How to make great pizzas?
November 9, 2005 10:26 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite pizza dough and pizza sauce recipes? How do I make the dough as good as at a good pizza joint?
posted by GernBlandston to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
See my previous post about pizza sauce.

Dough has not been a big issue for me... but I've always heard that you have to bake them in hellishly hot ovens... brick ovens do about 700°F or so, from what I've heard. I don't have one of those, but I do use a pizza stone and a pizza peel and have done well with those. I understand tossing the dough makes it better (stretches out the gluten proteins) but haven't mastered that skill yet.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:33 AM on November 9, 2005

Can you describe the kind of pizza you love -- chewy or not, thick crust or thin, New York, Neapolitan, Sicilian, or...??
posted by wryly at 10:34 AM on November 9, 2005

I generally work from a dough recipe similar to Jeff's Patsy's clone. That page is rather detailed about some things and I highly recommend it as a starting-off point for making a pizza similar to the world-class pizza joints.

Sauce: good quality Italian plum tomatoes, pureed coarsely, drained a bit, and salted.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:35 AM on November 9, 2005

Response by poster: >>an you describe the kind of pizza you love -- chewy or not, thick crust or thin, New York, Neapolitan, Sicilian, or...??< br>
Actually, I'd like to be able to make them all.
posted by GernBlandston at 10:46 AM on November 9, 2005

Personal observations about improving crust quality:

1. I've never been able to make a good dough by hand. It's just too hard to develop the gluten. I use an old Kitchenaid mixer (it says "made by Hobart") with the dough hook and knead up to about 10 minutes. While on the subject of equipment, you gotta have a reliable scale if you're going to work on a dough recipe. If you don't have reliable reproducibility, it will be very difficult to carefully adjust your recipe.

2. Don't use too much yeast. Resist the temptation to add a big spoonful... a pinch will do, especially if you're using the traditional 24-48 hour retardation step. Too much yeast will eat all the sugar in the dough, leaving it with a hard (as opposed to crispy) texture and a less-savory flavor.

3. I haven't observed a big variation between an afternoon rise and a 24 or 48 hour retardation. There's a lot of talk about this improving flavor, but in my opinion there's only so much you can do with commercial pure yeast, and to truly achieve great flavor you need to:

4. Obtain a good sourdough cultre. By sourdough I don't mean something that will make your pizza taste tart, but rather just a mixed culture of yeast (for rising) and bacteria (for flavor generation). I made my culture by purchasing some dough from my favorite local pizza shop, mixing it with flour and water, and keeping it in a jar in the fridge. I start each dough with a few spoonfuls of this.

Notes on maintaining a culture like this: The yeast doesn't seem to like living in the fridge. Real pizza shops usually just take some leftover dough and use it to make the next day's dough, so stuff never gets refrigerated for days on end. After a few generations in the fridge, being replenished with flour and water as infrequently as once a week, the culture became quite sour and lost its ablity to rise the dough. On the page I linked in my previous comment, Jeff indicates that he uses a combination of refrigerated culture and commercial instant yeast. I will endorse this method.

5. Oven heat: for this sort of Neapolitan-inspired style pizza, use the hottest oven you can. Jeff uses a common trick of tricking the oven into staying on a self-cleaning cycle or some other method of disabling the thermostat and keeping the heating element on steadily. A temperature over 550 °F is pretty critical to the process. Pizzas more in the style of the "NY slice joint" are often cooked at lower (450-500 °F) temperatures. For convenience, I usually cook pizza on The Deni Pizza Bella. It's a cheap-looking machine that's basically like a Foreman Grill but it's got a pizza stone on the bottom and a naked coil on top. Disabling the shoddy thermostat allows crazy-hot heating of the stone (someone on the forums measured over 950 °F at the surface, IRRC). The downside of this device is that it's small, and that it traps a lot of moisture during cooking, slowing the browning/crisping of the top crust. If you have the resources and don't mind getting your kitchen really hot, I recommend going the traditional rigged-oven route. Some kind of stone (I used unglazed quarry tile from Home Depot, $0.30 per 0.25 sq. ft.) is essential for the oven.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:49 AM on November 9, 2005

Forget about proper thin crust pizza in a regular oven, you need the classic wood oven for that. But the softer kind can turn out nice.

This is a decent recipe for homemade pizza. You do need fresh yeast for better results and strong flour. The rest is all a matter of practice, including dosages - usually for water it's half the quantity of flour. You can add a little olive oil in the mixture but it's not necessary. You don't really need to knead too long or hard, but a food processor can help.

Another method is blending the yeast with only a portion of the flour and some water, and set aside to rise in a bowl covered with a dry cloth; then when it's doubled in size, place it in the middle of the rest of the flour and water, and knead it all together, then set aside to rise again.

I've been told it's best to avoid direct contact between the salt and the yeast - just sprinkle the salt around in the flour, on the edges, while the yeast mixture is in the centre.

Don't be discouraged if it turns out crap the first time, you'll likely have to make a few experiments before you get anything decent!
posted by funambulist at 11:24 AM on November 9, 2005

Another tip: never try to use cold dough - if you buy it from grocery store or make your own ahead of time, it should be room temperature before you try to shape it or it will end up hard.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 11:26 AM on November 9, 2005

Forget about proper thin crust pizza in a regular oven, you need the classic wood oven for that. But the softer kind can turn out nice.

I disagree. I use a pizza stone in an electric oven, and I make Napoletana pizzas just fine. Just crank the oven as high as it will go and give the stone 20-30 minutes to heat.
posted by letitrain at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2005

A lot of pizza joints will sell their dough, if you want to take the easy way out.
posted by smackfu at 12:24 PM on November 9, 2005

I use the dough recipe on the side of the Bob's Red Mill Unbleached White Flour bag. I do add a little more salt than it calls for, but I find it's an excellent recipe.

As for sauce, what do you like? Chunky sauce? Watery sauce? A sweet sauce, like at the franchise pizza places?
posted by rocketman at 12:26 PM on November 9, 2005

letitrain, I'm not saying it can't be eatable unless made in the traditional wood ovens, but that's the essential requirement for the true pizza napoletana with a really thin crust. Just saying -- I'm not really a purist myself, I actually prefer the softer pizza anyway (and focaccia, yum), which I also find much easier to try at home even without the professional equipment (or skills!).
posted by funambulist at 12:38 PM on November 9, 2005

This is my thick chewy pizza crust: 2/3 cup water (or a bit more if you need it to make the dough mix better), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2/3 teaspoon salt, 1 cup white flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 teaspoon of yeast. Mix into a ball and then knead for about 15 minutes (I use a bread bucket). Coat the ball all over with a little olive oil, put in a bowl, cover, and let rise for one hour. Put on a greased pizza pan. Add sauce and toppings. (The recipe I originally used said to let the dough rise again on the pizza pan for a half hour before putting on the sauce and toppings, but I never do that because, well, I'm hungry, dammit!) Bake at 450 for about 15 minutes or until it seems done to you.
posted by JanetLand at 12:40 PM on November 9, 2005

A Long Island pizzaman told me his secret: the sauce should cook on the pizza.

Well, okay, maybe it isn't such a big secret but that's why homemade pizza never comes out right when you use a canned or spaghetti-style sauce. Try to keep the ingredient list simple; a blend of canned or tetra-paked tomtatoes, basil, oregano, garlic and hot pepper works for me. Just blend it in a bowl and put it on cold.
posted by Opposite George at 12:50 PM on November 9, 2005

1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbls olive oil
water (start with 1 1/2 cups and add more to proper consistency) After kneading, let rise, punch down and you are ready to toll, yes roll. Roll it out with a rolling pin to get a nice thin crust. To get the flavor of a wood fired grill make the pizza on charcoal grill, even a gas grill will get you most of the way there. Cook the crust fully on one side, just a tad on the other then add the ingredients and back onto the grill. I almost never use sauce, just sliced tomatoes, slices of fresh mozzarella, and leave of fresh basil with a healthy drizzle of olive oil over the whole thing. If using a peel and stone in the oven then don't cook the crust before adding the ingredients and make sure that the stone has been in the oven warming for 1/2 to a full hour before adding the pizza. If making more than one wait 10 or 15 minutes in between, if you can, to let the stone warm back up.
posted by caddis at 1:08 PM on November 9, 2005

Oh, and the reason for rolling is to enable you to use a more moist dough. When you are picking it up and throwing it in the air you need to use a stiffer dough and lots more flour for dusting. The more moist dough allows a thinner more delicate crust. The rolling pin can be kind of a PITA so sometimes I just start cheating half way through by dusting with flour and tossing it, but the crust always suffers for this.
posted by caddis at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2005

caddis- that's why I like to leave the dough on the board and just gently stretch it out.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:43 PM on November 9, 2005

I don't have my dough recipe handy, but two things I do (one of which echoed above) are:
(1) Add a portion of high gluten flour to the total flour in the dough--around 1/4 cup of high gluten flour (which you can find at a co-op or health food store) to 3 cups of unbleached flour.
(1) Use a very small amound of yeast and do a slow rise overnight in the fridge, followed by a second rise the next day on the counter at room temp.

I never role my pizza but toss it and stretch it as xrfx suggests.

I use a pizza stone in a gas oven cranked as high as it will go (>500 degrees) and the result is a crispy pizza with a very textured crust (air pockets, good tooth to it) that cooks in 12-14 minutes. Because the crust is so tasty I seldom use tomato-based sauce but tend to use olive oil or pesto.
posted by donovan at 2:45 PM on November 9, 2005

My co-worker Jon tested thin-crust recipes for weeks. Here is his final recipe. (I wrote the deep-dish feature he links to, but I offer no recipe.)
posted by GaelFC at 9:26 PM on November 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

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