Pizza

A Yeast-Free Hack for Homemade Pizza Dough

To get started, open a beer and take a healthy chug.

Photo by Caitlin Raux Gunther

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


I rarely get text messages anymore. All of my conversations seem to take place on WhatsApp or, more recently, the Hollywood Squares grid of a Zoom call. The only contact who continues to send texts is my old friend Dominos, who messages me every week to share “Crazy Tuesday,”—or here in Paris, “Mardi Fou”—pizza specials.

Truth be told, I’m more than a little tempted. I don’t miss takeout so much as I miss the occasional break from cleaning up after dinner. But, I also find that when I make the pizza myself—mixing and rolling the dough, laying on the toppings (and if I want funky blue cheese on one side and anchovies on the other, then so be it!)—that I enjoy it more, flour-covered kitchen and all.

Since confinement began on March 17, the French have been (mostly) prudent about staying home. Up until last week, the weather had been uncharacteristically beautiful, the flowering trees and the clear blue skies making the sting of quarantine especially acute. Spirits may be dampened, but French culture remains strong. My favorite wine store has reduced hours, but they still have a hand-written note on the door advertising a plentiful stock of cold rosé. And people still want their fresh-baked baguettes. After all, this is a bread country.

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Top Comment:
“Everyone keeps asking for pizza and sadly couldn't make any till last night. Was a very happy night for us all. I used Coors but will try others just for fun. Again thank you.”
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To cut back on daily trips to the boulangerie, many have taken to baking bread at home, and the result is a widespread shortage of yeast. For my homemade pizza, I’ve had to fall back on a recipe I learned years ago when I worked as a cook in Bilbao.

This is not a recipe for pizza snobs. It is a recipe for anyone willing to forgive a slightly imperfect crust in exchange for a delicious vehicle for melted cheese, sauce, and all of the toppings. It’s a great hack and the ace that every home cook needs up their sleeve: beer-crust pizza.

To get started, open a beer and take a healthy chug—we all deserve it. Or if you don’t drink, raise a symbolic “cheers” to yourself for becoming a real-life pizzaiolo, the Italian word for pizza maker. For two medium-sized pizzas, add three to four cups of flour (or sub in a cup of whole wheat flour) to a large mixing bowl and pour in some beer—start with one-and-a-half cups—a glug of olive oil, and a couple of pinches of coarse salt.

I once read in an old cookbook geared toward housewives to always leave one hand clean—that way you can still answer the phone or admire your manicure. Times have changed but it’s still a good tip. Use one hand to begin mixing until you incorporate all of the flour. (You can also use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, but I like to literally feel it out.) If the dough is too sticky, creating a plaster-like mitt around your fingers, add more flour. If too dry and crumbly, add more beer.

Lightly flour a surface and clap some between your hands like an Olympic gymnast. Knead your dough (folding it over and pressing with your hand heels) until it passes what chefs call the “windowpane test.” Break off a piece of dough, roll it into a ball, stretch it, and hold it up to the light. If you can see light pass through, like a windowpane, your dough is ready. Form it into a smooth ball.

Coat a separate bowl with a touch of olive oil and add your dough. Make her feel snug as a bug by covering the bowl with a dishtowel, and let her nap for at least half an hour. While it rises, you can consider names for your newborn dough baby—Do-rothy and Do-lores are good options, but feel free to be more clever.

You’re in the final lap! Pre-heat your oven as high as possible (your average Neapolitan pizza bakes at 700 degrees F). Return Do-rinda to a lightly floured surface and divide her in two. Use your fingertips to give her a massage, beginning from the middle and working your way outward, from all directions. Take your time and continue to gently prod and stretch until you reach your desired size and thickness. Repeat with the remaining half.

Transfer the dough to a floured or lightly oiled oven tray or pizza stone. Now, add your toppings. If you’re using tomato sauce, go easy—too much makes for a soggy crust. Brush olive oil on the edges and into the oven it goes.

The higher the oven temp, the faster your pizza will cook, so keep an eye on it and cook until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.

Maybe it’s time I reply “STOP” to no longer receive the Dominos texts. But, then again, I kind of like getting the messages. You never know when you’ll be hit with an insatiable craving for a Crazy Tuesday.

Which of your favorite beers would you choose for your pizza dough? Tell us in the comments!

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Caitlin is a Paris-based writer and editor. She wrote about food and wine while living in Madrid after college, and had a brief career as a lawyer before moving back to Spain to work in restaurants and attend culinary courses at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian. She has worked or staged at Septime in Paris, Mina and Nerua in Bilbao, and Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. In 2018, she and her husband launched a pop-up sandwich shop in Mallorca, Spain. Caitlin now lives in an ovenless apartment in the 9th arrondissement with her husband, Guillaume, and daughter, Mimi. Update: we have an oven now.

42 Comments

gandalf May 12, 2020
I made this last night, and based on the result I have some questions.

I initially used 3 cups of all-purpose flour plus additional flour that I used to mix in after I added the 12-oz. bottle of beer (Michelob Ultra-Lite, if anyone's curious -- it's what I had available); bringing the total amount of flour used to 3.25-3.5 cups, not including what I sprinkled on the surface when I kneaded the mixture. I also added the olive oil and salt as mentioned. This mixture yielded two 10-inch pizza crusts, which I placed on greased sheet pans. I had the oven set on 450F convection, and initially I put the pizza crusts in the oven without toppings and cooked them for about 5 minutes -- I wanted to be sure that the pizzas would not stick to the sheet pans (I thought to cook them without toppings so that in case the pizza stuck to the pans, I wouldn't have wasted all my ingredients). After 5 minutes in the oven, and seeing that the pizzas would not stick to the sheet pans, I added the toppings and put everything back in the oven to bake. I cooked the pizzas for an additional 20-25 minutes. When I took the pizzas out, the crust had firmed up but was not really crisp or very crunchy; the toppings were done, however, so I didn't cook the pizzas any further.

So, my question is this: Why didn't the crust turn out crisper or crunchier -- was it due to the cooking temperature, or putting the toppings on only after I had started to cook the crust, or something else? Is there anything in the process that I have described that I shouldn't have done, or shouldn't do next time? (The flavor of the crust was fine, it was more of a textural issue with its lack of crispiness/crunchiness.)

Thanks in advance for any thoughts/comments that you may have.



 
Krissy D. May 12, 2020
Mine was also on the "chewy" side ... my thought is to roll it thinner next time!
 
gandalf May 12, 2020
Thanks, I'll try to remember that the next time!
 
Smaug May 12, 2020
That is a lot of dough for 2 10" pizzas- I use about 5/8c. liquid for two thin crust 10"; don't measure the flour, but your proportions don't sound bad, probably a bit drier than I use. If at all possible, a perforated pizza pan (perforations should be fairly large) will produce great results; better than a pizza stone, by my lights, but a stone or steel works well too (with considerable preheating). Crust generally won't stick, but you could sprinkle your pan with cornmeal if you're worried. Exact baking procedures vary in detail from one oven to the next, but I use this one- preheat to 550 (max in my oven), place one shelf just above the bottom of the oven and one about 3" below the broiler; bake 6 1/2 min on the lower shelf, turn on broiler and when it lights move pizza under that for 1/2 min. . The amount and type of toppings also effect crispness greatly.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 12, 2020
It might also be from pre-cooking the crust. I used to do that, too, but with the oven temp high as it is, you really don't need to. Hope the next round is even better!
 
gandalf May 12, 2020
Thanks for the suggestions!

My toppings were a small amount of tomato sauce on each, with lots of grated cheese one and a lesser amount of cheese with some onions, bell pepper, and prosciutto on the other one.
 
gandalf May 12, 2020
Thanks; I'll try it with putting the toppings on right away, instead of precooking the crust.
 
Smaug May 12, 2020
That's another good point- the toppings, even in very small amounts, hold back the rise of the crust- if you roll a crust dead flat and put toppings out short of the edges a bit, it will produce a nice little rim. Also, cooking the toppings with the crust is one of the really distinctive features that make pizza pizza. I'm kind of fanatical about crisp crusts- I make a special low moisture tomato sauce, use low moisture cheeses, and for tomatoes I use cherry tomatoes halved and put on the pizza cut side up.
 
gandalf May 12, 2020
Thank you; your points are well taken, and I'll be careful next time to mind the toppings as you suggest (with a thinner dough for the crust as well)!
 
Kelle May 8, 2020
I've done beer bread but never thought of doing beer pizza dough! This is cool, I'm going to have to give this a try even though I lucked out in getting yeast. I suspect the boyfriend will eagerly shred cheese for me to make beer-dough pizza.
 
christer W. May 8, 2020
Who knew there are over 400 Dominoes in France.
 
Mersey May 8, 2020
Hi, do you use plain flour or self raising flour?
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 8, 2020
I use plain (all-purpose) flour. Not sure what would happen with the self-rising flour, but might be worth a try!
 
Johanna Z. May 8, 2020
I'd buy one of those random singles that was available, not part of a multi-pack that I wanted to drink. That being said out would probably be a an IPA or even porter or stout, but probably an IPA.
 
Krissy D. May 7, 2020
We used a pilsner from a local brewery; if it tastes as good as it smells we'll be in good shape!
 
JimCooksFoodGood May 7, 2020
Funny, I literally just posted a near identical recipe on my site a few weeks back!
 
Smaug May 7, 2020
Well, not that funny. With the sudden interest in baking and lack of yeast, beer bread recipes have been all over the internet and newspapers, almost as ubiquitous as sourdough starter recipes.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 8, 2020
It's a good trick, right?
 
LULULAND May 7, 2020
Please provide a recipe. Pour in some olive oil how much? Is it 3 or 4 cups of flour?
 
Smaug May 7, 2020
The recipe presupposes some experience with bread making, given which you should have no trouble adding as much flour as it takes to reach the desired texture and will know how much (if any) olive oil you want, same with salt. Either 3 or 4 cups flour is quite a lot for 2 medium pizzas- for what it's worth, for a 14" pizza I use 1/2c.+1Tb. liquid- don't measure the flour, but I think about 1 1/4 c- you need a pretty specific texture for pizza, and it's different for rolled dough and stretched dough, you just need a feel for it. The real takeaway from the recipe is that beer contains yeast and water; add flour and you have bread dough.
 
christer W. May 8, 2020
Smaug, perhaps you should change your handle to "Smug".
 
Smaug May 8, 2020
christer W. "Have you no wit, manners nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers..."
 
Galit R. May 7, 2020
Hi, why do I always have to look for the recipe? Why not put it where I can easily find it? What's that for? Have more traffic on your website? This is so annoying
 
amolinelv May 7, 2020
Where did you find the recipe?
 
JLH May 7, 2020
They didn't give it in recipe form. It was a paragraph in the write up above.

Here:

"To get started, open a beer and take a healthy chug—we all deserve it. Or if you don’t drink, raise a symbolic “cheers” to yourself for becoming a real-life pizzaiolo, the Italian word for pizza maker. For two medium-sized pizzas, add three to four cups of flour (or sub in a cup of whole wheat flour) to a large mixing bowl and pour in some beer—start with one-and-a-half cups—a glug of olive oil, and a couple of pinches of coarse salt."

And they give more instruction after that. I agree that they should have laid it out recipe style after the write up. You have to parse through the extra verbiage to get the actual recipe that in this case is more a guide than a specific recipe.
 
Aspyn May 7, 2020
cool!
 
Troy D. May 7, 2020
A nice dark beer. Like Guinness.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 8, 2020
I like that. Adds a nice flavor.
 
lAmato May 4, 2020
Loved this recipe! Super easy and came out exactly as described.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 4, 2020
Amazing!
 
Leta F. May 3, 2020
Unpasteurized beer!
 
Ruth May 2, 2020
I keep a case of Raging B*tch Belgian IPA on hand at all times, it makes a great apology (as in: I'm so sorry I had to ask you to do XYZ when I know you hate doing that), and lately I've been using it in bread and biscuits in lieu of yeast. Yay, now pizza dough!

Note: this beer is from Flying Dog Brewery, in Maryland, they have an entire line of dog-themed beers (junkyard dog, underdog, double dog, etc).
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 4, 2020
Oooo YUM!
 
Thank you for the great hack. I tried it last night and it was amazing!! I have been searching for some time looking for yeast and finally ordered on line. Still waiting for it. Everyone keeps asking for pizza and sadly couldn't make any till last night. Was a very happy night for us all. I used Coors but will try others just for fun. Again thank you.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 2, 2020
Amazing! We usually use darker, hoppy beers, but it's fun to experiment.
 
Smaug May 1, 2020
The yeast used in brewing beer, saccharomyces cerevisiae, is the same as in regular baker's yeast, but I think you have to get unpasteurized beer or some such for it to work- at any rate it's still a yeast dough. I remember making an old Italian recipe for a pizza dough (I got it from Giovanni Bugialli's first book) that was leavened with a potato- took several days, but eventually captured enough yeast for a slight rise. I wouldn't consider myself a pizza snob (I confess that I sometimes use pepperoni), but I do like for words to mean something- to me, a pizza must have a wheat flour dough leavened with yeast and the crust and toppings have to be cooked together- you can make a perfectly acceptable dish outside of those parameters, but it ain't pizza.
 
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Caitlin R. May 2, 2020
Interested in the potato dough... and there's no shame whatsoever in pepperoni!!
 
Smaug May 2, 2020
I got no shame, but pepperoni is decidedly non-Italian; I suppose it's pretty cosmopolitan there by now, but traditionally smoked sausage was all but unknown in Italy. Unfortunately, the Bugialli book is in storage, along with most of my cookbooks- as I remember, it was a simple soft dough (flour, water and maybe salt) with a shredded cooked potato added, and it took a while- maybe 3 or 4 days- to get a light rise; it was decidedly crispy with a good flavor when baked.
 
gandalf May 1, 2020
No baking powder/baking soda involved? What would happen if you added some -- how would that affect the crust as it cooked?
 
Author Comment
Caitlin R. May 1, 2020
hey gandalf! I've seen versions with a little bit of yeast and baking powder. I imagine it would give a little more airy / chewy texture.
 
gandalf May 1, 2020
Thanks; that's sort of what I was thinking, but I don't have enough experience with baking bread to have a good feel for what those additives do to the final product.
 
Smaug May 2, 2020
Texture aside, I'd be pretty leery of baking powder in a pizza crust as it's really obnoxious if burned, and a well cooked pizza usually has some char here and there. Then again, this recipe is apparently calling for starting with a cold stone- never heard of doing that, but it would probably avoid char- in fact I'd worry about the bottom cooking at all.