|The Basics of Pizza|
But you have to plan ahead.
Pizza dough is a simple bread dough, made with flour, yeast, salt, and water, usually with olive oil for a little extra crunch and flavor. The toppings are also simple: tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, olives, meat, a variety of vegetables . . . just what you’d expect. But at home you have the option of using better ingredients than the ones they use at a pizza shop, and that makes a huge difference.
The biggest challenge in making pizza is shaping the dough, which can be intimidating. But if you let go of
the idea that the pie has to be perfectly round, that hurdle is soon cleared. Baking also has a bit of a learning
curve, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Preparing Pizza Dough
A food processor makes pizza dough in a minute. Literally. You can also use a standing mixer (see “Making Bread Dough with a Standing Mixer,” page 863) or mix and knead the dough by hand, first in a big bowl, then on a floured board. In any case, start to finish, you can have pizza dough ready in about an hour, but to develop more flavor—and make this a do-ahead dish—let it rise and ferment in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours, even overnight
The romantic image of pizza makers spinning, stretching, and tossing the dough into a perfect circle is hard to
shake. No denying that kind of treatment yields a gorgeous crust, but it’s neither practical nor necessary. With even modest experience you’ll get equally good results laying the dough on a work surface and gently pressing it with opened fingertips until it dimples and slowly stretches into shape. (This is how professionals make focaccia, which is just another form of pizza.) Equally easy is to flatten the dough a bit, then roll it.
In either case, patience is key; your goal is to coax the dough into shape, and this is easiest if you allow the dough to rest between steps as you shape it. You can plow right
SHAPING DOUGH FOR PIZZA AND CALZONES
SHAPING DOUGH FOR PIZZA AND CALZONES
STEP 1) Punch the dough down and (STEP 2) stretch it with your hands. If at any point the dough becomes very resistant, cover and let it rest for a few minutes. (STEPS 3–4) You can press the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin; either is effective. Use a little flour or olive oil to keep it from sticking. (STEP 5) To make a calzone; add your filling, fold the dough over onto itself, and pinch the seams closed.
through from start to finish, but whenever you handle the dough it becomes more elastic and more difficult to work (that’s the gluten doing its thing). The rest periods let it relax, which in turn makes it easier for you to shape.
Thick or Thin?
You can make any size or thickness of pizza using the same recipe and technique. It all depends on how you
divide and shape the dough. Large, thin pizzas are the hardest to handle because they are more likely to tear
during rolling. I usually divide the dough into at least two pies; three or four if they’re going on the grill (see
No matter how thin you roll the crust, it will just about double in thickness as it bakes. (The temperature
of your kitchen, the toppings, and even how you shaped the dough will affect this.) You can increase the thickness of the crust somewhat by letting the dough rise for a few extra minutes after you shape it and before topping it, but don’t let it puff up too much or your pizza will have
big bubbles and sunken valleys.
Topping pizza is much like saucing pasta; distinct, clean flavors are better than a mishmash of ingredients. You can stick to classic combinations: tomatoes, basil, and Parmesan; tomato sauce and mozzarella; or a little mozzarella with some crumbled sausage or sliced pepperoni. You can, of course, play around with different meats, seafood, poultry, vegetables, and cheeses, like grilled eggplant and feta or caramelized onions and Gorgonzola or White Pizza (page 179) with clams and gar lic added.
But “house special” territory is trouble; too many ingredients taste muddled on a pizza, and they do no
favors to your crust, which really deserves equal billing with whatever you put on it. If you smother the dough
with toppings, it will steam as it bakes, turning a potentially crisp and light crust into a soggy mess.
Pizza must be baked in a very hot oven, 500°F or even higher (professional pizza ovens are around 700°F).
The best way to cook pizza is directly on a pizza stone, which crisps up the bottom of the crust and dries it out perfectly. (But pizza is also just fine baked on a flat baking sheet or one with a small lip. And of course
there’s always pizza on the grill; see page 178.) You want the oven—and the stone—thoroughly heated, so
wait a good half hour after turning the oven on before baking.
The ideal pizza stone is a large rectangle; it should be unglazed and relatively thick. Once you’ve got the stone, you really need a peel—the board with a handle that looks like a large Ping-Pong paddle—to simplify the process. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal on it and you can shape and top the dough directly on the peel, then just