Thin-crust pizza's not everyone's cup of tea.
But it's some folks' slice of heaven.
My husband, Rick, absolutely turns up his nose at anything with a thin crust that dares to call itself pizza.
He grew up outside Boston, and worked in Boston's Italian neighborhood, the North End, beginning as a 7-year-old. He and his grandfather would ride "in town" every night about midnight to sell vegetables from the family farm to early morning wholesale buyers.
Pizza in the North End was decidedly thick-crust: inch-high slabs slathered with marinara and showered with cheese. Pizza was available at every bread bakery, served from enormous rectangular baking sheets – still hot from the oven, if you timed your visit just right.
"Thin crust" pizza?
No such thing, according to Rick.
Thus it was with pure amazement that I watched him devour the thin-crust spinach-and-feta pizza I'd made to illustrate just how thin you can roll a pizza crust made with King Arthur's Italian-Style Flour.
"How come you're eating that? I thought you hated thin-crust pizza!" I said.
"Huh," Rick scoffed, a sly grin on his face. "It's NOT pizza. But it still tastes good."
Call it thin-crust pizza. Call it "that spinach appetizer thing," as Rick ended up calling it.
But don't miss this ultra-thin-crust [pizza], with its garlic-scented, sautéed spinach and crumbles of salty feta.
First, let's talk about flour.
You've rolled pizza dough before, right? And been frustrated, no doubt, by how determined it is to return to its original shape – a tight ball.
You roll it out, it shrinks back. You roll harder; it resists. What's a pizza crust maker to do?
Step... away... from... the crust. Let it relax for 10 or 15 minutes, then roll it again; you'll see how much less it resists.
What's going on here?
Gluten, the stretchy substance (think elastic) that forms when you add flour to water, is simply doing its thing. You knead dough, the gluten gets stronger, and it acts like an elastic band.
What happens when you stretch an elastic band, then let it go?
It snaps back to its original size. And that's what gluten is doing. So, the reason you can roll dough out more easily after giving it a rest is that the gluten has had time to relax.
Anyway, with a lot of rest periods, you might be able to roll pizza crust made with high-protein flour ultra-thin.
But why torture yourself?
While lots of gluten is wonderful in your high-rising loaf of sandwich bread, it's your enemy when you're making thin-crust pizza.
Enter our Italian-Style Flour. With its low protein level (8.5%), it makes an extremely mellow, extensible dough, one that's simple to roll ultra-thin.
We call this flour our Italian 00 clone; but that's a partial truth at best. In Italy, the 00 refers to the grind of the flour, and how much bran/germ have been removed (its extraction); not to its protein level. There are low-protein 00 flours, high-protein 00 flours, and in-between 00 flours.
Italian bakers can choose from integrale (whole wheat), 2, 1, 0, or 00 flours, with 00 the finest grind, and the most refined (with the most bran/germ removed); it feels silky smooth in your hands. Most Italian bakers consider this highly refined flour the best they can choose; thus, Italian 00 flour's reputation has crossed the Atlantic and come to represent, in America, the "best" Italian flour – for pasta, pizza, bread, pastry, all of your Italian baking.
The Italian-Style Flour we sell is lower in protein than the most widely used 00 flour in Italy. The protein level of that Italian flour is in the 10.0%-10.5% range – same as our Perfect Pastry Blend.
Rather than replicate a flour we already offer, we've chosen a lower-protein – 8.5% – for our "00." Which makes it perfect for thin-crust pizza, focaccia, grissini, and all manner of low-rising, tender/crisp treats.
Have you absorbed all that?
Good. Let's make thin-crust pizza.
The following crust is quite versatile, as far as timing your pizza. You can make it and bake it almost immediately; or make the dough, let it rise for an hour, then refrigerate it for up to 3 days. Personally, I like to give it a rest in the fridge, for at least a few hours; it makes it even easier to roll, and builds the crust's flavor.
Put the following in a mixing bowl:
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons instant yeast*
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
3 1/2 cups (11 ounces) King Arthur Italian-Style Flour
3/4 cup to 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water**
2 tablespoons olive oil
*Use the greater amount of yeast if you plan on baking the pizza right away; the lesser amount if you'll refrigerate the dough first.
**Use the lesser amount of water in summer or humid conditions; the greater amount in winter or under drier conditions.
Mix until everything comes together.
Switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 4 minutes. The dough will probably be quite sticky.
Stop the mixer, and scrape the dough away from the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Knead for about 3 more minutes. You should have a smooth dough, one that sticks a bit to the sides of the bowl, but is easy to pick up and handle.
Now, at this point you can use the dough immediately. Or, for best flavor, let the dough rise for an hour, then refrigerate for up to 3 days before using.
I love the flavor the dough develops with at least several hour of refrigeration; but do whatever fits your schedule.
Divide the dough in half. See that satiny sheen? Dough made with Italian-Style Flour is silky smooth; you just want to plunge your hands into it...
Let the dough rest, covered, for about 15 minutes, while you preheat your oven to 450°F and make the topping.
If you have a pizza stone and want to use it, put it on your oven's lower shelf.
Thaw two 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, or two 16-ounce bags frozen spinach. Squeeze it in your hands (or a paper towel, or a dish towel) until it's very dry.
Like this. Surprisingly, the paper towel will peel right off, leaving you a nice dry handful of chopped spinach.
Why the huge variation in how much frozen spinach (20 ounces vs. 32 ounces); and can you use fresh spinach instead?
Frozen spinach usually comes two ways: in 10-ounce blocks, or 16-ounce bags. Two 10-ounce blocks is barely enough; two 16-ounce bags is plenty. Bottom line, use as much as you like.
As for fresh spinach — sure, fresh is fine. But you still need to cook it and wring it dry, otherwise your crust runs the risk of becoming soggy.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan, and add the spinach, a big pinch of salt, a small pinch of nutmeg (if you like), and 2 to 4 peeled, minced garlic cloves.
Sauté briefly, just until the spinach is warm and everything is well combined. Remove from the heat.
Lightly grease two sheets of parchment paper, waxed paper, or (last choice) plastic wrap.
If you're baking pizza on a stone, parchment is your ONLY CHOICE here; waxed paper or plastic wrap would melt.
If you're going to bake pizza in a pan, not on a stone, lightly grease one or two large rectangular pans (half sheet pans work well), and drizzle with olive oil.
OK, back to the dough. Pick up one of the pieces, and gently stretch it in your hands; just letting it droop off your hand allows gravity to do most of the stretching.
Place the gently stretched oval of dough onto one of the pieces of greased parchment. Top with the other piece of parchment, greased side towards the dough.
Roll dough until it's as thin as you like; you'll find it rolls out VERY easily. I made this dough about 1/8" thick, but you can actually go even thinner than that.
Peel off the top piece of parchment. If you're baking in a pan, pick up the crust/parchment, and flop it into the pan, crust down. Peel off the other piece of parchment.
If you're baking on a stone, get out your peel or whatever you use to transfer big, floppy crusts onto the hot stone.
Hint: looking for a little more cheese – and a neat way to anchor the spinach on the pizza? Sprinkle the crust with a thin layer of mozzarella or other pizza-type cheese before adding the spinach and feta.
Add half your squeezed-dry spinach, and 3 to 4 ounces crumbled feta, or however much you like. Crumbled herbed feta is nice, if you can get it.
Bake the pizza on the stone (or in the pan set on a lower oven rack) for about 5 minutes; the bottom will brown nicely.
Yes, it's perfectly fine to lift the edge of the crust just a bit to look underneath, as I'm doing here; the toppings won't fall off!
Then move the pizza to a middle or upper-middle rack, and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top of the crust is golden and the feta is beginning to brown.
Remove the pizza from the oven, and transfer it to a rack immediately, so the crust stays crisp. Serve hot.
Repeat with the remaining piece of the dough. Or return the dough to the refrigerator, along with the remaining spinach and cheese, and bake later – up to 3 days later.
See how you can vary the thickness of even a thin crust?
We've got crust that's about 1/4" thick on the bottom; a 1/8"-thick crust in the middle, and kind of a compromise on top, going from thinner to thicker.
The distinguishing characteristic of all three of these crusts is that they're crisp, rather than chewy.
Not cracker-crisp, like one of those charred-bottom New York pizzas baked in a 700°F coal-fired oven. But then again, you don't have a coal-fired brick oven capable of temperatures up to 700°F, do you? Working with what you've got – a home oven – this crust is remarkably thin and crisp.
And just the ticket for friends and family members looking for "THIN crust, not thick!"
Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Thin-Crust Spinach & Feta Pizza.