A Classic Pizza Margherita

Makes enough dough for at least eight one-half pound pizzas or flatbreads (about 12 inches across). The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

3¼ cups lukewarm water

¼ cup olive oil

1 tbsp. active dry or instant yeast (or 1 packet)

1 to 1½ tablespoons coarse salt (plus more for sprinkling on top)

1 tablespoon sugar

7½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup tomato sauce

3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (cut into 1/2-inch chunks)

4 fresh basil leaves (whole, thinly slivered or torn)

Olive oil for drizzling over the pizza before baking

Flour, cornmeal or parchment for the pizza peel

Mixing and Storing the Dough

Add olive oil, yeast, salt, and sweetener to the water in a 5-quart bowl or in a lidded (not airtight) plastic food container.  

Measure the flour with the “scoop-and-sweep” method. Then mix in the flour: Add all of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon, dough whisk,
14-cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). Don’t knead, it isn’t necessary.  

Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight), leave it open a crack for the first 48 hours  and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it begins to flatten on the top, approximately two hours. Do not punch down the dough!  

After rising, refrigerate and use over the next 14 days; the dough will develop sourdough characteristics with storage. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. The first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least three hours) before use. Once refrigerated, the dough will collapse, and it will never rise again in the bucket — that’s normal.  

On Pizza Day

Prepare and measure toppings in advance: This will help you top the pizza quickly so you can get it into the oven before it sticks to the pizza peel.  

Thirty minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat a baking stone at your oven’s highest temperature, with the baking stone placed in the bottom third of the oven.

Shape a ball in 20 to 30 seconds.  Prepare a pizza peel with flour, cornmeal or parchment to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour. Cut off a half-pound (orange-sized) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the piece of dough and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the dough a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball.  

Roll out and stretch a pizza crust: Flatten the dough with your hands and a rolling pin on the counter or directly onto the pizza peel to produce a one-eight inch-thick round, 12 inches across, dusting with flour to keep the dough from adhering to your work surface. Use a dough scraper to “un-stick” the dough as needed, and transfer it to the prepared pizza peel if you haven’t stretched the dough directly on one. When you’re finished, it should have enough flour under it to move easily when you shake the peel. The pizza should move freely. If it doesn’t, use the dough scraper and some flour to un-stick.  

Add the toppings:  Spread the tomato sauce over the dough, leaving a half-inch border at the edges, then add the cheese and basil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Drizzle a little olive oil over the pizza.

Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone: Place the tip of the peel near the back of the stone, give the peel a few quick forward-and-back jiggles and pull it sharply out from under the pizza. Check for doneness in eight to 10 minutes and turn the pizza around in the oven if one side is browning too fast. It may take up to five more minutes. Allow to cool slightly, preferably on a wire cooling rack, so that the cheese sets.  

(Recipe copyright 2011, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, adapted from “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2011))