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One-Hour Pizza

By Andrew Janjigian Published

The ultimate challenge for a pizza master with 30 years of experience? Making a good one in just 60 minutes.

If there is anything in life I can claim to have mastered, it's making pizza: It was the first food I learned to cook, at age 15. Since then, I've developed nine pizza recipes. I've built two outdoor pizza ovens. Heck, I even teach pizza-making classes in my free time. But mastery can turn to complacency, so I was intrigued when editor in chief Dan Souza tasked me with the following challenge: Make really good pizza from scratch in just 1 hour, start to finish.

It would be the ultimate test, as it went against the gospel I've been preaching for years, which says that for superlative pizza—a mildly yeasty, slightly tangy crust that's crisp on the outside and pleasantly chewy within—you must let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least one day or up to three days.

My Goals

  • Complex flavor
  • Dough that's easy to shape
  • Crisp/chewy texture
  • Good rise
Quick pizza dough is particularly hard to shape. Our formula and method make it easy to shape the perfect pizza.

Burden of Proof

Time is so important because it significantly affects both flavor and texture. During a slow, cold rise, yeast creates fermented and acidic flavor compounds. Meanwhile, enzymes in the flour go to work on the gluten, snipping some bonds to make a supremely extensible dough. I'd have to find speedy ways to accomplish both effects. It would be no easy feat.

I started with a test run using my Thin-Crust Pizza recipe (January/February 2011): Combine bread flour, a little sugar, and a small amount of yeast in a food processor with water, and then let it sit for 10 minutes; this lets the flour absorb the water, which allows gluten to form. Next, add salt and oil and run the machine until the dough is smooth. After that, you'd normally refrigerate the dough and wait a few days for fermentation to happen. But the clock was ticking, so I divided the dough into two balls and let them proof at room temperature for just 30 minutes. As I expected, when I tried to shape a ball into a round, it stubbornly sprang back. The only way to get the dough near 12 inches in diameter was to strong-arm it with a rolling pin. It baked up flat, bland, and tough.

Senior editor Andrew Janjigian readies dough for topping as he begins developing a recipe for one-hour pizza.

Clearly, the few pinches of yeast in my original recipe (which do a great job of leavening in 24 hours) weren't enough to make the dough rise much in 30 minutes—not to mention that the rolling pin was pushing out what little air there was. Increasing the yeast was the obvious answer, but it's also the adjustment where most quick pizza recipes fail. Good pizza dough should taste subtly fermented, not just yeasty. So how much more yeast could I add? I ended up with 2 teaspoons, enough to give the dough lift but not so much that it tasted too yeasty. I also started with warm tap water, which activated the yeast more quickly.

The rise was better, but I still needed a rolling pin to shape the highly elastic dough. Furthermore, while the pizza didn't taste overly yeasty, it didn't taste like much else either. Fortunately, for the latter issue I knew of a trick from ourAlmost No-Knead Bread (January/February 2008): Mix in vinegar and beer. Beer includes many of the same flavorful compounds that are created by yeast during bread fermentation—alcohols, aldehydes, and esters—and vinegar adds the acidity that yeast and bacteria create in slow-fermented dough.

SHORTCUTTING FERMENTED FLAVOR

Since the yeast in our dough doesn’t have enough time to create rich flavors, we add beer, which contains flavor compounds created by yeast fermentation. We also add vinegar, which provides the acetic acid that yeast produces during a slow rise.

Upper Crust

The two quickest ways to improve my dough's extensibility were to increase its moisture and to take a close look at the type of flour I was using. I was only able to increase the liquid from 6.5 to 7 ounces before the dough became too wet to handle. It was a little more yielding, but not enough.

As for the flour, the bread flour that my Thin-Crust Pizza recipe calls for is high in protein. Generally speaking, the more protein a flour has, the more gluten it forms. That's great if you can use a long proof to let that gluten relax. But without the luxury of time, I wondered if lower-protein (less gluten-forming) all-purpose or cake flour might help. Sure enough, doughs made with these flours were easier to work with. But gluten formation is not the only reason bread bakers use bread flour. High-protein flour also helps a dough bake up crisp and light. It holds more water, which forms bubbles throughout the crust when it turns to steam, and an airier crust crisps up much better than a dense one. Without enough protein, these crusts were anything but crisp.

Tasters sample slices of pizza made with different types of flour as senior editor Andrew Janjigian progresses in his recipe development for one-hour pizza.

How about using semolina flour? It's unusual in that it's high in protein but forms a dough that's easier to stretch than typical bread doughs. In other words, it was just what my dough needed: A high protein level would help create crispness, and more stretch would make for a more workable dough.

Indeed, when I swapped a portion of the bread flour for semolina, the crust was transformed, with greater extensibility along with the crispness that is a hallmark of a great pizza. But there was a limit to how much semolina I could use: Beyond 50 percent of the total by weight, the dough didn't have enough structure to hold air bubbles. Even with my modest ½ cup of semolina, it was still too tight to shape without a rolling pin.

Rolling in Dough

At this point, I'd questioned almost everything about the pizza-making process. But there was one question I'd yet to ask: Why proof the dough and then roll it (and push out all those valuable air bubbles)? If I rolled the dough as soon as it was mixed, it could proof in its round shape.

To take full advantage of the minimal proofing time, we had to rethink the way we prepare the dough. Instead of the usual process of proofing the dough and then rolling it out, we reversed the order of operations.

With an eye on the clock, I rolled a ball of dough between sheets of oiled parchment and then let it proof for 30 minutes. I removed the top sheet, sprinkled the puffy round with flour, flipped it onto a baking peel, and removed the second sheet before topping it with sauce and cheese and baking it on a preheated stone.

Sixty minutes after I'd started, I was enjoying my best quick pizza yet. It had been easy to shape, and the crust was chewy but light since the air bubbles that developed during proofing hadn't been knocked out by shaping. Will it be replacing my three-day pizza recipe? No chance. Will I be making this dough every time I want same-day pizza? Without a doubt.

Ensuring Extensibility in One-Hour Pizza

Most of our pizza recipes allow ample time to let the gluten relax, which makes the dough easy to shape and prevents springback. Without the luxury of time, we found other ways to make the dough workable.

ADD EXTRA LIQUID

A high hydration level (we use about 7 ounces of liquid for about 10 ounces of flour) makes the dough more extensible.

USE PART SEMOLINA FLOUR

The gluten network that semolina forms is less elastic, so the dough doesn’t snap back as much.

ROLL; THEN PROOF

Immediately rolling the dough means no wrestling it into shape after proofing—or pushing out any precious air bubbles.

PROOF PRESHAPED ROUNDS

After 30 minutes, the dough will be puffy and ready to top and bake (the parchment will keep the dough moist).

Keys to Success

  • Complex flavor

    We mix a little beer into the dough since the yeast it contains has fermented flavor compounds. We also add white vinegar, which provides the acetic acid that yeast produces during a slow rise.

  • Dough that's easy to shape

    To ensure extensibility, we add plenty of liquid, use some semolina flour since the gluten it forms isn't very elastic, and use a rolling pin to shape the dough directly after mixing it.

  • Crisp/chewy texture

    A combination of half bread flour and half semolina flour produces a crust that's crisp on the exterior and chewy on the interior.

  • Good rise

    For a light, airy dough, we use a full 2 teaspoons of yeast and give it a jump start by mixing it with warm tap water. We let the dough rise only after it has been shaped into rounds, which preserves the airiness that develops as it rises.

Recipe One-Hour Pizza

For our One-Hour Pizza recipe, we employed a handful of tricks to get a crust that was crisp, tender, and light without the need for a prolonged proofing period.