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New York Style Cast Iron Pizza

(with very little kneading)

Cast Iron Pizza castironpizza2.jpg

This dish requires about three hours' preparation time, though that includes two hours and fifteen minutes for your crust dough to rise.

Pans needed: A cast iron skillet, griddle, dutch oven, or other pan, 10 more inches in diameter. (In January of 2012 I prepared this dish using the Lodge 14-inch cast iron pizza pan. I used exactly the same amount of ingredients…and the results were incredible!)

Preparing the dough

I've tried using the no-knead bread method to raise dough, which requires only 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and 8 to 12 hours rising time. Almost every time I've tried this method, the yeast has spoiled and given the dough a fermented, alcoholic scent and flavor. I've found more success using the "turbo" method, which is to add more yeast and use a shorter rising time.

Begin by proofing the yeast: In the bottom of a large mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup bread flour, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water. Stir it together. Wait 5 to 10 minutes for the yeast to bloom: a foam will begin forming on the surface of the liquid.

Once the yeast has bloomed, add additional ingredients to the same bowl: flour, salt, olive oil, and corn oil. Mix thoroughly to create a dough. I've made this dough by hand with a wooden spoon, and also with a mixture. I must admit the best consistency of the dough – stretchy and soft – comes from using a mixer with a bread hook. The dough should be mixed on medium to high for ten minutes.

One advantage of homemade dough over store-bought dough is you can flavor it to your taste. You can add whatever spices you want to give the crust a flavor to your taste, such as garlic powder, basil, rosemary, oregano, and so on. This is entirely optional, because "plain" pizza dough on its own is delicious when baked into a traditional pizza.

If you have an electric mixer, you can set it to mix the dough at a low setting for 10 minutes. This will produce a very soft and spongy pizza dough.

Cover the bowl with a cloth or towel, and let stand for about 2 and 1/4 hours (two hours and fifteen minutes), or longer if possible. Alternately, let the covered bowl stand for one hour to rise, then place the bowl into your refrigerator for a slow rising dough, and leave it for at least 24 to 48 hours.

The risen dough will be enough for two large-sized pizzas, of the size baked in a large 14-inch pizza pan; or three typical pizzas (which can be cooked in a 10 to 12-inch cast iron skillet). When you are ready to use this batch of dough, separate the dough into two equal-sized balls of dough. One ball of dough will be enough to make a pizza pie of up to 14 inches in diameter. The second ball of dough can be used to make a second pizza, or a second layer of the same pizza (if you're making a stuffed crust!); or it can be frozen for another time.

Example: On September 15, 2013, I prepared the dough in the mixer at 8:00 PM, then covered the mixing bowl with a towel and let it rise on the kitchen countertop overnight. At 5:00 AM the next morning, nine hours later, the dough had risen to the point where the bowl was about two-thirds full. I then covered the bowl with plastic wrap, placed it in the refrigerator, then took it out for baking that evening at about 6:00 PM. At this point, I split it into two balls of dough; one dough ball was wrapped and placed into the freezer for another time. The other dough ball was spread out in the pan, and left to come to room temperature for an hour before the toppings were added, and the pizza baked in the oven. The resulting pie had a crust that was over half an inch thick, firm and well cooked, but still deliciously chewy.

Making the pizza

(If you're unable to make your own dough, this also works with store-bought pizza dough!)

If you've risen your dough in the refrigerator, or if you're using store-bought (and chilled) dough, allow the dough to come to room temperature before use.

At least one hour before baking your pizza (up to three hours at most), take out your cast iron skillet or pan (with a diameter of 10 to 12 inches). Coat the surface of the pan (including the sides, if you're using a cast iron skillet) with extra-virgin olive oil. Add on a sprinkle of black pepper, to add spice to your pizza crust.

On your countertop, pour a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil, perhaps a teaspoon of oil at most. Spread the oil over your entire work space. This will keep the dough from sticking to the countertop as you spread it out. Place the dough onto your oiled work space, or simply scoop or dump it out of the bowl. Spread the dough out until you have a flat, round dough about a little wider than your pan. You can rolling pin to help roll and spread out the dough.

Pick up the dough, and spread it into your oiled pizza pan. Spread it out so that the dough covers the entire pan. Sprinkle on about a tablespoon of corn meal or semolina flour over the top, to give it a dry surface without drying the dough. Don't add the toppings yet: let the dough rest and rise more while it is in the pan. (If you're going to let it rest in the pan more than an hour, cover the pan with plastic wrap.) It will rise very slowly at first; but if you are letting it rest for a long time, after two hours there will be a considerable increase in the rising.

45 minutes to an hour before baking the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. As the oven is heating, prepare your ingredients. Have your pizza toppings ready to be added (mushrooms sliced, meats cooked and prepared if you use sausage, hamburg, chicken, or other meats as toppings).

When the oven temperature has reached 500 degrees, it will be time to prepare your dough to go into the oven. Uncover the pan and with your fists, gently punch down the dough to remove the gas. This is very easy, as you can see from this YouTube video on how to punch down pizza dough. This will condense it and remove the extra gas from the dough. The resulting dough will be very spongy and moist – but you will be able to press it into a flat pizza dough. This is all you need for a thin crust pizza. The dough will still rise in your pan when it cooks.

In this order, add your pizza toppings:

(In professional pizza houses, the ingredients are added to the pizza while it is still on the pizza peel; here, we place the dough and ingredients onto the pan before placing it into the oven. This helps to reduce the risk of spilling the ingredients as you place the pizza onto the pan.)

Place the whole pizza into the hot oven. Bake for 20 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from the oven and place the cast iron pan onto a trivet, cooling rack, or stovetop. Leave the pizza in the pan for another five minutes: the hot iron will continue to cook the bottom of the pizza. This is the best reason to make pizza in a cast iron pan!

The pan will still be hot. Using your gloves and a heavy spatula, slide the blade around the edges of the pizza to release it from the pan (especially any parts where the sauce touched the side of the pan and cooked into a seal). Now, using your spatula – or a pizza peel, if you want – you can slide the pizza out of the pan and onto your serving tray.

Here's a YouTube video showing the making of a cast iron deep dish pizza.