Armenian-Style Rice Pilaf

Rice and pasta toasted in butter and then simmered in chicken stock—the perfect side dish for any meal.

Overhead view of rice pilaf on a pale plate
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Rice pilaf—long grain rice and a handful of thready, busted-up pasta, toasted in butter, cooked with chicken stock—is absolutely fundamental to diasporic Armenian cuisine. "Diasporic" is an important qualifier, since, as with most things having to do with Armenian culture and history, it's complicated. Rice wasn't commonly eaten in Eastern Armenia, the country now known as the Armenian Republic. But for people like me, whose ancestors emigrated from Western Armenia, here's what I mean when I say rice pilaf is fundamental: At my family’s gatherings, no matter what's on the menu—a Thanksgiving meal, for example—and no matter how much food has already been prepared—a 22-pound roast turkey and mounds of butter-laden mashed potatoes, say—my mother will ask, “Should I make pilaf?” Sometimes we can talk her out of adding pilaf to the already full table, sometimes not, but we all understand the impulse: To many Armenians, a meal of any kind just doesn’t seem complete without it.

Most non-Armenian Americans are now familiar with this style of rice pilaf thanks to Rice-a-Roni, the “San Francisco Treat,” that boxed side dish that introduced rice eating to the States in the 1950’s. (The story behind how an Italian-American pasta company began selling a packaged version of an Armenian dish thanks to the efforts of a Canadian immigrant was told by NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters a while back, and is well worth a listen.) While I love that Rice-a-Roni brought a small part of Armenian cuisine into American culinary history, and appreciate the value of convenience foods like it, here’s the thing: Homemade rice pilaf is far superior to anything you can find in a box and it's almost as easy and quick to make!

Side view of plated rice pilaf
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Here’s how it's done: After rinsing the rice of excess starch, you melt a generous chunk of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add a handful of pasta. (Most Armenians use vermicelli “nests,” crushed gently into 1- to 2-inch long threads, but you can also use busted-up straight vermicelli, angel hair, or short, non-tubular pasta like orzo.) You keep a watchful eye on the noodles and stir occasionally to prevent them from burning, until they toast to a deep golden brown. (In the process, the butter solids also brown, lending the dish its essential nutty, toasty flavor.) Once the pasta is toasted, you add the rice, cook it briefly in the butter to help keep the grains separate, add salt, pepper, and chicken stock, and then increase the heat to high. Once the pot comes to a boil, you turn the heat all the way down and let the liquid simmer gently under a lid for 10 minutes or so, until all of it has been absorbed. After that, you move the pot off the heat, place a folded towel under the lid, and let the rice and noodles steam for another 10 minutes (the towel sucks up excess steam, allowing the rice to finish cooking through while the grains remain fluffy and separate).

The whole thing takes barely more than 30 minutes, most of it—aside from the careful pasta-watching phase—hands-off. And that little bit of extra time and effort yields a delicious, aromatic, and sumptuous side dish that's far more than the sum of its simple parts.

My recipe for rice pilaf is pretty standard, aside from a few minor refinements. Other recipes vary, but I use an even 2:1 ratio (by volume) of stock to rice, which is both easy to remember and yields what I think of as just the right final consistency. And I like to soak my rice in hot tap water for 10 minutes before cooking it, which helps to remove any last traces of surface starch, while also pre-softening the rice just enough that it cooks through evenly. (Some recipes for pilaf have you soak the rice for hours or even overnight in cold water for the same reason.)

What about pre-toasting the pasta?

Many rice pilaf recipes suggest pre-toasting the pasta dry, in bulk, to save time and perhaps avoid the risk of burning it on the stovetop. While that’s something many people do, I don’t personally think it saves much time in the long run (especially since you still need to brown the butter), so I don’t bother. But you can if you like: Just place the pasta on a rimmed baking sheet in a single later and cook it on the middle rack of a 325˚F oven until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Once cool, you can store it in a jar—broken up or whole—until needed.

What about bulgur pilaf?

Armenians also love to make this dish using bulgur in place of the rice, and the good news is that it can be made with an even swap of one grain for the other, by volume. Unlike rice pilaf, it’s not necessary to pre-soak the bulgur; all it needs is a quick rinse. Bulgur pilaf can be made using any grade of bulgur, though it works best with medium or coarse bulgur (which are conveniently easier to find in supermarkets than fine bulgur).

Place rice in a medium bowl and rinse with hot tap water until water runs clear, about 30 seconds. Cover rice completely with fresh hot tap water and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain rice thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer; discard soaking water.

Two image collage. Top image: Rice soaking in a metal bowl. Bottom Image: Rice being strained
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring regularly, until evenly golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges of rice begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add stock, salt, and pepper, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.

Four image collage. Clockwise from upper left: pasta toasted in pan; rice added to pan; broth added to pan; rice and pasta with all water absorbed.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Remove pan from heat, remove the lid, cover pot with a folded dish towel, and set lid back in place. Let sit for 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork, stir in half of parsley, if using, and transfer to a serving dish. Top with remaining parsley and serve.

Rice pilaf being fluffed off heat
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Special Equipment

Fine-mesh sieve

Notes

The recipe can easily be doubled, if desired.

For bulgur pilaf, replace the rice with 1 cup (175g) bulgur, rinsed and drained and skip step 1 entirely. Add the bulgur in place of the rice in step 3, and cook until sizzling stops, about 3 minutes, before adding the remaining ingredients.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Rice and bulgur pilaf can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Ganach Lupia (Armenian Braised Green Beans

Meltingly tender green beans and lamb braised in a tomato-based sauce.

Overhead view of Ganach Lupia in a dutch ovenANACHLUPIA
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Every Armenian family has their own recipe for ganach lupia or ganach fassoulia—tomato-braised green beans. This dish is so fundamental to Armenian cuisine that its name means simply “green beans” (ganach is Armenian for “green" and lupia is the Armenian word for "bean"; fassoulia is the Arabic word for “bean”). To put it another way, when an Armenian hears the term “green beans” or even just “beans,” it is this dish and not the raw vegetable that first comes to mind. (The fact that Armenians often refer to the dish by its Arabic name is evidence of its popularity throughout the Southwest Asian/North African region.) It’s fundamental in another way, as it's an example of a class of similar tomato-braised vegetable dishes in Armenian cooking (bamiya, or tomato-braised okra, is another essential one).

As you’d expect from such a common recipe, there are numerous variations on the theme. There are vegetarian versions, where the beans are braised in a mixture of water and tomatoes, and meat versions, which include beef or lamb, either on or off the bone. The common denominator is the inclusion of onions and garlic as base flavors, along with time—vegetarian or not, the dish is cooked for hours, until the beans (and meat, if included) are meltingly tender and deeply savory. This is because green beans take a long time to cook until tender, since they contain a lot of lignin, the same cellulose-based compound that makes wood hard.

In my family, this dish—which we just call “fassoulia”—is made with lamb, and we usually use lamb neck or bone-in shoulder. While this is definitely a “meaty” main dish, the green beans are the star: the dish includes an equal weight of beans as it does meat, and a large percentage of the latter’s weight is taken up by bones. The meat is meant to accompany the beans and not the other way around— it's included more as a source of umami depth and richness than it is for protein heft. In this recipe, I’ve called for bone-in shoulder chops because they're easy to come by, but if you can find lamb neck bones, you should definitely use those instead. (Because lamb neck bones are rich in both collagen and fat, they’ll give the fassoulia a lip-smacking unctuousness.) I’ve also included an option for using beef, if you’d prefer to use that over lamb.

Side view of ganach lupia in a dutch over
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

For the tomato component, I use both coarsely crushed, canned plum tomatoes and tomato paste for a double dose of tomato flavor. To add even more flavor, I add mild Middle Eastern-style red pepper paste—for additional sweetness and depth—and anchovies. The last ingredient is definitely not something you’ll find in other Armenian fassoulia recipes, but it's something I reach for all the time when I want to lay down yet another base layer of umami in a dish. Used judiciously, it's never noticeable as itself, only as intense savoriness. For the spicing, I use black pepper and allspice, but only in subtle, harmonizing amounts.

While making fassoulia is usually a long, low, and slow affair, there is one way to speed things along: Use a pressure cooker. What normally takes about two hours in a low (325°F/160°C) oven is done in just 12 minutes in a pressure cooker, along with however much time it takes for the cooker to come to high pressure, and the 20 minutes or so it takes to depressurize. I’ve included instructions and timing for cooking it whichever way you like; both yield identical results. Because the oven version requires a bit of stirring, I add the green beans near the midpoint, so they don’t fall apart once the lamb is cooked through. Long-cooked green beans hold their shape, but are prone to disintegrating if over-agitated. (For similar reasons, it’s best to stir the finished dish gently, no matter which way you make it.)

Serve fassoulia with a dollop of cooling, tangy yogurt, along with Armenian-style rice or bulgur pilaf with pasta.

If Using a Dutch Oven: Preheat oven with rack set in middle position to 325°F (160°C). While oven heats, using a sharp knife, remove bones from chops, leaving meat in large chunks and leaving behind any segments of meat clinging to bones. (Remove and discard any small shards of bone present.) Cut boneless pieces into 1-inch chunks and trim of excess fat. Place meat and bones in a bowl and toss with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for at least 40 minutes and up to 2 hours. Meanwhile, place tomatoes and their juices in a second bowl, crush coarsely with a pastry cutter or chop with a pair of kitchen shears, and set aside.

4 image collage. Clockwise from upper left: strips of meat on a cutting board; fat separated from meat on a cutting board; meat seasoned in a metal bowl; crushed tomatoes in a metal bowl.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add boneless lamb pieces and cook, turning occasionally, until lamb is well browned on 2 sides, about 10 minutes. Return lamb to bowl with bones and set aside.

Overhead view of lamb cooked in a dutch overn
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Add onion and baking soda to Dutch oven and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies and cook, stirring and breaking up anchovies occasionally with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until anchovies have dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add pepper paste, tomato paste, and allspice, stir to combine with allium-anchovy mixture, and continue to cook until mixture turns dark brick red, 2 to 4 minutes longer.

4 image collage. Clockwise from upper left: onion mixture softened in dutch oven; garlic and anchovies added to onions; mixture fully combined in dutch oven; browned mixture in dutch oven
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Add lamb, lamb bones, water, and tomatoes to Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cover, and transfer to oven. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Two image collage. Top: lamb and tomatoes added to onion mixture. Bottom: Dutch oven placed into the oven.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Stir in green beans, cover, and return to oven. Cook until meat is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Two image collage. Top: Green beans added to dutch oven. Bottom: fully cooked lamb and green beans in dutch oven
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Stirring gently to avoid crushing beans, add 1 tablespoon parsley and season with additional salt to taste. Transfer to serving bowl, top with remaining parsley, and serve, with yogurt and rice pilaf on side.

Overhead view of parsley being added into the dutch oven
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

If Using a Stovetop or Electric Pressure Cooker: Remove bones from chops, leaving meat in large chunks and leaving behind any segments of meat clinging to bones. (Remove and discard any small shards of bone present.) Cut boneless pieces into 1-inch chunks and trim of excess fat. Place meat and bones in a bowl and toss with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for at least 40 minutes and up to 2 hours. Meanwhile, place tomatoes and their juices in a second bowl, crush coarsely with a pastry cutter or chop with a pair of kitchen shears, and set aside.

4 image collage. Clockwise from upper left: strips of meat on a cutting board; fat separated from meat on a cutting board; meat seasoned in a metal bowl; crushed tomatoes in a metal bowl.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil in a stovetop pressure cooker over medium heat until shimmering; alternatively, heat the oil in an electric pressure using its "sauté" setting. Add boneless lamb pieces and cook, turning occasionally, until lamb is well browned on 2 sides, about 10 minutes. If necessary, cook lamb pieces in batches to prevent overcrowding. Return lamb to bowl with bones and set aside.

Overhead view of lamb cooking in a dutch oven
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Add onion and baking soda to pressure cooker and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies and cook, stirring and breaking up anchovies occasionally with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until anchovies have dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add pepper paste, tomato paste, and allspice, stir to combine with allium-anchovy mixture, and continue to cook until mixture turns dark brick red, 2 to 4 minutes longer.

4 image collage. Clockwise from upper left: onion mixture in pressure cooker; ginger and anchovies added; ingredients completely combined in pressure cooker; tomato paste added to pressure cooker and browned.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Add lamb, lamb bones, water, and tomatoes to Dutch oven and stir to combine. Place green beans on top, cover pressure cooker with lid, and bring to high pressure over medium-high heat, if using a stovetop model, or by setting to pressure-cooker mode on an electric pressure cooker, about 15 minutes, and cook for 12 minutes.

Green beans added to pressure cooker
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Remove pressure cooker from heat and allow to depressurize naturally; carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

Overhead view of pressure cooker with lid removed
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Stirring gently to avoid crushing beans, add 1 tablespoon parsley and season with additional salt to taste. Transfer to serving bowl, top with remaining parsley, and serve, with yogurt and rice pilaf on side.

Parsley being added to finished ganach lupia in pressure cooker
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Special Equipment

Large Dutch oven, stovetop or electric pressure cooker (optional).

Notes

This dish is also commonly made with beef in place of lamb. If you’d like to substitute, use bone-in beef short ribs, either English or flanken cut.

Biber salçasi can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. If unavailable, increase tomato paste to 3 tablespoons and add 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne and 1 teaspoon sweet paprika.

The pressure cooker might seem full when adding the beans, but they will cook down quickly, so don’t sweat it.

This dish is commonly served with the bones. If desired, you can remove the meat from the bones after cooking and discard them.

Make-Ahead and Storage

This dish reheats wonderfully, and—as with many braises—its texture even improves after a day in the fridge. Reheat it on the stovetop, stirring gently so as not to break up the beans.

Lavash Triangles

Vegan mashed bean paste enveloped in a delicate, crunchy shell unlike any other turnover wrapper.

Lavash triangles on a serving platter with dipping sauce.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

I first encountered a recipe for these bean-filled triangles in the Armenian cookbook Lavash, by Kate Leahy, Ara Zada, and John Lee, and I was immediately intrigued. They're something of a cross between boreks—the Armenian baked phyllo-wrapped crispy turnovers—and samosas, the crunchy, fried South Asian dumplings stuffed with savory fillings. 

According to Leahy, Zada, and Lee, they are the creation of their friend Anahit Badalayan, a cook from Goris, Armenia, a city known for speckled beans not unlike our pinto or cranberry beans. While it's common to turn Goris beans into a simple coarse paste very similar to Mexican refried beans, Badalayan’s innovation was to use the bean mash as a filling for turnovers made from strips of lavash, shallow fried in oil until crisp. 

I made them, and they were so good that they quickly became a staple in our house. The vegan mashed bean paste is satisfying and filling, and the lavash fries up to yield a shell with a delicate, crunchy texture that's unlike any other turnover wrapper. 

Over time, my own recipe evolved to become the version I'm presenting to you here. Aside from a few minor changes, I've stayed more or less true to the recipe from Lavash. I added a zesty dipping sauce made from the same herbs in the bean filling (cilantro and dill in the original recipe, to which I also added parsley), along with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. And I worked out a way to bake the triangles rather than pan-fry them, to make the cooking process simpler and less messy, without sacrificing that crispy fried texture. 

Lavash triangles served with dipping sauce.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Most importantly, I worked out some of the mechanics around buying and using supermarket lavash. While lavash in Armenia is undoubtedly of better quality overall, I found that the lavash I could find at my local supermarkets varied in both size and freshness. None of it was unusable, but I learned some tricks for making the most of supermarket lavash: 

  • It’s a good idea to buy more than you need, in order to get enough 3-inch by 11-inch strips to yield 16 triangles. Lavash comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and some portion of each flatbread will yield strips too short to use in this recipe. Moreover, it's sometimes so fragile that it tears or cracks when removing it from the package. Starting with more than you need ensures you get 16 usable strips. (Most lavash is sold in 1-pound packages; two packages should be more than enough.)
  • While the authors of Lavash recommend pre-moistening the lavash strips only if they are extremely fragile, I found this step to be essential with the lavash I had access to. I used a water mister bottle to spray each strip lightly but evenly on both sides, which both made it more pliable to work with and more likely to stick to itself when folded into triangles. (Fortunately, there's little risk of over-hydrating the lavash here, as any excess water evaporates when the triangles bake.) 
  • Finally, this is a rustic and forgiving sort of turnover. A little tear here and there in the strip or a burst seam in the finished triangle won’t matter in the end—they will still be delicious. (That said, it’s still a good idea to fold them as gently as possible to avoid mishaps.)

For the triangles: In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, salt, and baking soda and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion has broken down into a soft paste and is just starting to stick to pot, 6 to 8 minutes. Add beans, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper and cook until mixture is hot, about 2 minutes.

Onions simmering in a pot.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Remove pot from heat and, using a potato masher or pastry cutter, mash beans to form a coarse paste. Fold in cilantro, parsley, and dill. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste. Cover and let cool to room temperature.

Bean paste mashed into a pot.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

For the sauce: Place parsley, cilantro, olive oil, dill, lemon juice, garlic, Aleppo pepper, salt, and cumin in the jar of a countertop blender or food processor and process until just smooth, 15 to 30 seconds. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside. (Sauce may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.)

Herbs in a food processor.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

To finish: Place 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on a rimmed baking sheet and, using a brush, spread evenly on bottom of sheet. Cut lavash into sixteen 11-inch-long, 3-inch-wide strips. Keep cut lavash covered or in a plastic bag so strips don’t dry out.

Lavash strips on a rimmed baking sheet.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Lay 3 or 4 lavash strips on the countertop side by side, with short ends facing edge of countertop. Using a mister bottle, lightly spray both sides of each strip with water to soften.

Misting lavash on a countertop.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Using a 1/4 cup measure, place scant 3 tablespoons (about 40g) filling on the bottom left-hand corner of one strip, about one inch from the bottom edge. Using a spoon, form filling into a rough triangle with its long edge (hypotenuse) facing the bottom right edge of the lavash. Working gently, lift the bottom right corner of the lavash and fold it over the filling and gently press to form a right triangle. Continue folding up and over, like folding a flag, until you reach the end of lavash strip. Using a sharp knife, trim off any overhanging lavash. Place the triangle seam-side down on the prepared sheet and repeat with the remaining three strips.

Rolling lavash strips.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Repeat with remaining lavash strips and filling, arranging triangles in pairs with long edges facing each other, so that they form four rows of four triangles. Cover tray and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate tray for up to two hours.

Lavash triangles on a sheet pan.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Set an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350°F (175°C). When oven is ready, place remaining 1/3 cup oil in a small bowl. Using a brush, thoroughly coat both sides of each triangle with oil and return to tray, seam-side down.

Olive oil-brushed lavash triangles about to bake.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Bake until golden and crisp on one side, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove sheet pan from oven, brush tops of triangles with oil and then drizzle any oil remaining in bowl over them. Flip triangles and continue to bake until they are golden brown and crisp on both sides, 12 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and let triangles cool at least 5 minutes before serving, passing sauce on side.

Lavash triangles ready to eat.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, pastry brush, wire rack, water mister bottle

Notes

If you want to use dried beans here, use 3 cups cooked and drained pinto beans in place of the canned ones.

It’s a good idea to buy more lavash than you need, just in case some of it is torn or too narrow to yield the necessary 11-inch long strips. Lavash is commonly sold in 1-pound packages; 1 ½ pounds lavash should be more than enough. 

Be liberal with water when spraying the lavash strips, particularly if your lavash seems fragile. It can handle a lot of moisture, and any excess will evaporate during baking.

Aleppo chile peppers, which have been cultivated in Syria for centuries, are quite mild in terms of heat, with a hint of raisin-y, sun-dried tomato sweetness. Due to the ongoing civil war, true Aleppo pepper from Syria is no longer available for import, but chiles grown in neighboring Turkey are. You can find Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets, or online. Korean gochugaru or paprika (plus 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to add heat to the latter) can be substituted for Aleppo pepper in this recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The herb sauce can be held in the fridge for up to 48 hours; allow to warm to room temperature before serving.

To make the triangles ahead of time, it is best to bake them off, cool them to room temperature, and then refrigerate them in an airtight container for up to 2 days. (Or freeze for up to 3 weeks.)

To reheat, place on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet in a 350˚F oven for 15 to 20 minutes (20 to 25 if frozen).

Do You Need the Le Creuset Bread Oven?

We tested the new Le Creuset Bread Oven, comparing its performance to a standard Dutch oven, to find out if the bread oven is worth the investment.

a red Le Creuset bread oven
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Le Creuset recently launched a fancy, enameled cast-iron, “bread oven”—a pot specifically designed for baking crisp, crusty loaves of bread. I tested it out to find out whether it's worth the nearly $300 sticker price. But, first, some background.

By now, most people who make bread at home already know that baking a rustic loaf is best done in a heavy, covered Dutch oven-style pot. Baking “under a cloche” is as old as the hills, but it was popularized in recent years by Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman’s 2006 New York Times no-knead bread recipe and Chad Robertson’s 2010 book, Tartine Bread. 

For those unfamiliar with the baking method, here’s why it works so well: Lean breads—meaning those without a large amount of fat from eggs, butter, or oil in them—need to be surrounded by steam for the first half or so of the bake for best results. The steam serves to promote good oven spring for a tall, open-crumbed loaf, and to produce a thin-shelled and shiny crust. After a while, the steam is removed in order to let the crust brown and crisp up. 

Professional bakers use specialized ovens that rapidly fill the oven with steam on demand, and vent it away just as quickly when it’s no longer needed. Home bakers have devised all sorts of techniques for steaming their ovens—pouring boiling water onto superheated lava rocks is one of the best I’ve found—but no matter how good, these tricks all fall short, for two reasons. One, it is hard to generate enough steam to fill the relatively large space of a typical home oven. And two, home ovens are vented by design, so they do not retain enough steam to have the desired effect. (Electric ovens are better than gas in this regard, but neither is great.)

Enter the Dutch oven. Instead of baking the bread in the “open,” you preheat the empty pot and lid in the oven, add the loaf, cover it, and return it to the oven. After half an hour or so, you remove the lid and continue baking the bread until it is sufficiently browned. 

But what about the steam, you ask? Ah, but it comes from the bread itself! Bread baked in an enclosed container “self-steams,” because some of the water in the dough evaporates as the loaf heats up, filling the surrounding space with water vapor. Baking bread in a Dutch oven produces results that rival breads made in fancy, steam-injected bread ovens. It’s something of a miracle of science that such a simple and common device could be so effective, especially with so little effort required. 

Which brings me to the subject of this review: If a simple, humble, and versatile Dutch oven is such an effective tool for bread, do you really need to spend $290 on a “bread oven” that does the same thing? That’s what I wanted to find out.

Before I get into my testing, I need to point out the main difference between the Le Creuset Bread Oven and a bog-standard, enameled cast iron Dutch oven, like the round 7-quart Le Creuset one I have owned for more than 20 years: it’s upside down! Instead of a large, deep base and a flat-ish lid, the bread oven features a shallow, skillet-like base and a tall, bell-shaped lid. This design is identical to other bread-specific baking vessels—ceramic or cast-iron—known as cloches. (“Cloche” is French for bell.) 

The base of the Le Creuset bread oven
A look at the shallow base of the Bread Oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The main advantage to having the bottom half of the device be shallow is that once the lid is removed, the loaf is nearly fully exposed to the heat of the oven, allowing it to brown quickly and evenly. And it makes loading and unloading the loaf easier, since you don't have to navigate the high (and scorching hot) sides of a deep pot. (Another possible advantage is that the "lid" in this case weighs more than the base—2,350 grams, or 32.5% heftier than the 1,774-gram lid of my seven-quart Dutch oven—which might allow it to hold the steam in better, thanks to gravity.)

The main disadvantage? You can only use the Le Creuset Bread Oven to do one thing: bake bread. (You can't really even use the base as a skillet, despite outward appearances. I'll explain why a little later.) Meanwhile, you can use a Dutch oven to…bake bread, make chili, cook pasta, make beef stew, and the list goes on. All of which means that, for the average home cook, the Le Creuset Bread Oven has better be vastly superior to a Dutch oven, or it will hardly be worth the storage space and steep sticker price. 

The Testing

a bread loaf cut in half to display the crumb
The crumb of a loaf baked in the Bread Oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

To evaluate the Bread Oven, I baked a dozen crusty, rustic loaves—sourdough and yeasted, white and whole grain—in one, and compared them to the same loaves baked in my Dutch oven. The good news? They were all excellent, as good as any I’d baked in any other well-made vessel, with a crackly-crisp crust and a nice open crumb! The bad news? They were mostly identical to those I’d baked in any other well-made vessel! 

There were a few differences, none of which I'd consider selling points, alas:

a loaf of finished bread sitting in the Le Creuset bread oven
A loaf baked in the Bread Oven was pretty much identical to one baked in a Dutch oven.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Yes, the loaves did brown more quickly in the Bread Oven and its shallower base. Those that I baked in my Dutch oven took an average of five extra minutes to brown to the same degree. But there was no noticeable difference in the quality of either crust once fully baked. And sure, it was easier to load and unload the shallower Bread Oven, but with a good pair of oven mitts, using a Dutch oven without mishaps is no big deal either.

The bottom of the Bread Oven loaves got a little darker than I’d like in a few instances. The inside of the Bread Oven is coated in black enamel, unlike most Dutch ovens (including mine), which have a lighter-toned enamel coating. Dark-colored materials absorb and transmit heat more readily than lighter ones, which explains the extra browning. In this case, it is not a fatal flaw, since you can drop the oven temperature slightly—25°F less, in my testing—to avoid it. 

But what isn't avoidable, unfortunately, are the impressions that the Bread Oven leaves on the underside of the loaf, thanks to the circular, two-millimeter high ridges and mirror-image “Le Creuset” logo located on the inside of the base. In its marketing materials, Le Creuset claims the ridges are there "for even browning,” though it's not clear if they are supposed to lift the loaf up a little higher in the oven or to allow a little air circulation beneath the loaf. 

the bottom of a loaf made in the Le Creuset bread oven
Even for an extremely experienced bread baker, centering the loaf was challenging. Even if you were a fan of the Le Creuset logo and wanted it baked onto a loaf of bread, you're more likely to get a result like this (here, the logo's barely visible toward the bottom).Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

They also state that they are there to mark "the loaf with the Le Creuset three rings."  And, as the accompanying photo makes clear, the inverted name is meant to imprint itself (unmirrored, of course) onto the underside of the loaf too. This is just plain silly to me. Why would I want to brand my loaves with the Le Creuset emblem at all, much less on the never-visible underside? (Oh, and, by the way, the Le Creuset name ends up more of an amorphous cypher than a crisp letterpress unless you use a very wet dough, something I almost never do.)  More importantly: The rings and logo only leave a mark when you set the raw dough directly onto the base, rather than placing it first on a sheet of parchment that you use as a “sling” to load the loaf. The latter approach is a far safer way to make sure the loaf ends up perfectly placed; it’s too easy to miss the mark when you invert the loaf directly into the scorching hot pot. 

Maybe this is a selling point for some people, but not for me. Fortunately, the marks are purely aesthetic, and not visible unless you turn the loaf upside down. Moreover, as I hinted at earlier, the raised ridges on the base make it less useful as a skillet, since they impede smooth stirring of the pan’s contents. (And because the ridges don’t cover the base of the pan completely, you also can’t use it as a grill pan.)

The Verdict

a loaf of bread made in a Le Creuset Bread Oven with a parchment paper sling beneath it
Does it make beautiful bread? Yes. Do you need it? Eh, but it's a personal choice.Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

As I mentioned already, the Le Creuset Bread Oven works exactly as advertised: It is an easy-to-use and thoroughly effective bread baking tool, capable of cranking out perfectly baked rustic loaves with a delicate, crisp crust and a holey interior. As well it should be, since it is made with the usual quality and care as other Le Creuset products. And it is a beautiful, if unusual-looking, device, available in a wide variety of Le Creuset’s colorful finishes. 

But is it worth the $290 sticker price? The answer is: it depends. Do you have the extra scratch to spend and room to spare in your kitchen cabinets to house one? Then sure, by all means, the Bread Oven won’t disappoint. But if you are short on funds and/or kitchen real estate, then I’d say you are better off getting a far-more-versatile and possibly much less expensive—at least if you opt for brands other than Le Creuset—cast iron Dutch oven instead (or using the one you might already have).

FAQs

How do you clean the Le Creuset Bread Oven?

The Le Creuset Bread Oven is dishwasher-safe, however hand-washing is recommended.

How do you make bread in a Dutch oven?

You can find the Serious Eats recipe and instructions for no-knead bread that's baked in a Dutch oven here.

What's the best Dutch oven?

Our favorite Dutch ovens include the Le Creuset 5.5-Quart Dutch Oven and Cuisinart 5-Quart Chef's Classic Enameled Dutch Oven. You can read our full review here.

Harissa (Armenian Wheat and Chicken Porridge)

A porridge that is far more than the sum of its parts, with a little assist from spiced brown butter.

Overhead view of harissa with pickled vegetables and lavash
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

I have to be honest with you: I'd heard about harissa before beginning work on this recipe, but I’d never eaten it. My parents talked about growing up with the dish, but we never ate it in our house. But I’ve been making up for lost time since starting developing a version of my own, and I can say without question that harissa is now one of my favorite dishes, Armenian or otherwise. It’s one that I put on par with any of the world’s great cool-weather comfort foods, like chicken noodle soup, cheesy grits, or congee.

Harissa—also known as herisseh, harisa, or keshkeg—is a wheat berry and meat porridge. The meat in question is usually chicken or lamb (occasionally beef), and the wheat is usually korkot, or “shelled” wheat, meaning wheat berries that have had their tough hulls removed, making them (somewhat) quicker to cook. The meat and the wheat berries are combined with water or stock and then cooked and stirred over a low flame for hours until both break down into a uniform, amorphous, stodgy porridge. None of those sound like positive attributes for a main dish, but the process seems to alchemically transform these simple ingredients into a thoroughly satisfying, deeply savory whole. And once you top the harissa with its mandatory Aleppo pepper-spiced browned butter, the dish absolutely sings.

Angled view of harissa in a bowl topped with Aleppo browned butter
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Harissa is traditionally served with sheets of lavash to scoop it up and crisp vinegar-pickled vegetables. While combining a wheaty porridge with bread may sound like starch-on-starch overload, the harissa is so savory that the lavash actually serves as a mild-mannered foil for it. And the pickles help to cleanse the palate between bites. (If you have neither lavash nor pickles, harissa is equally nice eaten with a spoon or a fork, alongside a brightly-dressed green salad.)

Harissa is a dish of special cultural significance to Armenians, many of whom consider it their national dish. And while it is eaten year-round, particularly during colder months, it's also traditionally served at Easter to mark the end of Lent (there’s a vegetarian version of harissa made with wheat and chickpeas or herbs that's eaten during Lent), and as a celebratory feast, such as for the birth of a first child. And it's served to commemorate the Musa Ler resistance during the Armenian Genocide in 1915. While Armenians insist the dish originated in the Armenian Highlands, versions of it are eaten throughout Southwest Asia and India as well; in Arabic it is known as harees, and it's a staple of Ramadan meals.

Harissa is significant in at least one other way: It's one of the only Middle Eastern dishes to make its way into American jazz history, featured in the lyrics and title of scat singer Slim Gaillard’s hit 1946 song Yep Roc Heresay. Gaillard apparently took the words for his song straight from the menu of a Detroit Armenian restaurant. (“Yaprak” is Turkish for stuffed grape leaves.) The song so perplexed some conservative listeners that it was deemed “degenerate” and promptly banned from several radio stations.

The Meat

Years of restaurant and test kitchen cooking drilled into me the idea that you have to be precise about time and temperature to prepare meat properly, lest it end up overcooked. With harissa, you deliberately cook the meat long past the point of overcooked. I had a hard time wrapping my head around this idea when I first tried it, but once I tasted my first batch, I understood: The point is to break the meat down to its essential elements, transmuting it into pure flavor.

The good news is that once you let go of your resistance to cooking meat this long, the process, aside from the occasional stir to avoid sticking, is practically effortless. (And it’s even more effortless if you use a pressure cooker.) As for what kind of meat to use, I have made it with both boneless chicken thighs and lamb stew meat, and both are delicious. The chicken version is definitely milder-mannered than the lamb, and is the one Armenians seem to make most often, based on the number of chicken harissa recipes I found in my research. This recipe has been tested with both chicken thighs and chunks of lamb stew meat.

Many traditional chicken harissa recipes begin by poaching an entire chicken to make stock, then instruct you to remove the meat from the bones and use both to make the harissa. I chose to skip this step, and I call for using boneless thighs (untrimmed of the bits and bobs of fat which add extra richness here) and pre-made stock. The result is chickeny enough without going to the extra trouble of starting with a whole chicken.

The Wheat

I mentioned above that harissa is usually made with korkot, or “shelled” wheat. This grain is hard to come by outside of Armenian/Middle Eastern grocery stores or online, but there's a very good, easily-available alternative: pearled farro. Farro is a relative of wheat and has a similar flavor to korkot, so there's no shame in using it here. And if you cannot find pearled farro, pearled barley also makes an excellent backup option. That said, if you can source korkot, you should definitely use it. (Farro has red-hued hulls, while those on korkot are white, so the harissa has a slightly different appearance depending on which one you use.)

To Stir or Not to Stir

How often to stir harissa is a subject of much debate. Some recipes suggest it must be stirred often, throughout the cooking process, while others insist you mustn’t touch it until late in the process. I’m not sure what either of these prescriptions are meant to avoid or encourage, but in my experience you needn't worry too much until about the halfway mark, when the starches released by the wheat start threatening to stick to the bottom of the pot.

You do need to stir the harissa at the end of the process, in order to produce the proper tightly-bound and uniform consistency, but I found that the best tool in that moment was not a spatula but a potato masher, which helps release the wheat starch and reduces the pieces of meat to a fine consistency. (You can take this a step further and use a potato masher and an immersion blender, if you have one.) The texture you are looking for is a thick, oatmeal-like consistency that just barely stands on its own. (Don’t worry if yours seems a little loose at first, it will thicken up further as it sits.)

Butter it Up

Harissa has a ton of character for a dish with just five ingredients (two of which are just water and salt), but it's made even better with a final, simple flourish. Many recipes just have you form a well in the center of the porridge and tell you to place a pat of butter in it to melt. But I’m partial to those that first brown the butter on the stovetop and add to it a spoonful of Aleppo pepper. To stretch the topping so that there’s enough to go around without using an excess of butter, I add a few tablespoons of olive oil, and this has the benefit of adding some floral notes to the fat mixture.

For the Stovetop: Combine broth, 2 cups (480 ml) water, chicken (or lamb), farro, and salt in a Dutch oven and bring to boil over high heat. Cover pot and reduce heat to maintain gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is creamy and thick and grains easily compress under a spatula, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. You will need to stir more frequently toward the end of the cooking process. Skip to step 4.

For a Pressure Cooker:
Place broth, 1 cup (240 ml) water, chicken (or lamb or beef), farro, and salt in a pressure cooker. Seal and bring to high pressure over medium-high heat, if using a stovetop model, or by setting to pressure-cooker mode on an electric multi-cooker. Cook at high pressure for 40 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain high pressure (if using a stovetop pressure cooker; electric ones will automatically regulate the heat and pressure level).

Overhead view of water, farro, and chicken in a pressure cooker
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Allow cooker to depressurize naturally (about 15 minutes), then carefully remove lid, allowing steam to escape away from you.

Overhead view of farro, and chicken mixture after it has been cooked in a pressure cooker
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Using a potato masher, vigorously mash mixture until the majority of chicken pieces are reduced to fine shreds and the harissa is very thick and starchy, about 2 minutes. (If you have an immersion blender, you can speed things along by blending the mixture for about 30 seconds and then finishing with potato masher.) Season with additional salt to taste.

Overhead view of a hand mashing farro and chicken in pressure cooker.
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

In a small saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until foamy. Continue to cook, swirling pan, until milk solids in butter turn a deep hazelnut brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add Aleppo pepper (don't be alarmed; butter will foam and fizzle when pepper is added), swirling to coat.

4 image collage: Butter being heated in a saucepan, butter being browned in a sauce pan, aleppo pepper being added to butter, aleppo pepper fully coated with butter
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Spoon harissa into bowls, drizzle with spiced brown butter, and serve (with lavash on side, if including).

Harissa plated onto a bowl with lavash on the side and a small bowl of vegetables
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Special Equipment

Potato masher, immersion blender (optional).

Notes

Don't trim the fat or sinew from the meat; it contributes to the flavor and richness of the porridge, and breaks down completely by the end of cooking.

If you can find korkot, or hulled wheat (available at Middle Eastern markets or online), by all means use that. Pearled farro makes an excellent substitute. If pearled farro is unavailable, pearled barley works nicely here, too.

Because of the minimal evaporation that takes place in a pressure cooker, only add 1 cup water (rather than 2 cups called for in the stovetop version). 

When cooking on the stovetop, stir the harissa more frequently after the first hour, to prevent sticking and scorching.

Aleppo chile peppers, which have been cultivated in Syria for centuries, are quite mild in terms of heat, with a hint of raisin-y, sun-dried tomato sweetness. Due to the ongoing civil war, true Aleppo pepper from Syria is no longer available for import, but chiles grown in neighboring Turkey are. You can find Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets, or online. Korean gochugaru or paprika (plus 1/8 teaspoon cayenne to add heat to the latter) can be substituted for Aleppo pepper in this recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Harissa can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated for up to three days before reheating on the stovetop; add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to restore it to its original consistency.

How to Make Great Pizza in an Outdoor Pizza Oven

Pizza experts weigh in on how to make the best pizza using an outdoor countertop oven.

Sliding a charred broccoli rabe pizza onto a serving tray
Andrew Janjigian

I got a gas-fired outdoor tabletop pizza oven this past summer (an Ooni Koda), and when I first fired it up I had a little trouble working with it, which left me feeling a little perplexed. I’ve been making pizza for nearly 40 years, and consider myself something of a pizza expert, at least when it comes to making it at home. Pizza was the first thing I taught myself to cook, and I've been tweaking my own recipes ever since. I've also developed pizza and flatbread recipes for publication for more than 10 years now, starting with the New York-style pie I created for Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

Add to that the fact that I’ve owned a clay "beehive" oven and a larger oven made from a repurposed oil barrel (which I wrote about for Serious Eats years ago), and you can understand why I was a little freaked out when the first wave of pies I made in my Ooni—which burns at wood-fired oven temperatures approaching 900°F and cooks a pizza in under two minutes—started burning before the toppings and underside were fully baked. Not charring, mind you, but burning, sometimes quite literally, with flames dancing along the edges of the pie. 

Slicing an
Andrew Janjigian

At first I wondered if there was something wrong with my choice of oven, but then I remembered the beautiful pies I saw coming out of the same oven all over my Instagram feed. In order to get to the bottom of my problems, I decided to ask some of those Instagram pizza-pros for advice and reassurance, among them Christy Alia (a.k.a. Real Clever Food, from New York), Feng Chen (Leopard Pizza, in Bangkok), Ines Glaser (of LA's Lupa Cotta), and Elizabeth English (of Quanto Basta in Portland, Maine). With their expert help, I was eventually able to extinguish the fires and turn out the sort of top-notch pies I could be proud of. 

The first thing they schooled me on was the crucial importance of having the proper dough formula, particularly avoiding any ingredients that tend to promote browning, like oil or sugar. But they gave me lots of other useful advice for working with tabletop pizza ovens, which I'm now going to share with you here, along with some advice of my own, now that I've got a method I'm happy with. As far as dough formulation, ideal dough-ball size, and fermentation goes, I cover all of that extensively in my outdoor pizza oven dough recipe, so you’ll want to head there for all the details first. In this post, I'm going to cover everything that happens after the doughs are ready to stretch and bake. 

Oven Temperature and Preheating

Taking the temperature of the baking surface of an outdoor pizza oven with an infrared thermometer
Andrew Janjigian

As I said, these tabletop ovens are designed to quickly reach temperatures of 900°F and above. My Ooni takes about half an hour to come up to temperature, compared to the hours I'd need to spend tending my wood-fired ovens before I could launch my first pie. That said, most everyone I spoke to recommended using the oven at slightly more moderate temperatures. 

“I like to bake my pizzas between 850 and 900 degrees,” said Elizabeth English. “I find that anything hotter and the bottom gets too dark before the top does, which means you run the risk of the center not being fully cooked.” As for how she knows when the oven is ready: “[An] infrared thermometer [is] a must-have if you are going to use these ovens, as the temperature can fluctuate drastically with a huge gust of wind, if it is ten degrees cooler that day, you name it.”

After many rounds of testing, I settled on a target oven temperature of 800°F for the dough and four topped pizza recipes that I developed. The slightly lower baking temperature is more forgiving, but still plenty hot enough to achieve a crisp undercarriage and leoparding on the crust. 

When taking the temperature of your oven, you want to temp the surface of the baking stone, particularly in the area closest to the flame. In my Ooni, which has an L-shaped flame that runs from the front left to the back right corner of the oven, that’s the back left quadrant. 

An outdoor pizza oven fitted with an oven door to speed up preheating
Andrew Janjigian

One thing that I noticed with my particular oven was that a lot of heat escaped from the front of the oven as it preheated. While some ovens include a built-in door, mine did not. I was able to find one made by a third-party on Etsy that was an easy add-on, and it made a big difference in how long it took the oven to heat up, saving both time and fuel. Because the pies cook so quickly, I never close the door while I'm doing the actual baking.

However, if you're thinking about purchasing a third-party accessory for your Ooni, I don't recommend it. Ooni unequivocally states that any modifications to your oven invalidates its warranty. The company also warns about the dangers of using third-party accessories on the oven, and specifically warns against attaching a door to the oven, as it "traps heat, builds up unsafe gasses, and creates unsafe conditions." The door I use is vented, with perforations all along the front, and with a substantial gap around the opening when closed, which I think will reduce the likelihood of dangerous gas buildup or heat buildup. However, different people have different levels of risk tolerance, and my recommendation is to purchase a pizza oven model that comes with a door, as that will reduce the amount of time it takes to get the oven to temperature.

Charring broccoli rabe in a skillet in an outdoor pizza oven
Andrew Janjigian

That’s not to say that you can’t put your oven to use while it’s heating up. In fact, I developed two recipes that involved cooking toppings in the oven as it heats up to baking temperature. For my burst cherry tomato, shallot, and herb pizza, I use the preheating oven to make a bright, fresh tomato sauce. And the preheating time window is perfect for charring broccoli rabe for a pizza with Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, and anchovies

Make sure to use a skillet that can withstand high temperatures—stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel all work well—and always use a completely dry kitchen towel or oven glove when retrieving a pan from the oven. Burning yourself on a skillet handle that’s been in a super-hot oven is no fun. 

Learn Your Oven Settings

Looking into the mouth of a lit outdoor pizza oven
Andrew Janjigian

Gas-fired tabletop ovens have adjustable flames, but they aren’t necessarily continuously adjustable in the way a stovetop burner is; the difference between high and low on my Koda is pretty narrow. You’ll need to play around with your oven to get a sense of how each end of the dial behaves and to look for ways to control oven temperature. 

Christy Alia—who has the same model I do—mentioned her approach to getting a super-low flame: “I use the lower ‘secret’ setting that is between the off and the ignition setting.” I discovered this not-in-the-manual setting myself and found it very helpful to use when the oven runs hot. Christy uses it when she wants to bake at lower temperatures in the 600°F range, for things like New York-style pies: “I preheat on ‘regular’ low for 45 minutes and then go to that super-low [setting]. If I overshoot the temp I’ll sometimes shut it off for a minute then go to super-low.”

Mise en Place is Critical

Mise en place—a.k.a. having all of your ingredients prepped and conveniently located—is crucial for all kinds of pizza-making, but it’s especially important for pies that are topped and launched from a peel onto a baking surface, as opposed to pan pizzas, which are topped and baked in their cooking vessels. You need to work quickly when topping and launching a pizza, to prevent the dough from sticking to the peel (more on that later). Having all your ingredients ready to go and close at-hand is critical. Ditto for your tools. “When you're cooking pizza in 60 to 120 seconds, you don't have time to look for your missing pizza peels,” as Christy said to me. 

Feng Chen mentioned another bit of useful advice regarding ingredient prep and mise en place: “[You want to] have everything chopped and ready to go, but for ingredients you're worried might burn, keep them in the fridge until needed.”

Consider Your Toppings

Topping an
Andrew Janjigian

While you can put anything you want on a tabletop-oven pizza—how you dress your pies is entirely up to you—the moisture level in your toppings will determine how quickly they cook.  

Ines Glaser had lots to say about this aspect of the process. “I go very lightly on my high-moisture ingredients," she told me. “Since [these are] such high heat ovens with small spaces [to cook in], there is not a lot of time for the evaporation of water in cheeses or sauces.” For that reason, she tends to use “a very light combination of well-drained fresh mozzarella, dry low-moisture mozzarella, and a hard cheese like Pecorino or Parmesan” on her pies. And she's not averse to adding certain cheeses post-bake, to preserve their texture: "If I want a bigger bite of fresh cheese, I'll wait until after cooking the pizza to top it with a very good buffalo mozzarella, burrata, or ricotta.”

Feng had some cheese advice of her own to share: “If you find that your cheese burns in the time it takes to cook the crust, [then] cut the mozzarella into thick chunks, [to slow down how quickly it cooks].”

As far as tomato sauce goes, I’ve found that you want to keep its moisture level on the low side, which is why I tend to drain canned tomatoes before blending or crushing them into a sauce. But as Ines mentioned, sometimes you might want a wetter pie: “Remember that more cheese and sauce equals a soggier pizza, which there ain't nothing wrong with! That's what a knife and fork are for, Napoli-style.”

Loading and Launching 

Topping stretched pizza dough with tomato sauce, anchovies, grated cheese, charred rabe, and olive oil.
Andrew Janjigian

Getting the pie topped and into the oven cleanly is one of the most fraught moments in the pizza-making process. But it doesn’t have to be, as many of the pizza pros I talked to emphasized. 

“[I]t just takes repetition and flour, especially when you are first starting out,” said Elizabeth. “Don't be afraid to use more flour than you think you will need if you are new to handling dough. The worst thing is having your stretched dough stick to your peel, so flour your bench, slide your stretched pizza across the flour and onto your peel, then lightly stretch it again to get that nice round shape. Don't let it stay too long on your peel before launching it, otherwise you risk more sticking.”

Feng had similar thoughts. "When you're first learning to launch a pizza, don't be afraid of generously flouring your peel to ensure that the pizza does not stick to the peel,” she said. “Over time and with practice, you will learn to launch with less and less flour.”

Hands shaping outdoor pizza oven pizza dough on a floured counter
Andrew Janjigian

I concur, though I have one bit of advice for beginners, a trick I learned from Dan Richer, chef and owner of New Jersey's Razza Artiginale and author of the book The Joy of Pizza, and it's this: Try flouring your peel and your bench top with a 50/50 mix of white rice flour and white flour. Rice flour is very resistant to absorbing moisture, so it's especially good at preventing sticking. And it tends to fall off the bottom once the pie is cooked, so it doesn't leave a gritty texture behind. 

The style of peel you use matters, too. Ines said she prefers to use a wooden peel for loading the oven: “[It provides] more control for launching a pizza into the small space.” Others—myself included—like perforated metal peels, since the perforations limit the amount of surface area the dough can potentially stick to. 

Feng also had advice on how to launch the pie onto the stone, something she picked up by watching other pizzaiole do their thing: “[M]ake the launch as much about the backwards movement (pulling the peel [out] from under the pizza quickly) as it is about the forward movement, to cleanly get your pizza into the oven in a round shape.” The idea here is a little like the magician's tablecloth trick: You put the loaded peel right where you want the pie to end up, give it a quick shake to make sure it's not stuck, and then quickly pull it backwards, allowing the pie to drop straight down onto the stone. 

Pie Placement and Rotation

Rotating a pizza with burst cherry tomatoes as it bakes in an outdoor pizza oven
Andrew Janjigian

As for where to place the pie, my advice is to move it as far away from the flame as possible, especially at first. That's why I tend to think it's best to stretch your pies to a diameter an inch or two narrower than your oven, to provide some side-to-side wriggle room. I make 12-inch pies in my 16-inch Koda, and recommend 10- or 11-inch pies for 12-inch ovens.

When pizzas cook in two minutes or less, there’s almost no room for error. As Christy mentioned, “The rapid cook time is…why pizza makers need to keep a close eye on their pizza throughout the entire bake.” And it's also why you want to rotate the pie regularly for an even bake. But don't rotate the pie too quickly at first, as she pointed out. “[M]any users…make the mistake of trying to turn their pizza...before the bottom sets, and this can result in tearing. If the oven floor temperature is hot enough, the bottom of the crust should be ready to turn within about 30 seconds.”

While I find my perforated metal peel to work just fine for both launching and turning pies, others, like Elizabeth, prefer something more compact during the baking stage. “Another absolute must-buy is a smaller turning peel,” she said. “[Y]ou want to be doing quarter turns of your pizza for the 90 seconds [or so] it is in the oven. The only way to achieve this is with the turning peel—it will be your new best friend!”

Keep Pizza-Making Fun

Slicing a pizza with charred broccoli rabe
Andrew Janjigian

I’m living proof that practice (and learning the proper technique) makes perfect when making pizza in a tabletop oven. And while my early pies were failures in my own eyes, my eaters still wolfed them down eagerly and happily. So, most of all, try not to be too hard on yourself at first; eventually you'll get there, too. 

“The most important thing for people new to high-heat pizza ovens is to expect a learning curve,” as Christy told me. “Practice is crucial to getting better at pizza making. [And] you need to have fun not just when your pizza comes out perfect, but even when it is a disaster!”

*Editors' Note: An earlier version of this article omitted information about third-party accessories for Ooni ovens. It has since been updated.

Outdoor Pizza Oven Burst Cherry Tomato, Shallot, and Herb Pizza

Use your outdoor pizza oven to make a vibrant burst cherry tomato sauce as it heats up for baking pies.

Burst cherry tomato outdoor oven pizza being slid off a peel onto parchment on a pizza pan
Andrew Janjigian

One of the many things I love about my outdoor tabletop pizza oven, aside from its compact size and blazing hot running temperatures, is that it is ready to rock in less than a half hour. I've had two previous backyard pizza and bread ovens, and each of them took hours to heat up, which meant I used them only when I had enough time to set aside. Having one that's ready in a matter of minutes means I can make pizza whenever I want, so long as there's dough in the fridge. 

Another great thing about having an outdoor pizza oven is that you can do your cooking al fresco, which is especially nice when temperatures make working in a sweltering kitchen untenable, and generally nice whenever the weather is pleasant. Which is why when I started working on these composed pizza recipes, I decided to look for ways to make the most of the excess heat generated by the oven as it heats up, in the name of efficiency and minimizing post-pizza party kitchen cleanup. 

For this particular recipe, my goal was to make a classic burst cherry tomato sauce for the base of the pies in a skillet set right in the oven while it heats up. To amp up the sauce’s sweetness, I add sliced shallots, sizzling them in olive oil along with sliced garlic cloves and red pepper flakes before I add the cherry tomatoes. And for added depth of flavor, I turn to woodsy herbs—thyme and rosemary—which complement the fresh acidity of the tomatoes. It’s important to cook the sauce just until the tomatoes begin to burst and char; it should be saucy, not over-reduced. In the time it takes to get yourself set up for stretching and topping your dough, the pectin from the tomatoes will help tighten the sauce up to the perfect consistency as it cools slightly. Paired with Parmesan and fresh mozzarella, this is a fresh spin on the most iconic of pizza ingredient combinations.

Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to rest in proofing containers, covered, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before baking. Dough temperature should reach 60°F (15.5°C) before stretching and baking; exact timing will depend upon ambient temperature.

Pizza dough balls in three takeout containers on a wooden surface
Andrew Janjigian

Heat pizza oven to 800°F (425°C). While oven heats, in a 10-inch stainless steel, cast iron, or carbon steel skillet, combine oil, shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and toss to combine. Set skillet in pizza oven and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots are softened, 2 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, thyme, rosemary, and 1/4 cup (60ml) water to skillet and toss to combine. Return to oven and cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes burst and are lightly charred on edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and set aside to cool slightly (sauce will thicken as it cools). Remove and discard herb sprigs.

Burst cherry tomatoes and aromatics in pan after cooking in outdoor pizza oven
Andrew Janjigian

When ready to bake, coat one dough ball generously on both sides with flour and place on well-floured surface, seam side down. Gently press out dough into rough 8-inch circle, leaving outer 1-inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch dough into a 10- or 12-inch circle (final dimension depends upon the size of your oven) about 1/4-inch thick by draping over knuckles and gently stretching. Transfer to floured wooden or perforated metal pizza peel.

Collage showing portion of pizza dough being stretched into round and placed on perforated metal pizza peel
Andrew Janjigian

Working quickly, spread an even layer of tomato sauce over pizza, leaving outer 1/2-inch rim untopped. Spread Parmesan evenly over sauce, followed by mozzarella.

Collage showing topping stretched pizza dough with burst cherry tomato sauce and cheese
Andrew Janjigian

Transfer pizza to oven and bake, rotating pie regularly with a metal peel for even cooking, until rim is lightly charred and bottom is crisp, 90 to 180 seconds total. Retrieve pizza with a metal peel and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley, slice, and serve immediately.

Burst cherry tomato outdoor pizza oven being sprinkled with herbs
Andrew Janjigian

Repeat steps 3 through 5 for remaining pizzas.

Special Equipment

High-temperature outdoor pizza oven, immersion blender, wooden or perforated metal pizza peel, metal pizza peel.

Notes

Be careful not to over reduce the sauce in the skillet; it should remain “saucy” before it goes onto the pizza.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The pizzas are best enjoyed immediately. Because the sauce is made in the pizza oven as it heats up for baking the pies, there's no real advantage to making it in advance. That said, it can be made in advance, and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.

Outdoor Pizza Oven ‘Nduja Pizza

Classic Margherita pizza with a spicy ‘nduja twist.

Nduja pizza cooked in outdoor pizza oven on a piece of parchment set on a pizza pan
Andrew Janjigian

I’m a huge fan of the soft, spreadable, spicy Calabrian cured pork product ‘nduja, and keep a slab of it in my larder almost all the time. It's essentially a “hard” salami that has been formulated and prepared to remain soft and spreadable, despite being as shelf-stable as lower-moisture dried salume. (For more about to the myriad joys and uses of ‘nduja, check out this comprehensive guide.)

Though it has the funk and the spice of a cured sausage, ‘nduja's texture is far closer to a fresh one. While I use it all the time on pizza (and elsewhere), I think it especially shines on pizzas cooked in my tabletop outdoor pizza oven. That’s because when pizzas are cooked at temperatures of 800°F (425°C) and up in just two minutes or so, the ‘njuda doesn’t tend to melt into the pie. Instead, it stays intact in little mounds, just like slices or dollops of fresh sausage would. But unlike fresh sausage, it’s the sort of ingredient you can keep in the fridge for whenever the occasion arises. 

As for what to pair it with here, I kept things simple to let the ‘nduja take center stage: a simple tomato sauce, Parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheeses, along with fresh basil leaves, placed beneath the cheeses and toppings to keep them from burning. It’s the sort of classic pizza topping combination that never goes out of style.

Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to rest in proofing containers, covered, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before baking. Dough temperature should reach 60˚F (15.5°C) before stretching and baking; exact timing will depend upon ambient temperature.

Pizza dough balls in three takeout containers on a wooden surface
Andrew Janjigian

Using a countertop or immersion blender, process tomatoes until a coarse but evenly blended sauce forms, about 10 seconds. Transfer to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; if needed, add reserved tomato liquid to yield 2 cups (475ml) sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Whole canned tomatoes being blended with an immersion blender in a measuring cup with reserved tomato liquid alongside
Andrew Janjigian

Preheat pizza oven to 800°F (425°C). When ready to bake, coat one dough ball generously on both sides with flour and place on well-floured surface, seam side down. Gently press out dough into rough 8-inch circle, leaving outer 1-inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch dough into a 10- or 12-inch circle (final dimension depends upon the size of your oven) about 1/4-inch thick by draping over knuckles and gently stretching. Transfer to floured wooden or perforated metal pizza peel.

Collage showing portion of pizza dough being stretched into round and placed on perforated metal pizza peel
Andrew Janjigian

Working quickly, scatter 6 basil leaves over pizza, leaving outer 1/2-inch rim untopped. Spread an even layer of tomato sauce over pizza. Sprinkle with Parmesan, followed by mozzarella. Dollop ‘nduja in 2 teaspoon amounts over sauce. Drizzle with olive oil.

Collage of topping pizza round with basil, tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella, and nduja
Andrew Janjigian

Transfer pizza to oven and bake, rotating pie regularly with a metal peel for even cooking, until rim is lightly charred and bottom is crisp, 90 to 180 seconds total. Retrieve pizza with a metal peel and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley (if using), slice, and serve immediately.

Collage showing nudja pizza being cooked in an outdoor pizza oven
Andrew Janjigian

Repeat steps 5 through 7 for remaining pizzas.

Special Equipment

High-temperature outdoor pizza oven, immersion blender, wooden or perforated metal pizza peel, metal pizza peel.

Notes

'Nduja is a spicy spreadable pork salume that originates from the southern Italian region of Calabria. In the US, it can be purchased at specialty shops that carry salumi/charcuterie, Italian markets, or online from producers like Tempesta Artisan Salumi. Look for 'nduja made with just four ingredients: pork, Calabrian chilies, salt, and lactic acid.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Tomato sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

“Armenian” Pizza With Spiced Lamb Sausage, Armenian String Cheese, and Sumac

Lahmajun-spiced lamb sausage and string cheese are the stars of this Armenian-Italian pizza mashup.

Armenian pizza being cut with a pizza cutter
Andrew Janjigian

Lahmajun is an Armenian flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven that's topped with a spiced minced lamb topping, made bright red from the addition of tomato and red pepper paste. While it's often referred to by outsiders as "Armenian pizza" and it sort of resembles pizza, many Armenians (myself included) get a little annoyed by the comparison.

First of all, it—as with other related meat-topped flatbreads from the Middle East—likely predates the invention of pizza. I’m no food historian, so I have no idea if it's true, but I've read arguments that pizza may have been inspired by lahmajun—or the idea of it, as a thin, round, vegetable- and/or meat-topped topped flatbread—thanks to the migration of peoples from the Caucasus and Levant to Sicily via Greece. Secondly, while the two are superficially similar, there are differences: lahmajun is topped with a very thin layer of wet, meat-heavy paste, rather than a sauce; the dough is rolled out very thinly and baked in a very hot oven, which causes it to take on a crackly exterior with a tender interior; and lahmajun is generally eaten whole, often rolled up around a chopped salad, rather than sliced. 

To be clear, while I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about how non-Armenians refer to lahmajun, the discourse around it (such as it is) made me recently wonder: What might an actual Armenian pizza—meaning a real Italian pie, topped with Armenian ingredients and flavors—look like? Which is how I came up with this one.

I gave it a nod to lahmajun by creating a lamb sausage mixture made from the same basic seasonings: parsley, hot red pepper paste, tomato paste, allspice, cumin, garlic, and paprika. In place of mozzarella, I used Armenian string cheese, which is very similar to mozzarella, but is formed into a rope that can be pulled apart into threads, and is spiced with nigella seeds. And I finished it with ground sumac—the tart red-hued spice that's essential to za’atar seasoning—and more parsley, an herb beloved to Armenians. 

Finally, this pizza recipe is meant to be baked in a blazing hot outdoor tabletop pizza oven, using an outdoor pizza oven dough I developed. But the topping combination can be used on a home oven pie, too, using a dough formulated for that purpose.

Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to rest in proofing containers, covered, at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before baking. Dough temperature should reach 60°F (15.5°C) before stretching and baking; exact timing will depend upon ambient temperature.

Pizza dough balls in three takeout containers on a wooden surface
Andrew Janjigian

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 4 teaspoons parsley, biber salçasi, tomato paste,  garlic, allspice, paprika, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir with spatula until smooth paste forms. Add lamb and knead gently with hands until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed; mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Collage of steps for making lamb sausage mixture for topping Armenian pizza
Andrew Janjigian

Using a countertop or immersion blender, process tomatoes until a coarse but evenly blended sauce forms, about 10 seconds. Transfer to a 2-cup liquid measuring cup; if needed, add reserved tomato liquid to yield 2 cups (475ml) sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Whole canned tomatoes being blended with an immersion blender in a measuring cup with reserved tomato liquid alongside
Andrew Janjigian

Preheat pizza oven to 800°F (425°C). When ready to bake, coat one dough ball generously on both sides with flour and place on well-floured surface, seam side down. Gently press out dough into rough 8-inch circle, leaving outer 1-inch higher than the rest. Gently stretch dough into a 10- or 12-inch circle (final dimension depends upon the size of your oven) about 1/4-inch thick by draping over knuckles and gently stretching. Transfer to floured wooden or perforated metal pizza peel.

Collage showing portion of pizza dough being stretched into round and placed on perforated metal pizza peel
Andrew Janjigian

Working quickly, spread an even layer of tomato sauce over pizza, leaving outer 1/2-inch rim untopped. Spread string cheese evenly over sauce, then dollop meat mixture over pizza in small chunks. Drizzle with olive oil.

Collage showing topping of Armenian pizza with tomato sauce, Armenian string cheese, lamb sausage, and olive oil
Andrew Janjigian

Transfer pizza to oven and bake, rotating pie regularly with a metal peel for even cooking, until rim is lightly charred and bottom is crisp, 90 to 180 seconds total. Retrieve pizza with a metal peel and transfer to a cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley and sumac, slice, and serve immediately.

Collage showing Armenian pizza being put in outdoor pizza oven, rotated to ensure even cooking, and the pizza coming out of the oven
Andre Janjigian

Repeat steps 5 through 7 for remaining pizzas.

Special Equipment

High-temperature outdoor pizza oven, wooden or perforated metal pizza peel, metal pizza peel.

Notes

Biber salçasi can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores or online. If unavailable, increase tomato paste to 3 tablespoons, paprika to 4 teaspoons, and add 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.

If Armenian string cheese is unavailable, substitute 8 ounces (225g) low-moisture mozzarella, shredded, tossed with 1/4 teaspoon nigella seeds (if available).

Ground sumac can also be found at Middle Eastern markets or online.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Lamb sausage mixture can be made in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 24 hours.

Pizza Dough for an Outdoor Pizza Oven

A pizza dough specifically formulated for a high-temperature tabletop pizza oven.

Hands shaping outdoor pizza oven pizza dough on a floured counter
Andrew Janjigian

I’ve been making pizza for nearly 40 years, and after all that time I thought I had my dough formulas dialed-in. More than a decade ago I developed a recipe for a New York-style pizza dough for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, which was a big hit and served as the jumping-off point for dozens of subsequent pizza and flatbread recipes. While most of my pizza recipes are optimized for use in home ovens that can't exceed 550°F, I've baked them regularly in blazing hot wood-fired ovens, where they've worked wonderfully. That always made sense to me since, generally speaking, with all else being equal, the hotter and faster you cook a flatbread, the better it comes out, since the interior stays moist and tender while the exterior gets nicely browned and charred.

Which is why I was stumped when I started baking pies in an Ooni Koda tabletop outdoor gas oven—which easily achieves wood-fired-oven temperatures of 800-900˚F—and they kept burning before the toppings and underside were fully baked. I don’t mean that they charred, mind you. Charring—or leoparding, as the constellation of irregular dark-brown spots on the rim of a well-made pie are commonly referred to—is a good thing, adding welcome Maillard and caramelization flavor to the crust. What I'm talking about is more like incineration, where the rim would be solidly black and unpleasantly bitter in large swathes, oftentimes because they literally caught on fire as the pie baked.

At first I assumed that it was user error on my part, or a flaw in how my particular oven worked. But then I remembered all the other people making wonderful, not-burned pies in similar tabletop ovens on my Instagram feed. Which made me wonder: Why would my doughs bake beautifully in larger wood-fired ovens but burn in compact tabletop ones like my Ooni when they both heated to identical temperatures?

It didn’t take long to realize that the difference came down to only one thing: size. In a wood-fired oven, the fire is nestled in one corner of a wide, tall space, leaving loads of room for the pies to cook at a safe distance from it. In a tabletop oven, the pizza sits just inches from the fire, which means it's subjected to a ton of intense heat, with no place to go to to escape from it.

To figure out what I was doing wrong, I decided to reach out to some of those tabletop pizza oven experts for advice. If they could make it work, then I needed to find out why straight from the source. Almost to a one, they told me this: Avoid adding anything to the dough beyond the four fundamental elements of any bread—flour, water, salt, and yeast—or the pies will burn.

Then it was obvious: That New York-style pizza dough recipe I mentioned above, the one that had launched countless others, was where I’d first gone astray. That’s because in addition to flour, water, salt, and yeast, it contains a few extra ingredients: sugar, oil, and—in later iterations and in several spin-off recipes—something called diastatic malt powder. 

All three of these ingredients are essential components in a pizza dough that is meant to be cooked at a much lower temperature in a home oven, where pizza takes awhile—8 to 12 minutes or so—to brown, because: 

  • Sugar promotes browning, since it's sugars—added or naturally found in the dough’s flour—that caramelize in the heat of the oven.
  • Diastatic malt is an enzyme that converts the starches in flour to sugar, and is often added to doughs to ensure that there is always enough sugar in the crust for good browning.
  • Oil serves to keep the finished pizza tender, since it lubricates the gluten network to keep it supple, even after a relatively long bake. 

But the combination of all three of these things is bad news when the pies cook in just 2 minutes: Sugar and diastatic malt both provide too much "food" for caramelization, and oil—in addition to its effect on tenderization—promotes heat transfer from the oven to the pie, speeding up browning all over again.

I ran a series of tests to confirm my suspicion. I made doughs with and without each of these ingredients, and in every case, the pies containing the “extra” elements were prone to burning before the toppings and/or underside were fully cooked. (I also timed how long it took each pie to cross the line between charred and burned, and the only one that lasted longer than 2 minutes was the one without all the add-ins.) 

Once I ditched these amendments to my formula, the rest was easy, especially since there were only four ingredients to consider, and because the remainder of my pizza dough chops were solid:

Flour: I landed on a medium-high protein flour here, one like King Arthur all-purpose—with about 12% protein—instead of bread flours, which are closer to 13%. The protein percentage determines the amount of gluten that forms in a dough and thus the texture of the finished pizza. That's because without oil to tenderize the dough, high-protein bread flour produces a pizza that's a little tough. Reducing the protein slightly helped to restore the lost tenderness. (That said, if you don’t have access to King Arthur all-purpose, bread flour is the next best thing.) 

Water: The percentage of water in a dough also has a profound effect upon the final texture of the pie, since water, like oil, also lubricates gluten. So more water is generally better if you want a tender, not-tough dough. But too much water can make a dough sticky and hard-to-handle, so there's a limit, especially if you're trying to create a formula that's easy for beginners and experts alike. I ended up with a 67% hydration dough (or 67g of water for every 100g of flour), a good compromise between ease of handling and maximum tenderness. One note: I actually prefer 70% hydration myself, though that dough can be a touch hard to handle. I offer instructions in the notes below if you want to increase the hydration once you're comfortable with this dough.

Yeast: Almost all of my pizza doughs are cold-fermented, meaning they spend at least a few days in the fridge before use (more on why below). Because of this I use a tiny amount of yeast—0.4%, or just 1/2 teaspoon for three to four pizzas worth—to avoid runaway fermentation. 

Salt: Most breads, pizza included, contain between 1.5 to 2.5% salt; I like a high percentage of salt in my pizza doughs—2.2% in this case—as it ensures the crust has the robust flavor it needs to stand up to toppings that are (often) intensely flavored . 

As for the mechanics of dough mixing, kneading, and the initial fermentation, it’s all pretty straightforward. You use a food processor to quickly mix the dough, minus the salt, and then you let it rest for 20 minutes. This step, known as an autoylse, helps passively develop gluten so that the dough doesn’t overheat during machine kneading. Then you add the salt and knead the dough in the machine until it’s well-developed, which takes about 30 seconds. 

After that, you put the dough in a bowl and allow it to proof at room temperature until it's puffy, which takes about an hour or two, which gives fermentation a jumpstart before you divide the dough, shape it into balls, and move the balls into the fridge. 

Cold fermentation is a fundamental technique for dough-making for a few key reasons:

Flavor: Cold fermentation develops a complexity of flavor in the dough that a fast fermentation can't, thanks to the sorts of flavorful compounds that form only when a dough proofs at low temperatures. (At higher temperatures, those compounds get converted fully to carbon dioxide, the gas that gives bread lift.) 

Easy Stretching: This slow fermentation gives the dough time to relax, which makes it easy to stretch out into a nice round disk without the dough fighting back. Not only does this help improve the look of your pies, it keeps them tender, because an overworked dough yields a tough, chewy pizza. 

Convenience: While this method does require advanced planning, you can make pizza anytime within a 3-day window once the doughs are in the fridge, only an hour or two after you pull them out. 

The recipe makes four 225-gram dough balls—sized to make 10-inch pies, which I think are an ideal diameter for a smaller (12-inch) oven—or three 300-gram dough balls, sized to make 12-inch pies in a larger (16-inch) oven. 

I strongly recommend that you cold-proof the dough in individual containers—like the 7-inch plastic takeout container pictured above—rather than side-by-side on a rimmed baking sheet. This helps to prevent the dough balls from kissing one another, which will make them hard to separate without tearing, but it also it means you can handle each ball as gently as possible, which will help you to avoid overworking the dough before you shape it.

Combine flour and yeast in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 3 to 4 times until well-combined. With machine running, add water and continue to process until mixture forms rough ball and no dry flour remains, 10 to 20 seconds. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Pizza dough after just coming together in a food processor
Andrew Janjigian

Add salt to top of dough and process until a mostly smooth ball of dough forms, 20 to 30 seconds. Dough temperature should register 75°F (24°C) on an instant-read thermometer when mixing is complete. If not, continue to mix in 10 second intervals until it reaches the desired dough temperature. Transfer dough ball to a lightly oiled medium bowl and knead once or twice by hand until smooth ball is formed. Cover bowl and let dough sit for 45 minutes.

Instant read thermometer stuck in dough in food processor reading 75 degrees Fahrenheit
Andrew Janjigian

Using lightly-moistened hands, knead dough in bowl until uniform in texture, 5 to 10 seconds. Cover and let sit at room temperature until puffy and not quite doubled in volume, 60 to 120 minutes.

Collage showing dough being briefly kneaded then allowed to proof until doubled in size
Andrew Janjigian

Transfer dough to a lightly floured countertop and divide into four pieces of about 225g (8 ounces) each for 12-inch ovens, or three pieces of about 300g (10.5 ounces) each for 16-inch ovens. Form each portion into a smooth, round ball. Coat exterior of dough ball lightly with oil and place each in a 4- to 7-inch round, lidded plastic takeout container, or on a lightly-oiled tray, spaced at least 2 inches apart, covered loosely but completely. Refrigerate dough for at least 24 hours or up to 4 days (48 to 72 hours is ideal).

Collage showing shaping of pizza dough into either three or four equally sized balls
Andrew Janjigian

On the day you plan to bake pizzas, remove dough balls from refrigerator and allow to warm up, covered, 1 to 2 hours before baking. Exact timing depends upon ambient temperature; dough should reach at least 60°F (15.5°C) before stretching and baking.

Pizza dough balls in three takeout containers on a wooden surface
Andrew Janjigian

Special Equipment

Digital scale, jeweler's scale, food processor, round plastic takeout containers or dough-proofing boxes

Notes

For best results, use a digital scale set in grams to measure ingredients. For the yeast, using a jeweler's scale will give you the most precise measurement possible.

If King Arthur all-purpose flour is unavailable, bread flour may be used in its place.

Once you are comfortable working with this dough, you can try increasing the hydration. I really like this dough at 70% hydration, but it's slightly more difficult to work with, and inexperienced pizza-makers may find that it's more prone to tearing during stretching. To increase the hydration to 70%, use 375g (13.2 ounces) of water in step 1 (an additional 25g).

Make-Ahead and Storage

The pizza dough needs to be made at least 24 hours ahead of baking. It can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, but 2 to 3 days is ideal.