To knead, or not to knead, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the dough to fold, or to grunt and sweat under a weary kneading. Perchance to sleep, and in sleeping to dream of gluten–ay, there’s the rub. At least, that’s the rub with this Easy Pizza with Sweet Onions, Spring Garlic, Cheese and Greens.
To knead or not to knead, what do you think?
Jim Lahey, of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery, dropped a bomb into the world of bread-making with the 2006 publication in the New York Times of his recipe for no-knead bread. He isn’t the first baker to come up with a no-knead method, but he is the first to go large with it, first in the Times, then in his 2009 book MY BREAD, and now in his brand new MY PIZZA. His formula for no-knead bread is the most downloaded recipe in the Times’s history, probably because it produces a decent European-style loaf with a crackling crust, even for inexperienced home bakers.
There’s no doubt Lahey’s method – more water, less yeast, more time, and baking in a preheated cast iron pot – has advanced the quality of homemade bread by a country mile (and brought a sigh of relief to standing mixers everywhere). He has introduced slow-rise craft breads to many folks who would otherwise find bread-making too arcane, too time-consuming or who just can’t stand the thought of throwing away another scrubbee clogged with bits of raw dough.
Lahey’s technique hasn’t had much of an impact on me. I prefer sourdough recipes, with no added yeast at all, and I generally fold the dough several times during the initial rise to develop the gluten structure, a task that keeps me in touch, literally and figuratively, with the dough’s progress.
Then Why knead?, in the face of easier, less fussy alternatives?
As soon ask, Why sail? when there are gasoline engines. Why read a physical book? when there are digital copies.
For the sheer anachronistically tactile relish of it. Because, once in awhile I crave the
mindless unbridled sensual abandon wholesome exercise of grasping and squeezing and stretching a shaggy dough until it comes together.
My wife, however, while respecting my inclination for sourdough, is also a model of efficiency when necessary. She’s made Lahey’s recipe several times. One occasion involved a kitchen full of college seniors who thought the line, “This pizza, she no need crust!” the apex of hilarity. Herewith this post.
I will offer one minor observation of the technique as it pertains to pizza. It results in a slightly less chewy dough than I prefer. Not bad, just different. You be the judge–and let me know what you think.
Easy Pizza with Sweet Onions, Spring Garlic, Cheese and Greens
(With dough adapted from Jim Lahey)
Makes 4 10-12 inch pizzas.
- 12 oz (2¼ cups) all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 3 oz (½ cup) semolina flour
- 1½ oz (¼ cup) coarsely ground cornmeal
- ¼ teaspoon instant yeast (we like SAF brand)
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Additional cornmeal and semolina, for dusting surfaces
- 1¾ cups water
- In a large bowl combine flour, semolina, cornmeal, yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended. The dough will be shaggy and sticky. Drizzle the top of the dough with the olive oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature (about 68 degrees) for 24 hours.
- After resting a day the surface of the dough should be dotted with bubbles (if not, it may need to rest longer). Gently remove it from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured a work surface. Sprinkle it with a little more flour and using a bench scraper, fold it over on itself three or four times (see photos). Dust the top with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let rest about 15 minutes.
- After it finishes resting cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and gently roll each piece into a ball. Generously coat a tea towel with flour. Put the dough balls seam-side down on the towel and dust with more flour. Cover with a second tea towel and let rise for about 2 hours. (This might be a good time to make the toppings.) The dough balls are ready when they’ve at least doubled in size and don’t readily spring back when poked with a finger.
- An hour before the dough is ready heat the oven with a pizza stone to 550 degrees.
- On a well-floured surface, flatten each ball just enough to resemble a rough disk. Turn one of the disks in your hands, letting it hang as you move your hands along the edge, gradually stretching it into a circle. This dough stretches very easily–gravity will do most of the work. Don’t try to stretch each ball into a full circle all at once. Give each circle a rest when you reach 6 – 8 inches across, moving on to the next circle. After you’ve gone through all of the disks go back and finish stretching each circle until it’s 10 – 12 inches across. If you tear a hole in the dough lay it flat and pinch it closed. Dimple the dough with your fingers to keep it from puffing up in large bubbles.
- Transfer one of the dough circles to a cutting board or pizza peel liberally dusted with cornmeal or semolina. You want the pizza to slide off the board without a hint of sticking. At this point you can par bake each crust for 3 minutes, then remove it from the oven, add toppings and bake 10 minutes more. Or you can simply cover the dough directly with toppings and bake on top of a very hot pizza stone.
- Top each pizza with a fourth of the sliced potatoes, then dollop a fourth of the cheese mix and the onions around the potatoes. Bake until the crust is golden, and the cheese has melted, 8 – 12 minutes, depending on the temperature of the oven and the thickness of the pizza dough.
- While pizza is baking toss the greens with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Transfer the pizza to a wire rack above a cutting board so it can cool for a minute. Brush the edges with olive oil. Slide the pizza onto the cutting board and slice. Top with the greens and a generous helping of freshly grated pecorino, and serve.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ pounds sweet onions (Texas or Vidalia)
- 10 ounces green spring garlic (use the white and light green parts, which should yield 6 ounces)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon
- 12 ounces cooked potatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick. (I like to throw a few bay leaves into the water.)
- 1 tablespoon chopped summer savory or thyme
- 4 ounces ricotta
- ½ pound soft goat cheese
- 3 – 4 cups pea tips, arugula or other small tender greens
- Freshly grated pecorino.
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook 15 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to medium high and cook 10 minutes to lightly caramelize. Lower the heat to medium, add the green garlic, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Remember the vegetables will cook again on the pizza so don’t let them get too dark.
- Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and toss with the savory.
- Mix the ricotta and goat cheese together and season with salt and pepper.
The secret to a good pizza is a completely baked crust, including the crust in the center of the pie. You should taste the crust, not just the toppings, in every bite.
Make sure the dough is stretched think, show some restraint with toppings, and then use a very hot oven. If the dough is too dense or too thick, the crust will be underdone. If there’s too much stuff on top or the oven isn’t hot enough, the dough in the middle of the pizza will be soggy and limp. Ken thinks the safest thing to do is to par bake the crust without toppings for a few minutes just to let it set up, then add the toppings and finish baking. But if the crust is thin, and you’re careful not to use too heavy a hand, you can simply add the toppings to the raw dough and bake everything together. That’s what I do.
I love adding some dressed raw greens to pizza. They taste great, add a little textural pizazz, and you get some salad before you’re too full.
To be perfectly honest, I like the convenience of this crust but I do miss the texture of a kneaded dough.