I used to think I hated pizza. The thin limp/lifeless/Domino’s versions I typically encountered in my teen and childhood years really were awful. Then I was introduced to deep dish via Zachary’s in Berkeley and everything shifted. Fast forward fifteen years and a full explosion of fabulous Neopolitan-style, crispy thin crust creations all over San Francisco. Guess what? I love pizza! So as typical when I love a food, I eventually embark on the process of learning how to recreate it home. I tried various recipes; I took a class; I lowered my expectations. And voila – I learned that pizza at home is actually a simple 30-minute meal, provided you make the dough in advance.
Before we proceed to instructions, I wanted to share a few things I’ve come to terms with in order to make the most successful and enjoyable pizza at home:
1) A home oven – even the “prosumer” variety – can never match the high temperatures of wood-burning ovens so unless you have a real pizza oven at your disposal, crust expectations have to be adjusted. But the pizza will still be delicious.
2) Flour matters. To some extent. I’ve played with a variety of flours at this point – the superfine “00” flour favored by pizzerias, soft whole wheat, bread flour, etc. The combo below is what I’ve finally settled on but I’m not averse to using what’s on hand in a pinch, and encourage you to experiment as well.
3) Because the pizza will bake at a lower temperature in your home oven, it is far easier to use fresh mozzarella that is not packed in water or if using fresh that is packed in water, you need to drain it thoroughly to avoid a liquidity pool in the middle of an otherwise lovely pizza. Any dry cheese – Gruyere, soft goat, provolone, etc, will work great.
4) When in doubt or low on time, store-bought dough is a good option (Trader Joe’s dough comes to mind). That said, I usually struggle to roll the store-made dough – no matter how much I warm it up or how much flour I add, the damn thing bounces back upon stretching. Which is why I ended up learning to make my own dough in the first place – it’s a breeze to roll out.
Inspired by The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
Active time: 10-15 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Yields dough for 2 8-10″ pizzas and freezes beautifully if you don’t use both
1. PROOF 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast in 1 cup of very warm water: 100-110° water to yeast along with a teaspoon of sugar. Stir gently several times and allow yeast to develop for five minutes. If you see foaming or bubbling at the top, your yeast is alive and ready to use. If you see no activity after 10 minutes, this yeast is no longer viable.
2. ADD 3 cups of flour to a mixing bowl: my favorite combo is 1 c. all-purpose, 1 c. whole wheat flour + 1 c. cake or pastry flour. Use a soft wheat flour here, it will work best. Add 2 tsp. of kosher salt (about 1 tsp. with other salts). Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in yeast mixture.
3. Gradually MIX flour and liquid together, stirring with a wooden spoon at first, then with your hands.
4. When the mixture is ragged and pulls cleanly away from the bowl, turn in out on a lightly floured board to knead OR leave in bowl if using a stand mixer.
5. KNEAD dough for about 6-8 minutes by hand or 2-3 minutes using a dough hook in a stand mixer on a low setting. The dough is ready when it is light and elastic, like a baby’s bottom, apparently.
6. Coat another mixing bowl with a light layer of olive oil. Set dough in the oiled bowl. Turn it to coat with oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a 60-70° room to RISE for 1.5-2 hours.
7. Once the dough has doubled in volume, turn it back onto the floured board, punch it down and knead briefly just to knock out air holes.
Cooking time: 5-8 minutes
1. If using a pizza stone, set it in a cold oven and PREHEAT oven to 550° for at least 30 minutes. If you have a convection setting, turn that on too. Anything that brings up the heat in the oven will result in a tastier pizza. Otherwise, just preheat oven to 550°.
2. DIVIDE the dough you just made into two even balls using a knife or pastry cutter.
3. Pat ball of dough into a thick circle then ROLL using a rolling-pin to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
4. Generously SPRINKLE the pizza peel with coarse flour or cornmeal to ensure that pizza slides easily onto the pizza stone. Transfer dough onto the peel or if not using a peel, onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
5. Finally, the fun part! TOP with various toppings and slide into the oven.I like to also “paint” the pizza edge with olive oil and sprinkle gently with salt.
6. BAKE for 5-7 minutes, until the crust is blistered brown and the toppings bubbling.
7. DRIZZLE the top with olive oil once it comes out of the oven and serve.
I tend to make one simple “cheese” pizza Margherita and a more complex one with greens if I’m making two. It used to be that the kids would squarely stick with the Margherita. But last time, both tried and approved of the “adult” option much to my delight. My favorite pizza combos include:
- mozzarella, basil, oregano
- mixture of grated cheeses (Asiago, provolone, mozzarella, etc).with mushrooms and a good salami
- any pizza topped with slices of capocollo cured meat
- greens sautéed with garlic and topped with either fresh goat cheese or shredded Gruyere. Not only is this a great way to use up leftover veggies, it is simply delicious.
- Any of the above with capers, olives or artichoke hearts
What are your pizza favorites?