No-Fail Pizza Crust
To be frank, Italy completely and utterly RUINED pizza for me. A far cry from the greasy, cheese-laden and soggy versions that arrived at 3am throughout my dorm days, pizza in Italy is much more than a drunken afterthought. I spent months and months wandering the streets of Florence, hunting for a bad slice and while I’m sure they exist, I never found one. Yes, I know you can get a respectable slice at a few spots here in the U.S., especially New York. Sadly I live in the vicinity of an astounding number of mostly pathetic pizza peddlers and don’t even get me started on those that deliver…
So where does that leave me? No longer naively content to scarf down versions too heavy on toppings and too light on simple, high quality ingredients. I have spent the better part of 4 years on a constant quest to find anyone that could approximate what I took for granted on a daily basis when I lived in Florence. And while I still keep my ears and eyes perked and have found a few in the area that come close, I discovered that I’m satisfied moreso by an at-home method that took years of tweaking to perfect.
In my estimation there are two characteristics that distinguish the authentic from the impostors, the confident from the desperate try-hard variety: 1) restraint, and 2) the crust. Eschew the traditional American mantra of more is more and allow a few superstar toppings to shine through. For the crust, a crisp, chewy texture is a must and achieving a crunchy center can be quite difficult at home. But with the help of a hot hot oven and an even hotter sheet pan, the crunch of victory can be yours.
The crust recipe detailed below is a compilation of several tried and tested in my kitchen through the years. The addition of honey, while not “authentic,” serves to kick start the yeast for a quick rise and contributes to a gangbuster combo of taste and texture without a bothersome and impractical overnight rise.
I’ll leave the toppings up to you but pictured is one of my favorite combinations – sundried tomato turkey sausage, kalamata olives and caramelized onions. As a finishing touch, fresh arugula tossed lightly with a spicy olive oil, coarse salt and a sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese. I adore the contrast of the hot, gooey cheese with cold, peppery arugula, an idea stolen affectionately from my favorite pizzeria on Via Ghibellina.
No-Fail Pizza Crust
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (roughly 1 packet)
2 tsp honey
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
In the bowl of a mixer, or by hand, stir together the yeast, honey and water. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes until bubbly. Add the flour and salt and mix until a rough dough forms then knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes by mixer or 10 minutes by hand, adding dustings of flour as needed to achieve a tacky, but not super sticky, dough. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
Lightly dust your counter top with flour and remove dough from bowl, dusting the top with flour as well. Gently de-gas the dough by pressing on the ball with your fingertips and then roll out, leaving thicker dough toward the edges, to the size of your rimless sheet pan. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.*
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500 degrees and place a rimless sheet pan inside to heat. Quickly place the rolled out dough on the hot sheet pan and brush with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove par-baked crust and top with sauce, cheese and toppings of your choice. Lower the oven to 450 degrees and return pizza to the oven for another 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.
*Note: The second 30 minutes of resting allows the dough to relax and will yield a more tender, chewy crust. However, in a time crunch I have foregone the resting period and gone straight into the oven with good result.