Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Overnight Pizza Dough

It's become an established truth in foodie circles that chilling chocolate chip cookie dough for at least 24 hours makes for a tastier, better-looking cookie. Can the same be said for pizza dough?

It's not that cookies and pizza have much in common. Pizza dough requires yeast, just to name one major difference. But both involve a combination of dry ingredients, the vast majority of which is flour, and wet ingredients. When you allow for a nice long rest, these two elements get the chance to come together more fully, to put it very simply. The result is more, and more complex, flavor.

Cooking Light magazine did a big feature in their May issue on pizza, and it really impressed me. The editors clearly did tons of testing and research in order to determine what ingredients and techniques matter when it comes to making the best possible homemade pies. After all, when a recipe consists of little more than flour, yeast and water, it is truly the details that matter.

I used their recipe for Neapolitan-style crust to make the pizza above. Didn't change a thing for the dough, but opted for my own topping choices (inspired by a pizza on the cover of Food & Wine last year, actually). It was very good. I do think the overnight slow rise created a pleasing tang that you find in artisan pies from great restaurants. Unfortunately, I undercooked the crust slightly, which I absolutely hate. Mike, on the other hand, didn't really notice or care.

The following week, we wanted pizza again, but did not plan a day in advance. So, I made a version of the recipe in The Art & Soul of Baking that I've liked before, but let it rise twice over 4 to 5 hours and used half whole wheat flour. I can't say the Cooking Light version was miles better. I did, however, get one huge takeaway from CL that I'll always use when I make pizza: DO NOT use a rolling pin to roll out your dough. It breaks down the dough's structure, squeezes out the air, and results in a dense, rather than light and airy, crust. To get big, blistery bubbles in your dough, just press it out with your hands on a floured surface and/or stretch it over your knuckles in the air like the pros do.

Just after I'd made CL's dough, there was a piece in the New York Times food section on the best technique for homemade pizza dough. Guess what the writer concluded? Letting it rise overnight (and, ideally, if you're really obsessed, using a starter) makes all the difference. Interesting stuff. Since I LOVE making pizza, I'm always willing to try new recipes in the hopes of hitting upon my holy grail of pizza dough. I would like to try the overnight rise with my whole wheat flour recipe next time.

Now, I'm dying to know if you've tried this. Have you done the overnight rise? Were inspired by CL, the NYT or some other recipe? Do you think it matters or makes no difference? Do tell in the comments!


Karen said...

A favorite subject! I missed the CL issue, but did try the NYT recipe - it worked well for me, I pre-baked the crusts and let the family each "decorate" their own then re-baked just to warm sauce and melt cheese, and they came out crispy with a nice cornichon. You might like to check out "American Pie" by Peter Reinhart (MDPLS has it) on his quest for the perfect crust, with recipes. I usually use his recipe -- the NYT article is very similar -- unless in a hurry or neglected to plan. In that case, there's a very good 'Classic Pizza Margherita' recipe on the Splendid Table website, which works nicely with AP or Bread flour, also with the Italian-style flour that King Aurthur sells. We've had fun experimenting - I mean, even imperfect homemade pizza is way better than the chains' versions.

A.R.Ambler said...

It really does make a difference. I discovered this because the recipe I make makes far too much for the two of us, so I always have leftovers and the second day crust is always better.
I use Peter Reinhart's recipe and have written about it on my blog-
I learned a lot about how long slow low temperature ferments by reading the book that recipe comes from, The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Jill Silverman Hough said...

I'll third the recommendation of Peter Reinhart as pizza god and "American Pie" as my pizza bible - they made all the difference in my crust, thanks to the overnight rise. I vaguely remember Peter writing (or maybe saying in a class) something about a longer rise allowing the yeasts to break long chains of carbohydrates down into shorter chains of simple sugars - hence the exact same combination of ingredients tasting kind of like water crackers with a short rise, yet having more sweetness and complexity after a longer rise.