz said...

I like the fact that it sounds easy to make. Yum!


Jon said...

I made this pizza last weekend. I used your crust recipe and your sauce recipe and I was rewarded with the best homemade pizza by far that I have ever had. I generally detest working with dough but this is so little trouble for the reward that I will make it time and time again. I offer you my thanks for passing to us this wonderful knowledge.

Helen said...

Hi Jon,

So glad your pizza came out well :)


Alla said...

Is it possible to do it without a pizza stone or should I not even bother?

Thanks, Helen for this very interesting recipe!

Helen said...

You can put an inverted baking sheet in the oven to use instead of a pizza stone. It might not come out as crisp as on the pizza stone, but worth a shot.