The Secret to Perfect Pizza at Home? Cast Iron – The New York Times

The King Arthur test kitchen in Vermont is known among cooks for its rigorous recipe development and insightful, reliable customer service lines. Though it doesn’t turn out food celebrities, it does turn out famously easy-to-follow, foolproof recipes, often passed around by home cooks with frantic whispers of excitement. This year’s breakout star was a pan pizza — exactly the kind of recipe I thought I didn’t need, until I made it.

The puffy, lacy-edged, deep-dish pie, baked in a cast-iron pan, was developed by King Arthur’s test-kitchen manager, Charlotte Rutledge, and her team over the summer of 2019, and has had well over 1.5 million page views since January. The comments — and there are more than a hundred — are overwhelmingly, almost embarrassingly earnest and positive. I learned about the pizza when images of its dough, still in its shiny, dimpled, unbaked form, became a motif in my group texts. During the lockdown, it seemed like a weekly habit among cooks to bake the crispy, cheesy pizza, pushing their fingertips into the soft dough and documenting the wobbly, hollowed surface before it went into the oven.

“We knew we wanted to develop a pizza, but we didn’t know what direction we wanted to take it,” Rutledge said over the phone from her home in Norwich, Vt., while her baby slept on her chest. Last summer, during her pregnancy, she nauseatingly cut into dozens and dozens of pizzas, testing out dough styles, sauces, methods of baking and more, not knowing she was at work on a superstar recipe. “Pizza can be many things, to many people, and we wanted to find a pizza that would appeal to everybody.”

Rutledge and her team of cooks tinkered for weeks with an almost no-knead dough, baking it in a 9-inch-by-13 inch pan, also known as a quarter-sheet pan. The dough was folded and rested several times, creating a network of airy bubbles, and after resting in the fridge overnight, it developed a mellow tang. The dough seemed perfect, but, Rutledge said, “we weren’t getting the crispy bottoms! We were getting bendy pizzas that just didn’t hold their shape.” When they invited their co-workers to taste the pizza, the consensus was a resounding “meh.” “It was a cruel awakening,” she said. “We still had a lot of work to do. We still had to home in on an identity for the pizza.”

Rutledge was looking for a specific kind of deep-dish pan pizza, the kind with crackling edges, crisp with cheese and no layer of mushy dough. Thick, resilient and puffy. Rutledge blamed the poor heat retention of the lightweight sheet pans for the lackluster textures. Over the course of three months, the recipe had gone through about 25 iterations, and Rutledge herself had made it as many as 40 times, but when her team finally tried the same dough in cast-iron, everything changed. “That’s what makes or breaks this pizza,” she said. “That’s what gives it the cheesy crust.”

The last trick to the pie was one I’d seen before, but only in old Brooklyn pizzerias, where the tomato sauce is sometimes smudged on top of mozzarella like sunblock. The application of low-moisture cheese first and the sauce second allows the cheese to work as a kind of barrier, minimizing sogginess, avoiding that layer of mush that often comes along with thick-crust pizzas. (Rutledge said she picked it up from the cookbook author Peter Reinhart.) And a sprinkle of extra cheese on top, all the way to the edge of the pan, creates an extra crisp layer.

The first time I made the pizza, I relished in the shaping of the dough — slippery and soft and pillowy, holding the indentations of my fingertips, sighing with air bubbles. It required no work at all, just a few folds and a night in the fridge. But it was thick in the pan, and I worried a soggy layer of half-raw dough would ruin it, as it always ruins deep-dish pizzas for me. But following the precise directions laid out by Rutledge, applying the cheese and sauce in a kind of sandwich, created a crackling cheesy layer unlike any pizza I’d ever made at home. So I followed her instructions right to the end, cutting the pie with scissors instead of a knife, and polishing off the whole thing.

Recipe: Cheesy Pan Pizza