I’ve lied to myself in the past about making pizza at home. Despite acknowledging the limitations of pizza cooked at a temperature 400 degrees lower than it should be, even suggesting that homemade calzones work better than a round pie, I’ve still gone and done it. Real talk: Homemade pizza generally blows. It’s very hard to pull off, especially if you’re like me and prefer the chewy, pliable crusts of Neapolitan style. Crusts end up with the texture of cardboard, and baked calzones are really just big empanadas. I’ve never owned a pizza stone, but I’ve tried pizza made on them and haven’t been wowed, nor do I want to deal with finding room for another piece of equipment. My petite kitchen is already burdened when trying to accommodate a stand mixer and two Dutch ovens. No more heavy lifting, please. I also don’t want crunchy bar-style or pan pizza. I know success with a home oven is more achievable in those realms, but my ideal pizza has a crust that will fold without breaking, leopard spots, and a yeasty chew.
I can easily get that by putting on a jacket and going to one of many excellent Neapolitan pizza places that dot all corners of this city. Why do I lament making pizza at home, then? Because sometimes I just want to eat fresh-from-the-oven pizza in my PJs in front of Netflix. Delivery or frozen is not good enough. Serious Eats has heavily promoted the use of a baking steel as the at-home pizza solution, and while relatively affordable and lust-worthy, it is again a very heavy kitchen tool. To boot, it is also too big for my oven. Money saved but problem not solved.
While scrolling through the rest of the Serious Eats pizza posts, I came upon an older one from Kenji Lopez-Alt for Neapolitan pizza. Made in a cast iron skillet—I have one of those. Started on the stovetop—check. Finished under the broiler—I have one of those old-school broiler drawers, but okay, yes. It was worth a shot. Having taken a pizza-making class from some Roberta’s chefs at The Brooklyn Kitchen and investing in their cookbook, I went with the Bushwick dough instead of Kenji’s.
The method is key, but so is the make-up of the dough. Both Kenji’s and Roberta’s recipes include “00” flour, which helps to make the crust less crunchy when baked. It’s a lower protein and more finely milled flour. Pasta is often made with 00 flour. Few at-home pizza recipes or refrigerated doughs are made with 00 flour, so I knew that if I was lazy at this step, the result would lean toward a conventional, crunchy, oven-baked pizza. Not what I wanted.
The adrenaline was pretty high on the trial night as I tried to get my round of dough into the skillet and then to top it quickly. The dough sizzled once dropped and as I hastily pushed it toward the edges to make a circle again. As I saw the dough begin to rise I knew I had to pick up the topping pace, the real cooking under the broiler was still to come. I shut the drawer and started the timer. How long before shifting the skillet? Kenji said it could be done in anywhere from 90 seconds to four minutes. My little clunker of a stove isn’t going to win any races, so I would give it a full minute before the first 90-degree turn. I got down on my knees, essentially praying, ready to open the drawer. My jaw dropped at that first reveal. Although nowhere near done, I saw what I never thought I’d ever see at home—baby leopard spots, bubbles starting to char, the puff of a cornicione. Time couldn’t stand still because I had to turn that sucker and close the drawer again. But mere minutes later, I had the best pizza to ever come from my hands and an oven I rented. And so during polar vortexes, skint weekends, and lazy weekends, I’ve relied on the skillet-broiler method to get me through pizza cravings.
I’ve experimented with calzone and Roberta’s involto shape and achieved the same level of success. It is by no means equal to that which I eat when out, but it is a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve ever tried before in terms of at-home pizza. There is still some crunch, but there’s also considerable chew, softness, and blistering that can fool you into thinking the heat of a fire was at play. Bottom line, for a pizza-in-your-underwear kind of night? Better than good enough, dare I say, great.
Neapolitan Pizza Hack (Skillet-Broiler Method)
I start at step 5 because I do not use Kenji’s dough. I have found that my pizzas take about three to four minutes under the broiler and rarely do I need to put the pan back on the stovetop to finish cooking. If anything, my bottoms can darken quicker than my tops, and that might be because I don’t top my pizzas fast enough. I turn the pan 90 degrees about two or three times.
By far the most difficult part of this method is getting the dough into the pan. A regularly shaped pizza is the easiest because you can quickly try to reshape it. The calzone and involto shapes require very quick lift-and-drop work of the hands.
Yes, you have to let the dough cold ferment in the fridge for at least 24 hours (or only 8 for Kenji’s). It develops flavour and cuts prep time. Hands-on time for the dough is less than 10 minutes prior to shaping. I’ve always appreciated having the dough already made on the night I’m making the pizza. And remember, a crunchier (read: cardboard) crust if you skip the 00 flour.
The only scaling I’ve had to do is cutting the (Roberta’s) dough recipe in half. Beyond easy if you have a scale. And you should be using a scale! Otherwise, it’s already a small-batch recipe because you can only make one pizza at a time, and one pizza feeds one person.
Note that I make my pizzas in a 10-inch skillet, and the dough recipe is for two 12-inch pizzas. So, my pizza crusts end up being a bit thicker.
The involto shaping method is described here.