Perfect Pizza Crust

Normally, I don’t cross-post things to both this site and Slashfood, but this pizza crust warrants an exception.

This crust is a recipe from the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It caught my eye because there was a tagline that said “great pizza without an 800-degree oven.” I guess it doesn’t take much to convince me.

I’ve made good pizzas at home, but never a great pizza until now. The crust was incredibly easy to put together and baked up light, crispy and full of air pockets, which I love to see in my crusts. The dough was actually made in the food processor, so it took very little effort in terms of mixing and kneading, and it was also very easy to handle.

The secret to the crust is the use of cake flour. In a commercial pizza oven, the dough cooks so quickly that a high protein flour (like bread flour) is needed to maintain the chewiness of the crust and keep the pizza from drying out. In a home oven, the pizza spends more time cooking because it is done at a lower temperature; the high-protein flour doughs take too long to cook, resulting in a tough pizzza, while the dough made with the low-protein cake flour cooked faster and delivered a crust with a tender interior and crisp crust. You can view a photo essay of the pizza-making process here.

The other key to this recipe is a pizza stone. Pizza stones absorb the heat of the oven and cook the dough from the bottom as well as from the top, producing a crisper, lighter crust. It is imperative that you use a pizza stone to get the best results. I got mine for about $10 at Trader Joe’s. You don’t need an expensive one, any one will do.

Perfect Pizza Crust
(from Cooks Illustrated)
1 1/4 tsp instant or active dry yeast
1 cup water, slightly warm or room temperature
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 cup (4 oz) cake flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 500F with your baking stone on the oven rack.
Combine yeast and water and stir to dissolve.
Combine flours, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend. With the motor running, stream in water/yeast mixture. Continue to process for 1-2 minutes, until dough becomes smooth and satiny. Add an extra tablespoon of flour if the dough becomes too sticky (see photos).
Divide dough into two and shape each piece into a tight ball. Place on a lightly floured surface and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Working with one ball of dough at a time, place on a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough into an 8-inch disk, then stretch the edges gently until the dough is about 12-inches in diameter, rotating the dough by quarter turns as you work. You can also gently stretch the dough by placing it on the backs of your hands, letting the weight of the dough stretch it out.
Transfer the stretched dough onto a baking sheet that has been covered with cornmeal (you can use a pizza peel, if you have one). Spread it with a small amount of the sauce (see recipe below), toppings of your choice and slide it quickly into the oven.
Bake pizza at 500F for 5-10 minutes, until well browned.
Retrieve pizza with baking sheet or pizza peel.
Serve immediately and repeat process with second piece of dough.Makes 2, 12-inch pizzas

Note: You can also use the “convection bake” setting, if your oven has one, and reduce the cooking time by 1-2 minutes. This allows for extra air circulation and could result in a slightly crisper crust, as well as a quicker cooking time.

Pizza Margherita Sauce

Cooks Illustrated offered a really simple sauce with the crust recipe. It’s made from canned tomatoes, so take care to use good ones. I’ve had better sauces, but I’ve also had worse. For a simple recipe, this one isn’t bad.

2 15-oz cans whole plum tomatoes (or diced tomatoes)

1/2 tsp sugar

1 clove garlic (optional – I left it out), minced

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

salt, to taste

Whizz tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor until tomatoes are broken up. Drain with a fine mesh strainer for at least 30 minutes to get rid of excess moisture that could make the dough soggy.

Toppings

Cooks Illustrated recommends using fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces or a simple sprinkle of parmesan if you’re not a big cheese eater. The crust is also excellent with just the toppings and sauce, if you don’t want any cheese. Other options include:

Diced artichoke hearts (pictured above) are delicious, as are other veggies

Thinnly sliced red onion goes with just about everything

Pepperoni or thinnly sliced ham/sausage is always an option for meat eaters

The crust is light, so very “wet” ingredients, like fresh tomatoes, may not be a good choice.

34 comments

  1. Thanks for posting this! I too have been searching for a way to make my homemade pizzas better. Cook’s usually does a very good job with basics like this.

    One thing about baking stones: I’ve found that many of the cheaper ones don’t last as long (I’ve had 3 crack on me within 6 months of owning them). The rectangular one produced by an upscale chain of cooking stores (the one that doesn’t have a French word in the name) has a long warranty, so just keep the receipt, and if it cracks, they’ll replace it for free. It’s a bit more expensive ($30), but not outrageous. Just my two cents on the matter. :)

  2. Thank you so much for this post. Your pizza (and sauce) look perfect.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Anonymous. I would say that I rarely use a pizza stone, so perhaps the lack of use is what makes it last. It sounds like, as with most things, it’s good to go with quality if you’re going to get a lot of use out of it!

  4. Rosa's Yummy Yums

    A very beautiful pizza!

  5. I love Cook’s Illustrated but this one takes them way beyond valuable!

  6. This is a must try. I have Cake Flour at home and am gonna try this weekend.

  7. My mother loves to do parties where everyone makes pizzas together. I saw this recipe in CI and now I will definitely try it with the group this weekend.
    I wanted to let you know I made your raspberry tofu mousse a part of my Mother’s Day brunch and it was a total hit. My husband loved it and wants more! Thanks for the great work!

  8. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe. I’ve used Cook’s older pizza crust recipe, the one with bread flour, for a few years, and it works and tastes great, but is difficult to get thin. I imagine that this recipe, using lower protein flour and this having much less gluten, will be much easier to get thin.

  9. I have seen a similar recipe around for some time. I have been using it for a few years.
    It works very well and the addition of cake flour is a marvel if you like thin pizza crust as we do.
    As for the baking stones -I have a few different ones and the best is to go to a tile store and buy inexpensive unglazed quarry tiles. I have had mine for years. I bought enough to fit on the baking rack or they can be placed on a baking sheet. They can be removed easily and rearranged if need be. I always soak them in cold water and preheat the oven with them until very hot. If they crack, they are very inexpensive to replace.

  10. I made this last nite after drooling over your pictures yesterday. WOW – turned out great!! I found the dough was really tacky, even after adding the extra two tablespoons of flour, but I was still able to work with it. I cut out the step where you pull it BACK out of the oven to top it, and just baked it straight through, toppings and all, for 9 minutes.

    I topped it with a thin layer of Mid’s pizza sauce, some sliced/torn fresh mozzarella, torn homegrown oregano, sliced pepperoni (distributed easier, used less, and no greasy puddles), and then because I had it, some shredded mozzarella. Slid it on the cooking stone from the back of a cornmealed pan, and then when it came out I topped it with torn homegrown basil. YUM!!!

    And the funny thing is I’d picked up the Cook’s Illustrated the nite before seeing your blog entry, but didn’t have time to look through it!

  11. Hi Jeph – I’m glad that the pizza was a hit. I skipped that second step from the magazine, too. Who only wants their cheese half-melted? Weird instruction on the part of CI, I agree.

  12. I just made this again and found that the original method of prebaking the dough, then topping it, made a much crisper crust( try saying that 3 times fast!) Essentionally the top and bottom of the dough are cooked before the topping goes on. We had a taste test with some friends. Everyone like the double baked one better. The pizza that had the filling placed directly on raw dough was good, had crunch too, but not the same. The double baked one got A+ for visuals too.

    x feed me pizza

  13. The Cookbook Junkie

    I made this dough in my bread machine. It was great. I wonder if I could work some whole wheat flour into this recipe. I have regular whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour. Any thoughts on that?

  14. Cookbook Junkie – I would say that the whole wheat pastry flour would be a better choice than the regular whole wheat. I would try substituting a small amount of that for some of the all-purpose flour and see what happens. Maybe 2 ounces (1/2 cup) to start out with, then, assuming that works out, increasing the amount. My suspicion is that with only 1/2 cup, you might get a slightly nuttier taste, but not a lot of texture change. As you increase the ratio, the crust might get a tiny bit chewier.
    I think that it sounds like a great experiment to do. I might have to try it myself, when I have the chance.
    Let me know how it goes.

  15. The Cookbook Junkie

    Thanks. That’s what I was thinking (1/2 cup ww pastry flour subbed for the AP) but that was just a guess. I make pizza every Friday so I’ll try that this week.

  16. Thanks for the recipe Nic. Very good crust. I pre-heated the gas grill to 600+ degrees with the baking stones on the rack. I then prebaked the crust for about 2 minutes, flipped it over and cooked the other side. (it was a little hard to get the dough to keep its shape when placed on the hot stones and I would make 4 smaller shells out of the recipe next time), added toppings and baked again. Nice crisp crust. I have a great no cook pizza sauce that I have been using for years.
    Drain 28 oz tin of diced tomatoes in a sieve. Press out excess moisture. In food processor, add drained tomatoes, 3 – 4 TBSP tomato paste, 1 TBSP olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sea salt, freshly ground pepper, 10 fresh basil leaves or 1 – 2 tsp. dried basil, 2 dried red chilis. Process until smooth. Freeze whatever you can’t use in zip lock freezer bags. If you freeze flat, you can break off chunks of sauce for future projects. You may need to drain excess juice from frozen sauce as it thaws.

  17. About this cornmeal thing…

    I’ve found that in order to guarantee adequate slippery-ness, I have to use so much cornmeal that the resulting pizza has an undesirable grittiness. I know some like it, but I don’t.

    I’ve had much better luck with semolina, which seems to resists moisture as well as cornmeal but without the grittiness.

    But both make a big mess on the countertops and in the oven and on the floor (OK, maybe I’m just a klutz). And if just one little corner of the pizza doesn’t have enough meal under it, a major diasater can occur during the critical peel-to-stone transfer.

    So, I’ve been using parchment. It makes life so much simpler. I typically yank it out from between the pizza and stone before it gets a chance to brown much, generally at about the 6 minute mark when I do my first doneness peek. Although I suspect the paper does act as an insulating layer (and perhaps moisture barrier), in practice I find no difference in taste or texture when using parchment.

    Any opinions on this?

  18. I tried this last night and I can say that is the best pizza crust I have tasted for a pizza made at home. Thank you so much

  19. 1]Hello…for the “Perfect Pizza Crust” recipe u need cake flour, n i have checked many supermarkets n bakeries, wasnt able 2 find cake flour..What if cake flour & pizza stone is excluded ,will da pizza come out well?

    2]As im veggi, what will b da good replacement 4 egg ? Have tried many alternatives n the end-result is heavy, dull, hard cake.

    Best Wishes n keep it up :)

  20. i made it,even without baking it on a special stone, and the crust went out sooooo good! i guess this cake flour really does a thing! thank you so much for the recipe,nic!
    kisses

  21. cake flour….how interesting!!

    Is this similar at all to traditional pizza dough from italy?

  22. I use Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour for any recipe that calls for cake flour and the stuff is absolutely awesome. I made some Texas bran muffins the other day and I forgot to put the oil in them. They came out just as tender without the oil. I froze them and reheated them in the microwave. They were as good as the day I baked them. I attribute the tenderness to the whole wheat pastrly flour as they were fat free. I used Eggbeaters instead of eggs which kept them fat free. They had 12g of fiber in each muffin. Of course my wife won’t sleep with me anymore but choices have to be made.

  23. Would it be possible to make this without a food processor?

  24. I would also like to know if this can be made w/out a food processor, as the one I own is small and I don’t think I will be buying a larger one anytime soon. Thanks

  25. This dough can be made without a food processor, mixing by hand or with a stand mixer’s dough hook. Work the dough vigorously, as a food processor would.

    This basic pizza dough (which I used for grilled pizza) is also easy to make and can be made by hand: http://bakingbites.com/2005/07/cooking-school-grilled-pizza/

  26. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle of the store. It is in a box and the brand name is Swansdown.

  27. Why only use 1-1/4 tsps. of yeast and not one package (2-1/4 tsps.)?

  28. Hi ,
    The way I keep my pizza crusts from getting soggy is to place a layer of shredded cheese on the ( unbaked ) crust and then bake for a few minutes until it’s melted , then I put on the sauce and the toppings finishing off with more shredded cheese on top . Hope this helps anyone who winds up with soggy crusts .

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