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Cookbook watch: Jim Lahey's 'My Pizza'

PizzaJim Lahey skyrocketed from near-unknown to culinary all-star on the strength of an amazingly easy technique for making amazingly good bread. His first book "My Bread" was based on his now-famous no-knead technique, where very fluid bread doughs are slowly fermented, then roughly shaped and baked in a cast-iron pot to mimic the action of a brick oven.

Now the owner of New York's popular Sullivan Street Bakery is back with a pizza book that is based on a similar dough. He uses the same slow rise (meaning you have to plan your pizza dinners a day in advance), but from there on things go pretty quickly -- divide and shape the dough into balls and rest for another couple of hours, then stretch the dough, top and bake at high heat.

The book is amply illustrated with step-by-step photos by Squire Fox that are not only practical, but actually beautiful and Lahey carefully explains the fine points of ingredients, shaping and baking. The latter is particularly important as he emphasizes quick baking at high heat, so there are directions for getting the most out of various types of ovens and broiler placements.

Because this is pizza and not plain bread, there are plenty of recipes for different types of toppings. And if you're still stuck on his amazing no-knead bread, there's even a chapter on "Toasts" that use thick slices topped with things like homemade ricotta or cannellini beans.

"My Pizza" by Jim Lahey (Clarkson Potter, $27.50).

-- Russ Parsons

Pizza dough

500 grams (17 1/2 ounces or about 3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping the dough

1 gram (1/4 teaspoon) active dry yeast

16 grams (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt

350 grams (1 1/2 cups) water

In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon or your hands, mix thoroughly.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72 degrees) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.

Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them: For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center; then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom (the order doesn't actually matter; what you want is four folds). Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.

If you don't intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.

To shape the disk, take one ball of the dough and generously flour it, your hands, and the work surface. Then press it down and gently stretch it out to 6 to 8 inches. Very carefully continue the process, massaging it into a roundish disk of 10 to 12 inches, stroking and shaping with the palms of your hands and with your fingers. Don't handle it more than necessary, though; you want some of the bubbles to remain in the dough. It should look slightly blistered. Flour the peel and lift the disk onto the center. The dough is now ready to be topped and baked as you wish.

 
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