After more than forty years of baking pizza, I’ve come to believe in these key methods: 1)Let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator; 2)Use parchment paper under each pizza; 3) Put the cheese UNDER the sauce (thanks, ATK); Bake one pie at a time on a pizza steel at the bottom of a 500 degree oven.

Six 12″ pizzas:

Combine 1 3/4 cups warm water with 2 tsp dry yeast–let sit until yeast dissolves (5-10 minutes) whisk in 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.

In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine 600 grams of bread flour or all purpose, plus 25 grams of spelt (or white or regular whole wheat). The high protein bread flour makes the crust chewy and the spelt adds flavor. (To transform all purpose flour into bread flour, add 30 grams of vital wheat gluten and 30 grams of barley malt powder to 540 grams of all purpose) Add 5 grams of salt (a scant teaspoon) and process until blended. With the machine is running, slowly pour in water/yeast/oil mixture, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Let rest 15 minutes. Process again until the dough is smooth. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover, then let it rise in the refrigerator at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Place the baking steel on the bottom rack or on the bottom of the oven itself. Remove the other racks from the oven so it’s easy to maneuver. Preheat to 500 at least 1/2 hour before you start to bake.

An hour or so before you want to bake, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and cut the dough into six pieces. Press or roll out each pizza on a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour. (Just using a pizza peel to move the pizzas into the oven was too tricky for me; sometimes the dough stuck to the surface and wouldn’t slide.) I press, then let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes, then use a rolling pin to get the dough thin enough, to roughly 12″ rounds or rectangles. (I tried the “gentle” method of cutting the dough into six individual pieces for the refrigerator rise and then patting and pulling in order not to deflate the air bubbles, but my recipe and method produce almost as many air bubbles with much less fuss, and anyway I prefer that the middle of the pizza have a thin crust.) Cover the pizza dough with shredded Italian cheese. (I like Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio which contains shredded fontina, asiago, parmesan and provolone–all more flavorful than mozzarella–and without cellulose, a wood pulp fiber added to other packaged shredded cheeses to prevent clumping.) 12 ounces will cover six pizzas, although you could use more.

Then use an angled spatula to spread marinara sauce on each pizza, yes, OVER the cheese in the center, leaving a 1/2 inch to one inch rim. This gives the cheese a chance to bond to the dough (including the edges) and prevents it from slipping off when you take a bite after it is baked. Putting the sauce on top also allows some of the moisture in the marinara to evaporate, intensifying the flavor. You could put basil leaves under the sauce, too (as in the photo above) but I think fresh basil tastes better scattered on the pizza AFTER baking. Use between 24 and 28 ounces of sauce on the six pizzas. You can also let the pizzas rise for another 15-20 minutes, or you can start baking as soon as they all have been covered with cheese and sauce. The extra rise makes makes the edges (especially) more puffy.

Since you’ve put each pizza on a separate piece of parchment, it’s easy to slide each one onto the baking steel into the preheated 500 degree oven. A pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet works well to slide the pizzas on and off the steel. Bake about 11-13 minutes–the edges should be brown, and if you lift the bottom of the pizza, the bottom should be brown too, although it won’t be as brown as the edges. The other pizzas will be fine waiting to bake.

A pizza steel will last forever. Since I put one in my convection oven, I no longer have to rotate cookie sheets when baking cookies to avoid burning the ones on the bottom rack. I leave the steel in the oven, because it’s heavy and also because it makes the oven more efficient by holding heat.

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