Me, me, me, me, me. I suspect that all home cooks have a few demon dishes, things they make a million times and are never fully satisfied with, but are still so obsessed that they can never resist a new angle or tactic that promises to bring them closer to their ideal. However, they’re usually normal things, common plagues like roast chicken, perfect buttermilk biscuits or brownies. I realize that it’s entirely possible that you can’t believe I’m talking about pizza again. But I can’t help it. I’ve been cheating on every pizza recipe I’ve made before and I think you should do the same.
It started almost predictably in Rome, the kind of food city that makes it hard to ignore the gaping space between what you thought you’d been cooking fairly passably at home and the ideal specimen in front of you that bears no resemblance to what had previously been your victory. I’d wanted to keep cooking thoughts at bay — I was on vacation! — but as we ate pizza after pizza (for the pizza-loving kid, was our transparent excuse) and I stared down the guys throwing them together behind the counter, the follow things plagued me:
- Why was I so obsessed with putting really good fresh mozzarella (the stuff that comes in water) on pizza? Sure, it’s the most delicious to eat plain, or sliced as it is in a caprese salad. But that water makes pizza wet. Wet pizza flops. Aged mozzarella (the stuff that comes wrapped tightly in plastic and feels more dry to the touch) melts well and shouldn’t add an excess of water. It also more closely resembles what I saw them putting on the pizza behind the counter. (A few places looked like they had run the firm mozzarella through a food mill with large holes for pebbly bits that were easily grabbed in handfuls from a bucket and scattered. I couldn’t work there because I’d probably be snacking on them all of the time.)
- I realized a while ago that good pizza places almost never use cooked tomato sauces, but canned tomatoes that had been pureed to various textures (slightly doctored up with salt or pepper flakes or garlic, or sometimes a pinch of sugar to compensate for the extra acidity added for canning safety) and cook instead in the oven’s blistering heat. But, I still had problems with my tomatoes being too wet to hold the cheese in place well. The stuff I saw them swirling on pizza behind the counter looked so much less… sloshy. Were they draining off their tomatoes for a while before processing them to make the sauce.
- Why are most dough recipes in such a rush? I’m guilty as well. Thus far, my goal has been to show how fast and easy it can be to make pizza for dinner. But, I also was only moderately happy with the results — good enough, but far from ideal. It finally occurred to me while eating pizza in one of those ancient tiny restaurants that they’re probably not rushing through their dough-making, that they probably mix giant batches before they leave at night to use the following one, which means that they need to slow the process down significantly. The first way to do this is in the fridge, but I didn’t see any walk-in refrigerators; it would hardly seem the most efficient way to handle the dough. The second way would be to use much, much less yeast. The advantage of growing your dough very slowly isn’t just better flavor, but that you end up with a flexible dough with range of time (say, between 18 and 24 hours) when it could be considered “done,” as it’s not going to change terribly much from hour to hour. Whoa.
And with that, I came home and tried a few new things.
Switching from fresh mozzarella to aged was easy, and in fact saves not only money but time, because it keeps in the fridge for much longer (some brands for weeks) than the stuff in water, which is like a ticking time bomb of foulness if you don’t use it right away. When baked onto pizza, it bubbles and blisters, rather than just spreading thin and almost disappearing. Ding!
Straining the canned tomatoes for the sauce before blending them was a huge eye-opener — a full 1 2/3 cups of tomato juices (hello, Bloody Marys!) came out of a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes. What was leftover and pureed with garlic, salt and pepper flakes was velvety and perfect — just the right amount of moisture to make it saucy but not so much to make the pizza wet and floppy. Ding!
I spent a lot of time doing math and fiddling with yeast and flour levels, trying to figure out a pizza dough that would could rise for the better part of 24 hours without becoming overproofed. I came up with a formula of roughly 1/2 teaspoon yeast to 3ish cups of flour before crawling out from under whatever rock I’ve been under while the rest of the cooking universe discovered Jim Lahey’s gorgeous pizza dough and realizing that he’d essentially come up with almost the exact same formula a long time ago. Of course, I used his instead. I mean, he’s the no-knead bread guy; we can trust him.
Pizzas made with his dough were trickier than I was used to (it uses more water than most doughs, thus is softer and stickier), but made me an instant convert — they were deeply flavored, complex like a great loaf of artisanal bread, and the texture was out of this world, the crust’s exterior crisp like a thin cracker, giving way to a stretchy interior. I made it once before I divorced every pizza dough I’ve used before; we are through.
But, I had one small quibble with it, which is that it was intended for an 18-hour rise and I wasn’t sure how that would work for most people who go to work each day. Would it be made at midnight for a 6 p.m. dinner the next day? Would it be made before work (7 a.m.) for a 1 a.m. dinner? Neither option sounded ideal. And so I fiddled with the yeast levels until I came up with three versions, one that I hope will meet every schedule, because nobody should ever be denied pizza. The first can be assembled at what I call “dishes time,” the night before, after you’re done with dinner (because who wants to assemble a dough for tomorrow’s dinner while making tonight’s?) and will be ready for dinnertime the next day. The second can be assembled when you wake up in the morning, before you go to work, and will be ready to use when you come home at dinnertime. And the third, well, that was mostly for me because I work at home and tend to realize around noon that I have no groceries for dinner and don’t feel like buying more. It can be started at lunchtime and will be ready at dinner (this is ideal for weekends, too). The longest rising version has the deepest flavor, but the 6-hour rise is nothing to sneer at; even at the shortest span, it’s head-and-shoulders above every pizza dough I’ve made before.
None of the schedules will require multiple bowls, machinery, special tools/stones/boards, expensive ingredients, kneading, yeast pre-proofing, refrigeration, or rigid adherence to the clock. All are forgiving and flexible, and adapt to your schedule, not vice-versa. We all need more recipes like that, yes?
Pizza tips, previously: I cannot believe that it’s been over five years (internet, I am basically your grandmother; does anyone need a tissue from my sweater cuff?) since I wrote 10 Paths to Painless Pizza-Making but I still stand behind all of it. It’s hopefully a great primer on how to remove the anxiety from making pizza. It could be roughly summed up as “Sure, pizza stones/peels/etceteras are great, but you can make great pizza at home with stuff you already have around.”
Pizza dough, previously: I’ve shared two pizza doughs here to date, and there are two more variations in the book. What the two here and the rushed version in the book have in common is an obsession with trying to help you find a way to get pizza made in under an hour, and while this is a lofty goal, in hindsight, I think the crust suffers. They work — they fill the niche — but they have nothing on the flavor from a longer rise such as this. Here, ease of use isn’t about saving time, but effort — these are less work to assemble (no proofing, kneading, or rushing) — and I haven’t used any of my older recipes since landing on this earlier this summer.
Pizza varieties, previously: Breakfast Pizza, Grilled Eggplant and Olive Pizza, Ramp Pizza, Leek, Chard and Corn Flatbread, Pizza with Bacon, Onions and Cream, Shaved Asparagus Pizza, Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza, Pizza with Red and Yellow Peppers, Jim Lahey’s Potato Pizza and Pizza Bianca and Roasted Acorn Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza
Lazy Pizza Dough
I used Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza formula* as my jumping off point, but then made a few changes. First, I adjusted the yeast levels to rising times that I thought would work better for most of our schedules (i.e. so you can start after dinner for dinner the next evening, before you go to work or at lunchtime for dinner the same day). Then, I adjusted the volume. His original recipe is supposed to make 4 10 to 12-inch round pizzas but I found if I 3/4-ed it, it actually made two perfect 9×13-ish pizzas (we like the way rectangular pies slice up at home) or two 12-inch rounds, which neatly fed 4 people for dinner. The proportions below are for these sizes. Finally, Lahey finds that his cups of flour weigh in more heavily than I do (133 grams vs. 125 grams), but for simplicity (they also match the King Arthur package weights, and I mostly use KA flours at home), I defaulted to mine instead. I’m sorry if that last sentence made your head hurt, too.
The best things to know about this recipe are that it doesn’t need to be kneaded and the yeast doesn’t need to be proofed. You simply dump and stir the whole mess together in one bowl (this will take less than 5 minutes of your time) and go on with your day; it will be ready when you are. If you get started with it an hour late or early on either end, you should find the pizza dough just fine to use. It rises at room temperature; it doesn’t take up space in your fridge or require time to warm up; it doesn’t need to be babysat. You can choose the schedule that works for you because it fits itself to your day, not the other way around, thank goodness.
The scariest thing about this dough is that it is very, very soft. You won’t roll it out, you’ll stretch and nudge it with floured fingertips into a pizza-like shape. It will stick to things and annoy you; you will be convinced that this messy blob will never become a pizza. Do not panic. When it comes out of the oven, you’ll know why you put up with it — the exterior crackles, the interior stretches, and the flavor has the depth of an artisanal loaf of bread.
Updated with extra water: Early commenter fairly consistently said they found the dough drier than they expected, and this is my fault. My doughs were so soft with 1 1/4 cups water that I dropped it down to 1 cup + 3 tablespoons when writing this, obviously this was incorrect. Do keep in mind that 125 gram cups are light cups of flour — spoon-and-sweep or fluff-and-sweep style, and three cups packed more tightly (say, scoop-and-sweep) will indeed make the dough feel firmer. In the end, the dough should be mostly fine regardless, but I do feel that more damp doughs seem to have more of that crackly exterior/stretchy interior of dreamy pizza doughs. Hope that helps.
Yield: 2 9×13-inch roughly rectangular or 2 12-inch roundish pizzas. We find that they serve 4 for dinner. Dibs on leftovers go to the person washing dishes.
- Overnight Dough Schedule: Begin between 8 and 9 p.m the evening before for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 22-hour dough)
- All-Day Dough Schedule: Begin between 6 and 8 a.m that day for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 12-hour dough)
- Part-Day Dough Schedule: Begin around noon that day for dinner between 6 to 8 p.m. (approx. 6-hour dough)
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour (bread flour works too)
Slightly heaped 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (for Overnight, All-Day, or Part-Day Schedules respectively, above)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
1 1/4 cup water, plus an additional tablespoon or two if needed (updated)
In a very large bowl, mix all ingredients with a spoon. The dough will be craggy and rough; this is fine, but if it feels excessively so, add another spoonful or even two of water. (See Note up top about altered water level/flour heaviness.) Cover bowl with plastic and keep at room temperature for approximately 22 (for Overnight schedule), 12 (for All-Day schedule) or 6 (for Part-Day schedule) hours, or until the dough has more than doubled. This takes longer in a chilly room and less in a very warm one, but don’t fret too much over this, as the dough is generally forgiving of a loosened schedule.
About 30 minutes before dough is ready, begin draining tomatoes if you’ll be following the margherita recipe below. Prepare pizza stone and paddle sprinkling it with cornmeal. You can also use any old baking sheet you have around, however, based on early commenters, the pizza tends to stick to these more, so I now recommend that you prepare it by very lightly, thinly coat it with olive oil or a nonstick cooking spray before sprinkling it with cornmeal. Heat oven to its highest temperature, usually between 500 and 550 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza stone, place it in the oven so that it heats too.
Flour your counter very well. Scrape dough out of bowl onto floured counter; in the time it has risen it should change from that craggy rough ball to something very loose, soft, sticky and stretchy. Flour the top of the dough, and divide dough in half (or more pieces, if you’re making smaller pizzas). Form them into ball-like shapes. Grab first round with floured hands and let the loose, soft dough stretch and fall away from your hands a few times before landing the dough on your prepared baking sheet/paddle. Use floured fingers to press and nudge dough into a roughly round or rectangular shape. Add desired fixings (see below for My Favorite Margherita Pizza) and bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating if it’s baking unevenly, until the top is blistered and the crust is golden. Repeat with remaining dough.
Do ahead: Once risen and formed into ball-like shapes, the dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days, says Lahey. He doesn’t say anything about freezing the dough, but I have done so successfully with others. However, if you don’t mind me being a little pushy here, I honestly feel that by the time the dough is defrosted and ready to use, you could have easily made a fresh one, so I don’t usually bother. When you’re ready to use a refrigerated or defrosted-but-still-cold dough, Lahey says that you should return it to room temperature by leaving it on a counter covered with a damp cloth for 2 to 3 hours before using it.
Whole wheat variation: Feel free to replace up to half the flour with whole wheat without altering any other ingredients.
Gluten-free variation: Sadly, no results to report yet, but if/when you try this with a gluten-free flour mix, I’d love to hear/share your results. Thank you.
My New Favorite Margherita Pizza
2 12-inch round or 9×13 rectangular pizza doughs
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Pinch of sugar, if desired
8 ounces aged mozzarella (sold in plastic, not water) (use more if you like your pizza with extra cheese)
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
Two glugs of olive oil
Few leaves of fresh basil, torn or sliced
Place tomatoes in a colander set over a bowl and give the tomatoes a little squeeze so they release any trapped juices. Let them drain for 30 minutes, if you can spare it. (We think you should save the reserved juices for Bloody Marys.)
Meanwhile, heat oven, if you have not already, to its top temperature, usually 500 to 550 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza stone, place this in the oven so that it heats too.
Add garlic, red pepper flakes and sugar (if the tomatoes taste overly acidic to you), to the tomatoes and blend in a blender or with an immersion blender until they reach your desired sauce texture. (I like it smooth, personally.) This will make more sauce than you need; you can save the remainder in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for longer.
Add 1/3 cup of sauce to each stretched-out dough and spread it evenly. Tear or crumble mozzarella into tiny bits and scatter it over the pizzas. Some people like their basil and parmesan or pecorino added only after the pizza comes out of the oven, some like it baked on; I tend to add half the sharp cheese before and half after. I’ll let you decide. Finally, give each assembled pizza a quick drizzle with olive oil and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating once if needed, until the top is bubbled and lightly charred and the crust is golden. (You’ll get better color than I did on the crust if you use a baking pan without sides, or if you bake it on the back of your baking sheet.) As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven and is still blazing hot, finish with basil and parmesan or pecorino, if this is when you prefer to add it.
Slide pizza onto cutting board or serving plate and cut into squares or wedges.
Toppings: Favorites include spinach or other greens, thinly sliced mushrooms or thin shaves of whatever vegetables are in season (cough, being neglected in the fridge). Here’s my toppings advice: Whenever you can, saute the vegetable gently in olive oil on the stove until it softens or wilts. Just a minute or two will make a huge difference in outcome. Mushrooms will be roasted, not just dried. Spinach will merge into the pizza. Is someone at the table skeptical of vegetables on their pizza? I’ve “heard” that if you lay them on top of the sauce, below the cheese, few are the wiser.
* My other influence in fleshing out some of my pizza theories listed above was a lovely book I was lucky enough to preview over the summer from beloved food blogger Molly Wizenberg called Delancey, about building the pizza restaurant in Seattle. It won’t be out until May but I loved it so much, I think it’s well worth preordering. Aren’t I pushy?