Weeknight Cooking

Leek, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza

March  7, 2011

Leek, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza by Savour

- Jenny

For my birthday, I asked my family for a pizza stone, because I felt certain that every ache and disappointment of my life would be quelled by the ability to make pizza in my own home. You may be surprised to learn that the truth was a bit more complicated.

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As it turns out, pizza is not something you just dive into. There is research to be done, opinions to be solicited, and quite sadly, mistakes to be made. 

Unlike, say, a bad lamb outcome, which you can often blame on the recipe, or a fallen cake, which can be usually corrected with adjustments to leavening, pizza dough will trick and vex you. You will try and try to get its consistency just right and you will feel confused; it will frustrate you as you attempt to stretch it out. Some dough may never rise, making you question how you ever succeeded at anything in culinary life; other batches will taste and feel like rain boots, causing you to throw away an entire day of anticipated glory. Pizza: it can bring you low. 

I began as I always do, perusing the offerings of the great cooks on food52. The array of options -– and opinions -– was vast. There was the question of olive oil or no olive oil in the dough, and debates about how long the dough should sit, and where. The spectre of semolina was raised. My friend and colleague fisheri, who has mastered much of Italian cooking, said only, “You must fridge the dough overnight. It makes a huge difference,” then fled for Belize. 

A baker colleague on the Hill, whom I refer to simply as bread boy, said that a rolling pin was the key to glory. Then, my friend Steve, who has also recently procured a stone and has made many successful pizzas with his wife, Margaret, suggested perhaps I was over thinking it. “It is pizza, so maybe it’s not that complicated,” he offered. This gave me a great deal of pause. Steve has often been a purveyor of fine life advice – “Buy your shoes at a proper running store!”  “Stop referring to the boss’s Monday morning meetings as 'The Bore-a-Thon when he is in earshot!” Could he also be correct about pizza?

Sadly, this seemed unlikely. Why else would there be websites devoted to debating the best place to eat pizza in nearly every major city in the world? Why else would the good people of food52 spend great lengths of time crossing swords over whether or not Neapolitans would or would not moisten their dough. Pizza has caused more than one street fight, and almost certainly ended some romantic relationships. Pizza, I believe, is something one does not enter into lightly in the home. 

Finally, I stopped chattering, and started cooking. First, I tried a quick-version crust, and my dough never even rose. Moving on to another recipe, my second attempt produced a crust so thick around the edges, my pizza resembled a mozzarella quiche. I fobbed it off on the Incipient Pescatarian and her friends and moved on. 

Finally, I attempted Savour’s Leek, Bacon and Goat Cheese Pizza. I followed the instructions perfectly, down to forming five balls. I left the dough in the fridge overnight. 

Yet again, for the life of me, neither pulling, nor rolling nor coaxing could make that dough stretch out. The dough just sat there, a sad tan blob, the life of good yeast wasted on a peel. I turned to foodpickle, where users helpfully suggested other types of flour, rolling methods and, in one case, draping the dough over the counter. 

So, my dough for two pizzas hung, like Salvador Dali clocks, for 30 more minutes as I prayed. This technique actually helped a bit, and so I added my toppings, which on one pizza was the sauce from pierino’s Una Pizza Rustica e Autentica for Sophia Loren and the other, Savour’s recipe, only I simplified it by softening the leeks in the rendered bacon fat and leaving it at that, without the involvement of cream. 

It was good. But it did not rise to great. 

The next time I was in the office, I recounted my lack of pizza success mournfully to a colleague, concluding that my failure with the dough had made me so distraught that I was considering giving up cooking all together. The boss walked by and suggested that in fact I should consider this, but I am pretty sure what he meant was, “Could you spend a little less time talking about pizza dough and maybe a bit more figuring out whether or not the government is going to shut down?”  

That night, arriving home late and with no family around, I tossed around the final ball of dough, now full of pleasant bubbles from resting four days in the fridge, and patiently prodded and pulled at it. I rubbed the pizza with a bit of olive oil, then tossed on whatever was in the fridge -- a bit of mozzarella, some nice parmesan, an anchovy or two and some nice cured meat of some sort. 

Somehow, ten minutes later, I had something rather fine, if lacking in the bubbly cheese, charred crust deliciousness I sought. The crust was a tad thinner; perhaps I just had practiced a bit, gotten to know it and make it come to me, not unlike communication with a pre-verbal child. I ate it quietly with a glass of Montepulciano, and pondered the notion of the good enough pizza.

Then a friend emailed to point out this fact: “An outdoor grill is really the only way you can come near the heat required to make beautiful black blisters on your pizza dough.” Or, of course, an outdoor pizza oven.

Hmm. Next birthday. 


Pizza Crust:

  • 5 1/3 cups AP flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups room temperature water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to work with
  • Combine all ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment at low speed for about a minute. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes. The dough should be wet but not too tacky.
  • Transfer the dough to an oiled board, and knead by hand for a few minutes. Divide into 5 equal portions, form each portion into a ball, and store each portion in a lightly oiled ziplock bag. (At this point, you should be able to freeze the bags you don't plan to use immediately).
  • Let the dough sit in the refrigerator at least overnight, or up to 4 days.
  • About 90 minutes before you plan to bake the pizzas, take the dough out of the refrigerator, form into a neat ball, and let rest at room temperature on a floured or parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees (or higher). Form the pizza dough into a flat dish on a floured sheet. It is now ready for toppings.

For the toppings:

  • leeks, white and light green parts only
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 4 pieces bacon
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • Clean the leeks by slicing them lengthwise and running them under water until all the layers are clean. Roughly chop into 1 inch pieces.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the leeks, and cook over medium heat until they start to soften.
  • Add the wine, and cook until absorbed. Add the cream, and cook until absorbed. Salt to taste and remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, chop the bacon into bite sized pieces and fry until cooked but not too crisp (it cooks further in the oven).
  • Brush each pizza crust with olive oil. Arrange the leeks, the cooked bacon, and crumbled goat cheese over the top of each pizza.
  • Bake at 500 degrees 15 minutes.

By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, covers Congress for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.

Jennifer Steinhauer

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Lori L. March 14, 2011
Just made this for dinner. It was spectacular!
Rogue G. March 13, 2011
Living is Laramie Wyoming for better of for worse, means that if Dominoes or Papa John's style pizza doesn't cut it for you, you're on your own. I have worked on this for a long time, and below are a couple of elements that I have found make a huge difference.

I use 2 stones instead of just one. I place my cooking stone on the middle rack and my second stone on the next rack up. Preheat the oven for at least an hour at as high a temperature as your oven will go. The second stone has a huge impact and helps cook the top of the pizza as quickly as the crust.

I use a no-knead dough recipe:

Makes four 12-inch pizza crusts

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (such as SAF brand)
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups water
1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be very sticky). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 to 24 hours in a warm spot, about 70°.
2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and lightly sprinkle the top with flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Generously sprinkle a clean cotton towel with flour and cover the dough balls with it. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.
4. Stretch or toss the dough into the desired shape, cover with toppings and bake as above using two pizza stones.

Also, the company that makes the Big Green Egg sells the Pizza stone separately, in several different sizes. I have the 14" which works brilliantly. http://www.soundcedar.com/shop/Big_Green_Egg/Grilling_Accessories/Big_Green_Egg_Flat_Baking_Stone/14%22_for_Large_Egg/
pierino March 9, 2011
I think I may have room in my sock drawer. Nah, I just put the dough in a bowl, cover with cling wrap until it doubles. I divide the dough into equal sized balls. I wrap those in cling wrap and refrigerate. Pizza dough freezes really well too. And it's nice to find a ball of the stuff in there waiting.
Finnegans W. March 9, 2011
Oh, forgot to mention the most important flavor element of the crust. After repeatedly killing off or swamping up imported Italian sourdough cultures, I have found that allowing the dough to hang out in the fridge (from 3 days up to nearly 2 weeks) develops the flavor immeasurably. I would think that putting the dough in a drawer, as one poster mentioned, would facilitate a quicker development but would be more difficult to regulate. In the fridge, the change is incremental and steady. I think the best flavor sets in around 4-5 days, but if you let the dough go longer it will get more sour and produce more liquid (alcohol). A 4-5 day dough has a full flavor, not necessarily sour, whereas a week-plus dough won't rise as much and will be clearly sour. I've also found that you can work the flavor profile of the dough if you have a light touch, by adding finely ground dried mushrooms or a small amount of garlic powder. You really only want a small amount of either, though.
Finnegans W. March 9, 2011
I too remain in search of the ultimate homemade pizza, but without a pizza oven (or Big Green Egg) to hit those high temps I have at least been able to create some decent replicas. The Reinhardt recipe is a good one, and one I use with some variations. First of all, I try to incorporate whole grain flour as much as possible, as the idea of all-white is increasingly anathema. (I experiment: spelt has a nice lightness, so spelt and whole wheat offset in terms of feel; other whole grains are tried depending on what I have on hand.) As for the temperature, I also preheat the oven and stone (highest shelf) for 45 minutes to an hour, but place a large tray on the bottom-most shelf to act as a baffle. This "tricks" the heat sensors and produces temperatures consistently higher than 550F (usually 600-625F). Also, before topping the pie, I swirl a scant amount of olive oil around the perimeter, then work it to the very edge with my hands. This produces a better crisping and some instances of char, the grail of my thin pie experiments. Finally, I've had my best success using parchment paper rather than flour or cornmeal as the transfer medium from peel to stone: no sticking, no deformation, and if the paper is trimmed to within half an inch of the dough there's no issue with burning. Not traditional, but much easier to deal with.
lapadia March 9, 2011
Hmmm, being in agreement with everybody, let me put my two cents in; I started making pizza while in my teens, and have now been making them for many (can’t even count them anymore) years. A lot of different style pizzas – the dough I use varies with the style of pizza – grilled, on a stone, deep dish, and even for a wheat crust. When I first started I used a recipe on the back of the 10lb flour sack my mom use to buy and a square baking sheet, I have graduated from that stage (although the recipe does make a good crust) and my two favorites = Peter Reinhardt “American Pie” (the one for grilling and stone) and a dough and technique from the Sopranos Family Cookbook a recipe they call “Ah Beetz”, for a deeper dish baked in a pan. Anyway, if you visit my link, and scroll through you will get the whole story with pictures, too! FYI – if you select the Pizza category you will see them all. Oh, and BTW love your Monday stories! Here is my link:
lapadia March 9, 2011
PS - I have no clue why a little "FoodPress" link pops up at the end of my recipe when you copy and past my link above...
ladylinda March 8, 2011
I've been making pizza for about 15 years, the last 5+ using a Hearthstone. I'd say the problem is you are developing too much gluten. To get reliable and easier-to-roll-out crust, try using a wetter dough (4 cups flour and 1-3/4 cups water), a full packet of yeast (Rapidrise or similar makes it go faster) and mixing the dough in food processor with salt and olive oil as in your recipe only until ingredients are mixed and dough forms a ball. Let rise once at room temperature, then separate the dough into 4 portions using only as much flour as you need on the board/your hands to handle the dough, and let the balls of dough rest for at least a half hour before rolling or patting out, again using flour as needed on your hands/rolling pin. You can also try substituting up to half the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.
Jestei March 9, 2011
thanks for this: i notice some other recipes on the site and listed below have similar water to flour ratios. also i am in love the 1/2 WW flour so maybe i will try that this weekend. thanks for fueling the obsession!
mcs3000 March 8, 2011
While I continue to struggle with my bread baking skills, oddly I can make an almost near-fail, round, thin pizza crust. Refrigerating the dough overnight and letting the dough return to room temp are key. To make it easier to stretch out the dough: first dimple the dough with your fingertips, leaving space around the edges for the crust; pick up the dough, holding it like a steering wheel; use your fists to gently stretch it, working from the middle outward. To achieve beautiful black blisters on your pizza dough, I use the Melissa Clark method. It's genius: Pre-bake the stone at the highest heat setting for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Bake the pizza for about 3-4 minutes (until the crust is browned on the bottom). Now turn off the oven and turn on the broiler to high. Bake for 30-60 seconds. Voila, you have achieved pizza perfection.
mcs3000 March 8, 2011
I should say you'll crisp the top of the pizza with the broiler method - not exactly black blisters, but darn close to achieving brick oven pizza.
mcs3000 March 8, 2011
I meant near foolproof - not near-fail. Ugh!
Jestei March 9, 2011
that is a really interesting idea. melissa clark is great.
Heena March 8, 2011
Peter Reinhart's pizza crust from American Pie with its long, slow fermentation has always produced the best result for me. I even did a pizza marathon a few months back - pizza 'adapted' from around the world - for breakfast (Israel - shakshuka), lunch (Georgian - hachapuri), dinner (Italy - Margherita) and dessert (France - Pear Tart). (Recipes and post here if you are interested: http://bit.ly/9n0e1u)
Jestei March 9, 2011
this is a seriously lovely site. thanks for sharing it with me. i am hungry now.
lapadia March 9, 2011
Hi Heena, checked out the pizza on your site = LOVE!
damson March 7, 2011
i have tried so many different recipes and techniques, but lately i have been really happy with Gourmet's recipe for a crust on a pizza margherita. it is a wet dough, has one rise, and isn't punched down before shaped and baked. we like it!
Jestei March 9, 2011
happy pizza making!
ShannonConnealy March 9, 2011
totally agree with this. The yellow Gourmet cookbook's recipe for pizza dough is from Pizzaria Bianco, a popular pizza place in Phoenix. It is simple, relatively easy, and delicious. Also, I heat the pizza stone at 450 for at least an hour, and transfer the rolled out dough using a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, and of course a light sprinkle of corn meal on the stone.
hardlikearmour March 7, 2011
When nicer weather rolls around I highly recommend making grilled pizza. It's amazingly delicious! We make it weekly or so when the weather cooperates.
Jestei March 9, 2011
yes i may not wait for nice weather. it is too fleeting here.
JenniferF March 7, 2011
Did Grandma Nancy and Grandma Rosie before her teach you nothing?! Never refrigerate your dough! Leave it in a drawer (why? I don't know!) at room temperature overnight! It should roll out quite easily. I also find that a recipe with olive oil is more forgiving when your getting your pizza-legs.

Also, I find it best to have the stone on the floor of the very lowest rack in the oven. Preheat the stone for an hour. Really.

Buon appetito!
Jestei March 9, 2011
a drawer? can the hive weigh in? pierino??
leavesofjoy March 7, 2011
We had to learn to make our own pizza when not one, but TWO pizza joints opened and then closed in our sleepy little town! Heartbreak!

We've had great success with the "neo-neopolitan" dough from Peter Reinhart's American Pie book. The flour, water and yeast amounts are about the same as yours. What's different is no oil in the dough, since "shortening shortens"- fat makes for less chewy crust because of shorter strands of gluten (I think I understand that right). And, he does not include any sugar, instead asking the yeast to eat the sugar in the flour during an overnight or longer cold rest. That makes less fluffy and more stretchy type dough, which is how we like it.

leavesofjoy March 7, 2011
Oh, also, I cook the 'za on its own stone, but with another one over it, on the shelf about 6 inches above. That seems to really help the toppings get hot and melty without overcooking the crust. And now, I need to go and make a pizza....
Jestei March 9, 2011
great advice thanks so much for this
mklug March 7, 2011
Year before last, my parents bought my boyfriend a pizza stone, since we had big plans for learning to cook the perfect pizza (this plan also included, as I recall, our lovingly crafting hand-hewn educational toys for his nieces). Needless to say, the stone has never been out of the box due to our fear of the dough issue. Perhaps now is the time try it out since you've once again. The pizza project, I mean. I am not going near a lathe.
mklug March 7, 2011
And now I'm off to what I call our Monday Pillbury Bore-Off. Out of the boss's earshot.
Jestei March 9, 2011
A LATHE!! hilarious. happy meetings!
mrslarkin March 7, 2011
Happy birthday, Jenny! This one sounds really delicious. I've never used instant yeast, but that measurement seems low to me for that amount of flour. But maybe you need less instant yeast than active dry yeast? I don't know. I use King Arthur unbleached AP flour, leave my pizza stone on the bottom rack, crank my Kenmore to 550 for a good half hour and put the pizza pan right on the stone. It's no brick oven, but the pizza comes out nice and crisp and nicely charred on the bottom. Don't give up and just keep trying!
Jestei March 7, 2011
actually savour's dough rises nicely and i did go and get that yeast you mention; how much yeast would you recommend? i will indeed keep trying as the stone takes up a lot of space!
bethshax March 7, 2011
I am so relieved to hear that other people struggle with pizza dough. I've thrown so many pizzas out!

A few weeks ago I spent a few hours with the Tj whole wheat pizza dough and a recipe trying to make my recipe feel and look like the TJs and it never happened. Pizza always wins. I keep thinking maybe it is the size of the dough batches they make at commercial pizza joints that makes it so good. Or maybe I will never conquer pizza.

That said... what kind of stone did you get, Jenny???
Jestei March 7, 2011
i can check at home. it was from crate & b i know; i just think this is a practice makes perfect thing.
Blissful B. March 7, 2011
I love the bore-a-thon comment. My husband & I used to work together & he was notorious for falling asleep and SNORING in meetings & presentations by the boss. I would have to nudge him regularly to keep him awake.
Jestei March 7, 2011
that's the funniest thing i have read all day.
healthierkitchen March 7, 2011
After much hemming and hawing, I bought a stone and peel and am still hemming and hawing on the dough. Soon, though. Really. In the meantime, for the wimpy in the DC area, Vace sells it's dough.
Jestei March 7, 2011
they sell great EVERYTHING. i love their anchovies.
MrsWheelbarrow March 7, 2011
It's taken me a few years to finally get the crust, the stone, the grill and the whole pizza thing working. Add the vagaries of humidity to the mix, and it can be frustrating, indeed. Once I gave up thinking I could make a round pizza, and embraced the rectangular, oblong, or just blob-like, it got a lot easier. I agree w/pierino about the grill, but will admit I use a gas grill, well oiled, and instructions on the balsamic caramelized onion pizza from dashofbitters to use parchment paper. Works like a charm.
Jestei March 7, 2011
everyone reading here?? because i do think her shape comment is ESSENTIAL. just get it rolled out some way some how and forget aesthetics, painful as it may be...
DAVILCHICK March 7, 2011
I'm a TJ dough girl too.
Jestei March 7, 2011
whole foods also sells dough but i could not get it thin, either.