Cook's Illustrated's Thin-Crust Pizza: Works Like a Charm
Last week I linked to Cook's Illustrated's Thin-Crust Pizza recipe on the magazine's website (subscription required*), promising that I'd try it and then dish.
You may know that the motto of the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen empire is "Recipes That Work." This one does.** Like a charm. But you grokked that from the title above, right?
The crust texture was superb, producing, potentially, some of the best pizza I've made in my home oven in some time. The flavor was good, too. By the time I got to the end crust, I kept on eating. The only minor quibble I had was that it could have been a bit more salty. But that may have been my fault: I used coarse salt instead of table salt. Note that when Cook's calls for just "salt," the magazine means table salt, calling for kosher salt when necessary. (I've got a batch in the fridge salted with table salt now and will see how that works.)
Regular Slice visitors know that my crust texture as of late has been plagued by a quality that my wife (my personal guinea pig and taste-tester) describes as "creepy bagel" — a thin, outer skin that's crisp yet way too tough, way too chewy. The Cook's crust passed muster with her, crisp on the bottom and the ends and airy and just soft enough in the interior.
The sauce is easy enough to blitz together. It, too, uses the food processor. My tip is to do the sauce first, since it's easier to clean the blade and bowl after this step than after the dough. The sauce uses a nice amount of oregano, that mainstay of New York–style pizza sauce, and a fair amount of garlic. The garlic is a strong note in the finished sauce, so any minor-league vampires out there may want to back down on it a bit.
The basic recipe calls for finely grated Parmesan and freshly grated whole-milk mozzarella cheeses. In the photo montage above, I'm saucing and topping the first of the two pizzas that this recipe yields. Here's what it looked like postoven:
Whoa! Puffy rim, huh? That's my fault. I didn't stretch the first one thin enough.
See, the recipe calls for an eventual 13-inch round. That's really pushing it for the diameter of stone I have, which is, well, about 13 inches. So I stretched to the usual diameter I'm comfortable with. The result was that the edges, where sauce and cheese were not weighing down the crust, poofed up to something like you might see at L.A.'s Pizzeria Mozza.
Girl Slice, I have to report, LOVED the puffy rim. "It's like something you'd get at Motorino," she said. (If only I had topped this thing with brussels sprouts!)
No worries on the puffy rim, though. When I stretched the second dough ball to 13 inches, the pizza came out pretty much as I imagine Andrew Janjigian, the CI writer who came up with it, intended it:
Bottom line: I really love this crust. I think it's super for first-time or novice pizzamakers and that it should please even the dough-whisperers out there.
The only major "problem" I had with it? It sort of obviates the need for me to play around with sourdough starters, persnickety flour blends, and elaborate oven hacks — all stuff I like to tinker with.
As some of you noted in the comments of my post last week, the CI recipe is pretty similar to Kenji's New York–style Pizza at Home recipe. I'll reiterate that both Kenji and Andrew Janjigian, who developed the Cook's technique, worked independently of one another, neither aware of what the other was up to. The hallmarks of both recipes include using a food processor to whiz the dough up quickly and a 24- to 72-hour "cold fermentation" period in the refrigerator.
If you're new to Slice and/or DIY pizzamaking, the "cold rise" is a popular technique for producing a crust that's far more flavorful than one you'd get with a same-day mix-and-rise. As Cook's Illustrated explains:
Fermentation is a two-phase process: First, the carbohydrates in the dough are converted by the yeast to sugars, alcohol, and acids. Next, these convert to carbon dioxide, expanding the bubbles created in the dough when it was first mixed. At room temperature, the process moves rapidly to the production of carbon dioxide. But in the fridge, the process is slowed way down. With enough time, the complex-tasting sugars, alcohol, and acids form, but very little carbon dioxide gets converted, so the bubbles in the dough stay small and the crust bakes up both thin and more flavorful.
If you have never made pizza before, or have only made same-day doughs, believe me when I say that the cold rise will change your pizzamaking life. It changed mine, and I almost can't bring myself to make same-day doughs now.
* Yes, subscription is required to get the recipe on the CI website, but the good folks there have granted Slice/Serious Eats permission to republish it. You can grab Cook's Illustrated's Thin-Crust Pizza recipe here »
** Girl Slice and I have a digital subscription to the website, and own several of the CI cookbooks. It's been our experience that, yes, the recipes we've cooked from do indeed work.