Genius No-Knead Pizza Dough

Every week on Food52.com, we're digging up Genius Recipes -- the ones that make us rethink cooking myths, get us talking, and change the way we cook.

The no-knead bread revolution finally comes to pizza -- and it's even more revolutionary.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough

- Kristen Miglore, Senior Editor, Food52.com

The Internet got its first viral recipe in 2006, when Mark Bittman brought Jim Lahey's technique for No-Knead Bread to light in the New York Times. Not-kneading tore through the blogosphere, seeding something of a revolution.

The instant and lasting popularity of the no-knead method is not because kneading is so strenuous (it'll never cramp your biceps like whipping egg whites will), but because it requires an understanding. You must form a relationship with your dough, find your rhythm, and sense when it's feeling too dry, or leathery, or loose (and how to fix it). These are worthy and satisfying pursuits, but they give cooks enough pause that bread baking was once reserved for dedicated hobbyists.

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So when Bittman urged, "Let time do the work," we listened. And he wasn't kidding -- after mixing up your flour, salt, yeast, and water, you just flop the dough around a couple times and wait till it's time to bake. 18 or so hours and a smidgen of yeast will have done all the rising, relaxing, and gluten-forming for you.

no knead pizza dough no knead pizza dough

And thus Bittman and Lahey brought homemade, machine-less bread (and confidence) back to the home cook. But still, Lahey's pizza dough was a different animal -- it used a lot more yeast for a short, furious rise. Slowly developing nuanced flavor in his crust wasn't a priority to him when his book My Bread came out in 2009. Back then, he was using the dough Roman-style at Sullivan Street Bakery, as nothing more than a thin, crackery base for more flavorful layers of toppings like shaved cauliflower and green olives.

My Pizza jim lahey

But ever the mad, tinkering genius, Lahey couldn't stop there. In late 2009, he opened the elegant pizzeria Co. and, last March, he released a new book called My Pizza, with a newly refined version of his classic long-rise, no-knead technique. He even extensively walks us through tricks for getting good pizza from electric ovens, oddly placed broilers, etc.

>>RELATED: Leek, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza

Not-kneading pizza is even simpler than not-kneading bread, if you can believe that. You just mix your dough together the night before your pizza party, leave it in a warm spot to bloat into a slightly tacky mass, then stretch it into fragrant, bubble-pocked disks. Like his bread, it's the wet dough that makes for a steamy, puffed interior with a chewy, crackling surface. It may or may not make round pizzas, but Lahey doesn't care.

If we revolutionaries have learned anything from the Internet, it's that we'd best listen to Jim Lahey. Start with his classic Margherita Pie. It's awfully good.

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Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Margherita

Makes four 12-inch pizzas

Making the Dough:

500 grams (17 1/2 ounces or about 3 3/4 unsifted cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping the dough
1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
16 grams (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
350 grams (11/2 cups) water

1. In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon and/or your hands, mix thoroughly. We find it easiest to start with the spoon, then switch to your hands.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72°) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.

3. Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them. For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center, then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom. (The order doesn't actually matter; what you want is four folds.) Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.

4. If you don't intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.

Assembling and Baking the Margherita Pie:

4 balls pizza dough from above
1 28-ounce can best quality peeled Italian tomatoes (or fresh, peeled Roma tomatoes, if they're in season)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into large chunks
20 fresh basil leaves, or to taste
3/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Put the pizza stone on a rack in a gas oven about 8 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven on bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.

2. Shaping the disk: Take one ball of dough and generously flour it, your hands, and the work surface. Gently press down and stretch the ball of dough out to 10-12 inches. Don't worry if it's not round. Don't handle it more than necessary; you want some of the gas bubbles to remain in the dough. It should look slightly blistered. Flour the peel (or an unrimmed baking sheet) and lay the disk onto the center. It is now ready to be topped.

3. Drain tomatoes and pass through a food mill or just squish them with your hands -- it's messy but fun. Stir in the olive oil and salt. The sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

4. Switch the oven to broil for 10 minutes. With the dough on the peel, spoon the tomato sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute 10 to 12 hunks of mozzarella (about 7 ounces) on top.

5. With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes under gas (somewhat longer with an electric oven), until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.

6. Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter. Sprinkle the Parmigiano and salt evenly over the pizza. Distribute the basil on top. Slice and serve immediately.

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Photos by James Ransom