Alton Brown’s Pizza

In honor and anticipation of this weekend’s cooking seminar in Nashville, I made Alton Brown’s pizza dough as seen in the classic episode Flat is Beautiful and in his most recent book, I’m Just Here for More Food. In fact, I’m sitting in the passenger seat as Jennifer drives us on the first leg of our trip to Nashville. We’re both excited to see Alton in action. I can safely say that AB has made me understand more about cooking than anyone else on any other subject.

Pizza may be my favorite food (desserts notwithstanding). Throughout college, whenever my vote for pizza dinners was questioned, I’d let it be known that pizza consists of all four food groups. I think it’s the ultimate comfort food, warm and chewy. Maybe it just takes me back to fun nights in college chewing the.. crust. Oh, and when we go to New York City.. of course, there are so many delights in the big city, but seeking out new purveyors of pizza is one of my greatest.

Alton’s pizza dough recipe is straight forward. The dough was prepared using the straight dough method (all ingredients combined at once, leavening time, then baking) using AP flour (454g), salt (11g), a bit of sugar (5g), and (next time as we didn’t have any in the house) a children’s chewable aspirin (for the vitamin C). Warm water (1 1/4 cups) was the only wet ingredient.

As suggested, I used instant yeast in the dough, about 2 1/4 tsp (the same as the little packets). I had to order some online as I couldn’t find any locally. From AB’s Flat is Beautiful episode (remember the yeast sock puppets?), instant yeast is preferable to active dry yeast because it can be added directly to the mixer without blooming it first in warm water. While they look similar (like little tubes), active dry yeast has less active yeast in the center of each tube than instant yeast. The instant yeast did its job admirably and made a wonderful smell as the dough proofed.

Once the dough was mixed, it rested in the mixer for 15 minutes. After about 8 minutes of kneading, the dough was well developed and made a window when stretched (maintained a membrane when stretched instead of tearing). The dough was removed from the mixer, formed into a ball, tossed with olive oil, and left alone for two hours at which time it had doubled in size. At this time, the dough was flattened, folded into thirds one way, then the other, and flattened again. In a plastic covered container, the dough spent the night in the fridge.

One thing that comes up time and again in Alton’s cookbooks and Good Eats episodes is that patience is rewarded. In a world that emphasizes speed and compromises quality, it is reassuring to hear the voice of patience. For example, I had tried to make foccacia many times over the years with various recipes, all of them finished in at most a few hours. Then I found a recipe (I’ll make it again and blog about it soon) that used a biga and took the better part of a day to make. That patience was rewarded with foccacia that tasted like that in some of our favorite restaurants.

Late the next morning as lunchtime approached, I bench proofed the blobs for about an hour. I heated an oven and pizza stone to 500 degrees, the highest temperature, and set out to working the dough into pizza shapes. While not nearly as adept as the professionals, I do enjoy spinning dough into the air. As AB points out, this is not just for show but does help stretch out the dough and helps to make a nice, circular pizza.

The pizza dough recipe yielded enough to make four pizza crusts. I constructed one pizza for lunch and followed his recommendation to parbake the three remaining dough blobs into pizza crusts and stashed them in the freezer. I baked them for three minutes which gave them a little crust and made them easy to handle. He suggests letting them thaw to room temperature before topping and baking them through, probably just long enough to let the toppings reach the desired gooeyness.

In the end, the pizza I finished had a well constructed crust that was just crisp enough and nicely chewy. The webbing or yeast-belch pockets in the crust were not too big, not too small. I opted for a simple pizza starting with a brushing of olive oil topped with some fresh basil, a thin layer of the best store-bought jar of pizza sauce available locally, garlic (of course), and mozarella cheese.

I’ll need to experiment and practice to get my pizzas to be comparable to a NY pizza, but this was a good start. Given my love of the pie, I will continue testing different recipes and will make this a series of posts.

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16 Comments

  1. Nicole August 12, 2006 Reply

    For an easy and really really good pizza sauce, I use a recipe from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison. Chop a couple cloves of garlic and saute for a minute in olive oil. Add one large can crushed tomatoes, some salt and fresh ground pepper. Cook it until the sauce gets thick…I usually cook it for about an hour, stirring every once in a while. It’s so simple but it tastes amazing on the pizza!

  2. Ellie August 12, 2006 Reply

    That first picture of the cut crust with the cheese is so…well, it’s changed my mind about what’s for lunch :P

    And I didn’t know that about instant yeast and active dry yeast! I’ve only got the latter – will have to see if I can track the former down!

  3. Jennifer August 12, 2006 Reply

    Thanks for the pizza sauce tip, Nicole. I’ll pass it on to Quinn. I usually leave him in charge of pizza.

    Ellie, I know what you mean about that picture. Quinn made this while I was at work, and when I saw that picture I was sad that I missed it. There are those few in the freezer…

  4. Author
    quinn August 13, 2006 Reply

    Nicole, you read my mind! As much as I love to tinker with pizza, I have never made a sauce for it. Your suggestion sounds great. I do always make my own pasta sauce, and that recipe sounds similiar to that except for the long cooking period which I bet makes it nice and thick. I only recently discovered crushed tomatoes in my sauce and I’m a convert. I’ll let you know how I like your pizza sauce!

    Ellie, I was impressed with my first use of instant yeast. One nice thing in Alton’s cookbook is a sidebar in which he states that he always makes a 1:1 substitution for instant to active dry even though there is technically more living yeast in instant. I had wondered about that until I found his comment. He also says that a pound bag of it will be fine for two years if stored in an air tight container in the frezer.

  5. madre January 9, 2007 Reply

    I’m making this recipe today. In case you hadn’t noticed the misprints, here’s a link http://web.archive.org/web/20050329022916/http://www.altonbrown.com/pages/bookit.html

    A couple places online say the aspirin is supposed to be vitamin c. And there are different amounts of flour given, depending on who you believe. …Just an FYI.

    This was a great post. I’ll have to check out this blog when I’m not in the middle of mixing dough. Thanks.

  6. jennifer January 9, 2007 Reply

    Thanks for the info! I’ll have to get Quinn to re-evaluate some time, although this recipe has worked well for him time and again.

  7. ugod February 8, 2007 Reply

    sure it’s 1 1/4 cup of water?
    on altons website it says 3/4 cup of water
    i’m living in germany, so that would be 450 gramms of flower to 180-200ml of water

  8. radish December 17, 2007 Reply

    Quinn, that was a brilliant way to argue for pizza’s superiority- in fact, I’ve used the very same logic to convince others of pizza’s superiority!!

  9. Super.ae February 27, 2010 Reply

    I really appreciate your blog post, I always check this once in a while if there is a new one.. thank you very much..

  10. PiterJankovich March 29, 2010 Reply

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

  11. Barb Norton December 11, 2011 Reply

    When someone ( like you) takes the time to talk about pizza dough the way you have, I am impressed, I am grateful and full of admiration. I love love love baking bread and pizza dough and for years have been proofing my doughs overnight. I am always searching dough recipes just to see what I can learn. Of course I love Mr Brown. His methods and instructions never have me stopping mid cook asking myself what the heck do I do now? Since I am a retired radio ad writer living in a rural area I have time to cook and bake bread now. So thank you again for your pizza dough writing. I am grateful :) very grateful :)

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