Saturday, March 31, 2012

Secrets to making great pizza

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.

1. Dough

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

2. Sauce

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.

6. Toppings

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. 


That's pretty much it. If you have any tips to add, please do so in the comments section below.


  1. Have you ever tried artichoke hearts or sun dried tomatoes? They are delicious on an all veggie pizza with zucchini, mushrooms, onions, olives, peppers.

  2. This a comment completely unrelated to the pizza (though it does look delicious :)I recently had my gallbladder removed and was searching your site to see if it was a topic that you had discussed before. I see a comment written by you saying you also had it removed. Do you have any advice to get over the side effects aka "dumping syndrome"? I tried to keep it(gallbladder), but it kept giving me a hard time and was affecting my job as a wife and mother. My hopes that the surgery would fix all the problems are diminishing as I now have a new set of problems affecting my job. You seem to be able to eat such a varied diet. Is there hope for me?

  3. If you aren't in a hurry, what is a suggested rise time? I don't see that part anywhere.

  4. Yum! We are HUGE pizza people here in NY...nothing like a NY style pizza! That means thin crust. Another big hit around here is sweet sauce. My hubby always loves his pizza sauce on the sweet side. Great tips!! :)

  5. Stormie - I had that "side effect" of post-gall bladder surgery, too. What helped me was avoiding fat. Fried foods, of course, are to be avoided, but I found that cutting back on other foods that were greasy helped, too. I used to eat a lot of prepared foods and cutting those out in favor of whole foods also helped (for example, rather than buying deli lunch meat, I would roast meat and slice it - and I learned to love my crock pot). It's been almost a year since my last - um - episode and that was a result of a restaurant meal of some Greek pizza and a salad whose dressing was too heavy on the olive oil.

    Other Sally

  6. WOW, they look so yummy ! My mum sometimes makes pizzas, but they don't look near as good as yours ! I won't tell her, however ^^

    You sure are a great cook !

  7. Stormie, I had my gallbladder out a little over 10 years ago and "dumping syndrome" is not fun (totally know what you are talking about). However, it can get drastically better if you introduce a ton of fiber into your diet. I combat my issues through a few ways. 1. I originally started out using Metamucil on a daily basis and it helped to a degree 2. I eat black beans..sounds crazy but it "binds" everything together and prevents horrible consequences should I choose to eat fatty foods 3. I take around 3 Tbsp of Braggs Organic Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar on a daily basis. My stomach issues have gone from find a bathroom now or I'm going to have an accident to almost non existent. Good luck and I hope you find something that works for you.
    P.S. the pizza in this post looks amazing. :-)

  8. Stormie,
    I had my gall bladder out in December 2005, and I am still suffering from 'dumping'. I cannot eat fried foods and I don't eat much meat--maybe a few bites once in a blue moon. I drink a lot of water and unsweetened green tea. Through trial and error I have learned which foods I can eat and which I cannot to avoid the 'dumping'. I don't regret the surgery as the pain from the gall bladder was horrible and I am so thankful to be rid of it. I have lost a lot of weight since having it removed which is also a plus.

    I love your recipe and am going to add it to next weeks menu. It looks delicious. I always have to make two pizzas for us, just the two of us, as my husband likes a meat eaters style with all kinds of meat on it and covered in cheese, and I like vegetarian with a lot of sauce and cheese.

    I will be sure to let you know how it turns out for me.

    Blessings, Mrs. Mari

  9. Also unrelated to pizza - I have wanted to ask this for a long time - why have your gallbladder removed and suffer all the life-long effects of that when there are so many natural remedies out there that clean out stones and make that procedure unnecessary? I know this because I have done them and they worked for me - google gallbladder cleanse/flush - I thought you were so pro-natural, anti-doctor in your approach?

  10. Stormie,

    when I first read your comment, I had no clue what you were talking about. Then, I seemed to remember them telling me after the surgery that greasy foods might make me ill, and to back off them in that case. Honestly, I have never had a problem with eating any foods since having my gallbladder taken out 7 years ago. We do eat a very high fiber diet, maybe that is why

    Many thanks to all the other commenters giving their advice on this topic.


    I had my gall bladder removed because that was what the doctor, as well as a naturopathic chiropractor, recommended. Also, I was not nearly as knowledgeable about natural health then as I am now. Had I been, I might have tried a different approach. My gall stones were likely caused by the extreme amounts of bile I produce when pregnant, so this was going to be a problem that likely would keep recurring. Thankfully, I have noticed no adverse effects from the surgery.

  11. Can you maybe answer my question about the rising time, if a person isn't in a hurry? Thanks.

  12. Pamela,

    I am so sorry, I did not mean to ignore your question.

    The rising time could be anywhere from 1-3 hours, until the dough has almost doubled in size. If you start with lukewarm water and have a warm, draft free kitchen, it will take much less time than starting with cold water in a cold room.

    Hope that helps.

  13. A BIG thank you to the helpful tips about my gallbladder issues. While reading and trying to educate myself, I have found that the increase in fiber will probably be my best friend :) Also time. I need to learn to keep my patience and not expect perfection so quickly!!

    In response to the comment on gallbladder flushes; I did do those(several times), but was not given nearly the amount of relief that I should have been if it was working appropriately. My gallbladder problems were thought to be related to my 4 pregnancies (resulting in a 4x increase in gallbladder issues). Gallbladder rupture also runs in my family. So, I decided that this would be the best option for my body. After it was removed it was shown to have had multiple infections and filled with stones. Also, all the pain has completely gone away and I am able to enjoy my family again!! Which is such a gift in itself. Given my history, the pathology reports, and the results..... I do not regret the decision to have it removed :)

  14. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I know it is an older post, but I just can't help it and must tell you that my family loved it! They raved about it actually. I have been using the same pizza crust recipe for over 13 years and never have received that many compliments! This one is a keeper. Now I am off to try your sunflower seed and honey wheat recipe (minus the sunflower seeds, I am out). Thank you so much!


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