Contributed by Mimi Cook
Cooking Club co-founder
It’s Friday night and you are dreaming of pizza: crisp, chewy crust, melted cheese and all your favorite toppings. But Sweet Basil seems so far away, Brasserie Four is too dressy and dining hall pizza just isn’t cutting it. The good news is that delicious, rustic pizza isn’t that hard to attain and is pretty cheap to make. It just takes a little forethought and few pizza-making secrets to get the almost charred edges, bubbling cheese and perfectly cooked toppings that make the best pizzeria pizza so good.
Interested? Rewind a day and imagine that you took five minutes to stir together some warm water, flour, and yeast before you went to bed. All night, while you slumbered gently, and all morning, while you were in your classes, the dough rose. Then imagine you spent just 20 minutes after lunch stirring in more yeast, flour and salt, and kneading the dough into a ball, before letting it rise again. During the afternoon, the dough rested in the refrigerator, and you checked in on it a few times. Then, just when you are beginning to feel the first pangs of those pizza cravings, you find you have beautiful, stretchy dough. Rustic pizza is just a few steps away.
Toppings, of course, are key. Tomato sauce and cheese are a classic combination. I use fresh mozzarella. You can add almost anything on top of this, but I like to keep it simple: some salami, olives, maybe some vegetables. Another addictive combination is olive oil, potato slices, bleu cheese and rosemary.
The secret, though: to pizza that tastes like it came straight from a wood-burning oven: is heat. Real, New York style pizzeria ovens run at about 800 ºF. So what are we doing cooking pizzas at 350 ºF? Drying out the crust is what. My advice is to cook your pizzas as hot as you can. Regular kitchen ovens top out at about 550 ºF, so turn up the heat and crank open a couple of windows in case things get a little smoky. You can also cook your pizzas on the back of a super-heated cast iron skillet under the oven’s broiler on high (I tried this: it’s awesome and only takes about two minutes per pizza).
So, trust me on this one. Take the time before you go to bed to start this slow-rise pizza dough and tomorrow, as you bite into a hot, fragrant piece of homemade pizza, you’ll be thanking yourself.
Overnight Pizza Dough (for the college student)
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine April 2009. How to read this recipe: Read through the entire thing, noting what ingredients you’ll need and how long each step needs to rise. Then go back to the beginning and start cooking.
1 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon of 1 envelope active dry yeast (save the rest for the next step)
1 cup all purpose flour
Place water in a large bowl. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of yeast and ¼ cup of flour over the water. Let stand for 4 minutes. Add remaining flour and whisk until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let rest at room temperature in a draft-free place overnight (about 12 hours).
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons salt
1 envelope active dry yeast plus remaining yeast from step 1
6 cups all purpose flour
To the mixture in the bowl, add 1 ½ cups water, salt and 1 envelope yeast plus remaining yeast. Stir, then add 6 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring thoroughly after each addition. When all the flour is incorporated, turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and only slightly sticky. Shape into a ball.
Wash and dry your bowl. Rub inside of the bowl with oil. Add dough and turn to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; chill 6 hours, punching dough down when doubled (by this I mean gently, but firmly shove your fist into the dough a couple of times to deflate it).
About 1 ½ hours before baking, turn dough out onto floured surface and knead into a 16 inch log. Cut into 8 equal pieces. Knead each piece into a smooth ball. Arrange on two baking sheets dusted with flour, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Stretch into 9-inch rounds. Oil or sprinkle cornmeal on a cookie sheet and place pizza on top. Top as you like. Bake as hot as you can until the crust is brown and the cheese is bubbling. Eat. Enjoy!