Better than delivery
By Lisa Abraham
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
What night is pizza night at your house? Is it Friday, when everyone is chilling out from a hectic week at work and school? Is it Saturday, when friends or family stop over? Or Sunday afternoon, when the pace is slower and the games are on?
Any night can be pizza night, and surprisingly, any night can be homemade pizza night in as little time as it takes to wait on a delivery.
No-knead doughs, made in advance, are the key to homemade pizza anytime. They'll keep for days in the refrigerator (some last almost two weeks) and can be used not only for pizza, but also for bread, calzones, garlic bread, focaccia or bread sticks.
While you can reach for a frozen or packaged crust, the simplicity of making homemade dough may surprise and convert you.
Cheryl Pierce's family ordered pizza at least once a week for supper, but as the recession caused her to look for ways to trim her "eating out budget," Pierce decided as her New Year's resolution to try her hand at making pizza instead.
She started out using packaged crust mixes from the grocery store and then tried a basic dough recipe from a cookbook using flour, dry yeast, salt, sugar, water and oil.
Pierce said her hesitation when it came to working with yeast always kept her from trying homemade crust before, but she was surprised with the results.
"It's so simple and delicious. Who knew?" Pierce said.
The next step for Pierce is finding a crust she can make several days ahead of time that keeps well in the refrigerator. That's where no-knead dough is the perfect fit, said Kathy Lehr, a bread-baking expert.
Lehr teaches dough and baking techniques at schools across the country. She said pizza dough is one of the best ways for a novice baker to get started.
Her recipe for pizza dough, which uses cornmeal as well as bread flour, produces very wet dough, even slightly sloppy. But the wet texture is what creates its airy, chewy crust, she said.
The dough doesn't require much kneading, only about three minutes, which can be accomplished with the dough hook of a stand mixer.
Lehr's recipe can be made several days ahead of time. The longer it sits, the better the flavor and texture, she said.
Lehr recommends using a pizza stone or an oven lined with unglazed tiles for baking pizza, but the recipe will work equally well for beginners who have nothing more than a pizza pan or a baking sheet. A very hot oven set to 475 or 500 degrees is needed to give the pizza its texture: brown on the bottom, yet soft and chewy on the inside.
She suggests spritzing the bottom of the pre-heated oven or the tiles, if using, with some water to create steam, which helps to develop a crust. It's the same reason French bread, with its classic crusty exterior, is often baked commercially in steam-injection ovens.
For baking on a hot stone or tiles, Lehr said the crust and toppings can be put in the oven together and the pizza should bake up fine.
In testing with typical metal pizza pans, Lehr's dough produced a fairly thick crust and we found that pre-baking the crust first for about 10-15 minutes helped to keep it from being soggy in the center. After the pre-bake, we put on our sauce, cheese and toppings and returned it to the oven for another 15 minutes until the crust was brown, crispy on the edges and the cheese melted and bubbly.
Lehr cautioned against over-saucing pizzas, which will contribute to crust seeming soggy or under-baked.
She recommends using the dough within five days.
However, other no-knead dough, such as the olive-oil dough from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, will last up to 12 days in the refrigerator.
The recipe is good for pizza and focaccia as well as loaf bread, requires no kneading and is ready after an initial rise of just two hours. In testing, however, we found after a couple of days, the dough was even more flavorful and easy to work with for pizzas.
Preparing it in standard pizza pans, rather than on a stone, we also gave it a short pre-bake to make sure the crust was as brown and crisp as we desired.
The crispness of any pizza crust will depend on how thick you make it and how hot the oven.
A recipe for Neapolitan-style pizza dough, from Nancy Baggett's book, "Knead-lessly Simple," also requires no kneading and is simply stirred together with a spoon.
The recipe makes two crusts, and while Baggett recommends using the dough within a day of making it, it can be frozen for up to one month, which makes homemade pizza as simple as frozen pizza.
DOUGH FOR PIZZA OR FOCACCIA
6 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour or King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon salt
1 package dry yeast (scant 1 tablespoon)
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cups water
Place flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir together. Add yeast and stir to combine.
Combine olive oil with two cups of the water and add to the flour. Mix, adding more water, until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Once desired consistency is reached, knead with dough hook for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add more water if needed. The dough should be a little tacky but pull together after kneading. The wetter the dough, the more airy and chewy the crust will be when baked.
Place bowl in refrigerator and let rise, covered, overnight. Pull or punch down dough at least once. Two nights will give it a chewier texture. Dough can be made up to five days ahead of time.
To make pizzas, preheat oven to 475 or 500 degrees.
Remove a portion of the dough from the bowl. Working on parchment paper, shape dough into desired size and thickness. Brush dough with olive oil. Cover with desired toppings. Transfer to pizza stone or pan and bake on the lowest rack of oven until crust is browned and cheese is melted and browned. Baking time will vary depending on oven and size and thickness of pizza. Check at 7 to 10 minutes.
Makes up to 6 pizzas, depending on size and thickness of each.
NEAPOLITAN-STYLE PIZZA DOUGH
3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed
1 1/4 teaspoon table salt (generous)
1/4 teaspoon instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
1 1/4 scant cups ice water, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing over dough and pans
First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Vigorously stir in the water, scraping down the sides, just until thoroughly blended. Stir in the olive oil until evenly incorporated. If the mixture is too dry to mix, add in just enough water to facilitate mixing, as the dough should be firm.
If the dough is soft, stir in enough flour to firm it. Brush the top with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 4 to 12 hours.
Second rise: Stir the dough to deflate it. Divide it in half using oiled kitchen shears. The dough portions can be used immediately, or refrigerated for up to 12 hours and then used, or frozen, wrapped airtight, for up to 1 month.
Use each half to prepare one pizza. Fit dough into pizza pan.
To bake, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest oven position. Place a rimless baking sheet on the lowest rack.
Place the pizza pan with the dough, or the dough on parchment, on the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the dough begins to firm and puff up. Remove from the oven and spread with sauce to 1/3-inch of the edge all around. Add toppings and cheese. Return to oven and bake about 10 minutes longer until the top is bubbly and the edge is puffy and nicely browned.
Makes two 12-ounce pizzas.
"Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads," by Nancy Baggett
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/4 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 1/4 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix the yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil with the water in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
Mix in the flour, without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you're not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.
The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 12 days.
Makes enough for four 1-pound loaves.
Note: This recipe may be used for bread, pizza or focaccia. For pizza, bake on a pizza stone in preheated 500-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until browned.
"Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois