Project Pizza

Hi, there!  I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July, filled with good food, surrounded by good people. This year, instead of grilling or having a cookout, we took some time out to do a little something different on the 4th.  My little one and I embarked on a little project I called, Project Pizza!

We finally made homemade pizza - as in dough and all.  It's been something I've wanted to try for a long time.  I think I first put pizza on my to-do list when I saw this post from Joy the Baker. Subsequently, there have been many hunger-inducing homemade pizza tutorials and posts that I've come across.  But things really tipped the scales when I saw pizza week over at little kitchie.  That did it, and I had to check it out for myself!
I procrastinated a long time because there are plenty of terrific pizza options around so I wasn't sure it was worth going to all the trouble (gotta be honest)!  I guess the same can be said of homemade ice cream and look how that turned out.  In other words, I had a sneaky suspicion that, like most things, homemade has its own rewards.  So to satisfy my curiosity, to finally try out Jim Lahey's famous no-knead pizza dough touted by the world and see if it really is as easy and sublime as everyone says, we got to work.
And with pizza being my 8-year old son's favorite food on earth, I thought I'd get him involved and make a little "project" out of it.  Pizza is the one thing he's expressed an interest in making.  So armed with recipes and my young helper, we made a date to work on our project, and it was a lot of fun!
No doubt, we had to make my son's favorite - Pepperoni!
When we talk about making pizza, I think we're really talking about going to the effort of making the dough.  I knew I wanted to try Jim Lahey's no-knead recipe but to confuse me further, it seems there's an original no-knead recipe and then there's the "updated" no-knead recipe, which requires a longer - as much as an 18-hour - rest time.  I planned ahead and opted to go with the updated version.  I've heard raves about it and given the choice, I assume updated is better, right?  We wanted to have pizza for lunch on the 4th so we started the dough the afternoon prior so that it'd be ready for lunch the next day.

As it turns out, making this pizza dough really is pretty easy.  Now that I've done it once, it'll be even easier next time.  The idea of working with yeast has always been daunting but this has gone a long way towards slashing that "fear" for me.  I think I may be on my way to bread-making soon!
This pizza dough needs just four ingredients and you don't do much beyond mixing it together.  Then, you just wait.  Actually, you simply set it aside and forget about it.  It looks like a mess of nothing at first but grows and comes alive, becoming bubbly and more than doubling in size.  My son was pretty amazed and I think it turned out to be a fun lesson for him. 

It's neat to do something you've never done before, and this was all the more fun since I got to learn along with my son.  And we really did learn as we went along.  The dough was a little stickier than I expected so I used a little more flour when handling it.  I had a big hole in the first pie so I just pinched it together - repeatedly - and took my time with it.  The one thing I've learned and that seems to hold true is: don't be afraid.  It's like turning over a fragile cake; it can sense your fear so be confident...at least, that's what I tell myself!
For the adults, a classic Pizza Margherita
Our first pizza-making endeavor was very successful!  The little one gives the homemade pizza a "9"!  We didn't burn anything (what a relief!) and got to have delicious homemade pizza for our 4th of July lunch.  This may sound crazy but the pizza tasted...light and clean.  I know we're talking pizza but there is something about homemade, where you control and know exactly what goes into it, that makes the food simply fresh and good.  The dough turned out better than I expected.  I was worried it'd be soggy but it turned out crispy, with a nice bit of chew to it.  Placing the dough on top of some cornmeal works really nicely and adds a bit more texture to the baked crust.

Our homemade pizzas might not beat one of those pies from a brick oven but I was very impressed by what we could do in our little home oven at 500 degrees.  Having a bite of the pepperoni pizza really took me back to being a kid in Brooklyn, and made me think about all the times I'd go out for pizza with my friends after school.  Food does that, doesn't it?  It creates and melds together with memories, and I have very fond memories surrounding pizza...and I know my son will too. 

I just have to show some behind-the-scenes pizza making pictures here because they feature my little helper so please bear with me.

The no-knead pizza dough

As I mentioned, I used Jim Lahey's no-knead pizza dough, the updated version that takes a longer rest time.  I also picked up a few tips by checking out his comments and tutorial over on Serious Eats.  

Planning ahead, we started by mixing the pizza dough up around 4pm the day before.  The little one stirs it all together with a wooden spoon first.
And he keep going until the water is largely incorporated and the dough starts to come together.  (Look at my 8-year old's hands...still so itty bitty.)
Then we reached in and used our hands.  I was surprised by how soft the dough was.  My son said it felt like bubble gum!  
Once we scrunched it up by hand, we set it in a bowl.  It doesn't look like much at first.  I was a little nervous but kept the faith.
Sure enough, that little bit of yeast (just 1/4 teaspoon!) worked its magic and by the next morning, the dough had puffed up to more than twice its original size and it was filled with bubbles.  We were impressed!  Like Jim Lahey says, you want to keep that gas in the fermented dough as much as you can even as you press or stretch the dough out later.
We turned the dough out onto a floured surface.  The dough was sticky so I used a good amount of flour.
I divided the dough into 4 pieces.  Then, time to shape them into rounds.  Fold the right and left sides down and towards the center.  Repeat with the top and bottom and set the dough seam side down.  I dusted the tops with a bit more flour since they were sticky, covered the dough with plastic wrap, and let them sit for about an hour before using.  
Four hands are better than two...

Making the pizzas

Before I get to the full pizza-making, I have to tell you that I was *this close* to going with one of the pizza recipes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  Deb has a way of making everything sound simple.  While I ultimately went with the Jim Lahey version that I'd heard so much about, I did pick up some great tips on general pizza making from Deb.

For instance, I used Pomi brand strained tomatoes (it comes in a carton; I'd never heard of or noticed it before!) and simply dressed it up with a bit of olive oil and sea salt for the pepperoni pizza.  For the Margherita, we dressed it up with a touch of olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and a small minced garlic. 
Working hard for his lunch - using the garlic press, which he says is cool
That, and a little fresh basil, was most of what we needed.  I bought and used shredded, low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella for the pepperoni pizza and sliced up mozzarella from a ball for the Margherita.
Prep done, it was time to make the actual pies!  
was a little adventurous at first and tried stretching the dough and rotating it around my knuckles.
A large hole materialized pretty quickly in my first pie and put me in my place. I set the dough down on a baking sheet coated with cornmeal (needless to say, no pizza stones in my house) and we got working on stretching the dough out by hand.  We were careful to heed Jim Lahey's advice to not work the dough too much and to leave some of the bumpy bubbles in the dough.
The rest is just fun stuff.


We used a small amount of sauce and kept the crust pretty minimal.  If you want to, you could brush the crust with some olive oil for a little more color.  I'm good with it plain like this.

In a 500 degree oven and in under 10 minutes, the first pizza was out of the oven!
We started working on the Margherita pie as the first was baking and before we knew it, the second pie was ready.  Right out of the oven, we threw on some shredded basil and it was ready to eat!
Project Pizza culminated in a nice lunch - we did it!  It was a neat little activity for the early part of the holiday, before we met up with family for dinner and headed out to see fireworks in the evening.  

After we polished off our pizza lunch, it was time for mom and dad to clean up the kitchen!  With 2 more rounds of pizza dough in the fridge ready for another meal, I can picture some delicious possibilities..but if our 8-year old has anything to say about it, I see many pepperoni pizzas in my future!


Recipes:

Jim Lahey's no-knead pizza dough
Recipe is available over at Food 52
Also check out some tips at Serious Eats

I wanted to mention that for the red sauce, I used some suggestions I found from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  I remember learning a while ago that you should use raw tomatoes, not cooked sauce, for pizza, since the sauce essentially gets cooked while the pizza bakes and you want to keep it tasting fresh.  I was surprised but it made absolute sense when I thought about it.

So for these pies, I used about 1/3 cup of strained tomatoes (Pomi brand sold in cartons) per pie and dressed it up slightly with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, red pepper flakes, and a small minced garlic (in the case of the Margherita pie).  The book also mentions that a pinch of sugar and a few drops of red wine vinegar can also bring out the flavors of processed tomatoes so you can experiment.

I used about 6 ounces of shredded part-skim, low-moisture, mozzarella for the pepperoni pizza and about 4 ounces or so of mozzarella, thinly sliced, for the Margherita.  Once the Margherita pizza came out of the oven, I threw on a handful of shredded basil leaves.





48 comments:

  1. I fear yeast too and anything that requires kneading. Glad this is a no-knead dough. Thank you for sharing this post with us. It's comforting to know that it's not all that hard to make this. :) The pizza Margherita looks delicious! Hope you had a great 4th with your family Monica.

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    1. Thanks so much, Anne! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with a fear of yeast. Once you try something, it's usually amazing how forgiving things are. For me, it's the first step of learning the language and figuring all the stuff out that muddles things.

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  2. Your pizzas turned out wonderful Monica, I really love the Margherita one! Such a fun project for you and your son to tackle and conquer together, I love these action shots :) We love this no-knead dough too and the hardest part for us was having to wait till the next day to get to eat home made pizza. Now, I make bigger batches and freeze the dough so that we always have dough ready to go too:) Glad that you had a nice holiday spending time with your family and hope you have a great weekend Monica :)

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    1. Isn't a good, simple Margherita pie the best, Kelly? We plan to use up the dough tomorrow but freezing some is in the game plan in the future. Hope you had a great holiday. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. The pizzas have turned out so beautiful, Monica. Perfect crust :-)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Angie!

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  4. I pretty much never buy pizza anymore even though I live in NYC...I just love my dough and being able to control the toppings too much! Yours turned out fabulously!!

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    1. Joanne, that is amazing and says a whole lot! Now you've got me wondering if you have a favorite dough or try different ones. I can't say we won't be buying pizza (with a child, there is a lot of pizza in my life!) but the homemade was wonderful and I'm glad it worked out.

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  5. Wow, this pizza looks amazing, Monica! It actually looks almost just like the homemade pizza my mom makes, except we use pre-made naan bread as the "pizza" dough instead. It's delicious, especially with those thick slices of melted mozarella. Yum! Maybe one day I'll try to make homemade pizza dough. Great job with this recipe! (:

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    1. Thanks, Monica! Pizza on naan sounds awesome. When I worked in the city (nyc), I used to get pizza for lunch from this awesome Italian place that made the pizza on a thin tortilla - so so good and crispy!

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  6. Monica, I just made pizza dough for tonight with 5 ingredients and the 5th ingredient is sugar. I was under the impression that sugar is important for proofing yeast but here I see a wonderful no knead pizza in front of me. I hope your kids had fun making and eating it.

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    1. Hi Balvinder - I'm no expert on anything yeast-related. I suppose there are a hundred ways to get to the same place. This dough I used definitely works and I hope yours turns out wonderfully. Like you, I only have one child (a boy, in my case). He isn't big on cooking but I think he's coming around a little as he gets older...and we had fun doing this together.

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  7. I love homemade pizza too. To glad your son enjoy the process and help around too. :) My kids love helping me in the kitchen too. There are always new thing for them to learn while helping out. :)

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    1. Thank you, Amy. I'm glad I finally hopped on the bandwagon on this one. My son is actually not big on cooking with me : ( but I think that's changing a bit as he gets older so I'm taking advantage of it. There's a lot of cool math and science (and art) involved in playing in the kitchen. Your kids must learn a lot from you!

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  8. I just made a new dough which might be my favorite. You press the dough (after a quick 45 min rise) into a cast iron skillet. It was like pan pizza. Good and not much fuss :)

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    1. Do not try to confuse me, Alyssa! : )

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  9. I rarely plan far enough ahead to make dough one day with plans to eat it the next. I need to be better organized! :) I have had homemade dough on my baking bucket list for a long time! Your post made me smile for many reasons. First, IF I was going to make pizza dough, I know exactly which two cookbooks I would pull out....Smitten Kitchen (because Deb's recipes ALWAYS work) and Jim Lahey's "My Bread". Second, I LOVE the pictures of your son helping to make the dough! I have so many wonderful memories of cooking and baking with my kids as they grew up. :) Just last night my 20yr old son called from California to ask how much butter to put in a pasta dish we improvise at home.:) He will be home in a few weeks. I think I will suggest pizza.

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    1. Wendy, we do think a lot alike. I totally agree with you. If David Lebovitz wrote a book on dough or bread, I bet the two of us would be pre-ordering that book! Maybe we need to suggest it. : )
      I hope I am so lucky to have my son ask me about something we cooked when he is 20. (Only 12 years from now!) I bet your family ate and eats very well. I hope you enjoy your son's visit, whatever you guys end up cooking!

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  10. What a fun way to bond with your son! Your homemade pizza looks incredible!

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    1. Thanks, Eva. It was definitely great working on it with my little one!

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  11. I love making pizza with my niece and nephew...and yes, the no knead dough is just amazing...
    I would love to have a slice of the "adult" pizza :)
    Have a lovely week ahead Monica!

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    1. Simple margherita pizza is definitely up there on my all-time favorites list. But I have to say, a plain slice or a pepperoni really takes me back to being a kid! : )

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  12. Homemade pizza is a favorite of mine, it's especially fun making that dough.. but I can't help sneaking some bites of it before it even goes in the oven. :)

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    1. Bites *before* it goes into the oven?! wow!

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  13. Haha, I think I need to seek another two hands to help me make a perfect pizza like this. Love what you did with the slow-rise dough!

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    1. haha - yes, another set of hands makes things more interesting...

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  14. Great job with your first pizzas, Monica! They look fantastic, especially the Pizza Margherita... my favorite!

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    1. Thanks, Georgia! Getting any "first" out of the way is always a relief.

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  15. Aw, what a fun family activity! I've never made a no-knead dough before but it sure sounds easier. Your pizzas look totally delicious...i'm totally craving one now :)

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    1. Hi Amy! No-knead is definitely my kind of thing though I guess letting the dough hook do the work on the machine isn't exactly a big hassle either.

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    1. Thanks! How "bad" can pizza be, right?

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  17. WOW! That looks really fantastic!
    I end up using a no-knead method most of the time, a la 5-minutes a day bread recipe. That's the kicker for me, you sort of have to plan ahead to let the dough rise and anticipate the desire, no, the need for pizza. Luckily, any day and any time is a good one for pizza so it works out. I'm ready to make pizza at any point in time!
    Thanks!

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    1. Thanks! I agree - pizza works for any meal, any time or day.

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  18. Homemade pizza is the best! Love the no-knead recipe. Great job and I'm really hungry now :)

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  19. Monica, your pizza turned out perfect!! YAY! I'm so glad that dough recipe worked out for you, and that you both had such a fun time doing it. Awesome job!!!

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    1. Thanks, Marie. It was a fun project for us to work on together. It tasted much better than I hoped and we'll be making it again for sure. Thanks for your help!

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  20. Homemade pizzas are the best! Yours turned out gorgeous...and for your first try. Beautiful pics, makes me want to eat the screen!!

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    1. You are too kind, Todd. Now I'm "in" on the secrets of homemade pizza (dough)! We're glad to be part of the club. : )

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  21. yay for homemade pizza! i love that you made it super interactive with the kids (and your son is right; it DOES feel like bubble gum, totally.) :) I'm still not at all a pro at making my own pizza dough; i'm most confident buying the bagged raw dough from the store and then making the pizza to top it. i plan to have my own "project pizza" at some point when i have a little spare time, just so i can familiarize myself with pizza dough-making and how it all works best. You end results look wonderful!

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    1. We only have one child and he's not big on cooking but he does like to make pizza so it was a perfect excuse to do it together. I've put off the pizza dough for so long...I mean, you can buy it anywhere these days. But it did come out really well. I was really surprised by the (airy) feel and smell of it. Now I get a little sense of what it's like working with yeast.

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  22. My son's favorite is also Pepperoni too (and I prefer simple Margherita)! Homemade one looks delicious, especially when you make with your son. :) I should do this with my kids!

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    1. I remember pepperoni as my childhood favorite, too! It was nice to work on this project with my little guy. I'm sure your kids would have fun with it.

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  23. What a fun project to get the kids involve as well. I used to fear yeast, but once you get the science correct (i.e water temperature and food for the yeast-sugar/honey), it's pretty basic :)

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    1. I suspect you're right, Kiran. This gives me a bit more confidence, at least not to fear yeast so much.

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  24. these pizzas look awesome - I love pizza but I have never tried my hand at pizza dough. I think I'll be going in that direction soon. I love margherita !

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    1. Thank you! It took me ages to get here to make dough so I'm sure you'll get the urge when the time feels right. Margherita is definitely the adult pizza of choice. : )

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