In Pursuit of Home-Made Pizza

I like thin pizza.  The thinner the better. I crave a crusty and saucey slice, those with blackened undersides. I dislike doughy, heavy pies that seem never to cook in the center. Those later kinds of pies become all gooey but not the good kind of gooey.

Making pizza at home usually doesn’t get me the thin pizza I want. If only I had a wood fired pizza oven!

But recently, I’ve perfected the pizza dough for me as well as the right ritual to get the pie as thin and crispy as possible. Just look at the pies above (and below). They are thin, crispy, and worthy to make at home. Honestly, and I don’t boast, I think my pizza is better than the new healthy-franchise-pizza-joint down the block I tried just last night. Just saying.

Do you like thin pizza too? Good, because I provide my guide to the best thin crust pizza at home below.*

*Of course, making pizza at home is a constant battle. I am sure I will learn new tricks along the way, but these are the tricks that have worked so far.

Tips for Better Home-Made Pizza:

  1. A pizza stone makes a big difference. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Let that pizza stone get really hot. Hide the fire alarm. Your oven will smoke.
  2. Use Jim Lahey’s No Knead Pizza Dough Recipe. Seriously. This is a fantastic recipe with minimal shaping and a great open crumb. I like a crust that is worthy of being called good bread on its own. This is the kind of recipe that produces a fantastic crust you won’t leave on the plate.
  3. Roll the dough thinly. If it does not seem to give, let the dough rest. You will be surprised how much a rest will loosen up the pizza dough.
  4. Make your own sauce. Whole canned tomatoes are simple but awesome. Some whole tomatoes, some garlic, a dash of balsamic vinegar, and olive oil makes a pretty good sauce.
  5. Pre-bake the dough (the crust) on the hot stone for 1-3 minutes, watching to see if any bubbles occur (and popping them if they are too big).
  6. Carefully top the pizza while in the oven. I know, this is kind of an ordeal. But if you have a partner in the pizza making, get the sauce, cheese, salami and artichokes ready to top the minute the door opens. Oven mitts strongly encouraged.,
  7. When making pizzas back to back, make sure to let the oven reheat after each time you open the door. I’d say 5 minutes is a good idea.

Cranberry and Walnut No Knead Bread

I was a bit slow this past week in reviewing a new cookbook, but Jim Lahey’s My Bread kept me busy with baking rather than reviewing.  I tried several of the book’s variations mostly with success and with one failure. The loaf featuring cranberries and walnuts pictured here worked out perfectly though; it was airy, light, crusty, and slightly cinnamon-y. It would be perfect for thanksgiving leftovers when turkey sandwiches abound.

There are endless variations of Lahey’s no-knead method in his first cookbook making it a real treat for anyone who loves the simple no knead method but craves a bit more in terms of flavor and expansion of the technique. Lahey’s recipe for artisan quality bread, originally published in 2006 by Mark Bittman, uses time rather than  hands do the kneading. It literally took the home baker by storm. Thus, the first section of Lahey’s book is dedicated to an in depth review, with beautiful illustrative images, of the original recipe for his signature holey, light, and glorious bread.  Even a new no knead bread-er could jump right in with Lahey’s introduction.

Lahey takes the no knead bread in new directions here too: with dried fruits, with freshly squeezed juices, beer, and with shapes and forms that still harness the heat and humidity of a covered cast iron pot to create a successful bread at home. He evens dedicates time to sandwich fillings such as roasted ham and artichoke confit, all inspired his Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. It is safe to say that I wish I owned this book instead of just library-ing it.

My one failure occurred with the carrot and currant loaf that I had such high hopes for. The idea of using carrot juice drew me in the moment I read the recipe. Carrot juice instead of water? Genius! It worked for Martha Stewart too (clearly I must have made a mistake because Martha controls the culinary world with perfection.) My tinkering with the original recipe may have caused the failure. I swapped dates for the currants which seemed to inhibit the dough from rising. I can’t be sure yet what went wrong but I’d try it again to see if I could make it work. I may have simply added too little yeast.

I decided to blog about the cranberry and walnut version because it is a simple variation, making it a good recipe for both novices and no knead aficionados alike. This could be your very first no knead loaf or your 100th; you will still love the end result.  Brian and I both mix up the regular  bread several times a week to make sandwiches and to eat for breakfast. Toasted bread with jam is the ultimate breakfast We found the addition of dried fruit and nuts made a big difference. I’m thinking of baking a few boules of this recipe the night before we drive to upstate new york for thanksgiving as a gift for his family. I love gifting no knead bread because it always incites such awe (when in reality, it is a deceptively simple recipe.)

NOTE: Lahey provides ingredients in both weight and volume. I must admit that I do not weigh my flour. I know I should but I have found success with just careful scooping and really getting to know what dough should look like. So I provided the volume measure here.

Cranberry and Walnut No Knead Bread

From My Bread


3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon yeast
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups of water (at around 55-65 degrees)
cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting

supplies: 6-8 quart oven proof covered pot

1. Mix the flour, cranberries, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, yeast, and pepper in large plastic mixing bowl. Remember the bread with double in size so accommodate for expansion when picking the bowl.

2. Add the water and mix either with hand or a wooden spoon until a shaggy ball of dough forms. If needed, add a bit more water or flour. It will not be a perfect ball of smooth dough though. It will be tacky and sticky but it should come together quickly in about 5 minutes.

3. Let the dough rise for 12-18 hours in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap or a non-terry cloth tea towel. It will be wet and porous after this first rise. It should more than double in size as well.

4. After the first rise dust a work surface with flour and plop the dough down. Gently and drying not to degas and deflate the dough shape into a ball by folding the sides into the middle.

5. Spread a tea towel down and dust with cornmeal or wheat bran. Place the folded seam side down on the towel. Dust the top with more cornmeal or wheat bran. Fold the towel over to cover the ball of dough.

6. Let the dough rise for 2 hours in a warm location.

7. A half hour before the dough will have completed the second rise preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place an oven proof 6-8 quart covered pot into the oven to preheat as well.

8. When ready carefully open the heated pot. Use the towel to plop the dough, seam side up, into the pot. I just sort of unroll the towel and the dough naturally falls.

9. Cover and bake. However, the baking of no knead dough varies for me. Here is my advice: Basically, you want to bake the bread for set of time covered and then you want to uncover to bake again to ensure browning of the crust. Lahey suggests 30 minutes for the first period and another 15-20 for the next period.  I have had success with baking for 15 minutes, uncovering, and then baking for another 15 until the internal temperature is 200 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer to check doneness you want the bread to be browned and hollow sounding when tapped. You will also hear little crackles when the bread is close to your ear. I would recommend baking covered for 15 minutes and then checking to see if the bread looks done but not browned. If it looks almost ready I’d take the cover off and bake another 15-20 minutes. If the bread is still doughy after the first 15 minutes continue baking for another 15 minutes covered to complete the full 30 minutes recommended by Lahey, and then remove the cover and bake until the bread is browned, 15 minutes more.

Rosemary No Knead Bread

Everyone and their mother is obsessed with the Jim Lahey No Knead Bread Recipe ever since it was given to the masses back in 2006. I am no exception to this enduring obsession; I love this bread a lot. And, despite the plethora of well established food bloggers who have already posted about this recipe, I can’t help but admit my love for this recipe in the form of a post.

I love you, no knead bread.

For anyone that has not read about and or seen this bread before, the undying love is based on the fact that the dough creates a perfect looking artisan boule without the messy art of hand kneading. Basically, you mix, leave the dough for a while, plop it into a dutch oven 12 hours later and somehow this perfect boule comes out. Talk about a recipe just made for impressing other people. It looks and tastes like it took you a long time to make.

This is the first time I’ve shaken things up a bit and added something extra to the no knead dough. Amazingly, the sprigs of rosemary had no negative effect on the magics of bread making. The bread was perfect as always, with a crispy crust and a light airy crumb. Fresh rosemary is key though, dried spices can inhibit the dough from rising.

I do have a pretty standard tips for making this bread even more effortless. They are as follows: The water should be tepid, like the temperature of your skin. Expect the dough to be very wet. Do not fret about letting it rise for longer than 12 hours. As for doneness, you will know the bread is ready when it makes a hollow sound when tapped and/or the internal temperature has reached 200 degrees.

p.s. How sad and abrupt that Gourmet Magazine is no more. I shed a tear for the epicurean juggernaut today. Check out this Fresh Air Podcast where the editor in chief in interviewed.

Rosemary No Knead Bread
Adapted straight from The New York Times
(print recipe)

makes one boule

3 cups of bread flour
1 5/8 cup of tepid water (aka the temperature of your skin)
1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons of salt
two tablespoons or more of minced fresh rosemary
a 6-8 quart dutch oven or oven safe lidded pot

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, yeast and salt. Slowly mix in the water and the rosemary. This dough will be shaggy and sticky. Don’t fret over how it looks.

2. Cover the dough with a clean cloth or with some plastic wrap. Place it in a warm and cozy spot, for 12 plus hours. The longer the rise the better the taste, in my opinion. You will know the dough is ready when it has risen and the surface is bubbly. It kinda looks like an oozing creature, in my mind.

3. Plop the dough on a clean counter or surface. Shape the dough into a ball. Using a cotton towel, place the dough seam side down on the towel. Cover the dough and let it rise for 2 hours. It should double in size.

4. A half hour before the dough is ready, heat the oven to 450 and put a 6 to 8 quart dutch oven in the oven. You could also use another oven safe lidded pot.

5. Plop the dough seam side up into the heated dutch oven. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake another 15-30 minutes. The bread should be lightly browned. You could also check doneness with a thermometer.