Why It Works
- A longer fermentation time allows enzymes to break down the flour's protein, resulting in a stretchy, fully leavened pizza dough with no physical kneading.
- Treat the dough gently so it holds its character and texture.
Any New Yorker who eats bread has most likely tried some of the magical edible stuff that Jim Lahey produces at Sullivan Street Bakery or at Sullivan Street Pizza (formerly known as Co.).
Through meticulous scientific investigation, I think I've finally discovered the true secret to getting bread as good as Lahey's on a completely, 100% consistent basis. Step one: get Jim Lahey to make it.
Ok, ok. So I admit, it's not a particularly practical method, and my sample pool here was one. That said, when Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey dropped the no-knead bread recipe on the world back in 2006, with a single short youtube video, they did more to improve home baking than perhaps any other single event in history. I know that I've personally never looked back. (See my own explanation of the science here).
Lahey's first book, My Bread, was all about the no-knead method. The way you do it? Just mix flour, salt, and yeast, add water, stir it all together, then let it sit in a covered bowl for eight or nine hours. Over the course of this long fermentation, enzymes break down large flour proteins into smaller segments that can then quite easily be cross-linked into stretchy sheets of gluten. You wind up with a dough that stretches as if it had been perfectly kneaded, without any of the oxidation that occurs with actual kneading.
The result? Perfectly textured bread with next to no work.
Lahey's book My Pizza promises to do for pizza what My Bread did for bread. It's largely based on his no-knead dough, with dozens of recipes for topping combinations that are tomato-based, white sauce-based, and completely sauceless. You'll find most of the pies from Sullivan Street Pizza within its pages.
If there's one thing any home pizza maker can tell you, it's that it's nearly impossible to get the same bubbly, crisp, charring that you get from a real-deal wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven. Check out the video below as Jim Lahey shows us that not only is it possible, it's actually pretty damn easy to do.
First, a note from Lahey:
While I'm not picky about the flour—either bread flour or all-purpose is fine—what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough. I prefer to hold off on shaping the ball until just before topping it. If it's going to sit for a while—more than a couple of minutes—cover it with a damp kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out. I offer you two approaches for shaping. The simpler one, executed completely on the work surface, is slower than the second, where you lift the disk in the air and stretch it by rotating it on your knuckles. Lifting it into the air to shape it is more fun, too.
For more tips on stretching, topping, and baking your dough, check out the video below.
This dough is perfect for making Lahey's recipe for pizza topped with broccoli rabe, garlic, ginger, and Thai chiles.
Serious Eats: At Home With Jim Lahey
500g all-purpose flour (17 1/2 ounces; about 3 3/4 cups), plus more for shaping the dough
1g (1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast
16g (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
350g (1 1/2 cups) water
In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend flour, yeast, and salt. Add water and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72°F/22°C) 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.
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 dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 1g||1%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||1%|
|Total Carbohydrate 64g||23%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||8%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|