If you are like most people (including me and my family), you probably love pizza. But - anything less than a perfect pizza is just really not that great. For me, the most important deciding factor is the crust. It has to be thin and crunchy, while still slightly chewy, with zero sogginess. The sauce is the second most important factor.
For years, my homemade pizzas did not quite fit the bill, and I truly preferred the ones from an actual pizzeria. However, I have now arrived at making what I consider a perfect pizza, one that tastes better then any pizza shop can make (if I do say so myself).
To save you, my readers, some of the frustrating mistakes I battled for years, I thought I would share the secrets I learned through much trial and error.
Perfect crust begins with the right dough. I have been using this one for years for anything from bread sticks, to baguettes, to pizza dough.
4 cups water (lukewarm is best)
5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (if you are milling your own, use hard white wheat, and increase to 6 cups)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast (not rapid rise)
1 tbsp salt
Add ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer in the order listed. With the dough hook, knead on speed 2 or 3 until the dough pulls together into a neat ball, scraping the bowl clean. You may need to add a tiny bit more water or flour to achieve this.
If you are in a hurry, there is no need to let the dough rise first - it can be used right away, although it will be a bit harder to work with.
This is enough dough to make 6 large pizzas. Any leftover dough can be frozen, or kept sealed in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
(there's only about half of the batch left in this bowl
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to sauce. My only tips are: if at all possible, use fresh herbs, and freshly pressed garlic.
Also, I find that the sauce tastes best when made fresh, so I only ever mix up as much as I will need for that meal.
My sauce is typically made from: canned tomato sauce, salt, pepper, 1 clove freshly pressed garlic, dried oregano/marjoram/thyme/rosemary, fresh basil, and a little bit of sugar.
Because I like the sauce to be "light", one can of tomato sauce makes enough to cover three large pizzas with a thin layer.
3. Pizza stone
Maybe it is possible to bake great, crispy pizza on a regular baking sheet in a conventional oven, but I have never managed to do that. I have also never had any success with special pizza baking sheets with holes in the bottom. Which is where a pizza stone comes in.
The more often it has been used, the more "seasoned" it will become, which in turn will make pizzas come out better and better.
I simply put mine in the oven before preheating it to 450 degrees.
4. Making the crust
Rolling the dough thin enough can be a bit of a pain, especially if the dough did not rise first. It helps a lot to use a rolling pin on a well floured, large work surface. Care should be taken not to tear the dough by trying to get it to stretch too quickly. If you know how to toss pizza dough to make a perfect crust - all the better!
One very helpful tool is a dough docker. Repeatedly running it over the dough in between rolling it out will keep the dough from pulling back together and shrinking in size.
Once the dough is the right size, I dock it one last time to prevent bubbles in the crust during baking, and then carefully place it on the hot stone in the preheated oven. There is no need to sprinkle the stone with corn meal, unless your dough is very sticky (which it shouldn't be if you used enough flour while rolling it out).
I pre-bake the crust, without any toppings, for about 5 minutes, until it just barely starts to turn ever so slightly golden.
5. Pizza peel
A pizza peel is a very useful investment to make pizza baking at home a lot easier. I use it to slide the pre-baked crust out of the oven. Once I add the toppings, I can then slide the pizza right back in to finish baking (typically, another 5-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and turning golden).
Pizza can also be cut on the pizza peel, and then quickly slid onto a cooling rack to prevent the bottom from becoming soggy by being left to sit on a flat surface.
Finally, using high quality toppings will go a long ways towards a great pizza. Stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods sell many nitrate/nitrite-free meat options such as pepperoni, salame, and bacon. Likewise, organic vegetables are much more flavorful than their conventionally-grown counterparts. Even buying 100% organic ingredients will still work out to a lower overall cost than any ready-bought pizza. We like to copy popular topping combinations from successful pizza restaurants, such as ham, pineapple, bacon, and green onions.
Lots and lots of cheese is also a must.