What You'll Need
Baking stone: Absorbs and retains heat. Its porous surface wicks away moisture from the dough, making a for a crisp crust.
Pizza peel: The wooden paddle used to transfer the pie to and from the baking stone. One is sufficient, but having two makes things much easier.
Large mixing bowl: Roomy enough to allow dough to double in size.
Nice But Not Necessary
Stand mixer: Dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand, but a nice Kitchen Aid makes things much, much easier.
Pizza cutter: You can use a sharp chef's knife in a pinch.
Kitchen scale: To divide dough evenly. Or just eyeball it.
Thermometer: Water for dough should be 110°. If no thermometer, water should be hot to the touch, but not so hot that you can't keep your hand under it.
Splatter screen: Minimizes mess from bubbling sauce.
Potato masher: Use it to break up tomatoes in pot. Or just pulverize them with your hands before adding to pot.
The leaves of the city's trees have, by now, gone from green to brilliant autumnal hues to the compost pile, and the heat of summer is but a memory. While beach bums and baseball fans mourn the passing of the season, this reporter rejoices. That's because it's now cold enough outside for me to fire up my oven inside. And that means pizza.
My apartment is just too small for me to even think about turning on the oven when it's above 50 degrees outside. This recent cold weather, which seems poised to stay for the season, gave me the perfect excuse last night to drop in the pizza stone, heat the oven, and continue my years-long quest for the perfect at-home pie.
I actually started the process Tuesday night by cooking up a batch of sauce made simply with some canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. This is the recipe I usually use, with the only exception being that I don't run the sauce through a food mill as is called for in the final stepI like a chunkier sauce. I do however, make sure the tomatoes are well broken up; a potato masher can do double duty as a tomato breaker-upper. Another deviation I make is that I usually double this recipe; as is, it makes enough for two pies. My dough recipe will yield crusts for four. In the photo at top, though, I've quadrupled the sauce recipe. This was wholly unnecessary for last night's pizza output (two pies), but I wanted to freeze some sauce for pies in the near future. (It's a good idea to wash out and save plastic take-out containers for this purpose.)
Another good idea is to buy a splatter screen for your pot (right). It lets the steam escape so the sauce can thicken but helps keeps the mess inside. It's not necessarily a must-have item for making pizza, but splatter screens are cheap; I think this one was about $2 at Ikea. And look at the photo: You can use it as a spoon rest! While the sauce cooks, I like to roast a couple red peppers directly on the trivet of my stove, which is gas-burning (if you have electric, you can throw them under the broiler). Turn them until they're blackened all over, then put them in a lidded container of some sort to steam; this helps loosen the skin later.
Dough for Four Pies
2 cups 110°F water 1 teaspoon sugar 2 packets active dry yeast 5 cups flour (more or less) 3 teaspoons coarse salt 4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes as yeast activates. You'll know yeast is good if it starts to foam at top.
2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine flour, and salt. When yeast has foamed, stir it up again and pour into mixer bowl. Add the olive oil, and mix on low until dough comes together in a ball.
3. After dough comes together, leave mixer on low to knead dough for 15 minutes.
4. Remove dough from mixer, and shape into a ball. Place ball into a large, lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 45 minutes.
5. After dough has risen, punch down and remove from bowl. Divide into 4 equal parts.
While cooking the sauce is relatively easy, making the dough seems to scare most people off. Either they've never worked with yeast before or the prospect of mixing and kneading the gummy mass sends them to the phone to order delivery pie. I can certainly sympathize. If I didn't have my trusty Empire-Red 4½-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do the work for me, I'd likely take that route, too. Actually, I'd probably just visit a neighborhood pizzeria and buy some dough already mixed. You can do this, too, if you prefer, but I like knowing my pizzas are as close to scratch as possible.
There are recipes out there for doing this all by hand, but since I use a mixer, that's what I'll write about here. If you look at the large photo at top, you'll see all the ingredients you need for dough (well, except for the kitchen scale and the flowers; oh, and the sugar is in the small bowl to the right of the flour).
Prepare the dough as specified above right. My recipe calls for about 5 cups flour, but to be honest, I usually just use an entire 2.2 lb. bag of Bel Aria Tipo "00". It's fancy-pants flour imported from Italy, but you don't really have to use this stuff to make a good dough. I use it primarily because I can often just dump the whole bag in the mixer (using a little more from a second bag or a little less, depending on humidity) and because it has a lower protein content, which makes for a softer, more tender crust. (All-purpose will work, too, however.)
This is a good time, as the dough rises, to put your baking stone in the oven and preheat to as high a temperature as possible. The stone will need a good hour to come to temperature and should be just right by the time you've built your first pie.
After you've mixed, kneaded, and divided the dough, roll the pieces into balls. Decide how many you want to use at this time. Lightly oil those pieces and cover them loosely with plastic wrap. You'll want to let these sit and relax for a bit, about 10 minutes; it'll make them easier to work with as you stretch them into rounds. Meanwhile, grate your cheese and prep any toppings you might be using. Any dough that you decide not to employ can be stored in gallon-size Ziploc bags. Just throw a splash of oil in the bag with the dough, then fold the bag, unsealed, under the ball. Place in the refrigerator and use the next day, being sure to let the dough come to room temperature before working with it (otherwise it'll be difficult to stretch).
I Love it When a Plan Comes Together
You've got your sauce. You've got your dough. Now it's time to put the puzzle together and make a pie. Place dough ball on a floured work surface. It's best to just do it on the pizza peel. Begin by flattening dough into a disc. Then press firmly outward from the center of the disc. If you've never done this before, don't worry about maintaining a perfectly round shapejust concentrate on keeping the dough an even thickness in the middle. The edges will be slightly thicker, because you're applying pressure from the interior of the disc. You also shouldn't worry about trying to toss the dough; that's just showboatin'.
When your round is stretched, gently shake the peel to make sure the dough isn't sticking to it. If you've used enough flour on the board, it shouldn't. If it does, carefully lift it from the peel, scatter some flour across the peel, and put the dough round back on. Sauce the dough to your liking; I use one 8-oz. ladleful. Scatter with some Parmigiano-Reggiano (above left) or other dry aged cheese (Grana Padano is a favorite at Slice HQ, as that is one of the trio of cheeses that Di Fara's Dom DeMarco uses). Top with an artful amount of mozzarella (above center; here, grated fresh mozzarella) and a splash of olive oil (above right). Again, gently shimmy the peel back and forth to make sure the pie isn't stuck to it.
Use the peel to carefully transfer the pie to your baking stone (above right), which should be perfectly hot by now. Bake for about five minutes, then remove the pie with the peel to check the bottom. If it's not done to your liking, return it to the stone for about a minute more, watching it so it doesn't burn.
The next series of steps is easy: Remove the pie, slice it, and eat.
Here's how my first oven-baked pizza of fall 2004 turned out:
Next week: Where to get your pizza-making supplies.
For more on making pizza at home, check out Pizzamaking.com. It's truly the most useful DIY pizza-at-home site out there.