Pizza is one of my favorite foods by far. Even when it’s bad, I still want to eat more and when it’s really good, I have to exercise Heruclean restraint to not over eat. It used to be that finding really good pizza meant shopping around restaurants, which always meant there would be several disappointments. That was until I discovered Peter Rheinhart and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
I have mentioned my love of this recipe in several other posts but never gave out the recipe. I wasn’t being perverse or trying to get my dear readers to buy the book, it’s just that Rheinhart’s recipes are long; not only 2-3 pages long but most of the bread is made with homemade starters so that the breads themselves take up to three days to make, which adds up to time-consuming recipes that are often overwhelming to some people. On top of that, knowing me, I do not follow the pizza recipe to a T, so I was nervous about posting what I actually do for fear that I would leave things out and readers would end up with less than desirable results and be disappointed.
But I’m ready, I’m up to the task of giving you my version of this great dough because it really is easy, tastes amazing, and you can make incredible pizza at home within 30 minutes (if you remember to remove the dough from the freezer the night before!)
A note about the toppings for this particular pizza; roasted potatoes on a white pizza are a revelation! Kudos to the Cheese Board of Berkeley for introducing me to this idea (as they did for the Corn, Cilantro and Lime topped one). The potatoes add an extra savory touch to the creamy cheese topping and if you roast the potatoes with rosemary, all the better! One other note for topping a pizza with potato, slice the potato before cooking, in this case before roasting, since it will be hard to slice it thin after cooking.
So here it is, the amazing pizza dough, Napoletana style, based on Rheinhart’s technique.
Napoletana Pizza Dough
4 1/2 cups high-gluten bread or all purpose flour, chilled for 30 minutes
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
cornmeal for dusting (when you actually bake the dough)
Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment). If you are mixing by hand (and this is how I do it) repeatedly dip your hand in cold water and use rotate the dough with your fingers spread out, like a dough hook, working the dough in a circular motion to develop the gluten. Reverse the circular motion a few times. Do this for 5-7 minutes. I do it for the full 7 minutes, dipping my hand in water once a minute during the first 5 minutes, and just working the dough for the last few.
I cradle the bowl in one arm and work it with the other hand. It actually is a natural feeling motion so don’t worry that you’re doing it wrong. The dough will start to come together, meaning it will feel smoother and more like well mixed dough as you finish with it. The dough is done when it clears the sides of the bowl but still sticks a bit to the bottom. It will be springy, elastic and sticky when you’re done with it.
Sprinkle some flour on a cutting board or clean counter top and drop the dough on it. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces, using a metal dough scraper if you have one, or the edge of a metal spatula (knives will not work well, you need a wide metal surface for the “cutting” of the dough). Place each piece in a zip lock plastic bag, with a little oil dribbled on each side of the dough, and massage the oil around and flatten out the dough to push out the air bubbles. Place the packaged dough pieces in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to three days. After 24 hours, the dough has experienced a “cold” rise which is what develops the gluten in the dough, rather than a room temperature rise. I then place the packages in the freezer and remove them individually to thaw when I want pizza.
The dough will defrost in the refrigerator in about 6 hours or at room temperature in 2 hours. At this point you can make pizza, but if you have the time to plan ahead a little more, pull the dough out of the freezer 4 hours before baking time. Once dough is defrosted, place it on a board or plate that is sprinkled with flour and cover tightly with plastic to allow it to rest for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to as high as it will go and if you have a baking stone place it on the floor of a gas oven or the first rake of an electric oven while oven preheats. Heavily dust a sheet pan with cornmeal and then coat your hands in flour to work with the dough and gently, using your knuckles, stretch the dough carefully like you see pizza makers do. If the dough tears, place it on the pan and repair the hole. Stretch the dough to about 9 inches in diameter, keeping an edge a little thicker.
Top as you like, but remember that less is better since this is a very thin crust that will not crisp up with too many toppings. If I add tomato sauce with cheese, I rarely add more than 1 or 2 more toppings, and generally very light weight, like herbs or greens. With this pizza, the potato was the only topping and it was sliced 1/4 inch thin for that reason.
I always salt and pepper pizza since that often brings out more flavor, especially with white (cheese) pizzas.