The Secrets Of Great Homemade Pizza

Nov 9, 2018 | Cooking Tips

When I was a kid we would often have pizza on Friday nights. Sometimes it was from a local pizzeria but more often than not it was homemade. I always loved knowing that on Friday’s it was pizza night. Even more, I loved being able to top my own pizza and watch it cook in the oven. As a kid, this was one of the coolest things to me. Whether you have kids or not, making pizza at home is fun. It doesn’t have to be every Friday but I firmly believe that if more people made homemade pizza regularly, the world would be a better place.

So today, on this Friday morning I am going to share with you all of the secrets I have picked up over the years about making great pizza at home. It’s my hope that with this information some of you may make pizza tonight. Some of you may start a new family tradition. Maybe, some of you will even make pizza at home for the very first time and discover just how fun and exciting it can be. Let’s get into it.

The Secrets Of Great Homemade Pizza 

First and foremost you have to decide what kind of pizza you want to make. I’m not talking about toppings here, it’s all about the crust. More specifically do you want a thin crust, a crisp crust, a chewy crust, a thick doughy crust? Knowing what type of crust you want is important for a few reasons. Obviously, the dough recipe is going to change based on what type of crust you want. But the way you cook the pizza will change too. To some extent, the toppings you choose will be dictated by the crust as well.

Pizza Dough

Thick doughy crusts are better suited to pans than thinner crusts. You can cook a thin crust pizza in a pan but it’s really hard to cook a thick doughy crust without one. The pan doesn’t have to be a pizza pan. You can use just a regular old cookie sheet if you want. We’ll get into cooking the pizza more in a bit.

Types of Crust

When it comes to the dough I prefer a thin chewy crust. I find the recipe here from Ricardo is really good. I used to use it all the time. If you want a crisp crust, remove half the sugar from the recipe. When you cook the pizza grease a pan with olive oil, use the reduced sugar dough and cook it at 450°f on the middle rack. If you want a thick doughy crust, double the recipe and triple the sugar. If you want a really chewy crust to leave the recipe the same but double the sugar. If you want it a bit softer, add a tablespoon of olive oil to the dough.

Time

Pizza dough is often the barrier that prevents people from making pizza at home. They perceive the dough as being difficult and taking a long time but it really isn’t and it really doesn’t. The dough recipe I shared above only takes 40-45 minutes to make and most of that is waiting. You’re probably thinking, well that’s a long time to wait. Well, in that time you can be grating cheese, chopping vegetables, making a salad. It’s really not that much time.

Once the dough has risen and is ready to go it’s just a matter of rolling it out, topping it, and baking it. If you have opted for a thin crust, cooking it will only take a maximum of 20 minutes, much less time if you invest $20 in a pizza stone. So the dough and the time really shouldn’t be that much of a constraint.

You may be saying that the dough is difficult to make. It isn’t. I’m not just saying that because I’m a professional. Pizza dough is very forgiving. Just follow the recipe and you should be good. Yeah, but kneading the dough is a pain in the ass. Is it? If you have a mixer you don’t have to do anything. If you’re doing it by hand it’s like a ten-minute forearm workout. You can think of anything that’s been frustrating you and take it out on the dough. Easy peasy.

Cooking Pizza

There are a few different ways to cook pizza. The first thing I’ll say is the thicker your crust the lower the temperature you should be cooking it. Generally, pizza is cooked at the very high temperatures. A woodfired pizza oven will reach temperatures in excess of 800°F. Obviously, your oven isn’t going to get that hot, but you should be cooking pizza at around 450-475°F. Thick crusts should be cooked around 375-400°F.

Pizza Stone.

As I said a few minutes ago, pizza stones are a cheap and effective way to get a delicious crust on your pizza. For the money, they are the best way to cook pizza at home. If you don’t have a pizza stone or don’t want to buy one, cooking a pizza on a pan is a fine way to make pizza. There is another option though. It’s a little more difficult, but it makes really good pizza.

Cooking in cast iron.

You can make a very delicious pizza in a cast iron pan. The secret is that you have to preheat the pan. This is where it gets a bit difficult. You have to make the pizza in the pan because there is no way you are going to get a dressed pizza into a cast iron pan. It’s just not going to happen. You have to take the hot, hot pan, put the dough in it carefully as not to burn yourself, and then put on your toppings and put it all in the oven. There is just a very high degree of risk. It is very easy to bump the edge of the pan with your hand and then burn city.

Cooking on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.

This is probably the most common way to make pizza at home and again there is nothing wrong with making pizza this way. Just make sure to oil the pan with olive oil. Generally, I reccommend cooking the pizza in the lower third of the oven if you are using a pan. This way the bottom cooks more evenly.

Topping the Pizza

Pizza Sauce

First things first, let’s talk about sauce. It’s very common to over complicate the sauce. It happens a lot. For me, the sauce should be simple. More often than not all I will do is take can of whole tomatoes, the best ones I can buy (San Marzano Tomatoes which are imported from Italy, and yes it makes a difference), I puree the tomatoes with a bit of sugar, salt and pepper, maybe a garlic clove or two, a touch of olive oil, and fresh basil. That’s it. That’s the whole sauce. It’s not cooked or anything. This sauce takes literally four minutes to make.

If you want a thicker sauce use either a bit of tomato paste in the above sauce. Or, just use tomato paste and water it down slightly. The problem I have with this is that tomato paste has a strong and very specific flavour which I don’t love in this application. But, it’s up to you.

You can add other things to your sauce. Like oregano, fennel seeds, but it’s unnecessary. Keep it simple and making pizza will be fun. Complicate it, and there are more things to go wrong, and it takes longer, and you have to put in more effort. Keep it simple.

Meat

This should go without saying but only put cooked meat on your pizza. It’s not going to be in the oven long enough to cook meat from raw. Other than that, go wild. I really like to keep it pretty simple, pepperoni, salami, maybe bacon or pancetta. If I’m using prosciutto I put it on after the pizza comes out of the oven.

Vegetables

Just like with meat, I prefer to put cooked vegetables on my pizza. That way, I’m not biting into raw onions or anything. Things that I will often put on a pizza are roasted bell peppers, caramelized onions, roasted or sauteed mushrooms, cooked spinach, anything like that. I find that cooking the vegetables actually kind of elevates the pizza and gives it that high-end flavour.

Cheese

You’ve come all this way. You’ve made the dough, made the sauce, cooked your meat and vegetables, and you’ve put it all together. Now, it’s time to finish the pizza with some cheese. You reach for the pre-grated bag of mozzarella that you bought and start putting it on the pizza. Here’s the problem, you’ve gone through all this effort and forethought and now your putting shitty cheese on your pizza. At the very least, buy mozza and grate it yourself.

If you want the best pizza you can make, go to the deli aisle and get a ball of fresh mozza. It’s going to look small, and it’s going to seem expensive. But, you don’t need to use a tonne of it, and there is way more in that baseball-sized piece of fresh mozzarella than there appears. You don’t even need to grate it. Once you open the package you can just peel layers away.

Topping Mistakes

The biggest mistake people make when topping their pizza is that they put way too much stuff on it. I’m not going to talk about clouding flavours or anything like that. What I’m going to say is much more practical. If you overload your pizza with toppings, it’s not going to cook. You will get bits of raw dough, the toppings won’t be heated through. It’s not enjoyable.

When you are topping your pizza, put just enough on so that you get a bit of everything in every bite. That’s all you need, whether it’s cheese, pepperoni, or vegetables. Just enough, is enough.

 

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