In my experience, melted cheese atop a crisp crust is one of the most popular items you can serve. Even those who try to avoid gluten or dairy seem to lose their resolve when confronted with pizza. I like to make my own dough, but there are a number of store-bought options that make suitable shortcuts.
My favorite recipe for dough comes from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie. In this book, he chronicles his global search to find the ultimate pizza. He describes the various qualities of crusts made in cities from Rome to New York and many places in between. He then categorizes the various styles into what he calls “families of dough”: Roman, Neapolitan, Neo-Neapolitan (a thinner, crisper version of the former), New York-Style, generic franchise pizza dough, Chicago Deep Dish, and Sardinian Carta de Música. My favorite is his Neo-Neapolitan dough.
Peter Reinhart’s Neo-Neapolitan Pizza Dough
Ingredients for four 12 to 13-inch pizzas
638 grams (5 cups) bread flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons table salt or 3½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1¾ cups room-temperature water (70°F)
- In a 4-quart bowl stir together the bread flour, sugar, and yeast, then stir in the salt. Mix the olive oil into the water and then add to the flour mixture.
- If using a standing mixer: Fit it with the dough hook and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until all the flour gathers to form a coarse ball. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then mix again on medium-low speed for an additional 2 minutes, or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and sticks just a little to the bottom. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold its shape, mix in additional flour by the tablespoonful; if it is too stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful.
- If mixing by hand: repeatedly dip one hand into room-temperature water and use it much like a dough hook—working the ingredients vigorously to combine them into a coarse ball. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the dough is slightly sticky, soft, and supple. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold its shape, mix in more flour by the tablespoonful; if it is too stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful.
- Immediately divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. They should weigh about 10-ounces each. Form each piece into a ball and brush or rub each ball with olive oil or vegetable oil. Place them inside individual zip-top freezer bags.
- Let the balls sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, then put them in the refrigerator overnight.
- If you are making the pizzas on the same day, let the dough balls sit in the bags at room temperature for 1 hour. After the hour, remove the dough balls from the bags, punch them down, re-shape them into balls, return them to bags, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- The next day (or later the same day if refrigerated for only 2 hours), remove the dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to roll it out to take off the chill and to relax the gluten.
- This dough freezes well. Let it come to room temperature before shaping. The dough also holds in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, developing more flavor as it ferments.
Par-baking the crust
For me, it is easier to slide the dough with its toppings onto a hot baking stone in a preheated 500° oven if I have par-baked the dough until it has firmed up but has not yet developed color. I use a Calphalon non-stick 16-inch round perforated bake pan (available on Amazon for $18.99).
I stretch one ball of dough at a time to cover the perforated area (12 to 13 inches) and par bake the crust for 5 to 10 minutes, until it has firmed up enough to easily to slide off the pan onto a baking rack, but has not yet browned.
Leek and Gruyere Cheese Pizza
1 (10-ounce) par baked crust, 12 to 13 inches
1-2 leeks, white and light green parts only, finely sliced and thoroughly rinsed
pinch dried tarragon
1 or 2 tbl butter
1 or 2 tbl water
2 cups (150 grams) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
Kalamata olives, sliced
Fire-roasted piquillo peppers, sliced
Fresh thyme leaves
Sauté leeks in butter until they are bright green. Add water and a pinch of tarragon and cover the pan, cooking until the leeks have wilted and lost their crunch. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool.
Finishing the pizza
Just before serving, top the par-baked crust with the cooked leeks. Slide the crust back into the oven until it nicely browned. Top crust with cheese then return it to the hot oven for a few minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Garnish with optional Kalamata olives, pequillo peppers and fresh thyme leaves. Serve immediately. If you are also a fan of cold pizza, leftovers are great for breakfast the next morning.