Good pizza starts with great dough. As with so many foundational recipes, working with high-quality, flavorful ingredients is paramount. Few know it better than Chris Bianco, James Beard Award–winning chef and proprietor of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona, and an artisanal pizza pioneer. Of a dough’s four ingredients — flour, water, yeast and salt — it’s flour that has the greatest effect on flavor. (Bianco recommends working with a freshly milled organic flour for a crust with a good chew.) Making the dough is surprisingly uncomplicated, and working it into form is a matter of letting gravity do what it does best. What’s left is, effectively, a blank canvas.
Shaped into a circle, the dough counts as pizza; spread across a baking sheet, it becomes focaccia. When it comes to toppings, anything goes. Try adding ‘nduja, a spicy spreadable Italian sausage; drizzle high-quality balsamic; top it with foraged mushrooms. For sauce, Bianco favors his namesake brand of canned tomatoes, Bianco DiNapoli, crushed by hand, mixed with basil and a pinch of salt and left to mingle (no cooking required).
Makes enough for four 10-inch pizzas
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105–110 degrees Fahrenheit)
5 to 5 1/2 cups bread or other high-protein flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Give the yeast a stir to help dissolve it, and let it do its thing for five minutes. You’re giving it a little bit of a kick-start, giving it some room to activate, to breathe.
2. When the yeast has dissolved, stir in 3 cups of flour, mixing gently until smooth. You’re letting the flour marry the yeast. Slowly add 2 cups more flour, working it in gently. You should be able to smell the yeast working — that happy yeasty smell. Add the salt. (If you add the salt earlier, it could inhibit the yeast’s growth.) If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the bowl but is still sticky.
3. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and get to work. Slap the dough onto the counter, pulling it toward you with one hand while pushing it away with the other, stretching it and folding it back on itself. Repeat the process until the dough is noticeably easier to handle, 10 to 15 times, then knead until it’s smooth and stretchy, soft, and still a little tacky. This should take about 10 minutes, but here, feel is everything. (One of the most invaluable tools I have in my kitchen is a plastic dough scraper. It costs next to nothing, and allows me to make sure that no piece of dough is left behind.)
4. Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly greased big bowl. Roll the dough around to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place until it doubles in size, 3–5 hours. When you press the fully proofed dough with your finger, the indentation should remain.
5. Turn the proofed dough out onto a floured work surface and cut it into four pieces. Roll the pieces into balls and dust them with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rest for another hour, or until they have doubled in size.
6. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked. If you don’t want to make four pizzas at once, the dough balls can be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to eight hours or frozen for up to three weeks.
“Hold the top edge of a piece of dough with both hands, allowing the bottom edge to touch the work surface, and carefully move your hands around the edges to form a circle of dough. You have to find your own style, but I usually just cup my hand into a C shape, turn my hand knuckle-side up, and drape the dough off of it, allowing gravity to do its work, so it gently falls onto the floured table. Imagine you’re turning a wheel. Hold that dough aloft, allowing its weight to stretch it into a rough 10-inch circle. Don’t put any pressure on it by pulling or stretching it, just let gravity do the job — you want that aeration and cragginess. Keep it moving, and it will start to relax.
At this point, you’re ready to make a pizza. Lay the dough on a lightly floured pizza peel or inverted baking sheet. Gently press out the edges with your fingers. You will start to see some puffiness or bubbles now. Jerk the peel (or baking sheet) to make sure the dough is not sticking. If it is, lift the dough and dust the underside with a little flour. Tuck and shape it until it’s a happy circle.
Top the pizza and slide it in the lower third of the oven — pre-heated at maximum temperature for at least an hour — for 10–15 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden brown.”
The recipe above appears in Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like, by Chris Bianco, published by Ecco Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. Buy Now: $22