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Thin Crust Pizza

I’ve tried making pizza on several occasions. Every time, as I bite into a not-quite-crunchy crust and get a lick of too-thick tomato sauce on my tongue, I wonder why we didn’t just hop on the 96 bus and get off at Two Amys, the best pizza in town. Well, all that’s changed. Armed with not one, but two excellent pizza recipes, I’m here to assure you that homemade pizza really is within reach.

I recently indulged in a couple new cookbook purchases. Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday” and Jim Lahey’s My Bread have joined the party on my cookbookshelf, and I’ve spent the better part of the last several weekend mornings tucking into their recipes, devouring their advice. I’ve been making Lahey’s No Knead Bread for quite some time now, both plain and with all sorts of add-ins. His book offers all that and more: imagine his bread dough, studded with fruit and infused with spices, then baked wrapped in banana leaves. Or the same dough, flavored with coconut and chocolate, baked in that hot oven so that some of the chocolate crusts on the outside of the bread. The pictures in this book animate already-delicious-sounding recipes. I’m thrilled to have it on my shelf, and his pizza recipe is just one more reason. Ditto Reinhart, who offers many solid recipes for sandwich breads, challah, and even a cinnamon chocolate babka, sitting on my counter now and the subject of a future post. But I’m getting carried away: let’s talk about pizza.

Last Sunday, we watched the oscars with a few friends, so I decided to put all this learning to use, and make a bunch of pies for dinner. After reading both pizza recipes through thoroughly, I opted for Reinhart’s “popular” pizza dough recipe, which calls for honey or agave nectar to flavor the dough.

While I had grand plans for toppings, including a white pie loaded with mushrooms and a yuppie pie with raw arugula on top, I ended up (wisely) sticking to the standard sauce-and-cheese combo, always a crowd pleaser. I used some buffalo mozzarella from the farmers’ market and a jar of good Italian pizza sauce. I added mushrooms and caramelized onions on one pie and snuck some pesto onto another, but that was it.

If you’re wondering whether you need any special tools to bake these pizzas, the answer is a definitive NO. I have neither a pizza stone nor a peel, and I baked these pies to crispy perfection on a couple of ordinary baking sheets, no sweat. The key is to crank that oven up as high as it will go, and really give it time to heat up completely before sticking the pizzas inside.

What else can I tell you? Once you make this dough, you will never again question the value proposition of sitting on your couch, holding a plate of your own homemade pizza. Even when faced with the alternative of heading out to your nearest pie place, homemade pizza is worth the trouble.

Thin Crust Pizza
based on Peter Reinhart’s recipe in Artisan Breads Everyday

5 1/3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar, honey, or agave nectar (I used agave)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons water, room temp
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine everything in stand mixer or large bowl and mix, using wooden spoon or paddle attachment, for 1 minute or until blended. Let rest 5 minutes.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium-low speed 2-3 minutes (or continue mixing by hand) until dough is soft, and somewhere between tacky and sticky.

Spread 1 tablespoon olive oil on kneading surface and turn dough out onto surface. Stretch dough out and fold over itself. Do the same from the opposite end, then from side to side, for a total of four stretch-and-folds. Divide dough into the number of pies you plan to make: I initially divided into 5, as Reinhart recommends, then later realized I wanted 3 big pies instead of 5 personal ones. Form each piece into a ball and either put each into an oil-sprayed plastic bag, or set them atop parchment-lined baking sheets and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or upto 4 days, or freeze upto several months.

90 minutes before making the pizzas, remove dough balls from refrigerator. With oiled hands, stretch and fold each piece into a tight ball, then let rest on lightly oiled baking pan loosely covered with plastic wrap.

1 hour before baking, turn oven as high as it will go. If you have a pizza stone, heat it in the oven. Those with stones will prepare pizzas on a peel (a large, spatula-shaped surface used to transfer pizzas in and out of the oven). The rest of us will just use baking sheets.

Coat your peel or baking sheet and your hands with flour. Choose one dough ball, sprinkle a bit of flour on top, then flip over onto peel or baking sheet and use your thumbs to slowly coax the edges of the dough into a larger circle. Work from the edges, not from the middle; the middle will spread as the edges are drawn out. Keep turning and stretching, turning and stretching, about 13 times (according to Jim Lahey), until dough is quite thin. If dough resists or shrinks back, let it rest a few minutes, then return.

At this point, you’re ready to top your pizzas. I like a spoonful of tomato spread thinly, several pieces of fresh mozzarella, a couple pieces of basil or drops of pesto, and a swirl of olive oil. Do as your stomach commands.

Bake about 4-7 minutes, depending on heat of the oven, rotating halfway through. Let cool for one minute before serving.

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