Making the perfect homemade pizza has been a 25 year
obsession work in progress for me. I have been constantly fine tuning my method based on the tastes of those I make it for, as well as on some pretty amazing pizzas I have eaten in the US and Italy.
You know you are obsessed with pizza if-
- The first thing you do on a trip to Italy is attend a pizza making class.
- You ask your husband to fly back a Chicago deep dish pizza (from a specific pizza place) when he returns from a Chicago business trip.
- You make homemade pizza everyday for weeks for your child’s school lunch (hey– Congress says its a vegetable 🙂 ) because he loves Pizza Margherita with fresh basil for lunch (who wouldn’t?).
- You short circuit half your house one morning while doing #3 above and plugging in the juicer into the same electrical outlet as the pizza oven.
- You have a crazy pizza oven that annoyingly beeps every two minutes but makes such amazing pizzas that you are willing to put up with its need for attention!
I can probably write volumes on pizza- the raw ingredients, the equipment, the variety of toppings, different kinds of crusts, cooking methods, etc.
However, today I am going to keep it simple and write about the most basic of pizzas- Pizza Margherita.
A couple of notes on the ingredients and equipment-
Flour– If you want a light, authentic pizza crust, use any “00” flour. Caputo 00 is the most common and is readily available in many speciality stores or online. Whole Foods sells “00” flour as well. If you do not have this, no worries. My first substitute would be a mix of half cake flour and half all-purpose flour. Again, no worries if you don’t have or can’t find cake flour. All-purpose flour will work fine- especially if you like a thicker, chewier crust.
Sauce– For simple Italian pizzas, you really just need strained tomatoes. No fancy sauce. However, if you have a pizza sauce that you really like, use it. Ultimately, liking the pizza is more important than making it authentic. I use “pomi” strained tomatoes but you can make yours at home pretty simply- blanch the tomatoes in hot water, remove their skins and pass through a sieve (or process in the food processor).
Cheese– Fresh mozzarella is best but you need the cheese to be dry. In other words, buy the mozzarella that does not come packed in water. If you do buy the one in water, just squeeze the water out of the cheese with a paper towel. You do not want a soggy pizza. To “veganize,” skip the cheese (which I do a lot) or use a non-dairy alternative like “daiya” cheese.
Equipment– Here is what I use. None of them are a must, but help in making an awesome pizza.
- Pizza stone/brick (get a pizza pan if you don’t want to use a brick)
- Pizza peel/cutter (to put pizza on the stone to bake and to cut afterwards)
Making the Pizza
5 cups +1 cup flour (“00” , all-purpose or all-purpose/cake flour blend)
1 to 2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh mozzarella (depends on how cheesy you like your pizza)
2 cups of strained tomatoes seasoned with 1/2 teaspoon salt
a bunch of fresh basil leaves
a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
Heat 1 cup water until lukewarm- about 45 seconds in the microwave (110°F to 115°F).
Dissolve the yeast in the water.
Most of the “00” flours come in 2.2 pound bags. So, if you use 5 cups, there is about 1-2 cups left in case you need to adjust your dough (for stickiness, etc).
Put 5 cups of flour on your counter top or pastry board. Sprinkle the salt on the flour.
Make a well in the center.
Add the yeast mixture to the well in the flour. Add the olive oil to the well also.
Slowly incorporate the flour into the liquid. Use a fork to bring the flour into the liquid without letting the liquid escape the flour wall.
Add more water if the flour is too dry or more flour if the dough is too sticky.
Knead for about 5 minutes. It’s ok if the dough is very slightly sticky- better sticky than dry.
Put the dough in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and spread on all sides of the dough.
Cover with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and leave in a warm place (your counter, away from drafts) for about an hour, until the dough doubles.
Once ready, divide the dough into 4-5 pieces and roll into balls (around 8-10 ounces each). Place on a greased (with olive oil) cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise another hour. Alternately, put in the fridge overnight at this point if you are planning on making the pizza the next day.
About halfway through the second rise, turn on your oven to its highest heat setting (500°F works great) and put in the stone/brick if using. You need to preheat the brick/stone for about 30 minutes.
I use a bit of a shortcut in moving my pizza from the counter to the oven. I assemble the pizza on a piece of aluminum foil and transfer that to the oven using the pizza peel. If you are confident, then you do not need to use the foil. Just sprinkle some flour on the counter/pastry board before assembling the pizza and use the peel to transfer to the oven.
The size of the pizzas will vary depending on how thick/thin you want the crust. I make them about 10 inches in diameter.
Cut a sheet of aluminum foil about 10 inches in diameter. Spread with a little olive oil. Put the ball of dough on top and spread into a circle using your hands- do not use a rolling pin.
Spread a few tablespoons of the tomato paste on the dough- except for about a half inch around the sides.
Add the cheese. Just break into pieces with your hands, no need to grate if you are using fresh mozzarella.
Place a few fresh basil leaves on top.
Optional- drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on the pizza. (Works great with garlic infused oil).
Bake. Watch the pizza closely. The oven is very hot so it bakes fast- 5 to 10 minutes per pizza.
Season with freshly ground black pepper before serving.
Repeat with the other balls of dough.