Clarice's Pieces: The Quest for the Great Pizza

About two years, ago, inspired by the fantastic work of Sullivan Street Bakery's, Jim Lahey, I tried my hand at artisan bread. Oh, to be sure, I tried bread making before but even though I am a rather decent cook and baker, good tasting bread escaped my reach until Jim came along with his brilliant idea of making a wetter dough, using instant yeast, letting it rise for a long time and then baking it in a preheated Dutch oven -- all of which duplicates the effect of baking in steam injected commercial ovens while avoiding the time consuming  efforts of first making starters, bigas, poolishes. 

The bread was so easy and delicious that I bought his book to learn how to make more breads and pizzas and sandwiches.  I highly recommend you work your way through this and try some of the other treats in it -- like the incredible stecca, long olive oil coated Italian loaves studded with garlic or olives or cherry tomatoes .

My husband's co-worker is married to a man who is also obsessive about cooking and when he sought her sympathy over what was going on in our house, she dismissed him with," It could be a lot worse. They could be into cars or drugs."  Well, I suppose I should warn you, that once you try the Leahy beads and see how easy it is to make first class artisan loaves, you wouldn't want to stop learning more.

My next foray was into Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, the collaborative work of a Minnesota Doctor (Jeff Hertzberg) and pastry chef  (Zoe Francois) which has led to their own website,    another book, and a third  (on pizza and flatbread)on the way.

They use the little (instant yeast) and long rise that Lahey does, but make the dough in substantial batches, allowing you to pull off small quantities each day for fresh baked breads and rolls and flatbreads, and naan and pizza and you name it.  My husband, recalling Al Capp, says it's like having a shmoo in the refrigerator.  They bake their bread on hot baking stones, adding water to a baking pan to create the necessary steam.  I accidently dribbled some liquid on the glass door -- twice -- cracking it and requiring replacements until I decided to go with the heated Dutch oven idea for  baking their breads, too.  It works just fine.

While I loved all the breads, I still was not completely happy with the pizza doughs I was creating. They were  good -- better than most -- but still not good enough for me to consider the quest a success.  And then Pete Reinhart, a master, baker, whose  earlier books were inspirational but required the full time dedication I could not afford, adopted the long slow rise method, popularized by Lahey and came up with IT: the neo-Neapolitan pizza dough recipe. 

Here it is and I can promise you it is as easy as it is delicious.

(Makes five 8-ounce pizzas)

What makes this Neo-Neapolitan is that I use American bread flour instead of Italian -00- flour, but you can certainly use Italian flour, such as Caputo, if you want to make an authentic Napoletana dough. Just cut back on the water by about 2 ounces, since Italian flour does not absorb as much as the higher protein American flour. Always use unbleached flour for better flavor but, if you only have bleached flour it will still work even if it doesn't taste quite as good. If you want to make it more like a New Haven-style dough (or like Totonno's or other coal-oven pizzerias), add 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. These are optional--the dough is great with or without them. As with the Country Dough, the key is to make it wet enough so that the cornicione (the edge or crown) really puffs in the oven.


5 1/4 cups (24 ounces by weight) unbleached bread flour

2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons (0.14 oz.) instant yeast (or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)

2 tablespoons (1 oz.) olive oil (optional)

1 tablespoons (1/2 oz.) sugar or honey (optional)

2 1/4 cups (18 oz.) room temperature water (less if using honey or oil)

--You can mix this by hand with a big spoon or in an electric mixer using the paddle (not the dough hook).

--Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix for one minute, to form a coarse, sticky dough ball.

--Let the dough rest for five minutes, then mix again for one minute to make a smooth, very tacky ball of dough.

--Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, rub a little oil on your hands, and fold the dough into a smooth ball. Let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough into a tight ball. Repeat this again, two more times, at 5 minute intervals. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough can be used anywhere from 6 hours to three days after it goes in the fridge.

-- (Note: the following steps are the same as for the Country Pizza Dough:) When ready to make the pizzas, pull the dough from the refrigerator two hours prior to when you plan to bake. Divide the dough into five 8-ounce pieces (if there is any extra dough divide it evenly among the dough balls). With either oil or flour on your hands, form each piece into a tight dough ball and place on a lightly oiled pan. Mist the dough balls with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or place the pan inside a large plastic bag. Give the dough at least 90 minutes before making the pizzas. If you don't plan to use them all, place the extra dough balls inside of an oiled freezer bag and keep in the refrigerator (for up to three days) or in the freezer (for up to three months).

--If using a pizza stone in your home oven, preheat the oven to the highest setting

one hour before you plan to make the pizzas. If using a wood-fired oven, you know what to do for your particular oven. If you do not have a baking stone you can bake the pizzas on a sheet pan.

--Top with your favorite toppings--this dough can be stretched thin (12-13 inches) for Roman-style pizzas, or 10-11-inches for Naples-style.

It is in his new book Artisan Breads Every Day. 

If you try his recipe and like it, you might buy his book because, it, too, is full of other great recipes and ideas.

In any event  I felt I now had the recipe, but I didn't have an oven that would exceed 500 degrees and to my mind the best pizza ovens are a least 150-200 hundred degrees hotter than that.

So the search then was for the best outdoor oven that could obtain this heat.

I got Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field which was great fun to read, but wouldn't do for my urban terraced garden unless I was willing to have my fire insurance cancelled.  And ready-built wood fired ovens were far too expensive for me to justify -- and still presented a siting problem.  If you have a flat lot, and live in a suburban or rural area, you might try it.

Research continued, until I found it -- an Asian style ceramic oven that I could get up to a high heat, could fit on the bit of flat land remaining near the kitchen and while dear, would not break the bank.

What sold me were these videos by Fred Bernardo of Shillington Pennsylvania, a man who clearly loves his work.

We tried it this past weekend and hadn't realized that we had to get the heat up to 650 or 700 degrees before putting in the plate setter and baking stone. It was still fabulous , but I wrote his site and they sent me back these videos and instructions which should carry me over the top.

Pizza/Dough making / pizza forming video here:

make it without sugar and maybe without the oil.

For the Egg. suggest you let it get to 650 ... and hold for a while ...then insert platesetter , feet and pizza stone, let that get hot but you MUST check the temp of the stone...if it gets too hot, your crusts will burn instantly .. we use this.

when stone gets to 500 or so, put first pie in ... keep them going because if stone is left in there with nothing on it ..it will get very hot ... dome temp keep at 650.

So there you have it, Neapolitan pizza in your own back yard in minutes.

Oh, and if you think I am obsessive, here's an example of how far some people are willing to go to attain the perfect pizza (some even to the point of dismantling the lock on the self cleaning ovens) --  something I hope you won't resort to.

Whether you are making pizza or not, best wishes for a healthy and happy Memorial Day weekend.

Clarice Feldman
About two years, ago, inspired by the fantastic work of Sullivan Street Bakery's, Jim Lahey, I tried my hand at artisan bread. Oh, to be sure, I tried bread making before but even though I am a rather decent cook and baker, good tasting bread escaped my reach until Jim came along with his brilliant idea of making a wetter dough, using instant yeast, letting it rise for a long time and then baking it in a preheated Dutch oven -- all of which duplicates the effect of baking in steam injected commercial ovens while avoiding the time consuming  efforts of first making starters, bigas, poolishes. 

The bread was so easy and delicious that I bought his book to learn how to make more breads and pizzas and sandwiches.  I highly recommend you work your way through this and try some of the other treats in it -- like the incredible stecca, long olive oil coated Italian loaves studded with garlic or olives or cherry tomatoes .

My husband's co-worker is married to a man who is also obsessive about cooking and when he sought her sympathy over what was going on in our house, she dismissed him with," It could be a lot worse. They could be into cars or drugs."  Well, I suppose I should warn you, that once you try the Leahy beads and see how easy it is to make first class artisan loaves, you wouldn't want to stop learning more.

My next foray was into Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, the collaborative work of a Minnesota Doctor (Jeff Hertzberg) and pastry chef  (Zoe Francois) which has led to their own website,    another book, and a third  (on pizza and flatbread)on the way.

They use the little (instant yeast) and long rise that Lahey does, but make the dough in substantial batches, allowing you to pull off small quantities each day for fresh baked breads and rolls and flatbreads, and naan and pizza and you name it.  My husband, recalling Al Capp, says it's like having a shmoo in the refrigerator.  They bake their bread on hot baking stones, adding water to a baking pan to create the necessary steam.  I accidently dribbled some liquid on the glass door -- twice -- cracking it and requiring replacements until I decided to go with the heated Dutch oven idea for  baking their breads, too.  It works just fine.

While I loved all the breads, I still was not completely happy with the pizza doughs I was creating. They were  good -- better than most -- but still not good enough for me to consider the quest a success.  And then Pete Reinhart, a master, baker, whose  earlier books were inspirational but required the full time dedication I could not afford, adopted the long slow rise method, popularized by Lahey and came up with IT: the neo-Neapolitan pizza dough recipe. 

Here it is and I can promise you it is as easy as it is delicious.

(Makes five 8-ounce pizzas)

What makes this Neo-Neapolitan is that I use American bread flour instead of Italian -00- flour, but you can certainly use Italian flour, such as Caputo, if you want to make an authentic Napoletana dough. Just cut back on the water by about 2 ounces, since Italian flour does not absorb as much as the higher protein American flour. Always use unbleached flour for better flavor but, if you only have bleached flour it will still work even if it doesn't taste quite as good. If you want to make it more like a New Haven-style dough (or like Totonno's or other coal-oven pizzerias), add 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. These are optional--the dough is great with or without them. As with the Country Dough, the key is to make it wet enough so that the cornicione (the edge or crown) really puffs in the oven.


5 1/4 cups (24 ounces by weight) unbleached bread flour

2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons (0.14 oz.) instant yeast (or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)

2 tablespoons (1 oz.) olive oil (optional)

1 tablespoons (1/2 oz.) sugar or honey (optional)

2 1/4 cups (18 oz.) room temperature water (less if using honey or oil)

--You can mix this by hand with a big spoon or in an electric mixer using the paddle (not the dough hook).

--Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix for one minute, to form a coarse, sticky dough ball.

--Let the dough rest for five minutes, then mix again for one minute to make a smooth, very tacky ball of dough.

--Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, rub a little oil on your hands, and fold the dough into a smooth ball. Let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough into a tight ball. Repeat this again, two more times, at 5 minute intervals. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough can be used anywhere from 6 hours to three days after it goes in the fridge.

-- (Note: the following steps are the same as for the Country Pizza Dough:) When ready to make the pizzas, pull the dough from the refrigerator two hours prior to when you plan to bake. Divide the dough into five 8-ounce pieces (if there is any extra dough divide it evenly among the dough balls). With either oil or flour on your hands, form each piece into a tight dough ball and place on a lightly oiled pan. Mist the dough balls with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or place the pan inside a large plastic bag. Give the dough at least 90 minutes before making the pizzas. If you don't plan to use them all, place the extra dough balls inside of an oiled freezer bag and keep in the refrigerator (for up to three days) or in the freezer (for up to three months).

--If using a pizza stone in your home oven, preheat the oven to the highest setting

one hour before you plan to make the pizzas. If using a wood-fired oven, you know what to do for your particular oven. If you do not have a baking stone you can bake the pizzas on a sheet pan.

--Top with your favorite toppings--this dough can be stretched thin (12-13 inches) for Roman-style pizzas, or 10-11-inches for Naples-style.

It is in his new book Artisan Breads Every Day. 

If you try his recipe and like it, you might buy his book because, it, too, is full of other great recipes and ideas.

In any event  I felt I now had the recipe, but I didn't have an oven that would exceed 500 degrees and to my mind the best pizza ovens are a least 150-200 hundred degrees hotter than that.

So the search then was for the best outdoor oven that could obtain this heat.

I got Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer and Hannah Field which was great fun to read, but wouldn't do for my urban terraced garden unless I was willing to have my fire insurance cancelled.  And ready-built wood fired ovens were far too expensive for me to justify -- and still presented a siting problem.  If you have a flat lot, and live in a suburban or rural area, you might try it.

Research continued, until I found it -- an Asian style ceramic oven that I could get up to a high heat, could fit on the bit of flat land remaining near the kitchen and while dear, would not break the bank.

What sold me were these videos by Fred Bernardo of Shillington Pennsylvania, a man who clearly loves his work.

We tried it this past weekend and hadn't realized that we had to get the heat up to 650 or 700 degrees before putting in the plate setter and baking stone. It was still fabulous , but I wrote his site and they sent me back these videos and instructions which should carry me over the top.

Pizza/Dough making / pizza forming video here:

make it without sugar and maybe without the oil.

For the Egg. suggest you let it get to 650 ... and hold for a while ...then insert platesetter , feet and pizza stone, let that get hot but you MUST check the temp of the stone...if it gets too hot, your crusts will burn instantly .. we use this.

when stone gets to 500 or so, put first pie in ... keep them going because if stone is left in there with nothing on it ..it will get very hot ... dome temp keep at 650.

So there you have it, Neapolitan pizza in your own back yard in minutes.

Oh, and if you think I am obsessive, here's an example of how far some people are willing to go to attain the perfect pizza (some even to the point of dismantling the lock on the self cleaning ovens) --  something I hope you won't resort to.

Whether you are making pizza or not, best wishes for a healthy and happy Memorial Day weekend.

Clarice Feldman