Knead? Who kneads it?

What night is pizza night at your house? Is it Friday, when everyone is chilling out after a hectic week at work and school? Is it Saturday, when friends or family stop over? Or Sunday afternoon, when the pace is slower and the games are on?

Any night can be pizza night, and surprisingly, any night can be homemade pizza night in as little time as it takes to wait for a delivery.

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Pizza dough will keep in the fridge for several days. A hot oven - 475 to 500 degrees - works the magic.

No-knead doughs, made in advance, are the key to homemade pizza anytime. They'll keep for days in the refrigerator (some last almost two weeks) and can be used not only for pizza, but also for bread, calzones, garlic bread, focaccia, or bread sticks.

While you can reach for a frozen or packaged crust, the simplicity of making homemade dough may surprise and convert you.

Cheryl Pierce's family ordered pizza at least once a week for supper, but as the recession caused her to look for ways to trim her "eating-out budget," Pierce made a New Year's resolution to try her hand at making pizza.

She started out using packaged crust mixes from the grocery, then tried a basic dough recipe from a cookbook using flour, dry yeast, salt, sugar, water, and oil.

Pierce said her hesitation at working with yeast always kept her from trying homemade crust before, but she was surprised with the results.

"It's so simple and delicious. Who knew?" she said.

The next step for Pierce is finding a crust she can make several days ahead of time that keeps well in the refrigerator. That's where no-knead dough is the perfect fit, said Kathy Lehr, a bread-baking expert.

Lehr teaches dough and baking techniques at schools across the country. She said pizza dough is one of the best ways for a novice baker to get started.

Her recipe for pizza dough, which uses cornmeal as well as bread flour, produces a dough that's very wet, even slightly sloppy. But the wet texture is what creates an airy, chewy crust, she said.

The dough doesn't require much kneading, only about three minutes, which can be accomplished with the dough hook of a stand mixer.

Lehr's recipe can be made several days ahead of time. The longer it sits, the better the flavor and texture, she said.

She recommends baking pizza on pizza stone or unglazed tiles, but the recipe will work equally well with a pizza pan or a baking sheet. A very hot oven, 475 or 500 degrees, is needed to give the pizza crust its texture: brown on the bottom, soft and chewy on the inside.

Lehr suggests spritzing the bottom of the preheated oven or the tiles, if using, with some water to create steam, which helps to develop a crust. That's why French bread, with its classic crusty exterior, is often baked commercially in steam-injection ovens.

If baked on a preheated stone or tiles, Lehr said, the crust and toppings can be put in the oven together and the pizza should bake up fine.

In testing with typical metal pizza pans, Lehr's dough produced a fairly thick crust, and we found that prebaking the crust for 10 to 15 minutes helped keep it from being soggy in the center. After the prebake, we put on our sauce, cheese, and toppings and returned it to the oven for 15 minutes until the crust was brown and crisp on the edges and the cheese was melted and bubbly.

Lehr cautioned against oversaucing pizzas, which will contribute to crust's seeming soggy or underbaked.

She recommends using the dough within five days.

However, other no-knead dough, such as the Olive Oil Dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, will last up to 12 days in the refrigerator.

The recipe is good for pizza and focaccia as well as for loaf bread, requires no kneading, and is ready after an initial rise of just two hours. In testing, however, we found that after a couple of days the dough was even more flavorful and easy to work with for pizzas.

Preparing it in standard pizza pans, rather than on a stone, we also gave it a short prebake to ensure a browned, crisp crust.

The crispness of any pizza crust will depend on how thick you make it and how hot the oven is.

A recipe for Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough, from Nancy Baggett's book Kneadlessly Simple, also requires no kneading and is simply stirred together with a spoon.

The recipe makes two crusts, and while Baggett recommends using the dough within a day of making it, it can be frozen for up to one month, which makes homemade pizza as simple as frozen pizza.

 


Focaccia or Pizza Dough

Makes up to 6 pizzas or 10 to 14 servings

61/2 cups unbleached bread flour or King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon salt

1 package dry yeast (scant 1 tablespoon)

1/3 cup olive oil

3 cups water

1. Place flour, cornmeal, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir together. Add yeast and stir to combine.

2. Combine olive oil with two cups of the water and add to the flour. Mix, adding more water, until dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Once desired consistency is reached, knead with dough hook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add more water if needed. The dough should be a little tacky but pull together after kneading. The wetter the dough, the more airy and chewy the crust will be when baked. Place bowl in refrigerator and let rise, covered, overnight. Pull or punch down dough at least once. Two nights will give it a chewier texture. Dough can be made up to five days ahead of time.

3. To make pizzas, preheat oven to 475 or 500 degrees. Remove a portion of the dough from the bowl. Working on parchment paper, shape dough into desired size and thickness. Brush dough with olive oil. Cover with desired toppings. Transfer to pizza stone or pan and bake on the lowest rack of oven until crust is browned and cheese is melted and browned. Baking time will vary depending on oven and size and thickness of pizza. Check at 7 to 10 minutes.

 

- Courtesy of Kathy Lehr

Per serving (dough only, based on 14): 309 calories, 9 grams protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 6 grams fat, no cholesterol, 500 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough

Makes two 12-ounce pizzas or 4 to 6 servings

3 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed

1 1/4 teaspoons table salt

1/2 teaspoon instant, fast-rising, or bread-machine yeast

1 1/2 scant cups ice water, plus more if needed

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing over dough and pans

1. First rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Vigorously stir in the water, scraping down the sides, just until thoroughly blended. Stir in the olive oil until evenly incorporated. If the mixture is too dry to mix, add just enough water to facilitate mixing, as the dough should be firm. If the dough is soft, stir in enough flour to firm it. Brush the top with olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 4 to 12 hours.

2. Second rise: Stir the dough to deflate it. Divide it in half using oiled kitchen shears. The dough portions can be used immediately, or refrigerated for up to 12 hours and then used, or frozen, wrapped airtight, for up to 1 month. Use each half to prepare one pizza. Fit dough into pizza pan.

3. To bake, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest oven position. Place a rimless baking sheet on rack. Place the pizza pan with the dough, or the dough on parchment, on the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the dough begins to firm and puff up. Remove from the oven and spread with sauce to within 1/3 inch of the edge all around. Add toppings and cheese. Return to oven and bake about 10 minutes longer until the top is bubbly and the edge is puffy and nicely browned.

 

- From Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads by Nancy Baggett

Per serving (dough only, based on 6): 268 calories, 7 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 5 grams fat, no cholesterol, 486 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.