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Culinary Lesson #18 - Homemade Pizza

Sunday, June 30, 2013

I've been trying out different pizza recipes for years now.  Some have been fairly successful, while others have failed miserably.  To me, a good crust should be crisp yet chewy, should not have the thickness of cardboard yet should not resemble deep dish, should be able to hold up to toppings, and should not be over complicated to make.  Throughout my many trials, I think it's safe to say that I've finally picked up enough tips to give you a Homemade Pizza Culinary Lesson.

EQUIPMENT:  Although you can make pizza without the two, I highly recommend purchasing a baking stone and pizza peel (a combined price of just ~$25).  The biggest secret to cooking the perfect pizza is cooking it for only several minutes at an extreme temperature (usually 800° F to 900° F in professional kitchens).  Since most home ovens only go to 500° F, baking stones play a huge role in retaining whatever heat your oven produces (and potentially loses), while also crisping up the bottom of the crust.  Just set your oven as high as it will go, place your baking stone 4 to 5 inches from the top of the oven while preheating, and you're good to go.  If you're contemplating buying a baking stone, remember that they come in handy while making artisan breads too!

CRUST:  Almost all pizza dough recipes have the same main ingredients, but it's the fine tuning of the proportions that makes a crust great.  Thanks to The Science of Good Cooking, my go-to recipe is as follows:

1 1/3 cups ice water
1/2 teaspoon dry instant yeast
16 1/2 ounces (~3 1/3 cups) bread flour

2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Using a stand mixer with a dough attachment, add the water, yeast, and flour to the mixing bowl.  Mix on low until the dough starts forming.  Add the oil, sugar, and salt, and mix on medium low for roughly 5 minutes.  Divide the dough in half, lightly grease each dough ball, and transfer both to separate zip-lock bags or containers.  Store in the refrigerator for 24 hours to 3 days before baking.  [Side note:  I've found that 2 full days is the perfect time].

This 'cool rising' method does two things.  First, it prevents the crust from creating excessively large air pockets (seen in focaccia for example).  Second, it allows for a more complex flavor since the carbohydrates have a longer time to produce sugars, alcohol, and acids through the yeast.

When you're ready to make your pizza, preheat your oven to its maximum temperature (~500° F), dust your pizza peel with cornmeal, and let your dough rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.  Then begin shaping your pizza dough right on the cornmeal with your hands.  Keeping a crust along the outside, stretch the dough to a 12-inch round.  Let the dough rest for another 10 minutes to ensure it doesn't shrink back up.  Dock the dough with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up in the oven.

Par-bake each crust for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tops don't feel doughy to the touch, but haven't started to get any color.  Remove and transfer to a cooling rack.  [Side note:  The crusts can be frozen at this point if you wish to finish the pizza at a later date].  Lightly top the crusts with sauce and ingredients, and then finish cooking in the oven for an additional 5 minutes, or until the cheese starts to get some color.  Remove the pizza with your peel and let rest on a cooling rack for 10 minutes before slicing and eating.

TOPPINGS:  Regardless of how much you may like the individual toppings and/or sauce, I've learned that less is more.  As long as your ingredients are good enough to stand on their own, their flavors will stand out plenty, even when using minimal amounts.  This is something that's taken me a while to learn, but after seeing how much just a few extra toppings can overwhelm your crust, I've never regretted using less.

IN SUMMARY:  Homemade pizzas are one of my favorite things to make for following reasons:

  1. You can please anyone by changing the flavor profiles.  Consider using non-traditional sauces like pesto or a béchamel-based sauce.  For the toppings, try freshly sliced mozzarella with freshly grated Parmesan, fresh herbs, or roasted vegetables to give your pizzas the authenticity they deserve.
  2. They are extremely inexpensive to make.  No matter how "gourmet" you decide to make your pizzas, the food cost won't come close to what you pay at a restaurant.
  3. They're quick to make.  Two days before you're planning on making your pizzas, you'll spend 10 minutes getting the dough prepped.  The day of, allow for an hour total to preheat your oven, form your crust, apply toppings, and bake.

[What's the best pizza you've ever had?  Where was it from?]

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  1. I think my favorite pizza to date is the apple/bacon/white sauce pizza you made once. I'm also partial to Rocky's pizza on the fly--but probably would prefer a true, authentic Chicago-style deep dish. Mmm

    1. I've yet to try that pizza on this newest crust, so I'll have to make that happen sooner than later :)

  2. What recipe do you use for a white sauce? Everything looks so delicious by the way! :)

    1. Thanks Katelyn! The recipe can be found under 'Apple and Bacon White Pizza'. Nothing more than a roux with some cream, garlic, Parmesan, and salt :)