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"Cook's Illustrated" Foolproof Pizza Crust


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#1 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 07:54 AM

Oh, that Cook's Illustrated. I've been subscribing to Cook's Illustrated for years. And years. I like the fact that there are no ads - other than for themselves. As far as the homey schtick goes, well, that's okay too, I guess. Kimball's opening editorial brings me right back to the old farm in Vermont...if I had ever set foot on an old farm in Vermont. Be that as it may, I generally read an entire issue (in one sitting), and come away having learned something and in the mood to try one or more of "their" recipes.

The coolest thing about Cook's Illustrated is that they've made testing recipe variations their raison d'être. I mean, they appear to test recipes 50 different ways, tweaking and twisting and cajoling till they find the one that they feel is the best. And that's the one they give you...it's awesome.

Of course, I myself have tested various recipes over the years. With a pretty large cookbook collection, that's a given when trying something new. I'll take out 3 or 4 (or 12) different cookbooks, check out Significant Eater rolling her eyes; then read what each author has to say, do an amalgamation and cook. Usually, it works out pretty well...when cooking (not so much for baking, though).

But, there's a major difference between the way CI approaches the task vs. how I approach the task. They (CI) appear to keep very good records and write everything down whereas I...ummmm...don't. And therein lies the problem - I never remember what the hell I did when something comes out great. So, what to do? Well, my resolution for 2011 is to start writing stuff down and see where that leads. Stop laughing; after all, 2 years ago I decided to start blogging and I'm still here...most of the time, anyway.

Back to Cook's Illustrated: the current issue (Jan/Feb 2011) has a recipe for Thin-Crust Pizza. As the cover states: "Finally, A Foolproof Crust." Whew - finally! Let's not forget that over the years Cook's Illustrated has probably published over 50 recipes for pizza (maybe they forgot to write stuff down?) and they've finally figured it out; well, at least until the next "greatest pizza ever"... I kid, I kid...I'm sure this is the best.ever. Wink wink.

Since I've had pizza issues of my own over the years, I immediately decided to follow the recipe EXACTLY as it is written - well, for the crust anyway. Toppings - that's another story. So in picture form, here's what this experiment looked like:

Set up workspace...

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Dough after mixing in food processor...

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Dough after another minute of hand kneading...

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Crust ready for toppings...

IMG_0727_1.JPG

Okay, this is where I started veering from the recipe a bit. I love using parchment on the peel...CI apparently doesn't. But I've had too many accidents sliding the pie onto a 550 degree stone and parchment makes that part idiot-proof. And...I don't even have to write it down to remember. Next, the pizza with topping (forget the recipe at this point, folks)...

IMG_0728_1.JPG

I had some good (for winter) Campari-brand tomatoes (which I think Fat Guy turned us onto a number of years ago) to go with mozzarella curds from one of my favorite cheese vendors (Saxelby's at the Essex St. Market), along with a bit of fresh thyme and olive oil brushed on top. Into the oven, which had been preheated for an hour with the stone on a top shelf (per the recipe!) and check out what emerged a mere 7 minutes 30 seconds later...

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Not bad, huh? Exactly what I'm looking for in a thin-crust pie. Thin and tender. Foldable, even. Holes in the crust from the tip to the cornicione. In my obviously objective viewpoint, the best pizza that has ever emerged from my home oven. A big wow.

So what's the big change from my previous attempts at pizza vs. this greatest ever pizza dough? Well, I think the long rise (24 hours) in the fridge makes this dough so delicious...and so easy to work with. There is very little fermentation taking place at room temp, and the fridge time really develops the flavor as well as relaxing the gluten, making the dough quite easy to work with (i.e. stretch into a pizza). All quite scientific, I know - but that's what great bread (and pizza) is all about.

Lest anyone think that all is wonderful with Cook's Illustrated, and that my days of curmudgeonliness are behind me, hah! Here are two issues which bug the hell out of me:

1. I've been a subscriber since for-fucking-ever. Literally, issue number one, I think. Why the hell should I have to pay AGAIN for an on-line membership? Bite me. Even the New Yorker gives me online stuff for free.

2. Their measurement for flour is 1 cup = 5 1/2 ounces. Now, I've measured flour every which way (really, how many ways are there?) and no matter what I do, the flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Peter Reinhardt, author of the seminal The Bread Baker's Apprentice, says flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Freakin' King Arthur (A KING!) says that flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces per cup. So listen up, good people at Cook's Illustrated - take your fingers off the damn scale, willya?

Anyway, that's about all I'm gonna say on the matter. The pizza was indeed great. I'm not gonna publish the recipe - check out their web site and get it for free (well, at least for 14 days).

Besides, I don't need Kimball coming around my place in his Model-T with his 12-gauge ought 50 shotgun or whatever. He needs to stay in Vermont. NY is the place for me. In all it's pizze glory.
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#2 Crouton

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 08:26 AM

CI, despite the formulaic repetitiveness, I genuinely love that magazine. I'm headed to Publix after work to pick up ingredients for their "Ultimate Chili" recipe from the same issue. As for pizza, I've always had great success with the venerable No-Knead Bread recipe... in fact, I think I use that for every "bread stuff" I make - loafs, rolls, pizza, grilled flat-bread, focaccia, you name it. No food processor, something which I refuse to buy, needed.

#3 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 08:34 AM

As I've probably writ before, I think the ONE MAJOR advancement that the Lahey no-knead recipes (and there are plenty of them around) brought to the home cook were in the usage of the Dutch oven to bake the boule. Nothing at home compares to the steam-injected ovens that professional bakers have at their disposal, imo. The enclosed environment of the Dutch oven comes closest.

That said, I never have had great luck with the no-knead bread or pizze for that matter. Friends of mine have, though - so to each his or her own.

Now that I've finally found success with this pizza dough method, I'll be using it for pizze for the foreseeable future. Of course, I'll start fooling with the formula; probably as soon as I mix up my next batch.
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#4 abooja

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 08:50 AM

Prior to going (mostly) gluten free a couple of months back, and before replacing it forever with Reinhart's Neapolitan pizza dough from BBA, CI's pizza margherita recipe was the shit. It includes a combination of all purpose and cake flours which, I suppose, is meant to mimic Italian 00 flour. Fuzzy from CI (and eGullet) recommended substituting semolina for the cake flour, which made for a more toothsome crust. It was never retarded, the idea being that it was easy to make last minute, so its flavor was not nearly as complex as an aged dough. Have you ever made that dough and, if so, how does it compare?

By the way, your crust looks great.

#5 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 09:30 AM

Have you ever made that dough and, if so, how does it compare?

By the way, your crust looks great.


Lisa - I haven't made that one. I have found that any "pizza" dough I make which isn't going to be retarded in the fridge, is trouble. That's why I so often make focaccia instead...it's just easier for me to handle and I end up with a better product and a lot less cursing.

And...thanks!
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#6 DaleJ

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 09:42 AM

Strange. My pizza making changed for the better a few yeaars ago after Food Illustrated told me how to make the dough thin. I don't remember if the tip was in the mag or on TV, but it allowed me to perfect a thin crust. The secret is to place the dough ball on parchment paper, top with film and roll out with a rolling pin. Trim the paper with a scissors, remove the film, add toppings and its ready for the oven. I've read this month's mag and don't know why they've abandoned the rolling pin method. It works for me.

#7 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 10:32 AM

Strange? Hardly. Over the years, Cook's Illustrated has published over 50 recipes and/or articles about pizza. So the "secret" that you learned however many years ago probably works just great for you and many others. And the "secret" that I learned just this past weekend will become my go-to method.

I liken it to their "best ever pork-chop" recipes. Take a look through their back issues and see how many pork chops are the best :laugh: .
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#8 Joe Blowe

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 10:39 AM

A little Googling around revealed the main article and the recipe for the white pie:

https://www.cooksill...asp?docid=26962

https://www.cooksill...asp?docid=26949

Get it while it's hot!
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#9 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 11:08 AM

They usually publish the articles (at least for a while) while the recipes are harder to get (and the white pie recipe is not in the mag).

Of course, the dough is exactly the same, and that has always been my #1 concern :smile: .

But, who measures flour at 5 1/2 oz. per cup?
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#10 ChefCrash

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 11:13 AM

To crisp the crust, we added some more oil and sugar to the dough...


Really!?

#11 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 11:27 AM

To crisp the crust, we added some more oil and sugar to the dough...


Really!?

Yep, really. There's only 1 Tablespoon of oil and the recipe calls for 2 teaspoonfuls of sugar.

Interestingly enough, many, many, many years ago I made pizza using a recipe from The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook - a first edition of his first book published in 1986. His recipe called for a tablespoon of honey, and if memory serves me right, it was pretty darn good.
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#12 HungryC

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 01:49 PM

Coincidentally, I have a batch of Lahey's no-knead crust resting in the fridge right now....I find it improves with a couple hours' cold ferment. Pizza made with his dough is almost a perfect replica of Roman pizza rossa--it's ultra-thin and crisp, rather than the soft Napoletana style. Have you checked out the new "Pizza Quest" websitefrom Reinhart & the folks @ Forno Bravo?

#13 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 02:23 PM

Coincidentally, I have a batch of Lahey's no-knead crust resting in the fridge right now....I find it improves with a couple hours' cold ferment. Pizza made with his dough is almost a perfect replica of Roman pizza rossa--it's ultra-thin and crisp, rather than the soft Napoletana style. Have you checked out the new "Pizza Quest" websitefrom Reinhart & the folks @ Forno Bravo?

Yes, just started looking at it.

BTW, in your second sentence you're fooling with Lahey's recipe - creating your own "secret." Reinhart has always been a fan of the cold ferment.
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#14 IndyRob

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:13 PM

I think the procedure and recipe would be met with general approval with the pizza maniacs over at pizzamaking.com. I think almost everyone there swears by cold fermentation.

The amount of sugar might raise some eyebrows, but it can work both ways. Yeasties like sugar, but the point of the cold ferment is to slow them down. But it also improves browning so it's not unreasonable to start here and adjust if you feel you should.

The one part I may personally quibble with is the stone placement. They are correct in that it can make a very big difference, but different ovens vary considerably. For me the bottom is best. But when I took my show on the road once, I nearly burnt the bottom even though that oven could only go to 500 - whereas I usually bake at 550 at home.

The top surface of the 'road oven' got extremely hot while the oven was on. Upon reflection I realized that the bottom heating element was working a lot harder to maintain a 500 degree temp than my better insulated oven was while maintaining 550.

So I wouldn't say I'd recommend one or the other, but just be prepared to adjust accordingly.

#15 prasantrin

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:14 PM

Former member albiston had an excellent recipe for a Neapolitan-style dough. Even without the necessary kneading (I didn't have a stand mixer and it was a very sticky dough, so I didn't bother kneading), it turned out a crust very similar to the best Neapolitan crusts I've tried.

#16 rickster

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:28 PM

Former member albiston had an excellent recipe for a Neapolitan-style dough. Even without the necessary kneading (I didn't have a stand mixer and it was a very sticky dough, so I didn't bother kneading), it turned out a crust very similar to the best Neapolitan crusts I've tried.


And somewhere buried in the Pizza thread is a virtually no knead recipe from Sam Kinsey that also turns out great results, the key being long refrigerator fermentation.

#17 prasantrin

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:47 PM

Former member albiston had an excellent recipe for a Neapolitan-style dough. Even without the necessary kneading (I didn't have a stand mixer and it was a very sticky dough, so I didn't bother kneading), it turned out a crust very similar to the best Neapolitan crusts I've tried.


And somewhere buried in the Pizza thread is a virtually no knead recipe from Sam Kinsey that also turns out great results, the key being long refrigerator fermentation.


With albiston's dough, it's not only long refrigerator fermentation, but also higher hydration. At a minimum, it's about 62%, but you can take it higher.

If you look at some of the better neapolitan pizza places, they use a lot of flour to stretch out the dough which indicates a very wet dough. The CI recipe, to me, looks quite a bit drier, and the crust doesn't have those lovely bubbles that neapolitan crusts get.

#18 rickster

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 03:58 PM

With albiston's dough, it's not only long refrigerator fermentation, but also higher hydration. At a minimum, it's about 62%, but you can take it higher.


Off the top of my head, the recipe I referred to is higher than that, maybe 70%.

#19 prasantrin

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 04:11 PM

With albiston's dough, it's not only long refrigerator fermentation, but also higher hydration. At a minimum, it's about 62%, but you can take it higher.


Off the top of my head, the recipe I referred to is higher than that, maybe 70%.


I looked it up. He uses 70%. Must get some nice bubbles in that dough. He uses diastatic malt and 1 tsp yeast, while albiston uses only 1/4 teaspoon yeast, some olive oil, and makes the dough in 2 parts (the lengthy rise is after mixing the first part of the dough, then the dough can be used immediately after the second additions, or it can be refrigerated again).

Might be interesting to do a comparison between the two recipes.

#20 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 04:32 PM

And somewhere buried in the Pizza thread is a virtually no knead recipe from Sam Kinsey that also turns out great results, the key being long refrigerator fermentation.

I've had Kinsey's pizze. Excellent and delicious, and also a different style of pie, since I believe Sam uses no yeast and extremely high hydration.

Off the top of my head, the recipe I referred to is higher than that, maybe 70%.

Correct. This Cook's Illustrated dough, as the article reads, is 64%. For me, a much easier dough to work with.
And still plenty of holes...in a thinner crust...

IMG_0733.JPG

Might be interesting to do a comparison between the two recipes.


Why? That's what Cook's Illustrated is for :laugh: . For this type of dough, which I might call "excellent at home but still NY style pizza dough, this recipe worked just great.

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#21 Pam R

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 04:37 PM

But, who measures flour at 5 1/2 oz. per cup?

The weight of 1 cup of flour may vary for a couple of reasons. Different brands might have different particle sizes. The thing I always understood is that the weight depends on the humidity levels - in a place with higher humidity the flour weighs more because it absorbs and holds more moisture. Anybody know if this is true or false?

Interestingly enough, many, many, many years ago I made pizza using a recipe from The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook - a first edition of his first book published in 1986. His recipe called for a tablespoon of honey, and if memory serves me right, it was pretty darn good.

I used his recipe for years. Now I never measure but always add a glug of honey to the dough.

#22 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 04:56 PM


But, who measures flour at 5 1/2 oz. per cup?

The weight of 1 cup of flour may vary for a couple of reasons.

Oh, I get that. But I've never been able to get close to 5 1/2 oz., whether I dip my measuring cup or scoop into my measuring cup. Most I get is 4 3/4, and that is rare. And when tomes like KA and BBA quote the weight as 4 1/2 oz. or less, I'm just a bit suspect about the Cook's Illustrated's measurement methodology.
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#23 prasantrin

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Posted 20 December 2010 - 05:14 PM

I've had Kinsey's pizze. Excellent and delicious, and also a different style of pie, since I believe Sam uses no yeast and extremely high hydration.


He uses 1 teaspoon according to the post I found.


Might be interesting to do a comparison between the two recipes.


Why? That's what Cook's Illustrated is for :laugh: . For this type of dough, which I might call "excellent at home but still NY style pizza dough, this recipe worked just great.


Ya, but they rate recipes according to their taste buds, not mine. :laugh:

Plus it's a good excuse to eat more pizza!

#24 ChefCrash

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 01:21 AM


To crisp the crust, we added some more oil and sugar to the dough...


Really!?

Yep, really. There's only 1 Tablespoon of oil and the recipe calls for 2 teaspoonfuls of sugar.

Interestingly enough, many, many, many years ago I made pizza using a recipe from The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook - a first edition of his first book published in 1986. His recipe called for a tablespoon of honey, and if memory serves me right, it was pretty darn good.


I think you misunderstood me, I have no problem with oil or sugar (or honey) in pizza dough. I do however have problem with an "expert" claiming that the addition or increasing of either of those ingredients contribute to crispness. In fact, on the last iteration of my now perfect pizza dough, I reduced the oil in half in order to increase crispness.

My recipe:

750g hg flour
1 T sugar
1 T table salt
1 T olive oil
3/4 tsp instant yeast
16 oz cold tap water.

Mixed in a 12 C Cuisinart (may have to add a touch of water or a touch of flour).
Divided into 4 ~320g balls and placed into individual oiled Tupperware containers. They're left at room temperature for one hour then placed in the fridge at least 72 hours and as long as 2 weeks.

#25 djyee100

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 01:23 AM

...I've never been able to get close to 5 1/2 oz., whether I dip my measuring cup or scoop into my measuring cup. Most I get is 4 3/4, and that is rare. And when tomes like KA and BBA quote the weight as 4 1/2 oz. or less, I'm just a bit suspect about the Cook's Illustrated's measurement methodology.


In Cookwise, Shirley Corriher lists 1 cup of bread flour as weighing 5.6 oz. One cup of AP flour, spooned into & leveled off in a measuring cup, is listed as 4.25 oz. For people who scoop AP flour with a measuring cup out of the bag, pressing it against the sides of the bag (a method frowned upon by experienced bakers), Corriher allots a more generous 5 oz per cup.

The few times I've bothered to weigh my own cup of flour, it's somewhere around 4.5 oz, usually under rather than over. This past weekend I attended a cooking demo given by Alice Medrich. She gave 4.5 oz/cup as her standard for AP flour measurement. So that's another prominent baker to add to the 4.5 oz list.

I've heard anecdotes about humidity affecting flour, although in the other direction--dry air (from winter houses, or living in the desert) dries out flour & (I'm guessing) makes it denser and lighter when measured by volume.

Edited by djyee100, 21 December 2010 - 01:42 AM.


#26 shaloop

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 04:05 PM

2. Their measurement for flour is 1 cup = 5 1/2 ounces. Now, I've measured flour every which way (really, how many ways are there?) and no matter what I do, the flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Peter Reinhardt, author of the seminal The Bread Baker's Apprentice, says flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Freakin' King Arthur (A KING!) says that flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces per cup. So listen up, good people at Cook's Illustrated - take your fingers off the damn scale, willya?



My standard flour is unbleached, all-purpose flour for most things. I usually use Gold-Medal or Pillsbury or sometimes even the store brand. I keep my flour in a cannister large enough to hold a 5 lb bag. Before I measure I always stir and aerate with a rubber spatula. I then dip, and sweep. I get almost exactly 5 ounces every time. I get 4 ounces for cake flour, about 5 1/2 ounces for bread flour, but 5 ounces for unbleached, all-purpose flour. Maybe it's because I live on the coast and its pretty humid here, don't know.

#27 merstar

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Posted 26 December 2010 - 11:37 PM


...I've never been able to get close to 5 1/2 oz., whether I dip my measuring cup or scoop into my measuring cup. Most I get is 4 3/4, and that is rare. And when tomes like KA and BBA quote the weight as 4 1/2 oz. or less, I'm just a bit suspect about the Cook's Illustrated's measurement methodology.


In Cookwise, Shirley Corriher lists 1 cup of bread flour as weighing 5.6 oz. One cup of AP flour, spooned into & leveled off in a measuring cup, is listed as 4.25 oz. For people who scoop AP flour with a measuring cup out of the bag, pressing it against the sides of the bag (a method frowned upon by experienced bakers), Corriher allots a more generous 5 oz per cup.

The few times I've bothered to weigh my own cup of flour, it's somewhere around 4.5 oz, usually under rather than over. This past weekend I attended a cooking demo given by Alice Medrich. She gave 4.5 oz/cup as her standard for AP flour measurement. So that's another prominent baker to add to the 4.5 oz list.

I've heard anecdotes about humidity affecting flour, although in the other direction--dry air (from winter houses, or living in the desert) dries out flour & (I'm guessing) makes it denser and lighter when measured by volume.


Fine Cooking also uses 1 cup AP flour as the equivalent of 4 1/2 oz.
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#28 Nyleve Baar

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 10:20 AM

I made this dough this weekend for, er, Christmas Day pizzafest. Used Italian "pizza flour" (Threw out the bags so can't remember the exact brand or name). What I liked about the dough is that it is, indeed, a long-rise dough which looks like nothing is happening while refrigerated and then springs to life at room temperature. The dough, however, didn't measure out just right (I used volume, not weight) and I had to add about 1/3 cup additional flour to make it handle-able when removing from the processor. Flattening out was a breeze - used a combination of fingers and rolling pin - and it baked up beautifully. (No photos, sorry.) The only quibble was that it really wasn't a thin enough crust for me - but it's possible that I didn't flatten the dough enough before baking. I also used parchment to facilitate moving the pizzas from peel to stone - a bit of a compromise for me but I was making 6 pizzas and was in no mood to deal with possible disaster. At any rate, the recipe will go into my keeper file - I liked it.

#29 weinoo

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 12:07 PM

Today's lunch...

IMG_0739_1.JPG

IMG_0740_1.JPG

And...delicious.
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#30 jsmeeker

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Posted 27 December 2010 - 12:13 PM

I'm always on the lookout for a better pizza crust recipe/method. I like to make pizza, but I always seem to have a lot of issues making a dough that is easy to work with.

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