Making Your Own GREAT Pizzas At Home

Announcement:
Here is an intrusion from the future (February 2010). When I wrote the post below, it was prior to stumbling upon a website that would set my pizza-making on an entirely new course. I’m referring to Jeff Varasano’s rave on sourdough pizzas. Quite simply, my strong conviction now, having tested Varasano’s assertions for myself, is that sourdough pizzas are better than any dry yeast version. The recipe below is fine, so go ahead and try it by all means, but if you want to bake the best, go straight to the following post and do not pass ‘Go’: Sourdough Pizzas – As Good As Home Oven Pizzas Get!
Announcement ends.

As promised in the previous post, here’s my recipe for DIY pizza. This is the result of a lot of research, trial and error. Over months of systematic tweaking (one change at a time, so the results could be validly compared), I am now satisfied that I am turning out pizzas that are pretty damned good. The benchmark by which I gauge pizza excellence is set by Sandrino’s wood-fired pizzas in Fremantle – the best I have had in Perth.

Mine are not yet quite as good, but they are close – if you can turn out better pizzas than these from a domestic electric oven, PLEASE post your suggestions under Comments. This is not about ego. It’s about sharing the love! And if you love pizza as I do, I know you’ll know exactly what I mean.

OK, on to the recipe.

First, read the following:

  • Use ONLY high-protein flour (ie: “bakers’ flour”, or Tipo 00 pizza flour) – I’ve tried the Italian brands of Tipo 00 pizza flour stocked by the big supermarkets, the local Anchor pizza flour and “bakers’ flour” from Kakulas Bros in Northbridge. All are slightly different in their water absorption properties; none stand out as superior in flavour. (My next move in pursuit of the ultimate base will be premium quality organic bakers’ flour…will report back with the findings). Whatever you choose, do not use plain flour. Pizzas need a gluten content higher than that of plain all-purpose flour.
  • Buy a pizza pan AND a pizza stone. Both are essential in the method of pizza-making I use. Stones are very cheap and make a big difference to the crustiness of the base. The point of using a pizza stone is to simulate the heating environment of a wood-fired oven.
  • Ignore the instructions on the pizza stone packaging, which direct that you assemble your pizza on the cold stone, then transfer it to the oven. This defeats the purpose of the stone, which is to provide a hot, even surface for crisping up the dough base! The stone should be in the oven from the time you begin heating it up, and it’s best to let it heat at full temperature for about 30 minutes before you begin baking.
  • Never, ever, wash your stone in water, or use detergent on it. Just scrape it down after use when it’s cold. Rubbing it down with a moist cloth is OK. Whatever, the stone will inevitably turn black over time. That doesn’t matter. It’s purpose is functional, not aesthetic!
  • Keep your toppings light. Use whatever you want, but a heavily-laden pizza won’t cook through properly. If you give it extra time to compensate, the outside crust will be brittle and hard.
  • Use good quality pizza mozzarella sliced fresh off the block, not the pre-packaged stuff – and not the fresh mozzarella balls, which have a delicate flavour too subtle for pizzas.
  • If you have a fan-forced oven, use top and bottom heating with the fan OFF. Fan-forced heat tends to dry the crust out too fast.
  • There is an art to a good pizza. No matter how detailed the instructions of a recipe, you need to pay your dues. (The consistency of the dough, for example, is partly a matter of feel. Ditto the tricky manoeuvre of slipping the half-cooked pizza off the pizza pan on to the pizza stone.) Don’t expect perfection first time. And persevere – believe me, it’s worth it.
  • Right, are you all sitting comftibold, two-square on your botty? Then I’ll begin….(If you haven’t heard Stanley Unwin’s intro to The Small Faces’ eccentric and wonderful Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album, you’ll be WTF-ing all over the place…see here and here if you require further illumination).

    Equipment
    30cm pizza pan
    pizza stone
    egg flip or bakers’ peel
    large mixing bowl
    smaller bowl for yeast/water mix
    bread-and-butter knife for mixing

    Dough Ingredients (for two 30cm pizzas)
    1 satchel dry yeast (5gm)
    1 cup cold water (yes, cold)
    3/4 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt*
    1/2 tablespoon unrefined brown sugar
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    2 1/4 cups pizza flour, sifted
    3/4 cup fine semolina**
    1 tablespoon rye flour (processed, not whole-grain)***
    milk (as needed – see Method below)

    *I use a bit over 1/2 teaspoon of salt, due to my partner’s low-sodium requirements…you do need that much, because salt has an effect on the yeast and contributes to the quality of the dough. If flavour was the sole consideration, I’d use 1 – 1.5 teaspoons of salt.
    ** I’ve found the semolina keeps the risen dough more flexible and workable than using flour alone.
    ***Optional, but rye is a natural dough enhancer and adds to the flavour.

    Method

  • Put yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl, leave for 5 minutes or so. Add salt and shake gently. Leave aside.
  • Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil. Add yeast and water mix. Mix roughly with a knife (less messy than hands or a spoon) for a couple of minutes. Leave to autolyse for 20 minutes or so.
  • Mix dough more thoroughly, until it is a slightly sticky, but kneadable, consistency. If the mix is too wet, add more flour, a little at a time. If too dry, add tiny portions of milk, mix more, and keep adjusting until it’s right. Start kneading in the bowl, using one hand at this stage (keeping the other hand clean in case you need to handle the milk carton, or whatever).
  • When manageable, remove the dough from the bowl and begin kneading in earnest (both hands!) on your bench top. The dough should be a bit sticky at the beginning of the kneading process, but if it is still adhering to the benchtop after 3 minutes or so of kneading, add a little flour. It mustn’t be too dry, though, or it will not be as light as it should be when baked.
    Knead by hand for 12 minutes.
  • Drip a little olive oil (1/4 teaspoon or so) into the bottom of your empty mixing bowl, dump the kneaded dough into it, revolve it around until coated in the oil, cover completely with a clean cloth and leave to rise for an hour (or slightly longer if necessary – the dough should double in size).
  • Once hour is up, punch down the dough in the bowl so all the air is out of it, and it’s lying flat and winded, dimpled with your knuckle imprints.
  • Cover and leave for a couple of hours or longer. Flavours develop more if you refrigerate the dough overnight at this point (covered or in a sealed plastic bag, so it doesn’t absorb fridge odours). If you refrigerate the dough, though, be sure to take it out and allow it to return to room temperature before you start making your pizzas.
  • Tomato Sauce for Base
    Ingredients
    1 clove garlic chopped
    1 can diced tomatoes
    basil
    oregano
    black pepper (freshly ground)

    Method
    Heat olive oil in frypan over moderate heat. Add garlic, fry for 30 seconds (don’t let it colour), add tomatoes and herbs. Mix, add black pepper (and salt if you want – I leave it out). Cook gently to a thick, spreadable sauce consistency. Leave to cool.

    Heat your oven to 230 degrees, with the pizza stone inside on the uppermost shelf. Leave enough room beneath for the pizza to go in on a pizza pan.

    Assemble pizza
    Divide dough into two balls. Leave one aside, covered, in bowl.

    If you’re experienced in tossing pizzas to shape them, this is your chance to show off. If you’re a mere mortal, don’t use a rolling pin, which tends to iron out all the air from the dough – do it this way:

    Flatten the dough out on your bench top, using the heels of your hands and fingers. Work the dough outwards into a circular shape, trying to keep the base even and avoiding any tears or thin patches. If the dough contracts and is hard to work, let it rest for 5-10 minutes, during which the gluten will relax.

    When it is about the right size for your pizza pan, sprinkle the pan LIBERALLY with corn meal. Without this, your pizza will stick to the pan while baking. Pick the pizza dough up carefully and place in pan. Gently work the edges to the sides of the pan (or don’t bother if you are not fussy about shape). Make sure you have a raised rim to give the pizza a nice edge.

    Add your toppings
    Start by smearing olive oil over the base with your fingers, making sure to include the rim, then lightly sprinkle with dried oregano. Now spread the tomato sauce thinly. Then add your toppings. Less is better than more! Don’t overburden your base.

    Baking
    Put pizza (in the pan) on bottom shelf of oven. Bake for 5 minutes.

    Now to the tricky part. Quickly remove the pan and slip the pizza off it and on to the stone, using the egg flip to gently free any sticking sections. If you have spread enough corn meal on to your pan, you should be able to ease the pizza over the edge of the pan and shake it on to the stone easily. If not, you might have to bake it a bit longer in the pan before again attempting to transfer it to the stone. (Don’t feel too bad if you stuff up – it’s almost a given that you’ll make a mess of a couple of your first pizzas before you get this step right. They might not look great, but the flavour will still be there).

    Bake for another 7 minutes or so on the stone. Timing the baking perfectly is partly a matter of experience and feel. If it is nicely browned on top, that is often the best indication that it’s ready. Bake it too long and the crust will be hard and brittle, too short and the base won’t be cooked through. There is some margin for error here, but it is small. Keep the faith – you will get better with a bit of experience.

    Toppings Suggestions
    The good ol’ margarita (or margherita, if you prefer the Italian spelling) is hard to beat IMO. That is, slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella (pieces distributed over the top, rather than grated), with black pepper ground over the finished pizza and a few fresh basil leaves scattered around.

    Another one I love:
    Fresh ricotta crumbled over the tomato sauce topping, with mushrooms, pre-fried eggplant slices, red onion slices and pepperoni, with pieces of mozzarella here and there.

    Or:
    Tomato sauce topping, plus pipped olive halves and pepperoni (Mondo Doro hot cacciatore is the best I’ve come across in Perth – IGA stocks the Mondo Doro lines), and mozzarella scattered around (or grated), finished off with fresh-torn basil leaves.

    Oh, and I always serve my pizzas with fresh-cut chilli in quality olive oil. I’m salivating all over the keys as I type.

    Experiment! Do it YOUR way – this is the beauty of home-made pizzas! You can make them exactly how you want them. And once you’ve got the hang of it, you can expect to turn out something like this (one of my earlier efforts, before sodium content was an issue):

    pizza-2.jpg

    Happy baking! But a warning: once you start turning out masterpieces of your own, you’ll never be able to look a Domino’s, Pizza Hut or Eagle Boys abomination in the eye again – not without feeling compelled to sneer contemptuously at the sorry-looking plastic mutant, anyway.

    Best of baking to you!

    Related posts:

  • Pizza – A Tale of Evolution
  • Sourdough Pizzas – As Good As Home Oven Pizzas Get!
  • 4 thoughts on “Making Your Own GREAT Pizzas At Home”

    1. Read this at work on Friday Rolan, and coudn’t stem the flow of mouth-water. Looks fucking delicious. Only step you’re missing for my purposes is “get your oven fixed”. Sandwich toasters actually cook a meat pie pretty good but mines a little small for a pizza stone.

    2. Commiserations, Dick. Good to see that I’m appealing to a busted-arse demographic I can identify with.

      If you get on to a REALLY good pie, lemme know. That’s a joy to behold – and a rare one.

    3. Very interesting. I have been experimenting with pizzas for a few years and amazingly have come up with more or less the same recipe.
      I went one step further and built a brick oven so I could also bake cottage type bread. I knew nothing about brick laying so borrowed a book from the library called The Bread Builders. My oven works even if it looks very rustic.
      My grandkids wouldn’t miss a “Grandpa’s pizza night for quids”

    4. Peter Gold Coast! Are you still there? I must apologise for ignoring your post! I didn’t mean to – I read it, but for some reason neglected to respond. SORRY!

      That’s amazing that you came up with the same dough formula, or much the same, but may I ask, are you referring to my sourdough pizza formula, or the one above? I never use the dry-yeasted one above now.

      Recently, I’ve made a few tweaks in my technique to simulate the finish you get from a WFO, and am intending to share these in a future post. Won’t interest you, I guess, since you have the real deal in your backyard!

      Best of baking to you!

      Cheers
      rolanstein

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