How to Make Pizza Dough

Pizza was sacrosanct in my family, growing up near New Haven, Connecticut. At the end of a rainy fall Saturday, looking at dinosaurs at the Yale Peabody Museum, my dad would take us to Wooster Street for scalding hot and bottom-burnt, bubbling thin crust apizza. There were other pizzas in my life, of course. School lunch pizza, scissor cut into squares with tough love by the tight-lipped lunch ladies of Joel School; birthday party pizza, oregano-mottled Greek style from Clinton Pizza, located on Main Street, next to the Cumberland Farms; frozen, rectangular squishy Elio’s shared with my mom at the kitchen table, before the kitchen was redone in country colors and stencils on the walls. But the style that reminded both my parents of home, which has leeched into my genes and bones and memory, is the Neopolitan version made popular by Pepe’s and Sally’s, and our personal favorite, Modern Apizza. A study in minimalism and ovens as hot as the fires of Mordor.

How to Make Pizza Dough

Moving to Mexico was the mother of invention. Our options there were Domino’s and a local delivery chain called Pizza Messina, whose cheese tastes like regurgitated goat curd. I’ve written before about how different an experience it would have been, living there, without access to the internet, the world beyond our briny backwater, a town without paved roads, or an ATM machine. Sometimes I think a total disconnect from civilization would have been better. We might have gone native, and liked it. What we were afforded was time and space to create and experiment. I easily could source the three ingredients: flour, yeast, salt. So I consulted a few sources and started mixing up dough. The one I settled on called for a quick rise, facilitated by the warm, moist climate of our beach house. I dissolved sugar and yeast in warm water; whisked salt into sifted flour, combined wet and dry and let it rest for a few hours. The result was a better quality pie than we’d had, and I was satisfied. Humanity restored, comforted by a simple taste of home, this is what cooking is really all about.

How to Make Pizza Dough

Back in the USA, it becomes quickly clear that there is always room for improvement. Better ingredients, and the motivation to seek out not just an acceptable recipe, but the best method. The most pressing piece of business was finally getting a pizza stone. That equipment secured, I felt I could begin trying different preparations and perfecting my technique. The first new dough I made came from Peter Reinhart, preeminent bread baker, author of books on bread baking, teacher, and theologian. I have a few of his books and expected to follow his instructions and develop the most ideal pizza ever created. I did everything he said to do. I used cold water, a metal spoon, oiled parchment, instant yeast, and waited while the dough did its magic thing. I was somewhat disappointed in the resulting crust. It was good, but bland. And while the top bubbled and blackened nicely, the bottom did not crisp. It was a little flabby, especially for a Neopolitan.

How to Make Pizza Dough
A holdover from Mexico: Fresh Chorizo, Pineapple, and Jalapeno

Then the March issue of Bon Appetit arrived with an amorphous, blistered, red, white and green pizza adorning its cover. Inside the issue was a recipe written by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery. His no-knead bread recipe circled the interweb a few years ago and has been a staple in our house ever since. His no-knead pizza dough is similar in that resting and rising is the key to success. As geology is the study of pressure and time, bread baking, in my interpretation of Lahey, is the science of yeast and time. Keep the dough warm and bubbles will form. Eighteen hours on the counter and six minutes in the oven later, and lo and behold, it was the best pizza I’ve ever made. If Reinhart is an alchemist, Lahey is Prometheus. There’s no mystery or occult art to his style. Anyone can access this. And we should.

How to Make Pizza Dough
Note the charred, crisp outside, and the latticework of chewy air pockets inside the crust.

There are two main reasons that pizza at home never tastes like pizzeria pizza: Inadequate heat, and a directional heat source. In a pizza restaurant, the hot brick in 1,000+ degree ovens cook and blister a pizza from all sides simultaneously, in as few as a couple of minutes. We can’t replicate that heat at home, but we can distribute the heat better. By combining a preheated pizza stone with a hot broiler, we can cook the pizza crust quickly from the bottom, while blistering and melting the toppings using the broiler. The result? A crust that’s crispy on the outside, chewy and airy on the inside, and a perfectly cooked on top.

How to Make Pizza Dough
Caramelized Onion and Pancetta

Having a long-handled peel is a must for sliding the pizza onto the super hot stone. Be sure to use a lot of cornmeal, or your sticky dough will get stuck. So, from the bottom up: Cornmeal, peel, dough. When you get the dough situated on the peel, add your desired toppings. Don’t muck around with storebought pizza sauce; it usually tastes like raw oregano and sadness. Instead, open a big can of San Marzano tomatoes, crush them with your fingers, add a tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken the sauce slightly, and two minced cloves of garlic. Done. Pull apart pieces of fresh mozzarella, and break basil with your fingers to add at the last second. That’s it. That’s all pizza should be. We have been experimenting with other toppings, such as caramelized onions, mushrooms, chorizo, and goat cheese, but simple, fresh, and unadulterated ingredients are still the ideal.

How to Make Pizza Dough

No-Knead Pizza Dough
Adapted from a recipe by Jim Lahey for Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 7 1/2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for dusting, shaping dough)
  • 4 teaspoons fine sea salt (I used Morton’s table salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 3 cups water

Method:

Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a big mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to gradually incorporate water. Mix by hand and form into a ball. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with plastic and let rest in a warm spot for eighteen hours. It will double in size, and bubbles will develop. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, and divide into six equal portions. Fold each dough ball over on itself, seam side down, and let it rest for an hour under a damp kitchen towel. [This can be done three days ahead. Wrap the dough you don’t plan to use in plastic to store in the fridge.] Preheat your oven on the highest bake setting for at least an hour, with the pizza stone on a rack in the top third of the oven. Stretch dough by hanging, pulling, and/or rolling. Use a peel, generously coated with corn meal, to transfer dough – topped with whatever you’d like – to the stone. Broil 5-7 minutes. Pull it from the oven with the peel, transfer to a wooden board, let it rest five minutes then dig in. Serve with a simple green salad and lots of wine and sparkling water.

With this recipe at your disposal, and a pantry stocked with flour, salt, and yeast, you have all the tools you need to create perfect pizza at home, wherever you are.

Jillian Bedell

Jillian Bedell is a writer and mother living in a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. She is very good at talking about herself in the third person. She is co-author of Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road.

16 Comments

  1. Can I suggest using semolina flour instead of cornmeal?
    Your next adventure should be a good hard roll, my parents are from Fairfield and my dad would kill for a good hard roll.

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  2. I love the way you get that char. I use the Seriouseats “hack” method myself for neopolitan style pies — get a blazing hot skillet on the stovetop and then finish in the broiler. The dough recipe is very similar, calling for no oil. I like to do my pies with any kind of smoked cheese paired with figs.

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  3. The recipe sounds incredibly easy, but the texture of the pizza is outstanding! I have been searching for a perfect pizza dough recipe for soooooo long now. Even today I went and bought some high gluten flour and semolina flour to try a new recipe. I simply can’t believe you made that fabulous pizza using just AP flour!! Have to try this recipe!

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  4. Thanks for this great recipe! I thought there would be no possible way that my pizza would come out looking like yours, but lo and behold, it did. We made one with Pineland Farms smoked jack–awesome!

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  5. Score! I saw that cover of Bon Appetit you mentioned for about three seconds in the doctor’s office one day last month and meant to buy a copy of it, but forgot. The picture of the pizza on the cover has been haunting me and I have been kicking myself for forgetting to buy the magazine. But, thanks to you and your GREAT post (and all hail to the Pinterest gods for leading me here) nothing is lost and I shall soon be blistering pizza here at the nut house. I completely agree about the pizza sauce–I always keep San Marzanos on hand for Italian-style tomato sauces–I even grow them in my garden in the summer (so amazing when roasted!). One last thing, my Italian brother in-law has told me countless times that oil should not be added to pizza dough, however, he could has never been able to give me the magic formula for making the ‘right’ kind of dough. There have, of course, been inferences that Americans were without hope for making a great pizza. Can ya tell I’m just a little bit excited right now?

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  6. Is the dough supposed to be that sticky? I did not add any additional flour, but it was impossible to shape into a ball. it’s rising right now and I’m going to try it out tomorrow.

    I was wondering if the 3 cups of water was meant to be measured by a dry or liquid measure. I used a liquid one. Perhaps that is why is was so sticky?

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  7. This crust recipe works so well that it comes out great even when using Walmart brand all purpose flour. I used a pizza screen and baked it at 550 on the rack below the top. I tried this recipe before from Jim Lahey’s site using a fermented dough (I got it from the King Arthur Flour site) as per his recommendation. This recipe using just regular flour worked much better for me.
    Have you tried different flour brands and found any that work better than most? Have you worked out what weight the doughballs need to be for different sizes of pizzas? This recipe gives the result I’ve been looking for for 20 years. It has the taste and consistency of the best pizzerias.

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  8. I’ve made this dough now a dozen times and love it! Yesterday, I tossed it in olive oil, rubbed fresh garlic, and sea salt and baked it in a baking dish on 400 for ten minutes. The dough rose nicely, like a focaccia. I then topped it with stuff and baked again for another ten mins or so. One had fresh San remo olives my mom brought me from Italy. Threw on some fresh basil at the end. The other was sliced tomatoes, shaved Parmesan and arugula.

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