Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Okay, I admit it. I'm picky about pizza. At least, I'm picky about homemade pizza. Especially if it's coming out of my kitchen. Actually, I generally don't like homemade pizza, and I can tell you why: homemade crust. Pizza shouldn't taste like it was made on a loaf of bread, or we'd all be making French bread pizza (which I don't like). So, you need a good dough recipe and a good baking method. Here's the dough recipe:

Pizza Dough

2 t. instant yeast (1 packet will work well, or just keep a jar in the freezer)
1 T. sugar
1 c. moderately warm water (if you haven't made bread much, measure the temperature; it should be between 105 and 115 degrees F - quite warm but not hot enough to burn after 3 seconds)
3 c. bread flour (yes, you can substitute all-purpose, but you shouldn't)
1 T. olive oil
2 t. Kosher salt

This works easiest with a stand mixer, but you can also do all this by hand.

Combine the yeast and sugar in your mixer bowl, then add the water. Let the yeast bloom - this should take about 5 minutes - and it should look dissolved and a bit bubbly. Then add the rest of the ingredients, starting with 2 1/2 c. of flour, and, using a dough hook, turn on the mixer to medium. Watch the dough and add a bit more flour as necessary until the dough isn't too sticky anymore, up to 1 c. more. You'll want this to knead for 7-10 minutes with the mixer, or by hand for 15-20 (turn on some music). To test the dough for proper consistency, flatten a small amount and stretch it. If it breaks easily, it needs to knead longer. If it just gets nice and thin, forming a windowpane, you're good. Let rest and rise until double.

So, that's the dough recipe, which is a good place to start. Now, let's move on a bit, shall we?

I nearly forgot another important aspect: the sauce. I have a difficult time finding a good pizza sauce, so I made my own. This has sometimes not worked well in the past, but this time I think I got it right. Good pizza sauce is a little sweet and fairly smooth. Here's my version:

The Sauce

1 medium onion, roughly chopped (I like the sweet varieties)
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 T. olive oil
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
4 T. double-concentrated tomato paste (this comes in a tube and is very handy)
8 basil leaves
4 sprigs oregano, leaves removed
2 t. dried Italian seasoning
3 T. sugar, or to taste
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

In a blender, puree the onion, garlic, and fresh herbs with 1/3 c. of the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat, then add the puree, a pinch of salt, and stir. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the rest of the tomato sauce, the puree, and the Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until reduced to a medium consistency. Add the sugar, salt, and pepper to taste, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature before using.

Feel free to adjust that recipe, but it's just about right the way it is.

So, we've got the pizza dough rising and the sauce done. Now we need to discuss the baking method. As I wrote about earlier, the best method for baking inside is to use baking stones, and mine come from Lowes or Home Depot. They're unglazed natural tiles, they're about an inch thick, so the heat is very constant, and they're about $2 each, so they fit any budget. Well, almost any budget. Just throw some parchment paper on top of them, and they're an ideal baking surface. Even for cookies, if you prefer cookies baked on a stone. It would be very nice to have a pizza peal handy, but a large wooden cutting board will work as well. The baking stones need to preheat in the oven for about an hour to make sure they are heated all the way through (and to ensure proper baking of your pizza), so keep this in mind. Here, then, is everything you need to do to have good pizza at home.


Begin making your pizza dough. Once you get to the rising stage, place your baking stones in the oven and turn the oven on to 525° F. Next, make the sauce. Once the sauce begins simmering, you can start turning your attention to the toppings. Grate the mozzarella cheese (I like low-moisture for pizzas, unless this is going to be one of the only toppings and you're pairing it with fresh basil), caramelize the onions (slice them thinly, then sauté over medium heat with 1-2 T. olive oil and a pinch of salt for 20 minutes), fry up the Italian sausage, drain the pineapple or mandarin oranges, or whatever you need to do to get your toppings ready.

Once the dough has risen and your pizza sauce is cooling, divide the dough into 3 pieces. Place a piece of parchment paper on your peel or cutting board. Flatten the first piece using your hands until fairly thin (it should be about 14" by 8"), then add your toppings. Be generous with sauce, but don't overdo it on the cheese. This is important in a good pizza. Sauce, most of the cheese, toppings, then a small scattering more of cheese makes a good pizza. Unless your only topping is pepperoni, then the pepperoni should be on top.

Slide the pizza and parchment paper on top of the stones and bake until brown and bubbly, about 8-10 minutes.

You can use one of the thirds as delicious breadsticks. Brush the dough with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake. It looks like this in the oven:

And it tastes delicious. As does the pizza!

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