Pizza Dough: A Half-Baked Idea
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with pizza dough, trying to figure out how to replicate the pizza I learned to make in Sorrento.
What I’ve learned is this: making great Neapolitan-style pizza at home is easiest when you have a smokin’ hot oven. Even better, if you have a wood burning pizza oven out back…or a grill. It’s all about the heat. Making the dough is the easy part. Getting the crust crispy is the challenge — or at least it is for me, because when my cheapo French oven says it heats to 250°C (or 482°F), it really doesn’t. Then it’s a question of how to get the most heat to the dough another way.
My answer? The half-bake.
The pizza above was half-baked on a skillet, then put under the broiler to finish baking on a rack as close as possible to the heat source. This one was far crispier than the one that I half-baked on the skillet, then flipped over to cook on the other side before I finished it in the oven. I also tried just baking the pizza on its own (without the half-bake) and the dough didn’t get nearly as crispy. So I strongly recommend the half-bake in a skillet before adding the sauce, cheese and toppings, then finishing the pizza in the oven.
That said, here are my 10 tips to making pizza the Neapolitan way:
1. Let the dough rise overnight, at least, in the fridge. A day is fine, too. The longer the dough matures the better the flavor.
2. I’ve made dough without olive oil and with, and decided that I like the flavor better with, so my old recipe (below) is actually still quite good.
3. Remember, less is more. Whatever you do, don’t over sauce the pizza or load it up with too many ingredients. This will weigh down the thin crust.
4. Use fresh basil, and put it on the pizza right before serving, and after it’s been cooked.
5. Do not roll out the dough. We’re not making pie crust here. You’ll squish the air out of the pizza and you won’t have the puffy crackly crust that you want. Instead, use your hands to stretch and pull the dough to the size you’re after.
6. Don’t worry too much about your pizza being perfectly round. Just go for a pretty even thickness throughout. You can see by the photo below that I’ve got some thin spots in my pizza, and it turned out just fine.
7. Leftover dough? Freeze it. Then just thaw in the fridge, then stretch and shape as usual.
8. Let the dough come to room temperature before you work with it. It’ll be more pliable and easier to handle.
9. No pizza stone? No worries. If you’re using the half-bake method, you already have a cooked bottom. Just put the skillet into the oven to cook the top or slide the pizza onto a cookie sheet. It’ll work either way.
10. Be sure to let your oven preheat for at least a half-hour. You want it as hot as it can be.
Makes 4 regular-size pizzas
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 ⅓ cups lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus a bit more for the bag)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 ¾ cups flour
- Put the yeast, water, honey and olive in a bowl and give it a stir. Let rest for 5 minutes, until foamy.
- Add salt and flour, and knead the dough for 3 to 5 minutes. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a large bowl, put the dough inside, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.
- When you’re ready to make the pizzas, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Pull and stretch each piece with your hands until it’s as thin as you’d like.
- Preheat a large non-stick griddle (cast-iron is great for this) on the stovetop over high heat.
- Put the pizza dough directly onto the hot griddle and let it cook until the bottom is crisp.
- Add sauce and toppings. Slide into the oven and cook until the crust browns and the cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve right away.