Edward from Southern Ontario writes:
I see you don’t have any pizza on your blog. Isn’t pizza one of the easiest things to do for a beginning baker?
Well Edward, the answers are Yes, and No.
While pizza seems to be simply stretching out a ball of dough and putting it on a pan or a stone, for me it’s highly subjective. And as yet, I’ve yet to work out a truly great pie. One of the problems with me is that I live in probably one of the best Pizza Havens in the US, Buffalo NY. The image above was just shot at dinner tonite, We ordered our favorite “with everything” pie from a place called Diva’s in town, and for us, it’s the ultimate. My own pies pale in comparison. To see a little discussion and my opinions about pizza, you can see this link over at my Buffalo Food Blog.
So what about pizza and the home baker? Well, I’ll just ramble a bit about it. It all boils down to personal taste. There is no “Best Pizza Dough”. One may like thin crust, another thick. One may like a ton of ingredients, others may like a sparse pie. But I can tell you that almost anything you bake will likely be better than pies from the freezer case, and in some cases, depending on where you live, better than pies from the local pizza parlor.
So what are the secrets to good home baked pizza? The dough recipe is only part of it. In my own experiments here, I tend to like doughs that contain honey as a sweetener. But the dough for the Rosemary Olive Oil Bread here will work fine for someone trying a first pie. Just pull pack a little of the flour, like maybe 2 big tablespoons. You can leave out the rosemary if you wish, and sub in honey as a sweetener. The dough quantity here should make two decent medium size pies of ok quality.
The real road to success though lies in the dough handling, and having an oven that is hot, hot, hot. Novice home pizza bakers suffer some disappointment because their home pizzas don’t emulate what they get at the pizza parlor. Their ovens simply don’t get hot enough. A nice deck oven at the local pizza place will run as hot as 700 F and even more, while home ovens will top out at 550 F in most cases.
For quick pizza, go through a normal mix and first rise, just like in the Rosemary Olive Loaf. When your pie is shaped, it is best shaped with your fists instead of pressing it into the pan. Do not try to form an “end ridge” on your circle or freeform pie. The crust will be thick and heavy at the crust edge if you do that.
I’ll do some more stuff on shaping at a later. To get an idea, do a Google image search on “Shaping a Pizza”. And just for fun, search YouTube for “Pizza Tossing”. There are some really fun videos on there. Like this one here
Like most of you, my own home oven tops out around 550 F. Use of a Pizza Stone is a really great help. Preheat your stone at temp of least 475 F for a good hour, use parchment for your dough, and slide the pizza with parchment off of your shaping pan or off of a peel and put it right onto the stone. Baking times vary, but good indicators of doneness are when the ingredients bubble in the middle of the pie and when the crust edge has a nice look to it. If you tap the crust edge you should get a hollow sound. One of my recent trials that produced some decent results was about 475 F at about 18 minutes (I think) on a thin crust pie. I’m bad. I tend to not write things down for all the trials I do.
My Own Experience
When I did some of my first pizza trials, I made some horrible mistakes. First, I used the favorite old pizza pan, one that had been around since I was about 5 years old. The result was that this old steel pizza pan simply did not have the good heating conducting qualities of some of the pans that are out there today. I had put on too many ingredients, and the edge crust started to burn before the pie ingredients got hot. So invest in a good modern pan if that’s the way you wish to go. Actually this one here is one that I have been anxious to try just for fun. The price is right for some experiments.
For a little general discussion on baking pans, you can see this post.
There are other methods to getting some good heating if you don’t have a stone. If you have a heavy duty baking pan, preheat it on the oven. Get it very hot. Slide your pizza on parchment onto it. Any large heavy pan will work. It does not have to be the shape of your pizza as the shape isn’t going to change.
Be very careful in your sliding. Think about it and form your game plan for the most efficient and sensible way to slide. Your oven surfaces will be very hot. Have a partner pull out the oven rack, slide onto surface, and have the partner slide the rack back in. You do want to accomplish your transfer rather quickly so as not to lose too much oven heat.
I have been getting better at the pies, but before doing an instruction and recipe post on it, I want to do some more trials.
And just a note, The BBA Challenge, which I have not abandoned, does indeed include a Pizza. Will be interesting to see how Peter’s method translates for the ordinary home user. Haven’t completely read his recipe and method yet.
Your Own Trials
There’s nothing lost by giving a simple pizza a whack. If you don’t want to purchase Bread Flour, regular all purpose will give satisfactory results. For your first pie, I do suggest starting out with a smaller amount of toppings to ensure good cooking. You’ll be able to form a better judgment in how your own home oven performs. It’s very hard to judge when you have a two inch layer of toppings.
Some suggestions include
Plain Old Tomato Sauce, Cheese, and Pepperoni
Olive Oil (brush some on your crust or use your fingers), Blanched Fresh Spinach (drained very well), and Ricotta Cheese with a little Nutmeg mixed in (Just Awesome!)
Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Thin Deli Sliced Ham, Chopped Cherry Tomatoes, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Chopped Salami Slices, Sliced Black Olives, Fresh Chopped Basil
And to Edward who posed the Pizza question, Happy Baking! Your question was certainly worthy of some longer discussion.
There are many recipes for Pizza Dough posted on the web. Here’s one option and method from Foodista.com.