Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pizza via Jim Lahey: Where have you been all my life?

I am not sure what rock I've been residing under, but in my enthusiasm for Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I neglected the King of no-knead bread: Jim Lahey. It was Mr. Lahey who started the no-knead bread revolution, back in 2006 if I'm correct. Late last year, I read reviews of his recent book, My Bread, and immediately dropped it into my Amazon cart (my favorite way to not-shop...) and into the 19 person long hold list at my library.

Photo from Amazon.

I had no idea when my copy would finally be available for perusal, but when the call came, I rushed to the library and rushed back home. Then I rushed through the first section last night which is a concisely written account of why Jim bakes and what makes him so excited about it, and then dove exuberantly, and head first, into the meat of the story: the recipes.

Bakers are a curious sort. I did a stint at a local Breadsmith, back in my copy-shop days. When I was a "roller", as we called ourselves, it was mere weeks until my forearms felt as if I could take on Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top and have a chance. This was my first official foray into the world of doughs, and I did learn a lot. To my amazement, our breads there were all cultivated from scratch, beginning around eleven p.m. prior to my 4:30 a.m. start time. Those were happy times, for me to learn the way proper dough should feel, the smell of it in a crazy hot oven, and even the cleanliness of the whole process. If today I ever should I find myself breadless, I still don't feel bad grabbing one of their loaves, and each bite brings back those sleepless days.

So much is written
on bread, the staff of life. It has a similar construction to our own bodies, and really is a whole food when made properly. I know for a fact that I probably could live on bread alone, as I'm sure many people in the past have for periods of time. I've been content the past couple of years to rely on my stored dough technique that Artisan Bread in Five allows, (and I'm not demeaning it, since it is taste worthy and easy above all) but that doesn't leave much for experimentation in the bread realms of Rcakewalk...

I didn't know that I would be making any of Lahey's recipes today, but figured since I didn't pull anything from the freezer, and didn't have any idea
what to make for supper without leaving the snowdrifted driveway, I figured it was a prime chance to make one of his pizzas. (I can officially say: Mom and Dad, listen up - this is the pizza that you both will seriously love. It's cracker thin, ultratasty, and only takes minimal mess and effort to produce. Not to mention the fraction of clean up time, compared to when I drag the pizza stone out at your house!)

I have
long been an advocate of the pizza stone, which renders me hot and busy for pizza parties, but this pizza is baked at 500 on a sheet pan. I could make 2 at once, prevent the overheating of myself and others, be the "hostess with the mostess", and still present a stellar product. Oh, Mr. Lahey, where have you been all my life?

Look at that gluten!

I opted to use the weight versions in the book, since he gives both metric weights and volume measurements. At first, I was suspicious that my scale was not as accurate as I assume, since the dough was decidedly stiff. I kept to the recipe, indeed to the gram, and am happy to report that it turned out perfectly.

The sheet pan is greased with olive oil, and the dough is coaxed to as large and thin as it can be coaxed. I made his simple Pomodoro pizza, by weighing out 14 oz of my home-canned tomatoes and mixing a glug of olive oil and a heavy pinch of salt in. When I weigh home-canned tomatoes, which are quart jars, I set a strainer over a bowl and zero out my scale. Then, I feel like I'm approximating the texture of "diced" supermarket canned tomatoes. I added in about 2 T. of the reserved juice, and found it was a perfect amount for a sheet pan sized pizza.

I used my knife skills to shave off incredibly thin slices of yellow onion, about a 1/4 c. and scattered these over the sauce, and also heavily scattered on the crushed red chile peppers. The Roman style of these pizzas dictate the absence of cheese, I believe. But since we are here in Wisconsin, I had to add some... but not until the pizza had baked about 15 minutes, and looked like it had only about 5 more minutes to go.

It is unfortunate that the sun was down, and there was no natural light to be had... you'll have to suffer through the dim incandescent lighting pics, and use your imaginations. Better yet, get some bread flour, and give it a go!

After my Espanol studies this evening, I may have to mix up the bread version to make tomorrow sometime (he calls for 12-18 hour rest, but up to 24 hours in the winter, so I should probably wait until tomorrow), even though I may be endangering myself by removing the plastic handle from my LeCreuset pot.

His method relies on the "oven within an oven" - or a covered pot of ceramic or cast iron origins. I am not the most graceful (or as my Mother will confirm, the neatest) of all bakers, and a handle-less lid is worrisome. I'm hoping I can find something in my tool kit to jury rig the top, rendering it easier to lift. For those that are not as impatient, I know that LeCreuset does sell high-temperature handles that interchange with the stock handles, which are only heat safe to 375 degrees. While I knew this, and that my library hold was coming, I neglected to purchase one. If I'm at all as excited with the results, you can be sure that one will be on its way to me post haste.

I know I keep saying that one of these days, I'm actually going to purchase the items in my Amazon cart. I think it's going to be very soon, my friends. Some books I just have to have due to their incredible photography and inspiration, not to mention recipes of simplicity and pure perfection. Jim Lahey has made the cut, and you can bet a smiley-faced box will be on the way to me soon. Meanwhile, there are many links to the Lahey Pizza, but I haven't noticed in the several I perused that they are the exact published version. The recipe I used included a small amount of sugar, salt, yeast and bread flour. I'll leave you to seek it out, since I'm certain that you'll be glad I did.


  1. What a beautiful delicious looking pie! And your pizza dough is perfect. I definitely have to try this. Many thanks...

  2. Oh, thank goodness you added the cheese. I was breathless for a moment there thinking you'd experienced a momentary lapse of reason! :)

    So, tell the skeptic about the texture of dough that's baked on a sheet pan... I take it it was good? I'm a pizza stone devotee (we keep ours in the oven 24/7 to regulate the temperature, and it's got a lovely black patina on it from 10+ years of use), so I'm just a little askeered of baking pizza on metal!

    As far as the handle goes, do you think the old trick of covering the handle with aluminum foil would work??

  3. Lo, yes, that crust is worth 86ing the stone for a change...especially if paper thin and crispy crust is your goal! I tend to be devoted to my pizza stone, I am so glad I tried this way. Seriously, the book photos are so good, that's what ultimately convinced me! I have to make the mushroom pizza next week, but need to find a mandoline, since 1/16 of an inch slices are recommended...

  4. Oh, as for the foil trick, since it is plastic- I don't think I'll risk it! I think I could just remove it and screw in a large screw, rendering some help in lifting. I may need to get to a hardware store over the weekend.


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