Pizza is one food that almost everybody will eat. Its easy to serve for a crowd, because it can be eaten without utensils, so a great choice when there aren’t enough seats at the table. Children love it. Its even delicious cold from the fridge, or heated for breakfast the next day.
Typical home ovens simply aren’t hot enough to make the kind of thin crust pizzas you can get from pizzerias. They need to bake quickly, and if the oven isn’t hot enough to force the moisture out of the crust, the toppings will make it soggy. It also depends on whether you like a thin or thick crust, and what tools you use. Pizza stones are long considered the best for removing just the right amount of moisture from the crust, but they are heavy and you need a peel to transfer the pie to the hot stone in the oven. Pizza screens are thought to perhaps remove too much moisture, leaving the crust somewhat dry. I tend to use a large cookie sheet for one jumbo pizza, and if some want different toppings, I just do different toppings in different areas of the pizza.
For true gourmet taste, pizza stones are probably the best way to go, unless you can yourself a pizzeria oven with a stone or brick lining. Many home ovens simply cannot reach the temperature required to take the right amount of moisture You will need to transfer the pizza to the stone with a pizza peel (see video in “Pizza Peel” below) but these stones are said to provide the closest to authentic pizzeria crusts available to home cooks.
If you have a small kitchen, a regular pizza pan or even a cookie sheet can produce a delicious home made pizza if you turn the oven up high and use a home made crust. I admit I tend to use plain cookie sheets more than anything, but a deep dish pizza pan might be a good investment, as you can also use it for chicken or other drippy foods that you bake in the oven if your cookie sheets don’t have a high edge.
Pizza screens are designed to hold the pizza while leaving exposure to the heat of the oven to release moisture. The idea is that the crust will be crunchier. I find it a bit dry for my taste done this way, but haven’t experimented much with them. They are certainly easier than a stone, as they don’t require a peel to transfer the pizza into the preheated stone in the hot oven, and they are inexpensive. Now that I’ve gotten into thin crusts I think its time to try one again.
I’ve attached a video to show you how to use a pizza peel. Its something I admit to being a bit nervous about, but once you get the thing in your hand and slide it around, it feels easier than it looks, and I managed on my first try to transfer the pizza to a stone with only a minor little squish on one edge, so I was pretty pleased with myself. I guess its one of those things that becomes second nature over time. If I didn’t have a professional oven that really pumps out the heat, I would use a stone and peel every time.
Video showing how to use a Pizza Peel:
You can either roll your dough out with a rolling pin, or stretch it like I do. I find it only takes a minute or two, but I’ve been making them this way a few years, and I think when I started I didn’t have a rolling pin available. I usually make mine rectangular shaped to fit my pan, but either method works fine.
Video showing how to stretch a pizza dough:
I’ve tried a few pizza wheels and every one I’ve tried so far has dragged the toppings along with it, or failed to cut through. The rocking pizza cutters, to me, are a better option if you can transfer your pizza to a cutting board. I don’t really like transferring mine to a cutting board though, so I use kitchen shears to cut mine, lifting with a spatula as I go along, They work great!
Pizza Crust Recipe
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 package regular or quick active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 cup very warm water (120° to 130°)
Stir in enough remaining flour until dough is soft and leaves sides of bowl. Stir briskly with a spoon for twenty strokes, then knead dough for a few minutes until smooth and springy. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 20-30 minutes while you get your other ingredients ready.
Continue as directed below for thin crusts or thick crusts.
For Thin Crusts: Heat oven to 450°. Grease 2 cookie sheets or 12-inch pizza pans with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a 12-inch circle on pizza pans or cookie sheets. I tend to poke my fingertips into the dough, gradually pulling it outward, in random locations, or you can use a rolling pin. If you get a little hole in your dough, just smash the two ends firmly together, it will be fine.
Partially bake 6 to 7 minutes or until crust just begins to brown. Add toppings and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. For a crunchier crust, crank the oven as high as it will go and reduce time accordingly. Often I skip the partial bake stage and just put the toppings on and bake, it always seems to turn out fine, just less crisp.
Note: If using a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven, and roll your pizza crust out for transfer to the hot stone. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can even bake the pizza directly on the oven rack by transferring it with a pizza peel or from the back of a cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal with a quick jerky motion, but leave a little space on the edges without toppings so they don’t drip all over your oven.
For Thick Crusts: Grease 2 square pans, 8x8x2 inches, or 2 round pans, 9 x1 1/2 inches, with oil. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Divide dough in half. Pat each half in bottom of pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place 30 to 45 minutes or until almost double. Move oven rack to lowest position. Heat oven to 375°. Partially bake 20 to 22 minutes or until crust just begins to brown. Add toppings and bake about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted.
Tips and Techniques
- using a pizza stone helps if you don’t have a professional oven, because the stone retains extra heat to help crisp the dough;
- cornmeal helps add crispness to the dough;
- use home made dough – its much more likely to crisp up than store bought dough.
- go easy on the toppings – for an average 12″ pizza 1/2 cup of sauce, a cup of vegetables/meats and 1 to 1-1/2 cups of cheese is plenty;
- precook or partially cook meats or any vegetables you like well cooked.
- if you don’t have time to make your own thick sauce, use pizza sauce rather than regular tomato sauce to reduce moisture, its thicker.
- for best flavor, fresh, finely chopped herbs can be added just as the pizza comes out of the even, as residual heat will wilt them.
- spread your toppings to the edge, so they don’t end up piled up in the middle.
- for a healthy meal go vegetarian with less cheese.
Tomato Pizza Sauce Recipe
6 whole peppercorns
1/2 cup deseeded and finely chopped pepper
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried or a few twigs of fresh oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil or several ripped up basil leaves
2 tbsp oil
salt to taste
- Put whole tomatoes into boiling water and boil 10 minutes.
- Peel, cut into quarters and deseed the tomatoes.
- Chop finely and keep the tomato pulp aside.
- Heat the oil in a pan, add the bayleaves and peppercorns and sauté for a minute.
- Add the peppers and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the tomato pulp and allow it to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the sauce reduces a little.
- Add the tomato ketchup, sugar and salt and simmer until thickened.
- Add the oregano and basil and mix well. Remove the bayleaves and peppercorns and discard.
Alfredo Pizza Sauce Recipe
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp coarse sea salt
1/8 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan Reggiano
Blend all ingredients in pan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened. Can be removed from heat, covered and set aside while preparing pizza.
Variation: For Pesto Sauce, reduce cheese to a tablespoon, and add two tablespoons of prepared Pesto.
Topping Combination Ideas
- Pesto sauce, grape tomatoes artichoke hearts, Greek olives, feta cheese
- Grilled eggplant and basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Shaved asparagus, ricotta cheese
- Pesto sauce, spinach, black olives, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Mango, hot chillies, mozzarella cheese
- Zucchini, basil, tomatoes, Harvarti and mozzarella cheese
- Roasted peppers, spinach, feta and mozzarella cheese
- Carmelized onion, pork sausage, hot chilli flakes, Parmeson and mozzarella cheese
- Pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, banana peppers, spinach, onions, tomatoes and extra cheese
- Alfredo sauce with cooked onions and chicken strips, garlic, BBQ sauce, a drizzle of Frank’s Red Hot, Provolone and mozzarella cheese
- Bacon, mushrooms, garlic, minced beef, and red onions, Mozzarella and cheddar cheese
- Roasted garlic, spinach, wine soaked chorizo, Feta cheese
- Tomato sauce mixed with refried beans, ground beef with taco seasoning, tomatoes, red peppers, onions, spinach, Mexican blend cheeses
- Pesto sauce, thin sirloin beef, halved cherry tomatoes, spinach or arugula, Italian blend cheeses
If you’ve got some favorite topping combinations, we would love to hear about them!