I know that there are some strong opinions out there about pizza – so pizza fanatics (you know who you are), don’t give me too much grief. I’m happy to hear what you have to say: just be gentle with me. I’m sensitive. As a preemptive defense I say, c’mon, give me a break – I live in Brooklyn! The world U.S. capital of good pizza (Italians: don’t kill me! I love your pizza!). My husband is actually in charge of most of the pizza forming and baking and has recently taken over dough-making, as well, to my delight. In our togetherness we have formulated a few tips for pizza-making:
1) It helps to have a large baking stone in your oven. We keep our stone on the bottom of the oven at all times The stone helps to regulate the temperature of the oven, even when not cooking pizza. It’s also pretty, pretty good to cook bread and pita on.
2) Preheat your oven for at least an hour. We usually preheat the oven for 2 hours (if you can stand the extreme heat in your kitchen!) to ensure a super hot oven. Our oven will reach temperatures of about 600°F or slightly higher, which I think is pretty hot for a very basic, unfancy gas oven.
3) If you want to get serious about pizza making, invest in a pizza peel. A peel is the wooden paddle-like thing that pizza makers use to transfer the pizza to the oven. We have a comically large pizza peel that we got at a restaurant supply store, but I’ve seen smaller versions designed for the home kitchen. (Note: You only really need a pizza peel if you’re going to invest in a baking stone. The two go hand-in-hand.)
4) Let your dough rest in the refrigerator at least overnight, and for up to three days. If you must have pizza immediately, you can leave it out on the counter and let it rise for an hour or two, but the flavor of the dough really develops nicely if you let it sit for longer in the fridge. Also make sure that your dough isn’t cold when you start to form the pizzas. Take it out of the fridge at least an hour before pizza making commences. Our dough recipe is adapted from one found in Food & Wine.
5) Finally, don’t put too much topping/sauce in the center of the pizza. It tends to get a little soggy and floppy.
The dough and sauce recipes will make 4-5 medium-sized pizzas, 10-12 inches in diameter.
For the dough:
One 1/4-ounce (7 gram) package instant yeast
2 cups warm water (divided)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting the counter and peel, and potentially more to add to the dough)
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed well with your hands
Red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Green chilies (such as Serrano)
Garlic or Garlic scapes (in the spring)
Whatever your little heart desires
For the Dough:
- Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water (about 110ºF) and the sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy. (If it doesn’t foam, throw it all away and start again. Sorry!)
- Add remaining 1 1/2 cups of warm water, 4 1/2 cups flour, and salt and stir until dough forms.
- Knead in a stand mixer (using the dough hook) for 7-8 minutes on medium-low speed, or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and doesn’t feel terribly sticky to the touch. You may need to add more flour halfway through mixing – this is a pretty forgiving dough, so don’t stress. (Essentially, you want to be able to stick your finger on the surface of the dough and not have a ton of it stick to you.) Add a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want. Alternatively, knead by hand for 10 minutes (or more) on a lightly floured board.
- Grease a large bowl with extra virgin olive oil. Be fairly generous with your greasing. Put the dough in the bowl and turn to ensure that all sides of the dough are coated in the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough rise for at least an hour, or preferably stick the covered bowl in the fridge overnight, or for as long as 3 days.
For the Sauce:
- Put the garlic and olive oil in a medium pot and heat to medium-high. Cook and stir the garlic for a minute or two, or until it has turned a nice gold color (but hasn’t, under any circumstances, turned brown).
- Add the crushed tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt, a few grindings of pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a gentle boil, then turn the heat down to medium low.
- Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the sauce is fairly thick.
- Using a potato masher, a hand (stick) blender, or the back of a wooden spoon, mash any large chunks of tomatoes – you should have a thick, just-barely chunky mixture. Taste and correct for salt.
To Assemble and Bake the Pizzas:
- Remove the lower rack of the oven if you are using a pizza stone. This will make it easier to get the pizza from the pizza peel to the pizza stone, if you’re using them. An hour or two before you want to make your pizza, preheat the oven (with the pizza stone in it, if you’re using) at its very highest temperature – I put it on broil. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it come to room-ish temperature. (You don’t want it too cold when you start to form the pizzas.)
- Punch down the dough. That’s right, show the dough who’s boss by giving it a good punch or two. This will deflate any really large air bubbles. Cut off a piece of dough about the size of a softball and roll into a loose ball shape between your palms.
- If you’re using a pizza peel: Very lightly flour the peel. The key here is to have just enough flour on peel to facilitate the easy slide into the oven but not too much that you get flour all over your pizza stone, because it will burn. You can shape your pizza in several different ways: a) by rolling it out with a rolling pin; b) by stretching it on the pizza peel until you have a rough round-ish shape; c) with practice, you can do what professional pizza makers do and use your fists (rotating in a circular, punch-y motion) to form the dough into a round shape. Keep in mind that the dough will rise quite a bit in the oven, so you don’t want the formed raw pizza to be too thick. If you’re using a pizza peel: Shape the pizza directly on a large cookie sheet or a baking pan using your hands (shaping it with a rolling pin and then transferring it to the cookie sheet is just a huge pain: the only way this might work is if you have one of those huge dough scrapers meant to transfer pie dough).
- Moving quickly so the dough doesn’t stick to the peel (if you’re using one), top the pizza round with your toppings of choice, leaving about an inch border all the way around so you have a crust to hold on to when you’re eating your pizza. Brush the edges with extra virgin olive oil. If you’re using a pizza peel: Give the peel a shake to see if the pizza is stuck to the bottom of the peel. If it is, add just a tiny bit more flour underneath the pizza so that it will easily release onto the pizza stone. If you’re not using a pizza peel: don’t worry about this business with the flour under your pizza.
- If you’re using a pizza peel: quickly transfer the pizza from the peel directly to the pizza stone – it’s a flick of the wrist that does the trick. If you’ve got your pizza on a cookie sheet: stick the cookie sheet directly on top of the pizza stone, or on the lowest rack of the oven.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. What we really like is an almost burnt-y crust on the bottom (patches of black), but a golden brown crust on the top.
White pizza with a kick: One clove garlic, sliced thinly. Fresh mozzarella, sliced. Fresh ricotta. Asiago cheese, grated. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated. One Serrano chile, sliced thinly. Top formed dough with all ingredients (dollop the ricotta evenly around the pie), a pinch of salt, and a grinding of black pepper. Brush crust with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
Mushroom and truffle oil: Tomato sauce. Fresh mozzarella, sliced. Fresh mushrooms (I like cremini), sliced. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated. A tiny drizzle of truffle oil. Top formed dough with all ingredients, a pinch of salt, and a grinding of black pepper. Brush crust with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
Pork & cheese: Tomato sauce. 2-3 slices prosciutto, shredded with your fingers. Fresh mozzarella, sliced. Parmegiano-Reggiano, grated. Top formed dough with all ingredients, a tiny pinch of salt (don’t forget: prosciutto is salty), and a grinding of black pepper. Brush crust with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Top with leaves of fresh basil (or arugula would be nice, for a tricolore).