Tuesday, 2 July 2013

No-Knead Pizza Crust

Do yourself a favor: give homemade pizza another go (using our recipe of course). I know it can be frustrating when your pizzas don't look like those your cool friends got at that fancy Italian pizzeria in Brooklyn, but that's about to change. With this recipe you'll be able to make pizzas that are just as good, and make them vegan if you so choose. This technique makes the whole ordeal so much less of an ordeal that I want to eat the stuff every day! The recipe below is from Jim Lahey's book My Pizza, which along with My Bread is one of our favorite cookbooks. Available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Classic tomato pie

The dough

3 3/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (whole wheat, white or a mixture)
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt (or less)
1 1/2 cups cool water


Thoroughly blend all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the water and mix gently but thoroughly until all the flour is incorporated. If there is some flour left in the bowl, add more water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough is sticky to the touch. The dough needs to be fairly wet in order to rise properly.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it rise for 12-18 hours, until it has doubled in size and looks bubbly on the surface.
Flour your work surface and scrape out the dough; it should look stringy (glutinous) and wet.
You next need to shape the dough. With well-floured hands, fold the edges of the dough in towards the center four times - top, bottom, left, right - in whatever order you like. Then flip the dough over so that the seam side is down, and mould it into a nice round shape. If the mound is sticky, add another sprinkling of flour.
Let the dough rise for 1/2 an hour covered with a tea towel, then use a food chopper or knife to divide the mound into 4 equal parts for use on round pizza pans or stones. If you're using a large rectangular pan, 2 equal parts will fill 2 pans. Flour your hands and shape the parts into balls, then let them rise again for another 1/2 hour, until they have doubled in size. If you can poke the dough and it rebounds immediately, let it rise another 15 minutes. If you poke it and it retains a 1/4 inch depression, it is ready to use.

Cooking with a pizza stone

Things you'll need:
- a pizza stone, the thicker the better
- a pizza peel (those large wooden spatulas professionals use, but with a short handle)
- flour and cornmeal

If you're using a pizza stone (a technique we highly recommend), set the racks in your oven so that the stone is closer to the top than the bottom, but not right at the top. Put the stone in the oven and preheat the oven on bake at the highest temperature it can muster. You should start preheating the oven once you've shaped the dough, or around an hour before you intend to cook the pizzas. Ten minutes before you're ready to cook them, switch the oven to broil; this will super-heat the stone and should give your pizzas a nice crispy crust.
When the stone is ready, flour your pizza peel well and add a generous sprinkling of cornmeal (this is optional, but it makes sliding the dough off the peel much easier). It is important to flour your peel well or else the dough will stick to it and then this becomes an ordeal again. 
Take one ball of dough - add more flour to it if it's sticky - and stretch it. One of the best techniques for stretching dough is called 'knuckling': stretch the dough a bit with your hands until it is flat (be gentle!) then lift it on top of your clenched fists and stretch it gently with your knuckles. You can also stretch the dough by pulling and stretching it with your hands on the floured work surface. Try to stretch the dough immediately before you use it so that it retains its shape and moisture. And try to stretch it as evenly as possible, until it is very thin and about 10-12 inches across. Once the dough is shaped and is well-floured, lay it on the peel - you're ready for toppings!
The toppings are up to you (we'll give you some suggestions later). Once you have your pizza all dressed it's ready to cook. Use some good kitchen gloves to take the pizza stone out of the oven (it will be very hot). You can leave the stone in the oven but it makes this next step harder. Gently jerk the pizza peel forward and backwards to make sure that your pizza can move freely. If it can't, lift the edges of the dough and add more flour. Once you're ready, transfer the pizza with jerking motions onto the hot stone. This step is tricky because once the dough touches the stone it cannot be moved. Replace the stone in the oven and switch the oven to bake again.
The cooking time for your oven will vary depending on if you have a gas or electric appliance, how thick your pizza stone is and a dozen other factors like whether you and your oven have a friendly relationship (or perhaps something more?) Our oven is old, it's electric and it takes a while to heat up, and our pizza stone is about 1/2 thick. We bake our pizza for 7-10 minutes, then switch the oven to broil and cook the pizza until the crust is just this side of charred on top, and the ingredients are bubbling (usually only two or three minutes). Gas ovens often take less time to cook a pizza, so you'll have to do a bit of experimenting. Keep a close eye on, and detailed notes about, your first few pizzas and I'm sure they'll turn out great.

Cooking with a metal pan

Whatever the shape of your pan, start by oiling it generously - until you can trace lines in the oil with your finger, but don't add so much that you fry your pizza. If you're using a round pan, shape the dough as described in the directions for cooking with a pizza stone, above, but instead of placing the dough on the pizza peel, just stretch it and place it on the oiled pan. If you're using a rectangular pan, take one of your two pizza dough balls and stretch it to approximately the length of the pan. Lay it down on the pan, then gently stretch it to fill the pan width-wise. You will likely have to bake the pizza for a bit longer than if you were using a pizza stone, probably 10-15 minutes, then finish it with a couple minutes on broil. You can tell the dough is done when it pulls away from the edges of the pan and looks toasty.