When the pies just wouldn't work, a hands-on lesson with no-knead dough guru Jim Lahey was the only answer
Lessons learned: Jim Lahey agreed to meet with me and show me a few tips in pizza baking. Here are the five lessons I learned from the pizza guru. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)
3 3/4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping dough
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 ½ cups water
1. Blend the flour, yeast and salt in a medium bowl. Add the water; mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or your hands.
2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Allow to rise at room temperature 18 hours or until it has more than doubled.
3. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Divide 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 matter; what you want is 4 folds.) Shape each portion into a round; turn seam-side down. Mold dough balls into neat circular mounds. If the mounds are sticky, dust with more flour.
Do ahead: The dough can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap; chill. Before shaping disks, unwrap dough balls; let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured surface, covered with plastic wrap, 2-3 hours.
Shape the disk
Take 1 ball of dough; dust dough, work surface and your hands with flour. Press dough down and gently stretch it out to 6-8 inches. Gently continue, massaging it into a roundish disk of 10 to 12 inches, stroking and shaping with your palms and fingers. (Or, use Lahey's Hurricane method, on the cover.)
1. If using a pizza stone, place it on a rack about 8 inches from the broiler. Heat oven on bake to hottest setting, 500-550 degrees, 30 minutes. (If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in middle of the oven; heat to its hottest setting. Do not preheat the baking sheet.) Then switch to broil for 10 minutes.
2. Sprinkle a pizza peel (or inverted rimmed baking sheet) lightly with flour. Place dough disk on peel (or inverted baking sheet); top with desired toppings. With quick, jerking motions, slide pizza onto the stone. Broil until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt, 3 minutes. If using a baking sheet, bake pizza on baking sheet until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 5 minutes between pizzas
Margherita pie Spoon 1/4 cup basic tomato sauce over a prepared dough disk, spreading evenly and leaving an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute 2 1/2 ounces fresh mozzarella, pulled into 5 clumps, evenly over the pie. Slide the pie onto a heated pizza stone. Broil 3 to 4 minutes, until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burned. Transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano and a pinch fine sea salt evenly over the pizza. Scatter 6 basil leaves on top.
Basic tomato sauce: Drain 1 can (28 ounces) peeled Italian plum tomatoes. Run tomatoes through a food mill over a bowl to create a pulp (not a fine puree; you want to retain some texture). If you don't have a food mill, just squish them with your hands. Stir in 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. (Sauce does not cook before going on pizza.)