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Who Kneads Pizza Dough?

I love bread and have kneaded it in various countries, in 45ºC kitchens, in electric, gas and wood ovens. While the kneading part (and the stoking the fire part) can be a satisfying and even a therapeutic exercise, it is more labour-intensive and time-consuming for many cooks these days. And we can buy such good bread here now that it hardly seems necessary to make it at home. Enter Jim Lahey, whose revolutionary no-knead bread dough has been written about in food columns for several years. And for good reason. Mixing the dough briefly, then a long slow rise, results in a crispy, chewy, flavourful loaf. Provided you plan ahead, the method is uncomplicated and you get the joy of smelling the intoxicating aroma of bread-baking at home and the kudos you receive for producing it!

Now he has extended the technique to pizza-making, giving the home cook the answer to professional brick oven pizza, the kind that you need to line up for in most of the hot new pizzerias rising up in Vancouver and that does not do well in takeout boxes. I have been testing his technique lately with my homemade pizza, and last night I came up with the best version yet: his dough recipe and toppings from The Mozza Cookbook. You can see in the photograph (which I only remembered to capture after first diving in to test the crispness of the dough…and to experience the hot crust with the slowly melting burrata cheese…) that the dough is bubbly and crisp on the edges, especially visible here on the burrata-topped pizza.

Here are the ingredients for the dough:
To make four 6-8″ crusts
3 3/4 c. all purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 t. instant yeast
2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. water

To make the dough: In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add water and stir until just blended. It will look like a shaggy ball:

Now cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it rest for 12-24 hours at room temperature. When it has rested long enough it will have some large bubbles forming on the surface and will look something like this:

When the dough has risen, place it on a floured surface and sprinkle the top with flour. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, form into balls. Sprinkle a kitchen towel with flour and cover the dough with it. Let rest for about 1 hour. Alternatively, you can now refrigerate the balls before this rise: cover them loosely and individually in plastic wrap for up to 3 days, then bring the dough to room temperature for a couple of hours before proceeding with shaping the pizza.

During the last hour of the dough’s resting, prepare the oven. If using a pizza stone, arrange a rack on the lowest third of the oven and place the stone on the rack. Preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500ºF – 550ºF, for one hour. If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to its hottest setting. (You do not need to preheat the baking sheet.)

Note: My method here differs slightly from Lahey’s instructions. He recommends putting the oven rack in the upper third of the oven, and when ready to bake the pizza, turning the temperature to Broil. I tried that and found it difficult to manoeuvre the dough onto the upper level of the oven, and once I had done that, my pizza stone cracked. I assumed that the sudden increased temperature was too much of a shock for the stone to absorb.

When the oven has been preheating for about 45 minutes, begin shaping the dough. Working with one dough ball at a time, dust generously with flour and place on floured work surface. Stretch and push the dough with your finger tips, slowly working around it until you get the size and thickness you like, but leaving a 1″ border. Using a rolling pin tends to flatten the dough too much, losing the lovely little air pockets that will give the pizza its character.

Once the pizza is shaped, place it on a floured pizza peel that has been well-sprinkled with flour, or onto a floured rimless cookie sheet, or an inverted rimmed sheet. Brush the edges with olive oil and the entire surface with salt and pepper. Add toppings and place the cookie sheet in the oven, or slide the pizza from the pizza peel onto the stone. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until browned and puffy.

For the toppings:
For the best end-result, it is important not to overdo the toppings. Don’t overload the dough with huge amounts of cheese, vegetables or meat…just keep it simple and flavourful. This time I used two of Nancy Silverton’s suggestions, Squash Blossom Tomato and Burrata (I used zucchini blossoms) and Prosciutto, Arugula, Tomato and Mozzarella.

Zucchini Blossom, Tomato and Burrata
Quick, the season is short and now is the time to buy squash blossoms. Below is a picture taken on my iPhone at the SOLEfood stand at the Granville Island Thursday farmers’ market.

6-8 zucchini blossoms
1 round of pizza dough
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 c. tomato sauce (store-bought or the homemade version from the duck recipe here)
4 oz. burrata cheese
finishing quality extra virgin olive oil, about 1 T.
freshly ground black pepper

Trim and discard the stems from the squash blossoms, open them up with your fingers and cut out and discard the stamens. Brush the rim of the stretched round of dough with olive oil and season the entire surface with salt. Spoon the tomato sauce onto the centre of the dough and spread it evenly over the surface, leaving a 1″ rim without any sauce. Lay the zucchini blossoms over the dough in a spiral fashion to cover the pizza with a single layer. Slide the pizza into the oven and bake until the crust is golden and crispy, 8-12 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and cut it into quarters. Cut the burrata into four equal segments, place one segment onto each quadrant, drizzle with finishing quality extra virgin olive oil, grind the black pepper over the burrata, and serve.

Prosciutto, Arugula, Tomato and Mozzarella
1 round of pizza
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1/4 c. tomato sauce (see above)
3 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into chunks
4 thin slices prosciutto
1 cup loosely packed arugula
finishing quality extra virgin olive oil, about 1 T.

Brush the rim of the dough with olive oil and season the entire surface with salt. Spoon the tomato sauce onto the centre of the dough and spread it evenly over the surface, leaving a 1″ rim without any sauce. Scatter the cheese pieces over the pizza, slide it into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown and crispy, 8-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and pile arugula in the centre of the pizza. Drizzle with the finishing-quality olive oil and serve.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Rooky #

    The no knead pizza looks amazingly tempting especially with the cheese on top.


    July 25, 2012

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