I received some emails and comments with an interest in homemade pizza. As promised, I want to fit the lessons you want to see the most in between my own planned topics. So here it is, my second favorite food group (haha),
The Best Homemade Pizza Crust
It all starts here. The crust is the first thing we notice about a good homemade pizza. We see the dark color, not burnt but it tells us it’s going to be crunchy. When the pizza lifts off the cutting board, the tip doesn’t droop. The slice lays flat so that we can hold the end with one hand and no cheese slides to the ground. Looking at this slice of pizza, held up by a firm crust, we see the cheese is a perfect golden brown. Wait. The cheese is a result of how we bake the pizza. That’s later.
You can really experiment with the dough, make it your own perfect pizza recipe. I’m going to give you a starting point. I’ve done a lot of experiments with dough. I’ve tried many combinations and ratios of the ingredients. In the end, I always go back to the same ratio.
What you need
Now that we are getting into baking, I always treat this as more of an exact science. The measurements I give you are measured on a scale. I use a kitchen aid mixer but you can get by with just a bowl and a wooden spoon. You will need a pizza stone and a peel. This part is non-negotiable. There are other ways to make pizza at home without using a pizza stone. You can use a baking sheet or a cast iron pan but it won’t be as good as pizza made on a stone. If you have read some of my other lessons, you know I’m pretty flexible so this should show you the importance of having a pizza stone. An added bonus, keeping the pizza stone in your oven when doing any other baking will keep the oven temperature even and reduce the amount of temperature change when opening the oven.
- Scale – I like digital
- Mixer – must have a dough hook
- Pizza stone and peel
- Olive oil
- Yeast ( instant dry yeast )
- Corn meal
When making dough, we scale all the ingredients based on a percentage on the total amount of flour. So flour would be 100% and all the other ingredients would be smaller percentages. Here is my recipe for 1.5 pounds of pizza dough.
- Flour 16 oz. 100%
- Yeast .082 oz. .51%
- water 10.22 oz. 64.4%
- olive oil .6 oz. 3.75%
- salt .432 oz. 2.7%
You can plug in any amount of pizza dough you want to make as long as you scale everything according to these percentages. Say you weigh your flour and you find that the only flour left in the pantry leaves you with 12 oz. of flour.
You would then multiply .51% by 12 to get the amount of yeast you need. .0051 X 12 = .0612 ounces of yeast.
Now that we know how to adjust our recipe based on the amount of flour being used, we can play a little with the ingredient list. I usually only use this recipe, but when I first started I would play with different flavors. You can add some white wine into the water to add a distinct flavor depending on the wine used. It also adds a little extra sweetness to the dough. Another trick is adding milk into the dough. There is a popular pizza chain that has very light and aerated deep dish crust. The secret to this pizza crust comes from adding milk into the dough. You can add this with dry milk powder or liquid milk.
In order to keep our percentages of the recipe the same, we must break them apart with the ingredient that goes there. If we are going to use wine or milk, we would first weigh the amount we want to add. Based on the recipe above, the total water is 10.22 oz. If we add 2 oz. of white wine, we must subtract 2 oz. from the total water.
Water – 8.22 oz. + Wine 2 oz. = 10.22 total liquid ounces.
This works the same way if you want to use different flours. A combination I have done in the past is that of Durum Flour and Semolina Flour. I used 56.25% Durum Flour and 43.75% Semolina Flour. See how that adds up to 100% Flour.
Adding different dry ingredients gets a little more complicated which is why I don’t do it. Besides, I never have milk powder in my pantry, so I use regular milk. The only dry ingredients I would add are various herbs. If you want to add chopped rosemary to the dough, you would just add it in towards the end of mixing the dough. This addition doesn’t need any recipe adjustments.
I know this is a lot; but, as long as you follow the basic recipe and measure your ingredients based on these percentages, you will be fine.
Mixing the Dough
Mix your flour and yeast together and keep aside. The great thing about Instant Dry Yeast is that it doesn’t need to proof. It can be added straight into the flour. Also, most professional recipes use this type of yeast.
I always use blood warm water (about 98 degrees F) when making any kind of dough. You could simply use the hot water from the tap. By the time you add the rest of the ingredients, it should be about the right temperature.
Add the measured water, olive oil, and salt to your Kitchen Aid. Attach the dough hook. Pour the flour and yeast on top of the liquid and mix on low for 4 minutes and medium for 4 minutes. The dough will still be sticky with good gluten development. The longer you mix the dough, the more gluten will develop. With an overworked dough, the gluten becomes too strong and makes a tough, dense dough. You may worry that your dough doesn’t look like normal pizza dough. This is where the bulk fermentation comes in.
Proofing the Dough
Bulk fermentation is the initial rising of the dough. Take a bit of oil and rub it on your hands. Take the dough out of the mixer and form it into a ball. Set the dough in a fresh mixing bowl with a bit of oil coating it. You can just wipe your already oiled hands on the sides, you don’t need much. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area of the kitchen. I like to preheat the oven at this time. Set the oven to a minimum of 500 degrees F. It will take about 30 minutes and nearly double in size.
Portioning the Dough
If you are using the amounts from the recipe above, divide the dough into three equal pieces. You should have 3 balls of dough about 9 oz. each. I usually end up with a pizza that is about as many inches in diameter as it weighs in ounces. So these pizzas will be about 9 inches. At this point, I would wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap and set in my refrigerator. They will keep in there for the next 2-3 days. I like to make pizza dough 1-2 days ahead of time. The dough will continue to develop a richer flavor and good texture. It will also make it easier to work with when forming the crust.
Can’t wait a whole day? I understand. Let the entire batch of dough sit, covered at room temperature for a few hours. Every half hour or so, work the dough back down, maybe even reform the ball shape. You are essentially bulk fermenting the dough repeatedly until you are ready to portion the dough and roll it out. Note this isn’t the best way to work the dough and you risk over working it which is why letting it rest in the fridge is best. Try it both ways and see the difference.
Rolling out the Crust
Now that you have proofed the dough and formed it into individual pizza dough balls, it is time to roll it flat so it can receive the toppings.
You can find lots of videos on how to throw pizza or form it by hand. This technique takes lots of practice. It’s fun and once you have it down you can really get pizzas made fast. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with using a good old-fashioned rolling pin. Working from the center to the outside, begin to roll out the dough into a 9-inch diameter circle as best as you can.
What’s the Cornmeal For?
Cornmeal is what will help the pizza dough slide across the peel. Picture a round piece of cardboard set on a bunch of marbles. The cornmeal acts like the marbles when sliding the pizza into the oven and on the pizza stone.
I like to mix the cornmeal with flour. I feel that the flour will fill in any gaps so that the dough will not stick anywhere. There will be at least one time that the pizza you are trying to slide in the oven will stick in one spot. When this happens, the rest of the pizza will keep sliding onto the stone, causing it to fold around the stuck spot. I hope my saying that it will happen at least once will jinx it so that it never happens to you.
Take a small handful of the cornmeal or cornmeal/flour blend and spread it across the surface of the peel. Now you can move the pizza crust to the peel. Fold the pizza crust in half over itself. Now take both hands and slide them underneath the dough and gently lift it up and onto the peel. Unfold the pizza crust so that you have the whole thing laying on the peel ready to build. You want the dough to lay on the peel once without moving it around much. This can cause the dough to pick up too much cornmeal and leave a bare spot. Bare spots are the main causes for the dough to stick when transferring to the oven.
The The Best Homemade Pizza Sauce
Simply put, the best homemade pizza sauces all start with the best tomatoes. This all comes down to your own personal tastes and also a good product. If you have your own personal favorite brand of tomatoes, please share in the comment section. A lot of people prefer San Marzano tomatoes. These tomatoes, which originated near Naples, Italy, are great for sauces. Roma tomatoes are decedents of this particular brand and are another great option for making sauces. Two of my favorite brands are Saporito and Furmano’s.
Now that you have your favorite tomato picked out, let’s make the sauce. The simplest recipe I know came from a pizza chef I worked with. He imported canned whole tomatoes from Italy. To prep the sauce, we simply pureed the tomatoes. It doesn’t get any easier than this and it goes to show that sometimes the ingredients will speak for themselves. Try out this approach. At the very least, you will have a starting point for the flavor you want in your own sauce.
For my own sauce recipe, I use a similar approach to making the Mother Sauce, Tomat. First, I sweat finely diced onions. I prefer to use sweet onions because I like their flavor. About a minute into cooking, I add minced garlic. Once these ingredients are properly sweat down, I like to add about 1/4 cup of red wine. You pick the wine, it should be one you enjoy drinking while cooking. What I mean by this, don’t use “cooking wines”. If it doesn’t taste good to drink, don’t use it. Once the wine has reduced, add your tomatoes and puree. Let this simmer for a good amount of time, approximately one hour. You want the sauce to thicken on its own without any added agents. If you are using a certain brand of tomatoes, you can use that same brand of tomato paste to help with the thickness. Finely chop some fresh basil and oregano. I usually go with the entire bunch that comes in the store which gives you about 2 loosely packed cups of herbs. Stir in the herbs, a couple pinches of salt, and let simmer for another 5 minutes.
Remember, all of these are just starting points. First try it out exactly as I have done, and then tweak it based on your own tastes. This is how you will end up with the best pizza sauce for the best homemade pizza.
Building the The Best Homemade Pizza
Now that we have the dough ready on the peel, the sauce is made and ready to go, and the oven is hot with our pizza stone on the upper third rack. This last part helps with the melting of the cheese. The cheese will melt no matter what shelf you place the stone, but to get a nice golden brown, you need to keep it near the top where the highest heat resides.
The remaining ingredients
The most basic plain pizza just needs sauce and mozzarella cheese. If you would like to try different cheeses, feel free to experiment and see what you come up with. That pizza chef I worked with made a good dessert pizza which had pears and goat cheese.
With the pizza dough resting on the pizza peel, take a small 2-3 oz. ladle of your sauce and place it in the center of the crust. Take the ladle and rest it into the center of the sauce and begin to move in circles, spreading the sauce out towards the edge of the crust. Important: You don’t want a lot of sauce. This is why we spent the time to reduce the sauce for so long, intensifying the flavors. If you put too much sauce on the pizza, it will not stay firm and horizontal when you hold it by the end. You will see lots of spots where the dough shines through the sauce. That is okay, and means you don’t have too much sauce.
Once the pizza is sauced, add the cheese. I like to use shredded mozzarella from the store. You can use fresh mozzarella too. You can make a great Pizza Margherita with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Spread the cheese so that it covers the sauce all the way to edge of the pizza.
Now we can transfer the pizza to the oven. At this point, we want to make sure the pizza isn’t going to grab the peel and stick when we send it onto the stone. Pick up the pizza peel and give it a quick shake, forward and backward. You want to keep the pizza on the peel so use quick and short movements. It should look like the pizza is staying in one spot as you quickly move the peel back and forth underneath the dough. Once you are sure the pizza is free of the peel, open the oven. Slide the pizza to the tip of the peel and touch the peel to the back of the stone. With the peel tilted down, let the pizza slide off the peel and onto the stone as you pull the peel out of the oven.
If you have an oven that lets you look inside without opening, you want to look for the edges to turn a golden brown and the cheese to bubble. If you can’t see the pizza, wait a full 3 minutes before opening the door. I like my cheese cooked a little more, like in the picture above. Once you see the cheese start to get spots of golden brown deliciousness, it is time to take it out of the oven.
Again, with the pizza peel tilted down, slide the tip of the peel under the edge of the pizza closest to the door. With one quick and deliberate motion, slide the peel the back of the oven and at the same time bring the handle of the peel down, making it horizontal. If the pizza is sticking to the stone, don’t panic. It may have a hole where the sauce is sticking the bottom to the stone. Take the peel under the pizza until it hits this sticky spot. Now gently push back and forth, like chipping away at the part that is anchoring the pizza. You will break this part away and then you can slide the peel all the way under your pizza.
Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and let it rest for a couple minutes. This is the real hard part. The first time you bring a homemade pizza out of the oven, you will want to dive right in. This is why we have at least two other pizzas to make. While the first pizza is resting, roll out the next pizza dough and assemble like the first. Once you put pizza number two in the oven, it will be time to cut pizza number one. Waiting to cut the pizza helps so that the cheese doesn’t slide of the edges when cutting. It also helps so that we don’t burn our mouths from eating it just out of the oven.
Homemade Pizza: The Best Kind
Eventually you will have your own little tweaks for you dough, your sauce, and even your toppings. The sky is the limit when it comes to toppings. I usually stick to a few basics: pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, anchovies etc. Practice makes perfect so enjoy making lots and lots of pizzas.
I’m going to add a section to my Chef Shop of items you can buy that I use in making pizza. If you are interested in finding these tools my chef shop will have links to different online stores where you can find them.
If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below. Or if you want to share your own tweaks on pizza, we all want to hear your take on it. Enjoy!