I’ve been in search of creating the “perfect” pizza for years and have finally come to the conclusion that what I determine to be perfect is only a reality in my world. Each person’s reality is different, therefore, each person’s perfect pizza will be different…it may be thin and crispy; it may be thick and chewy; it may be naked of sauce or cheese but one thing is certain…it needs to be your soul and have your passion!
What I will demonstrate to you is a no knead technique for the dough based upon Jim Lahey’s recipe, with of course, some of my alterations. No knead dough has been around for many years. While taking some classes at King Arthur Baking School in Norwich, Vermont several years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a local who I have nicknamed “The Mad Baker of Norwich”. Several people of Norwich spoke to me about this woman and her skills but always ended their conversation with “but she’s a bit strange” which made me all the more want to experience her! One Thursday morning as I was driving to the cooking school, I past a hand painted sign that read “hearth baked breads” with an arrow. The arrow was in the direction of where I was told this woman lived. I immediately slammed on the brakes, redirected my car, and arrived at her farm within five minutes. Standing next to a handmade clay oven was a woman who looked like a cross between Albert Einstein and the Wicked Witch of the West (or is it East)? It turns out this woman was a self sustained farmer who built her own barn, raised her own pigs and chickens, milked her own cows, and grew her own vegetables as well as made her own honey, cheese and wood burning ovens!! She was an accomplished writer, artist, potter and baker who traveled throughout Europe, learning craft. It was in Belgium that she learned the art of bread making. Needless to say, my day was spent, not at KA, but with this brilliant, on the edge woman. We turned doughs, feed the piglets, milked the cows, devoured homemade cheese and tea and baked a bevy of bread from Walnut Pear to Pain de Campagne. This was my first experience with the no knead technique, which has been used by European bakers for years and became known to Americans via the New York Times article on Sullivan Street Bakery. With no machines and kilos of dough to knead, the European baker became tired and, quite by accident, found that by doing turns and tucks they could accomplish the same gluten structure with far less work…alas, no knead dough!
Since this experience, and with a three day workshop with Kiko Denzer, I have created my own wood burning oven in my back yard but that is another story! For now, let’s just focus on your oven and what you can create!
The following is Jim Lahey’s recipe with my alterations:
Yield: three 10 inch pizzas
KA bread flour 3 ¾ cups 500grams
Instant yeast 2tsp.(scant) 6grams
Sea salt 1½ tsp 10grams
Room temp water(72F) 1 ½cups 330grams
Extra virgin olive oil to coat dough
I will leave my dough to rest a longer period of time on the counter; therefore I decrease the amount of yeast used. Also I find that all yeasts are not created equal…instant yeast requires 25% less than active dry. All salts differ in flavor and structure…using sea salt which is more aerated creates a need for a high amount. I either coat the dough with the olive oil or actually add 30 grams of olive oil to the dough. Lastly, I find I like a bit more hydration to my dough so I added an extra 30 grams of water. Final comment; I tend to use King Arthur flours because their protein levels are consistent. They are known to test their flours monthly for protein, thus one less variable when it comes to hydration!! For pizzas I do prefer the high protein content of the bread flour. Be consistent and try to use the same products, whatever they are, in your bread making. That applies to flour, yeast, and salt.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the water (and olive oil, if desired) and begin stirring with a wooden spoon. When it begins to come together, I clean my spoon and wet my hands and finish mixing with my hands. This takes about 30 seconds. The dough should be somewhat wet and sticky.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise on the counter for 8-9 hours. You will see bubbles and a good rise.
Remove the dough from the bowl and round the dough.
Then divide into 3 equal portions. I use a scale and weigh everything…your choice!! If you weigh the dough, each should be about 250 grams. Here’s where your preference comes into play. If you like a thinner, crisper crust you might choose to use a lesser amount of dough and if you are a thick crust person, add another 50 grams of dough.
Begin by cutting a piece of parchment 12 inches square, oiling it with olive oil and dusting with medium grind cornmeal (my preference). Pick up one piece of dough and begin stretching the dough into a circle. I usually use my knuckles to begin this process and then quickly change to holding the edges and turning the dough in the air while pulling and stretching. Once the dough has begun to expand, you may set it on the cornmeal and using a rolling pin flatten it into an even round (or square!!)
Repeat this with the other 2 pieces. If you choose to only make one pizza at this time, you can refrigerate the dough in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap. This will hold for a few days!!! If you are getting ready for a party, you can shape the dough on the parchment, stack them and place in the refrigerator until party time. I once did this with 20 shells stacked in several piles in the frig!
You are now ready to create your toppings. You will notice that I do not use a sauce on this occasion. Sometimes I do not use a cheese. We have become so accustomed to a thick sauce and tons of cheese with our “American” pizza that we are missing combinations of simple, yet glorious flavors. If you chant the mantra “less is more” when making pizza, you might open yourself to an incredibly new experience… especially in the summer when all your gardens are in full bloom!! Here are two pizzas I have built…one with jalepenos, cilantro, caramelized onions, red pepper flakes and Mexican cheese (sometimes without the cheese!) and the second with sautéed asparagus, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, herbs and fresh mozzarella.
Let’s talk about the oven. I bake on UNGLAZED tiles. I prefer these to a pizza stone as I can get more on them and if I shatter one tile it’s far less expensive to replace than a pizza stone! Pizzas should be baked in the lower third of the oven so set your pizza stone or tiles on that rack. Here’s my smaller oven and here’s my larger oven. Notice that the tiles do not butt up to the edges…you must have air flow around the tiles or the bottom will burn. Set the oven temperature high…490-500F and preheat at least ½ hour before you are ready to bake.
Using your peel, move your pizza on the parchment directly onto the tiles and begin baking. I have found it is easier to move the pizzas by dressing them on parchment and using the peel to move them into the oven. In case…you are interested, I make and sell these lovely red oak peels…just check out my etsy site!. http://www.etsy.com/shop/taoofdough
Once the pizza has set, you can remove the parchment and bake directly on the tiles. Sometimes the parchment will burn if left in for the complete baking time. The length of time a pizza takes depends on the thickness of your dough, your oven and how it heats, and how brown and crispy you like your crust. To get this color and crispness in my small oven, it took 8 minutes. To get the same results in my larger oven, it took 13 minutes with the temperature at 500F in both ovens!!!
Using a serrated knife or a pizza cutter, immediately cut your pizzas and enjoy. Check out the air holes…these were crispy on the outside and chewy in the interior…just the way I like a thicker crusted pizza.
The same dough can make a beautiful, thin crusted pizza. Remember, the time will certainly be less with a thinner crust and don’t forget the mantra…less is more!!!