Until I launched this blog, the only pizzas we ever had at home were traditional, “classic” Italian pies. You know—tomato base, sausage, mushroom, mozzarella. Sometimes eggplant or spinach. I had tempted my pizza-loving man with stories of more “creative” pies I’d made in the past, but we always ended up making the usual, and it was all well and good.
But now that I’ve broken him (haha!), it seems we can’t turn away from the unconventional ideas I’ve been posting here. It started with the Buffalo chicken pizza, and we’ve worked through a couple of vegetarian pies and the couple of jerks (as in “Jamaican”). We still enjoy a classic pepperoni and mushroom pie, don’t get me wrong. But we are also knocking down the walls with all kinds of flavors, and having a lot of fun in the process of it all! (I should say at this point that my fact-checking husband, who edits this blog, reminds me that we have had white-clam pizzas as our New Year’s Eve celebration each of the last two years. But I would say those count as traditional, since they are part of the lore of Connecticut’s nationally famous New Haven pizza places, like Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s and Modern Apizza.)
And they are awesome, truth be told.
But I digress. Today, I offer another example of how I like to use up leftovers, and this adventure began on the heels of a recent backyard BBQ meal, when we enjoyed gourmet sausage (among other things) on the smoker. One of our local markets has an exclusive “sausage” department, featuring 40+ house-made specialties, and all pretty fabulous.
One lone straggler called “The Grill Master” was staring me down from the leftover shelf, along with a little bit of leftover sweet and spicy BBQ sauce that Les had whipped up for the spare ribs he smoked (he is the sauce king). There is always a plethora of cheese odds and ends in the deli drawer, and because I keep homemade pizza dough in regular rotation in this household, why not throw it all together into a smoky BBQ sausage pie? Why not, indeed.
1 ball of my New York pizza dough
1/4 cup sweet-spicy BBQ sauce
1 link smoked sausage* (about 4 oz.), cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 cup combined white cheddar and mozzarella*, grated
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper (smoked, if you can find it)
Smoked sausage has a very firm texture, perfect here because I could crisp up the cut edges in a skillet for even more texture and interest for our pizza. Kielbasa is a common example of a smoked sausage.
For this pizza, I used the bits of cheese we already had. If I were shopping from scratch, I would have gone straight for the cheddar on its own, or perhaps even a smoked cheddar or gouda.
Preheat the oven to 550° F, with pizza steel or stone in place about 8” from the top heating element.
In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute the smoked sausage until edges are crispy and some of the fat renders. Transfer sausage to a small bowl. Add onions and peppers to the same pan and saute until soft and lightly caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook until soft and some of the moisture evaporates. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Shape pizza dough into a 14” circle and transfer it to a greased pizza pan or floured and cornmeal-dusted pizza peel.
Brush dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then, spread the sauce in a thin layer, leaving 1/2” bare edges.
Scatter half of the cheese over the sauce, then distribute the peppers, onions, mushrooms and sausage. Top with remaining cheese and slide the pizza into a preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until crust is puffy and golden and cheese is bubbly all over.
Summer has a way of flipping mealtime upside-down at our house. My husband, Les, does a lot more of our cooking during the summer because the weather and extra daylight make it easier to use the grill or smoker, and the simple fact that he’s handling a larger part of our meals gives me more time to expand our library of recipes. With him in charge of cooking outside, it also means that I have a wider array of flavorful meats, cooked and ready to use in whatever dishes capture my imagination.
Something about the summer heat also makes me crave spicy foods in particular. It could be that my body is trying to calibrate to the external temperature or perhaps there’s simply a greater tendency toward adventure and new-ness while the sun is blazing. In either case, it’s hot in our neck of the woods and I’m cooking up some spice today in the form of pizza—not one, but two pies with all the flavors and vibrant colors of the Caribbean!
If you’ve ever grown a successful garden (meaning you actually harvested vegetables rather than merely feeding the neighborhood deer, as I have), you likely know that peppers love hot, sunny weather. Even if pepper plants seem to lag behind tomatoes and zucchini at the start of summer, they always catch up when the temperatures rise. That said, these brilliant bell peppers—which I picked from the produce department, not my pitiful garden—have earned a spot on my pizzas, just by being heat lovers themselves.
Onions are a no-brainer for pizza, and for these Caribbean-inspired versions, I’ve put a little caramelization on sliced red onions to heighten their sweetness and balance the jerk-fired flavors of the sauce and other toppings.
And of course, I couldn’t label these pizzas “Jamaican jerk” without the signature notes of allspice, hot peppers, ginger, thyme and scallion. I’ve incorporated all of the above, either in whole ingredient form or in sauce and seasoning, but gave each pie its own personality. The first is decidedly spicy and savory, featuring smoked pork shoulder, jerk rub, sweet and hot peppers and two kinds of onions. The other leans to the sweet-fruity-spicy side, with plump, juicy shrimp cooked in garlic butter, lime and cilantro—plus sweet and hot peppers, onions and a generous smattering of tropical grilled pineapple.
Put on some steel drum music, pour yourself a Red Stripe and join me for a taste of the Caribbean, Comfort du Jour style!
Sprinkle of fresh or dried cilantro leaves* (optional)
1 red bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into lengthwise slices
1 small red onion, sliced into rings
1 large jalapeno pepper (seeded), some diced and the rest sliced into rings
3/4 cup grilled pineapple chunks*
1/2 brick pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded*
Hot BBQ sauce for brushing pizza dough*
Dough of your choice – I recommend fresh dough rather than one of the pre-baked crusts. Some pizza restaurants will even sell you some of their pizza dough, so it’s worth asking!
Jerk seasoning – My go-to jerk seasoning is technically a wet rub that seasons the meat but also moistens it. If you have a dry or powdered seasoning, use less of it and mix it with a bit of canola or coconut oil before applying it to the meat.
Pepper jack cheese – For these pies, I used an 8 oz. brick of pepper jack, divided between the two pizzas, and I shredded it myself (not the bagged stuff). If you’re already having hot flashes over the other ingredients, you could cut out the pepper and use Monterey jack instead. You could also omit the cheese entirely, but I like the way it holds together the other toppings.
Cilantro – If you’re among the roughly 20% of people born with the “I can’t stand cilantro” gene, simply leave it out or substitute thyme or parsley. Here’s why you hate it, by the way.
Grilled pineapple – I grilled a whole cut-up pineapple because I had plans for multiple dishes. If you’re only making this pizza, I’d recommend getting a small container of pre-sliced fruit from the prepped-for-you section of the supermarket. 2 or 3 slices is all you’ll need. Used canned as a last resort.
BBQ hot sauce – Choose what you like, but consider the ingredients to complement the other stuff on the pizza. For example, there’s probably a better recipe than this one for a hickory-maple-chipotle-mustard BBQ sauce.
We found this one, which contains vinegar, onion, brown sugar and habanero (all of which are also in jerk seasoning), plus tomato paste, whiskey and ghost pepper. It echoed the topping flavors and was a perfect base for both pizzas, and another layer of wicked-good heat, which always makes Les happy.
Instructions – Jerk Pork Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Pull the pork apart into bite-size strips, and sauté them in a hot skillet with some olive oil, until edges are crispy. Then, toss them in jerk seasoning to coat thoroughly. Transfer the pork to a bowl.
Heat olive oil in the same skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until soft and lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper.
Shape pizza dough into 14-inch circle and place it on a greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel, then brush on a very thin coating of BBQ hot sauce and season with more black pepper.
Sprinkle half of the pepper jack cheese over the dough, then top with pork, jalapeno, onions and peppers. Scatter the remaining cheese and sprinkle with all the scallions. Slide the pizza onto a hot steel or stone, about 8” from the top of the oven. Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
Instructions – Jerk Shrimp Pizza
Preheat oven and steel to 550° F (see notes below for stone or pan baking)
Sauté the prepared shrimp in butter with the fresh garlic and cilantro, but only for about a minute, as the shrimp will cook further in the oven. Remove from heat, cut each shrimp in half if they are larger than a quarter, and squeeze a section of lime over them. Transfer to a bowl.
In the same pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft and lightly caramelized.
Shape pizza dough into 14’ circle and transfer to greased pizza pan or flour and cornmeal-dusted peel. Brush a light coating of BBQ hot sauce onto the dough, then sprinkle on half the cheese, followed by the onions and peppers, jalapeno, shrimp and pineapple bits. Scatter the remaining cheese over all toppings and slide the pizza onto a preheated steel, about 8” from the top of the oven.
Bake at 550° F for about 7 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. If using a pizza stone, follow temperature instructions from the manufacturer. Some pizza stones may crack at this temperature.
If using a pizza pan, place the oven in the middle to lower third and allow more time.
The savory, earthy flavors of this non-traditional pie will transform your ordinary pizza night into something far more elegant. The two different kinds of mushrooms provide a meaty texture in every bite, leeks and spinach add depth of flavor, and the trio of cheeses are in pleasantly sharp contrast to the creamy béchamel base.
I recommend prepping all the topping ingredients as much as a day ahead of time, as assembly of the pizza moves quickly and you won’t want to wait one extra minute for a bite of this!
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch white pepper
1 whole bulb roasted garlic
1 leek, cleaned and sliced thin (white and light green parts only)
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and sautéed
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, sliced and sautéed
2 Tbsp. dry white wine (or dry vermouth, which is what I had open)
1 fat handful fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese (try Cabot’s “Seriously Sharp” or Trader Joe’s “Unexpected Cheddar”)
Make the béchamel by melting butter in a small skillet, then sprinkle in flour and cook until bubbly. Add the milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Season with fresh nutmeg and white pepper. Squeeze entire bulb of roasted garlic into sauce and whisk until fully incorporated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool (or refrigerate until ready to make the pizza).
Place a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, swirl in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sauté leeks until cooked down and lightly browned. Remove from heat. Sauté mushrooms in two batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Add a small amount of additional olive oil if needed. When all mushrooms are finished, remove them to a bowl, then de-glaze the skillet with wine or vermouth and scrape up all the browned bits. When liquid is almost fully evaporated, add spinach leaves and cook until wilted.
Shape pizza dough into a 12- to 14-inch disk. Remember how we do this?
Drizzle or brush the dough with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Carefully spread the roasted garlic béchamel onto the dough, and spread it out to within 1/2” of the edges. Distribute leeks, cremini mushrooms, spinach and shiitake mushrooms onto the pie, then scatter all cheeses evenly over the top. Add a quick shake of crushed red pepper, and slide it onto a steel in a 550° F oven for about 8 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
For baking on a pizza stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding maximum temperature. Some stones will crack or break at higher temperatures. For baking on a pizza pan, lightly grease the pan before placing dough on it, and bake in the lower third section of your oven for a few minutes longer than recommended in the above recipe. We do all our pizzas on a baking steel by Dough-Joe, and it is the best thing that has ever happened to our homemade pies.
Before I present my recent addition to the Meatless Monday lineup of recipes, some unfortunate news—it looks like my garden isn’t going to make it this year. After only four weeks in the soil, so many of my tender plants have succumbed either to the deluge of rain we had over Memorial Day or the woodland critters who have decided to munch on the leaves. The yellow squash is withering, its stems split wide open from too much water. The zucchini vine is missing several of its broad protective leaves, having fallen victim to the hungry deer. And at least three of my red bell pepper plants are nothing but stubs. Though the deer don’t particularly care for the fruit of the pepper plants, they’ve made it clear they don’t mind snacking on the tender leaves and blossoms. What’s left of the garden is looking sad and puny, and I fear the nutrients in the soil have washed away with last month’s rainwater. Poor plants hardly stood a chance.
The happy news is that I’ve been able to find some fresh and good-looking vegetables at the market, a little ahead of season, and I’m not going to waste any more time wishing for my beloved ratatouille. On the contrary—I intend to enjoy it in as many different ways as possible. The dish is a favorite of mine, though I didn’t really become acquainted with it until I was well into adulthood. In case you have trouble remembering what’s in ratatouille, let me share with you a simple word trick that makes it easy. Several years ago, during the season five competition of the “Next Food Network Star,” finalist Melissa D’Arabian (who went on to win the title that year) shared an acronym that perfectly describes ratatouille.
“Just remember E-Z-pot,” she told the judges. Eggplant, zucchini, peppers-onions-tomato, easy to put together and made in a pot. That’s a perfect description, and also an easy way to jot down the ingredients on my grocery list.
Ratatouille, in its most rustic, southern-French form, is a hearty, chunky summer vegetable stew, seasoned with garlic and fresh herbs—a satisfying meatless meal made complete with a piece of crusty baguette and a glass of Provençal wine. In a fancier version, you might see ratatouille assembled in a striking pattern of layered thinly sliced vegetables, elegantly stacked with a garlicky tomato sauce and fresh sprigs of thyme.
If you’re a fan (as I am) of the Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille, you probably can’t help but recall the scene near the end, in which harsh, unemotional food critic Anton Ego takes a single bite of such an elegantly presented ratatouille, prepared by Remy—a rat (yes, a rat) who defied convention to follow his dream of being a chef. In a fraction of a moment, the stodgy Ego is transported back in time to his mother’s kitchen, where, as a young boy, he created his early memory of the rustic dish considered by many to be “peasant food.” One taste brought back all the feelings for him, and the incident changed his mind and his heart. For real, that one scene sums up Comfort du Jour. I’m even crying a little bit right now.
Today, I’m taking the rustic, casual approach to ratatouille and adding yet another twist. We are going to put those fresh garden flavors onto a pizza. I’ll send hubby out to the grill with the eggplant, zucchini and red bell pepper to reduce their moisture and bring out the best of their flavors. The onions will be pan-caramelized with fragrant herbs de Provence, and just for the heck of it, I’m tossing in some sautéed mushrooms. With the application of ratatouille’s classic flavors on a pizza crust, I’m sort of visualizing the south of France knocking on neighboring Italy’s door to borrow a couple of ingredients. A simple Italian tomato sauce will lay on an airy, rye-infused crust (sourdough, naturally), with a combination of gruyere, parmesan and romano to punctuate the grilled vegetables. Wow, it’s making me sooo hungry.
You don’t have to make your own dough to enjoy this pizza—before I made my own bread, I favored the Boboli pre-made crusts. There’s no judgment here if you want to use a pre-made pizza dough or other favorite crust and just focus on the flavors of the vegetables. Or trade in the crust altogether for a fresh bowl of hot pasta, tossed with the grilled vegetables and herb-infused sauce. Or really merge Italian into it by serving it on risotto or polenta. Re-imagine it exactly however you like. Isn’t that the beauty of comfort food?
1 ball rye pizza dough*
1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2″ rounds, salted and sweated*
1 medium zucchini, cleaned and sliced 1/4″ thin, lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into wedges
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 large sweet onion
4 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thick
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
1 bulb roasted garlic
1 tsp. herbs de Provence seasoning*
2 oz. dry white or rose wine
2 oz. finely shredded gruyere cheese
2 oz. coarsely shredded parmesan and romano blend cheeses
3 Tbsp. prepared pizza sauce (we love Dei Fratelli brand for its authentic, simple flavors)
If you wish to make the rye pizza dough, follow my instructions for My Real NY Pizza Dough but swap out the sourdough starter with equal amount of starter fed with 100% rye flour. Allow the starter to ferment 14 hours at room temperature before building the final pizza dough.
An hour or so ahead of preparing the rest of the dish, spread a double layer of paper towels on a baking sheet, salt liberally and arrange the eggplant slices. Salt the tops of the slices, cover with additional paper towels and place a weighted baking sheet on top. This will draw out the moisture and remove any bitter flavor from the eggplant before you grill it. After the “salt and sweat” period, use a damp towel to wipe off all excess salt.
Herbs de Provence is a classic French blend of herbs and seasonings, including thyme, savory, basil, lemon and a hint of lavender. You can make your own, but it’s easier to pick up a bottle of McCormick or any other brand at the market. Take note of the salt content so you know how to adjust your recipe.
Spray or brush eggplant slices, zucchini and bell peppers with extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and grill at 350° F for approximately 10 minutes, or until they reach your preferred level of caramelization. We let them go until they were lightly charred, but still tender.
Place the grilled peppers in a bowl, cover with foil and wait 15 minutes until the skin is loosened enough to peel away. Cool all vegetables and chop into large, rough pieces.
Place a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté onions until they are softened with charred edges. Sprinkle onions with salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence. Remove onions to a bowl, and repeat the same process with the sliced mushrooms, seasoning with remaining herbs de Provence.
In the same non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over low heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and heat slowly until tomatoes are soft enough to burst when pressed. Continue to cook until tomatoes are broken down and saucy and squeeze the roasted garlic into the pan.
Season with salt and pepper, add dry wine and simmer until liquid dissipates. It should have the texture of a soft jam. Set all ingredients aside (or refrigerate them) until you’re ready to make pizza.
Time to bake!
Shape pizza dough into a 14” circle. Brush or spray with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Swirl on tomato sauce, parmesan and romano, sauteed and grilled vegetables, then finely shredded gruyere. Finish the pie with the roasted garlic-tomato mixture and slide into a very hot oven on a preheated pizza steel or stone.
We bake our pizzas on a steel at 550° F for approximately 7 minutes. Please use the temperature and time best suited to your method.
For this western New York girl, Buffalo chicken pizza is a favorite non-traditional pie, for those times when you just can’t quite decide between pizza and Buffalo wings. From the authentic Frank’s “Red Hot” sauce to the funky bleu cheese crumbles, and right down to the crunchy bits of celery, this pie delivers. All. The. Flavors.
These pizzas move very quickly once the dough is shaped, so do yourself a favor and prep all the ingredients as much as a day ahead. You’ll appreciate having more space in the kitchen, and I’ve recently discovered that placing cold toppings on your freshly shaped pizza dough seems to make it easier to slide the pie off the peel into the screaming hot oven.
We bake all our pizzas on a steel, which has quite literally been a game changer in our quest for the perfect slice. If you use a pizza stone or metal pan, please follow the alternate baking instructions.
1/2 lb. lean ground chicken
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/3 cup Frank’s original red hot sauce* (see notes)
1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, chopped
1 stalk celery, ribbed and sliced thin on diagonal
1 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeno
1/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese*
1 ball real New York pizza dough (link to dough recipe)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper (as you like it)
Not a fan of bleu cheese? Try feta instead, to mimic the texture and saltiness, but without the funk.
Don’t get confused when you see the selection of Frank’s sauces. They used to make only one (now labeled “Original”), and this is the one you want. Trust me, I’ve been eating it on wings since the 1970’s.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and cook chicken with onions until browned. Remove from heat, stir in Frank’s Red Hot sauce and chopped garlic.
Shape pizza dough into 12- to 14-inch disk. If you missed the tutorial, here’s a quick recap for shaping your pizza dough.
Brush or spray with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread ricotta evenly over dough, keeping about 1/2 inch border on dough. As with any other sauce or base, you want to spread it thinly enough that you can see glimpses of dough through it.
Scatter chicken mixture evenly over ricotta base, then top with celery slices, jalapeno and pepper jack. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles over the top of the pizza and bake on a preheated steel at 550° F for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.
For baking on a pizza stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding maximum temperature. Some stones will crack or break at higher temperatures. For baking on a pizza pan, lightly grease the pan before placing dough on it, and bake in the lower third section of your oven for a few minutes longer than recommended in the above recipe.
If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, do you know the best way to reheat them? If you just said, “the microwave,” you’re excused from my blog. Just kidding! You can enjoy the leftovers as much as the original pizza, by placing the slices in a skillet or on a griddle, over very low heat. Place a vented cover over the slices, or lay a loose tent of foil over the top. This helps the cheese return to a glorious melty state, while the constant gentle heat on the crust surface brings back the crunch.
I went through some crazy mental calisthenics to perfect our pizza at home. Over a period of two years, I pored over countless books and online articles, viewed more YouTube videos than I care to remember (one of them was narrated entirely in Italian and I could only learn by watching his hands move), and swung back and forth like a pendulum, enjoying small successes, a few near misses and more than enough total disasters that left me cursing like a sailor.
Luckily, you don’t have to go through all that because I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. This pizza dough, says my dear husband, is as close as he’s ever had (at home) to a real New York pie. And he should know.
If you’ll be using dry yeast, please check to see if it’s “instant.” There are differences between instant dry yeast and active dry yeast, and you might need to adjust the process to be successful. I’ll explain more in the “Getting Technical” section, where I’ll also demonstrate the most accurate way to measure your flour.
If you’re a sourdough nerd like me, follow the sourdough instructions, beginning with a “fed” 100% hydration starter. Otherwise, use a small portion of an envelope of instant dry yeast, and the flour and water measurements that accompany it.
Here we go!
Standard Yeast Version
2 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (see slides for measuring tips)
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (look for King Arthur brand orange bag)
Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add cold water all at once and blend until all flour is incorporated and mixture becomes a cohesive mass. Drizzle the oil on top but do not mix yet. Cover and rest for about 20 minutes,* then proceed to “next steps.”
280g (approx. 2 1/4 cups) bread or all-purpose flour
70g (approx. 2/3 cup) white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand in orange bag)
227g (1 cup) cold filtered water
113g (1/2 cup) ripe sourdough starter (mine is 100% hydration)
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
Combine ripe starter and cold water in your mixing bowl until fully blended. Stir together dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and add them all at once to the mixing bowl. Mix on low until all flour is incorporated and mixture becomes a cohesive mass. Drizzle the oil on top but do not mix yet. Cover and rest for about 20 minutes,* then proceed to “next steps.”
After the 20-minute rest, switch to a dough hook (if using a stand mixer) or turn dough out onto a clean, lightly floured countertop (if you’re kneading by hand) and work that dough. This step is crucial, because it is here that the gluten will begin to develop. Gluten is the web-like structure that allows bread dough to rise when the yeast does its job. If you haven’t already drizzled in the olive oil, do it now. Your recipe won’t be ruined without it, but the oil helps to condition the dough, which makes it a bit easier to manage for shaping later.
After 6 minutes of kneading by mixer or 8 minutes by hand, you should have a smooth, supple dough that is soft and slightly tacky, but not sticky. If you pinch a small piece from the ball and stretch it between your fingers, you should be able to see the light through it. If it tears easily, knead a few more minutes until it reaches this point. If it feels dry and tight, wet your hands and knead another minute. If it is very sticky, try to knead another tablespoon or two of flour into it.
Lightly flour your countertop and use a bench scraper or sharp serrated knife to divide the dough into two equal pieces. Shape each into a ball by repeatedly tucking the edges under and turning the dough in quarter circles. When it’s smooth and round, slip the dough ball into an oiled quart-size zip top bag. Use a spray oil to mist the inside of the bag first. Repeat with the other dough ball.
Put the dough balls in a protected spot in your refrigerator (we pop it into the deli drawer) for at least 36 hours, and up to 3 days before your pizza party.
On pizza day, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours ahead of your meal time. Follow instructions in the “Tips” section regarding pre-heating of the oven because the temperature and rack placement varies based on whether you’re using a steel, a stone or a pan . While the dough is still cold, take it out of the bag and dust it generously with flour, then cover loosely with a clean dish towel.
When it reaches room temperature, shape the dough into 12 to 14 inch circles. Please, for the love of all things pizza, do not use a rolling pin!
Get as creative as you want to be with your toppings, then slide that pie into the hot oven.
One of the things that makes this pizza crust special is the cold fermentation of the dough. It might seem strange that we are using cold water, not giving the dough time to rise, and especially stuffing it straight into the fridge. But trust me, it works!
Yeast does not need warmth to do its work, it only makes it work faster. In a typical bread recipe, warm water and rising time in a warm spot of the kitchen allows you to make bread (or whatever) in a couple of hours, but what you gain in time, you lose exponentially in flavor and health benefit, which is even more technical.
Despite the wait time, this is a quick recipe. You can make this dough in 30 minutes, including the 20-minute rest.
Speaking of which, the technical term for the rest period is “autolyze,” though there’s some dispute on whether the yeast and salt should even be present at this point. Purists would say no, and in artisan bread making, the autolyze might go as long as an hour. Whether or not this is a “true” autolyze, the down time gives the flour a chance to fully absorb the water before you begin the more strenuous work of kneading. At any point during the rest, you may drizzle the olive oil over the dough—I usually do this simply so I don’t forget to add it. But don’t begin mixing it into the dough until the rest period is finished.
This recipe suggests “instant dry yeast,” which isn’t instant in terms of how quickly it works, but in the fact that you can add it from the start of the recipe without “proving” it first. “Active dry yeast” requires pre-dissolving in warm water before it will do its job. If you have this “active” type of yeast, you might be able to make this dough with a simple adjustment. Measure your total water, but remove about 1/3 cup of it to a bowl. Warm it in the microwave to bathwater temperature, sprinkle the yeast over and wait 5 minutes until it’s foamy. Then proceed with your recipe. If it doesn’t get foamy, it’s no longer active (bummer). If your yeast is labeled “quick-rise” or “rapid-rise,” both are forms of instant yeast and you’re good to go.
For any baking recipe, it is important to measure your flour correctly. I highly recommend a kitchen scale if you intend to take up bread making, but for now, if you rely on volume measurements, trust the “fluff, sprinkle, level” method described in these slides. Digging your scoop directly into the flour bin is going to ruin your recipe, and even spooning straight from the bin to the scoop can yield a crummy result. Proper measuring does make a difference. The flour I’m using for this demonstration should weigh 125 g per cup. Let’s see how it goes.
Tips for Success
This dough is for thin crust pizza, which means it does not “rise” after you shape it. Simply add sauce, toppings and bake.
Take it easy on the toppings. You should be able to see the dough through the sauce, and your pie will be much more evenly cooked if it isn’t piled high with too many ingredients. Pre-cook and cool meats and vegetables for best results, and use cold cheese.
If you’re using a stone or steel, you must preheat it the proper amount of time. This means set a timer for one hour, from the time your oven reaches the set temperature. These tools will absorb a great deal of heat, which will then be transferred back to your pizza. We bought our steel from this company, and it is freaking awesome. You can also find them on Amazon.
Oven temperature should be HOT. Les and I shake our heads at the Papa John’s commercial, boasting about its 450° F oven. This is absurd. For best results (at least, with this recipe), bake your pizza at 550° F, which is the max for most home ovens. To bake on a pan, place the rack in the center to lower third of the oven. If using a pizza steel, set the rack about 8 inches from the top heating element. Some pizza stones have specific temperature limits, so please follow the instructions on yours and allow extra time accordingly. I would hate for you to lose the whole pizza if the stone breaks under the heat.
Let me say this loud and clear: gluten is not everyone’s enemy. So many people are convinced today that they have issues with gluten. And some really do, including people diagnosed with celiac disease, and I hate it for them. But plenty of others are simply buying into the idea that gluten is solely to blame for their bloating, discomfort and other digestive issues. I’m not a doctor, but I understand enough about bread chemistry to suspect that the sudden widespread clamoring over gluten sensitivity is much more likely related to the speed with which modern high-volume bakeries are churning out bread. Hear me out.
Time is our friend when it comes to yeast breads. More time allowed for fermentation improves not only the flavor of the end product, but also its digestibility. During fermentation, the yeast coaxes the sugars out of the grain, which results in complexity of flavor (this is particularly true when using whole grains in baking), and many of the “anti-nutrients” in the grain get broken down, which means your body doesn’t have to do the work. Speed up or skip through this step and—well, it pretty much spells disaster for the belly. It’s like putting green wood in your fireplace or microwaving a steak. You wreck the whole thing.
The cold fermentation on this pizza dough will take 36 to 72 hours (depending on how quickly you’re planning to make your pizza). When commercial bakeries speed up the process, it’s for the end result of getting more loaves to market shelves faster—not for quality and certainly not for flavor. Just one of many reasons I’m in love with sourdough.
All of this to say, if you’re not allergic to wheat, and not officially diagnosed with celiac disease, your sensitivity issues may be related to cheap bread. Please talk to your doctor. Real sourdough bread (naturally leavened, not just “sour flavor” added to commercial yeast bread) may be the miracle you’ve hoped for.