Growing up in a small town in the upper Midwest, pizza was king. The mere mention of a pizza party could incentivize us to do just about anything. It was a staple at every Friday night sleepover, every church potluck and every sporting event. In high school, the easiest way to become the envy of your friends - at least for a lunch period - was to order a pizza and have it delivered to the school in front of all of your peers.
Because pizza was such a big part of my childhood, it was one of the first things I set out to make for myself as a young adult living on her own for the first time. I started slow at first with dough recipes that required very little knowledge, skill and rest time, then slowly graduated to more complicated doughs that demanded long kneading sessions and a full 24 hours to rise. The eventual pizzas always turned out fine, but mostly it was project cooking; an exercise in feeling accomplished.
Then, about five years ago, my pizza-making days almost came to a grinding halt. After a long spell of unpacking boxes and ordering takeout, I decided to christen a new kitchen with a made-from-scratch pizza. I used one of my favorite dough recipes that I’d clipped out of a magazine a few years earlier. It was for a dough that needed an overnight rest, but could be baked on a sheet pan instead of on a pizza stone, and would be out of the oven in 20 minutes. I’d made this pizza dozens of times before, but something was different about that night.
Early on in my cooking journey, I’d stocked up on equipment based on price instead of longevity and function, and had found great deals on sheet pans that were always fine for baking cookies or using as a catch-all for juices when baking pies. The problems really only arose when recipes called for specific dimensions; my pans were always a little bit off. The pizza dough recipe that I’d had the most success with was one of them. When it came time to stretch the dough for its final rise on the sheet before sticking it in the oven, the dough never quite met the corners of the baking sheet, leaving little pools of olive oil exposed. In my old kitchen, with its electric ovens, exposed olive oil never seemed to be an issue - no smoke, no nothing. But in this new kitchen, I was cooking with gas and...well, let’s just say that the way that olive oil almost immediately shot up to the top of my oven could make even Old Faithful jealous. Smoke was everywhere, alarms were blaring, windows were thrown open and neighbors, who I didn’t yet know, were peeking out from behind closed curtains to see where all the noise was coming from. Awkwardly waving while frantically trying to push smoke out the window was not the first impression I was hoping to make.
For the record, the pizza was delicious, if a little more caramelized on the edges than usual, but I was so spooked by the whole ordeal that I vowed to never make pizza at home again.
That is, until March 2020, right at the beginning of quarantine, when a pizza recipe from King Arthur Baking Company caught my eye. It promised four things: an easy-to-work dough, no soggy crust, crispy edges and easy cleanup thanks to the use of what some might call an unconventional cooking vessel: a cast-iron pan. And I can tell you, with all sincerity, that my luck changed overnight.
Easy kneading gives my wrists and forearms a rest, the fact that I can make the dough up to three days in advance is a game-changer for busy weeknights and the way that the dough crisps up so beautifully on the bottom yet remains pillow-y soft on the top (thanks to the even heat distribution of the cast-iron pan) is delightfully reminiscent of all the pan pizzas I enjoyed growing up. This dough and method has made me so confident that I have even ventured into experimenting with new topping and sauce combinations (some with better results than others!). The Crispy Pan Pizza recipe from King Arthur Baking Company is now the only one I use.
If you’re like I was and pizza is your favorite food but making it is not necessarily your forte, I’ve got some great news. On April 8, we’re teaming up with King Arthur Baking Company for a Milk Street Cooking School class dedicated to the pizza recipe that went mega-viral in 2020! In this class. you’ll learn the key tricks and techniques to making the perfect pizza at home every time. Whether you are new to yeast baking, or a seasoned expert, consider this an opportunity to spend 75 minutes with experts ready to answer all of your burning pizza and bread-baking questions in real time.
Photo: Courtesy of Sydney Manning