Pizza Prep: a New Year's Eve make-ahead, stay-at-home feast

Did you know New Year’s is one of the biggest takeout pizza occasions of the year?

Truth. In order, more takeout pizza is consumed on 1) Halloween, 2) Super Bowl Sunday, 3) New Year’s Eve, 4) New Year’s Day, and 5) Thanksgiving Eve, than any other days of the year.

Now, put New Year’s Eve and Day together, and you’ve got one hot pizza holiday!

I love takeout pizza. But that’s because I love ALL pizza. Like Chinese food, and brownies, and spaghetti and meatballs, and cinnamon toast, it just never gets old for me. I could eat pizza every day – save for the calories (and their immediate application to my hips).

So, pizza is an occasional (and thus special) treat. And if that’s the place it holds in my life, I’d just as soon my pizza be homemade (thanks just the same, Pizza Hut).

For the past few years, I’ve been making giant, rectangular, thick-crust Sicilian-style pizzas for an annual family party – and they get rave reviews. When you’re used to takeout (as I assume the vast majority of Americans are), homemade is a revelation.

My pizzas are topped not with typical Italian toppings, but with sautéed Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and three-cheese sauce; or with scallions, Buffalo chicken bits, and a scatter of blue cheese crumbles.

Sometimes I lay down a base of Brie, and arrange golden roasted potato chunks on top; other times, it’s steak tips, cheddar, and roasted peppers, for a “steak bomb” approach.

So many homemade pizzas – so little time!

The holidays are about to wrap up, with one final occasion to break out the bubbly: New Year’s. And while I won’t be hosting the party this year (it’s someone else’s turn!), I’ve volunteered to supply part of the buffet dinner: make-your-own pizza. Or, top-your-own pizza, to be exact, because I’ll have the crusts made, shaped, and baked when I arrive at the festivities.

If there’s any challenge at all to homemade pizza, it’s making the crust. I mean, who can’t drizzle tomato sauce and sprinkle cheese? No, it’s that pesky crust that makes people think twice about the pizza recipe, then speed-dial Domino’s.

The solution? Make the crust ahead of time, without the pressure of a hard deadline. I’ve taken to always making my crust ahead – and I don’t mean just the dough. I make the dough, let it rise, shape it, let it rise again, then bake it halfway. When it’s just set, and its bottom beginning to brown, I pull it out of the oven, cool it, and wrap. If I’ll be using it within a few days, it sits on the counter; for longer storage, it goes in the freezer. Either way, when pizza sounds its siren song, I have crust ready – awaiting only its toppings and a quick trip through a hot oven.

Tuesday is New Year’s Eve – which means tonight I’ll start the crust, tomorrow I’ll finish it, and Tuesday night I’ll bring it to the party, along with a selection of toppings, from classic pepperoni and mozzarella to Cabot Habanero cheddar, sautéed baby bellas, roasted cheery tomatoes, and crisp fried bacon (of course). Everyone will have their own personal pizza to top and enjoy – while the hostess and I kick back with a glass of wine.

This New Year’s Eve, think outside the (takeout) box – homemade pizza is terrific, and much easier than you think.

First, decide how many crusts you want to make. Here’s a rule of thumb: a recipe using 3 cups of flour will yield 10 personal-sized (about 6″ diameter) medium-crust pizzas; or six 6″ diameter thick-crust pizzas; or 10 “cracker crust” (ultra thin crust) pizzas, about 7″ in diameter.

My suggestion: go with the medium-crust pizzas, unless you know for sure you’ll be feeding a NYC-style, cracker-crust crowd; or a group that goes for thick, Sicilian-style crusts.

The following recipe for Now or Later Pizza (either version, with or without semolina) makes 10 medium-thick, 6″ crusts; it’s easily doubled to make 20 crusts, for larger gatherings.

Since I really do enjoy a nicely flavored pizza crust – rather than some cardboardy thing that’s only there to corral the toppings – I give my dough an overnight rest in the fridge before shaping. As the chilled dough continues to rise, slowly, the yeast creates alcohol and organic acids – both wonderful flavor carriers.

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Combine the following:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Pizza Dough Flavor (optional, but delicious)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup lukewarm water

Beat the ingredients at high speed for 2 minutes, using your stand mixer equipped with the beater blade. Switch to the dough hook, and knead for 7 minutes; the dough should be smooth and quite soft. You can also make the dough in a bread machine set on the dough cycle.

If kneading by hand, mix the ingredients, then let the dough rest, covered, for about 30 minutes; this will give the flour a chance to absorb the water, which will make kneading easier.

Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 45 minutes; then refrigerate it for 4 hours (or up to 36 hours); this step will develop the crust’s flavor. It’ll continue to rise in the fridge, so make sure it’s in a big enough bowl.

Note: If you’re in a hurry and don’t care to refrigerate the dough, let it rise in the bowl for about 90 minutes before using.

When you’re ready to make the crusts, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and gently deflate it.

Next, divide the dough into however many crusts you think you’d like to make. A piece of dough somewhere in size between a golf ball and billiard ball (about 2 1/4 ounces, about 64g) will make the size pizzas mentioned above: a medium-thickness crust, about 5 1/2″ to 6″ diameter. So divide your dough into 10 pieces, if this is the size you want.

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Gently stretch each piece into a flattened disk about 5 1/2″ in diameter. Lay the disks on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets (3 or 4 to a sheet), and let them rest while you’re preheating the oven to 425°F.

If you have a pizza stone, now’s your chance to use it; place it on the bottom shelf of the oven as the oven preheats.

Not into standard crusts? Try a cracker-thin, New York-style crust.

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An easy way to create this super-thin crust is to place a flattened ball of dough on a 9″ parchment cake round. Cover with more parchment, and roll VERY thin – the disk will stretch to about 7″ diameter. Remove the top piece of parchment, but leave the crust on the bottom piece; it’s too thin to try to transfer to a pan.

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Once the oven is heated, bake the standard crusts for about 10 to 12 minutes, or just until their bottoms start to brown. You may also see the slightest bit of brown on top, too. You want the crusts set (done enough so they won’t deflate), but not completely baked.

If you’re baking thin cracker crusts, bake just until the very edges of the crust are brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. If you see it ballooning up like pita bread, just stick your hand into the oven and poke it with a sharp knife; it’ll deflate.

Now, what about if you like those thick, Sicilian-style crusts?

Divide the dough into six pieces initially, rather than 10. Flatten each piece into a round about 5 1/2″ in diameter. Place the rounds on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, cover the sheet, and let them rise for 1 to 2 hours, until they’re quite puffy.

Bake these thick crusts for about 13 minutes.

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Here’s the result of my various size experiments: four standard crusts; one cracker crust; and three thick crusts, from one 3-cup-flour dough recipe.

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And here’s the difference between a cracker crust, and a thick crust.

They all look pretty unprepossessing, don’t they? Never fear; dress them up with toppings, and you’ll see them in a whole new light.

First, though, decide if you want to bake pizzas right away, or store the crusts until later.

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To store, simply wrap them as airtight as possible in a big bag, and leave them at room temperature for several days. If it’s particularly hot and/or humid, freeze them – which is also what you’d do for longer storage, up to a month or so.

At some point, someone’s going to say, “Can we have pizza tonight?”

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Sure!

If the crusts have been frozen, let them thaw, unwrapped at room temperature, while you prepare your toppings. Don’t worry, they’ll warm up quickly.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (again using a stone, if you have one).

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Top the pizzas as desired. This is the fun part – let everyone do their own thing.

Bake the pizzas on the stone, or on a lower rack of the oven, for about 15 minutes; the cracker crust will be done a couple of minutes sooner. Your goal is pizzas that are nicely browned, top and bottom; move them around in the oven if necessary (bottom to top, top to bottom), to achieve this goal.

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Remove the pizzas from the oven. Dig in!

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Nice crusts: thick on the bottom, standard on top.

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Here’s a shot of all three thicknesses – see why that thin crust on top is called “cracker”?

Now, one final note: don’t feel you have to make one of these three specific crust types. Want a slightly puffier standard crust? Let it rise longer. A cracker crust with a bit of chew? Let it rise for 30 minutes or so. How about a thick crust that’s more substantial, and not QUITE as tall? Let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes, instead of 2 hours.

See where I’m going here? To a large extent, the final thickness of your crust depends on how long you let it rise before baking. Experiment; you’ll soon discover your preferred degree of thickness.

Note: While this method can be applied to any pizza dough recipe, I used our recipe for Now or Later Pizza.

Happy New Year! All of us here at King Arthur Flour wish you a joyful, healthy 2014, filled with laughter, love, and good things from your kitchen.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Yes, it gets the yeast on good solid footing before you slow it down. You can certainly refrigerate it right away, but it’ll slow down the next rise considerably. PJH

  1. Jim

    Now I can say my secrets have been published, so additional tips:
    – for the cracker style crust, poking the rolled dough all over with a fork helps prevent the bubbling and you don’t have to open oven to prick crust bubble with knife tip
    – as noted, a little olive oil on the parchment allows the dough to spread-out evenly and adds non-stick, oil also helps keep toppings from soaking into the crust
    – thin crusts can turn to soggy crust with the wrong toppings, we like to not use sauce and choose tomatoes sliced very thin
    – great approach for cooking pizza on the bbq, just make sure to trim edges of parchment to the pizza size as it can char/burn. the pre-cook before topping works great there and guests can choose toppings, put them back on cover to warm toppings and melt cheese

    Reply
  2. margie

    I was wondering about your thoughts on using The Baking Steel for home pizza bsking. I have two ovens, three large pizza stones, five kids (plus friends)…every one is hungry at the same time on Fridays! Once in a while we break a stone and have to purchase another. And, your partially baked and saved crusts is truely brilliant-less waiting. Oh and my first 5 jars of pizza flavor arrived yesterday, in the bread machine now.

    For that cheese commenter, I was wondering if a dairy based, lactose-free mozzarella existed.
    Thank you, Margie in California

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I found that it works just as well as a pizza stone in home ovens for pizza, if not a bit better as it heats so quickly. Also, you would be hard pressed to break one, they are solid steel! Jon@KAF

  3. Anneedelweiss

    Ah – pizza! I make pizza every week. I simply love the concept of pizza as food. One may say a pizza crust is a blank canvas onto which we can design with whatever edible we desire, as a painter is free to draw whatever he fancies. And we get to eat our handwork at the end. How cool is that!

    Long ago I didn’t eat much pizza. But it began maybe about fifteen/twenty years ago, a wide array of very good pizzas suddenly could be found in all sorts of places. Pizzerias, ristorantes, bakeries, and even some supermarkets offer pizzas that are far from run-of-the-mill stuff, but often with that special touch in the choice of ingredients, the combination of ingredients, and almost always nicely done and delicious. Some pizzas are so charmingly put together that I can’t help but to pause and admire the aesthetics of it before I sink my teeth into the pie.

    Since pizza is such a convenient receptacle for all manner of ingredients the varieties seem to be endless. Some toppings that don’t take well to high heat are placed on the pizza after baking. One idea I like – and easily doable at home – is to scatter micro-greens or baby veggies on the pizza when the pie is piping hot, just before serving. It’s like having my pizza and eating my salad, too! At home, it’s easy to use full-sized veggies made small: thin strips of basil or mint or shiso, hand-torn lettuce, shaved young fennel bulb, curvy strings of scallion, or something with more of a “bite”, such as radish tops.

    My favorite bakery in the neighborhood is known for many of their fine goodies, among them their daily pizza. Their pizza is always thin-crust with a hint of sourdough, vegetarian, a different offer every day. The first pizza is scheduled to come out at 11 a.m., but way before then the incredibly alluring aroma of pizza-in-the-oven would have already attracted a line of customers. The bakery has this big bowl of olive oil infused with various fresh herbs – I can see it even from the coffee counter. With a pastry brush the server would dab the hot pizza generously with this aromatic greenish oil before slicing. I unapologetically do the same at home – using a much smaller bowl, of course.

    For me, the crust is what makes any good pizza better. Recently I got to try a box of KAF ‘classic pizza crust mix’. The dough was a bit gritty to the touch because of all the semolina, but it came together very easily. I didn’t need to use all of the dry mix. The baked pizza was very tasty, and this crust came out differently from all of the homemade recipes I have tried. What’s in the box? If I use this mix again, I’d want to experiment adding a bit of my own sourdough. I wonder how does this ‘pizza crust mix’ compare with KAF ‘pizza blend flour’?

    Happy New Year!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      And a happy New Year to you, too – thanks so much for your wide-ranging thoughts about one of my very favorite foods. To answer your question, the pizza crust mix includes soft Italian-style flour, semolina and seasonings; the pizza blend is high-protein durum and all-purpose flours with a touch of dough conditioner and baking powder. So they’re actually quite different; the blend doesn’t include semolina, which gives crust that very slight gritty/crunchy quality. Cheers – PJH

    2. Anneedelweiss

      PJ, thanks so much for the pizza mix/flour explanation. You guys spoil your customers – and I am grateful for it!

      So the KAF ‘classic pizza crust mix’ is more than a box of pizza flour with a packet of yeast. I like this mix a lot – it gives a golden, crunchy crust with a lot of favor, and super easy. But the curiosity in me will want to try the pizza flour next time. No, I am not looking for that ‘best’ crust – I’ve rarely met a pizza I don’t like. Just curious. But whatever kind of pizza there is in front of me I’ll be taking smaller slices, for I have resolved to lose ten pounds this year! (When one fails, one tries again…)

      Thanks again for being such a great resource for home-bakers. Already I am counting the days when your April Fool 2014 comes out!

      Happy New Year everyone! May all your New Year wishes come true!

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