Thin-Crust Pizza

Published January 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.

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Why this recipe works:

Kneading our pizza dough’s ingredients in the food processor was quicker and just as efficient as using a stand mixer. To keep our Thin-Crust Pizza recipe from puffing as it cooked and to infuse it with flavor, we let it proof in the refrigerator for up to three days. Finally, placing our… read more

Kneading our pizza dough’s ingredients in the food processor was quicker and just as efficient as using a stand mixer. To keep our Thin-Crust Pizza recipe from puffing as it cooked and to infuse it with flavor, we let it proof in the refrigerator for up to three days. Finally, placing our pizza stone as close to the upper heating element as possible crisped our Thin-Crust Pizza and browned it.

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Thin-Crust Pizza

With ovens that reach only 500 degrees and dough that’s impossible to stretch thin, even the savviest home cooks struggle to produce parlor-quality pies. We set out to change that.

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Makes two 13-inch pizzas

Our preferred brand of whole-milk mozzarella is Sorrento Galbani. You can shape the second dough ball while the first pizza bakes, but don't top the pizza until right before you bake it. If you don't have a baking stone, bake the pizzas on an overturned and preheated rimmed baking sheet. It is important to use ice water in the dough to prevent overheating the dough while in the food processor. Semolina flour is ideal for dusting the peel; use it in place of bread flour if you have it. The sauce will yield more than needed in the recipe; extra sauce can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.

Ingredients

  • Dough
  • 3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour, plus more for work surface (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups ice water (about 10 1/2 ounces) (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for work surface
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • Sauce
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and liquid discarded
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Cheese
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
  • 8 ounces whole milk mozzarella, shredded (about 2 cups) (see note)

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE DOUGH: In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flour, sugar, and yeast until combined, about 2 seconds. With machine running, slowly add water through feed tube; process until dough is just combined and no dry flour remains, about 10 seconds. Let dough stand 10 minutes.

    2. Add oil and salt to dough and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove dough from bowl and knead briefly on lightly oiled countertop until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape dough into tight ball and place in large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.

    3. FOR THE SAUCE: Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to medium bowl or container and refrigerate until ready to use.

    4. TO BAKE THE PIZZA: One hour before baking pizza, adjust oven rack to second highest position (rack should be about 4 to 5 inches below broiler), set pizza stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and divide in half. Shape each half into smooth, tight ball. Place on lightly oiled baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray; let stand for 1 hour.

    5. Coat 1 ball of dough generously with flour and place on well-floured countertop. Using fingertips, gently flatten into 8-inch disk, leaving 1 inch of outer edge slightly thicker than center. Using hands, gently stretch disk into 12-inch round, working along edges and giving disk quarter turns as you stretch. Transfer dough to well-floured peel and stretch into 13-inch round. Using back of spoon or ladle, spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce in thin layer over surface of dough, leaving 1/4-inch border around edge. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Parmesan evenly over sauce, followed by 1 cup mozzarella. Slide pizza carefully onto stone and bake until crust is well browned and cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating pizza halfway through. Remove pizza and place on wire rack for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat step 5 to shape, top, and bake second pizza.

    TOPPING TIPS: We like our Thin-Crust Pizza simply dressed with tomato sauce and handfuls of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan, but additional toppings are always an option--provided they're prepared correctly and added judiciously. (An overloaded pie will bake up soggy.) Here are a few guidelines for how to handle different types of toppings:

    HEARTY VEGETABLES Aim for a maximum of 6 ounces per pie, spread out in a single layer. Vegetables such as onions, peppers, and mushrooms should be thinly sliced and lightly sautéed (or microwaved for a minute or two along with a little olive oil) before using.

    DELICATE VEGETABLES AND HERBS Leafy greens and herbs like spinach and basil are best placed beneath the cheese to protect them or added raw to the fully cooked pizza.

    MEATS Proteins (no more than 4 ounces per pie) should be precooked and drained to remove excess fat. We like to poach meats like sausage (broken up into 1/2-inch chunks), pepperoni, or ground beef for 4 to 5 minutes in a wide skillet along with 1/4 cup of water, which helps to render the fat while keeping the meat moist.

Step-by-Step

No More Snap Back

Dough that shrinks back when you roll it out is one of the pesky factors that keep a crust from ever baking up truly thin.

1. ADD JUST ENOUGH WATER Create a relatively wet—but not too wet—dough, which stretches without tearing and stays tender once baked.

2. PROOF IN FRIDGE Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. This leads to less rise, a more flexible dough that holds its shape, and a thinner (and more flavorful) final crust.

3. DIVIDE Halve dough and shape into balls. Place on lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Let rest 1 hour to allow dough to return to room temperature.

4. FLATTEN On well-floured surface and using fingertips, gently flatten dough into 8-inch disk, leaving outer edge slightly thicker than center to create a fatter "handle."

5. STRETCH With hands, stretch dough into 12-inch round, working along edges and giving dough quarter turns. Transfer to well-floured peel and stretch to 13-inch round.

Technique

Keeping Inflation Down

The biggest factor contributing to a crust that turns out thick versus thin is the size of the air bubbles in the dough before it goes into the oven. The more the bubbles expand with carbon dioxide as the dough ferments (or “proofs”), the thicker the final crust. Could a longer rise in the refrigerator fix the problem?

EXPERIMENT

We made two batches of dough, leaving one to rise at room temperature for four hours and placing the other in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then baked them both according to our recipe.

RESULTS

The dough left to rise at room temperature produced a crust that puffed up like focaccia, while the dough that rose in the fridge baked up with smaller bubbles and boasted far more flavor.

EXPLANATION

Fermentation is a two-phase process: First, the carbohydrates in the dough are converted by the yeast to sugars, alcohol, and acids. Next, these convert to carbon dioxide, expanding the bubbles created in the dough when it was first mixed. At room temperature, the process moves rapidly to the production of carbon dioxide. But in the fridge, the process is slowed way down. With enough time, the complex-tasting sugars, alcohol, and acids form, but very little carbon dioxide gets converted, so the bubbles in the dough stay small and the crust bakes up both thin and more flavorful.

PUFFY AND BLAND

THIN AND FLAVORFUL

Technique

Shrink Your Headroom

Baking the pizza on the top rack—rather than the usual approach of placing it near the bottom of a home oven—means heat will hit the top of the pie, browning the toppings before the crust overcooks.

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