Five essentials for the best homemade pizza
When homemade pizza is at its best it can rival or even better those from fancy restaurants and pizzerias. Yes, we’d all like wood-fired ovens at home but even with a kitchen oven you can be making pizzas to be proud of.
The American baking star Peter Reinhart started a pizza blog called Pizza Quest which goes into brilliantly geeky detail about the dough types, the flours, the different methods and sauces, and answers practically all your pizza making questions. But you must also look at “Slice” on the Serious Eats website. Adam Kuban, the founder and top dog editor, and publisher Ed Levine are obsessive about their pizzas and if it doesn’t get you revved up and into pizza mania then nothing will.
Pizza geekiness aside, you can turn out excellent pizza at home so long as you have these five essentials:
1. A really hot oven or grill
You ideally want an oven that will go to at least 240C/475F. The oven needs to have good even heat and the best way to check that is by baking a loaf of bread on a tray and once it’s cool check the base - if it’s much paler than the top then your oven needs help. A heavy pizza stone or a metal griddle placed in the cold oven and heated will help stop your pizzas looking flabby.
But if you don’t have a hot enough oven but do have a grill then Heston demonstrates a brilliant way that combines the hob and the grill for a perfect pizza from his In Search of Perfection BBC series.
2. Soft white bread dough
Essentially pizza is made with a simple flour, salt and yeast dough mixed with enough water to make it very soft and stretchy. And for a very basic pizza dough, a recipe like this from Antony Worrall Thompson will be fine. But of course, if you’re after pizza perfection you’ll want to personalise the ingredients and the method. As Ed says on Slice, “we should celebrate and praise crust diversity in pizza, not bury it.”
Flour: Though an Italian 00 flour is essential if you want to replicate the traditional pizza from Naples, and that’s my preference, many prefer a strong bread flour as it can be coaxed out extra thin without too much worry. My choice for an excellent strong flour recipe would be J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “New York Style Pizza at Home”.
Fat, sugar and malt: Fat, whether you use lard or oil, slightly interferes with the formation of gluten in the dough, and that means a more tender crust less likely to turn brittle in the dry oven. It also helps the dough to colour quickly, as does a little sugar or malt. Pizza makers in Italy often use special flours that have an elevated natural maltose level, which means that they don’t have to add any extra to the flour. But at home, a little sugar, honey or malt (even a dark beer will do) will help your dough to colour quickly and stray crisp but moist and tender.
3. Stretch it in stages
One secret to getting a thin crust pizza is to divide the dough into portions (the site pizzamaking.com has a terrific online calculators for making the right amount of dough), say 200g/7oz dough for each 25cm/10in thin crust pizza. Shape these portions into rounds, place on a dusted worktop, cover with a cloth and leave for 15 minutes. This will make the dough relax, and then it will be much easier to stretch into perfect pizza rounds.
4. Dry your topping first
When most ingredients are heated they change in some way. The sauce, cheese, vegetables and cured meats soften and release liquid or fat, turning a delicious mass into an oily pizza pond. To avoid this, dry wet cheese like mozzarella out on a cloth, cook the sauce until it is thick and spreadable but not runny, and allow for the fat released from meats etc before adding any extra oil.
5. Go light on the topping
Less topping makes a better pizza. Memorise that phrase and you’ll make better, crisper pizzas. Ideally your pizza should have a thin ring of crust and be completely cooked through. Too much sauce, cheese and other bits will cause the topping run over the crust, stop heat from penetrating, lower the tray or stone temperature, and generally ruin what might have been excellent pizza.
Have you successfully made pizza at home? What are your tips for pizza perfection?
Dan Lepard is a food writer for the Guardian and a baking expert.