Mill City Cooks

A Classic Pizza Margherita

adapted from Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day
(Thomas Dunne Books, 2011)
By Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

Makes enough dough for at least eight ½-pound pizzas or flatbreads (about 12 inches across).  The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

Lukewarm water (100°F or below) 3¼ cups
Olive oil ¼ cup
Granulated yeast (any type) 1 tablespoon
Kosher salt 1 to 1½ tablespoons (plus more for sprinkling over the top if desired)
Gold Medal all-purpose flour 7½ cups
Tomato Sauce ⅓ cup
Fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch chunks 3 ounces
6 fresh basil leaves, whole, thinly slivered, or torn
Olive oil for drizzling over the pizza before baking
Flour, cornmeal or parchment for the pizza peel
Mixing and Storing the Dough
  1. Add olive oil, yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don’t worry about getting them to dissolve completely.
  2. Measure the flour with the “scoop-and-sweep” method. Then mix in the flour—kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon, dough whisk, 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle).  You might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine.  Don’t knead it isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moistened, without dry patches.
  3. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight), leaving it open a crack.  Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top, approximately 2 hours. Do not punch down the dough! With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks out gas and will make your pizza and flatbreads dense.
  4. After rising, refrigerate and use over the next 14 days; the dough will develop sourdough characteristics over that time. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before use.  Once it’s refrigerated, the dough will collapse, and it will never rise again in the bucket (normal for our dough).
On Pizza Day
  1. Prepare and measure toppings in advance: This will help you top the pizza quickly so you can get it into the oven before it sticks to the pizza peel.
  2. Thirty minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat a baking stone at your oven’s highest temperature, with the baking stone placed in the bottom third of the oven (consider a longer preheat if you’re finding the crust results are too soft.
  3. Shape a ball in 20 to 30 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel with flour, cornmeal or parchement to prevent your pizza from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.  Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a half-pound (orange-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the piece of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball.  Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere when you roll it into a pizza or flatbread. The entire process should take no longer than 20 to 30 seconds.
  4. Roll out and stretch a pizza crust: Flatten the dough with your hands and a rolling pin on the counter or directly onto the pizza peel to produce a ⅛-inch-thick round, dusting with flour to keep the dough from adhering to your work surface.  A little sticking to the surface can be helpful in overcoming the dough’s resistance to stretch.  Use a dough scraper to “un-stick” the dough as needed, and transfer it to the prepared pizza peel if you haven’t stretched the dough directly on one.  When you’re finished, the dough round will be about 12 inches across, and should have enough flour under it to move easily when you shake the peel.  As you add toppings, continue to test for sticking by gently shaking the peel.  The pizza should move freely.  If it doesn’t, use the dough scraper and some flour to un-stick.
  5. Add the toppings: Spread the tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a half-inch border at the edges, then add the cheese and basil (for a different effect, put the basil on after baking), sprinkle the top with a pinch of salt.  We prefer using well-spaced chunks of cheese, which gradually melt and spread (giving the crust a longer opportunity to crisp before toppings burn).  Drizzle a little olive oil over the pizza.
  6. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone: Place the tip of the peel near the back of the stone, close to where you want the far edge of the pizza to land.  Give the peel a few quick forward-and-back jiggles and pull it sharply out from under the pizza.  Check for doneness in 8 to 10 minutes and turn the pizza around in the oven if one side is browning faster than the other.  It may take up to 5 more minutes in the oven.   Allow to cool slightly, preferably on a wire cooling rack, so that the cheese sets.
  7. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor, texture, and color of pizza and flatbread crust.  The dough begins to ferment and take on sourdough characteristics. Cut off and shape more dough as you need it.
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