Help me up my pizza game
October 3, 2021 6:39 AM   Subscribe

My home-made pizzas turn out fairly well, with one glaring exception: The center of the pizza often becomes a soggy lake about 2 inches in diameter.

I cook my pizzas on a pizza stone at 425 or 450 degrees in an electric oven. I usually use tomato sauce from a jar. Toppings are mozzarella (usually fresh) and vegetables. Any "wet" vegetables such as mushrooms or red peppers I pre-saute and pat dry before putting on the pizza.

But invariably I end up with a soggy lake in the center. The dough under the lake is goopy, as you would expect.

Any suggestions for preventing pizza-lake syndrome?
posted by schrodycat to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to mention: I pre-heat the pizza stone with the oven.
posted by schrodycat at 6:42 AM on October 3, 2021

If you were using mozzarella that comes as a ball, you may be putting on too much. It is very high moisture compared to low moisture commercial pizza mozzarella that comes in hard blocks. If you look at traditional Italian pizzas that used burrata or similar, they're made with a lot less cheese and most American pizzas.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 6:43 AM on October 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Maybe the stone still isn't hot enough? I'd try pre-heating it for longer. Depending on the thickness of the stone, 30-60 minutes isn't overkill. (My old stone came with DO NOT PREHEAT warnings, which kind of undermines the whole point?)
posted by jeffjon at 6:44 AM on October 3, 2021 [3 favorites]

Crank your heat up and let the stone preheat for 20 or 30 minutes after it reaches full temp. I cook my pizzas in an oven set around 500 to 550 degrees fahrenheit. 425 seems awfully low for a pizza.
posted by twelve cent archie at 6:51 AM on October 3, 2021 [17 favorites]

Maybe higher cooking time and longer preheating of the stone - I usually heat the oven to 550 and the stone for about 90 minutes, with the oven rack (and stone) on the second highest position in the oven, then cook the pizza for about 9 minutes followed by about a 2 minute broil. And yes, less cheese.
posted by remembrancer at 6:54 AM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

The middle of the pizza just turns into a topping soup mess anyway when you slice it (assuming radial cut and not party cut...) so just put fewer toppings there. Think of it like putting frosting on a donut or bundt cake instead of one flat surface.

Agree with the preheating the stone and also maybe putting just the dough in the oven alone for a few minutes, but for me the most effective thing is just going lighter on the dead center of the pizza.
posted by phunniemee at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2021

The fresh mozzarella is killing you! Been there. Try low-moisture mozzarella (I use shredded, but you can get it in a ball and shred it yourself.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:26 AM on October 3, 2021 [7 favorites]

Seconding low moisture mozzarella. My favorite for pizza is Trader Joe's part skim mozzarella.

Also have you tried preheating the last 20 minutes on broil? According to my IR thermometer I can get my pizza steel up to 625 that way.
posted by aubilenon at 7:54 AM on October 3, 2021

Don't rule out the sauce. Coming right out of the jar it might contain too much water. Maybe reduce it on the stovetop for a while to boil out some of the moisture or strain it with a sieve.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:06 AM on October 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

I concur! Higher heat, low-moisture cheese (fresh mozz is definitely your main issue here), easy on the sauce.
posted by Freyja at 8:09 AM on October 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

We use fresh mozzarella. We always take the mozzarella balls and roll them in a towel and squeeze as hard as possible to get the wetness out.
posted by vacapinta at 8:58 AM on October 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

I always press my fresh mozzarella between paper towels to get as much moisture out as possible before it goes on the pizza. I guess this is what cheesecloth is for, but I've never actually had any. Otherwise, I agree with all above. Hotter, for longer (maybe), easy on the sauce, and light on the toppings.
posted by rodlymight at 9:01 AM on October 3, 2021

Agreed about the mozzarella, but I also second JoeZydeco's point about the jarred sauce. One thing that works well for me is to use crushed tomatoes that I've strained first - gets a lot of the moisture out of it and leaves all that yummy, concentrated tomato flavor for the pizza.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2021

Agree with using dry rather than wet mozzarella. Also, sauce shouldn't be too thin. I've started using canned diced tomatoes, pureed right before use and really love it, no cooking. I also changed veg prep, from Sautee to using uncooked and that helps overall dryness (I put it on top of cheese). Finally, I pre cook the (thin) crust for a 5 minutes before topping. I use a thin holed pizza pan on top of a pre heated stone.
posted by j810c at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2021

Agreeing with most people here:

1. Crank up the oven as high as it will go for as long as you can before cooking. I do 550 degrees for 1 hour, at least; I have noticed a definite difference when I have time to pre-heat for longer.

2. Use low-moisture full-fat mozzarella instead of the fresh stuff (or make sure to squeeze some moisture out of the fresh stuff if you want to use it instead).

3. Use the jarred pizza sauce, specifically, rather than just regular tomato sauce. It seems to have less moisture and, in my experience, tastes better then when I used to use regular tomato sauce.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh. And I use a cast-iron pizza pan; probably not as good as a stone, but way better than the thinner pans I used to use.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:11 AM on October 3, 2021

Something to try that is a little nontraditional: before you add any toppings, par-cook your crust on the stone. Play around with how long to leave it in, and maybe do this step with a very reserved amount of sauce spread on it. When the crust has firmed up enough (again, experiment to determine what that looks like), pull it out, add toppings, and put it back in the oven to finish.

You’re probably using too much sauce, too, so cut way back on that—like, use a couple tablespoons total. Likewise, drain your fresh mozzarella on paper towels and use less of it, or switch to drier cheese. And keep other toppings minimal—a few slivers of something rather than a handful.
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree with upping the oven temp to 500 (you can turn it down to 450 as it cooks if you think it's getting too brown at the edges). If your oven has a convection setting, use it.

But really I want to highlight and second the responses that suggest you might be using too much sauce or cheese. That is the key factor to sogginess in my experience. Use a very thin layer of sauce. I use a few tablespoons at most for a sheet pizza. I always use fresh mozzerella and never drain or press out the moisture. I simply use a lot less cheese. Like 4 ounces tops. I don't precook any of my toppings, just slice them very thinly and use smaller amounts. For a sheet pizza I use maybe a quarter of an onion, a half or even a third of a bell pepper, a small handful of mushrooms. If you really want to drown your crust with lots of toppings, I would par-cook the crust first as suggested above.

This approach will solve your goopy pizza problems guaranteed. I worked at a pizza place and good pizza places obviously have better (hotter and faster) ovens than the rest of us but they also use smaller amounts of toppings than your average pizza eater might think they do. This is because $ but also because sogginess.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 11:03 AM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to the above suggestions you could reduce the sauce on the stove for a while, I’ve had good results with this. Even for jar pizza sauce.

FWIW I use fresh mozzarella all the time but you just can’t treat it the same as if you were using more commercial stuff — don’t go for anything like maximal coverage. There’s also substantial variation between brands and styles, so you could try a few others. The kinds in a full water bath are, perhaps not shockingly, the wettest in my experience.
posted by advil at 11:11 AM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts:
I mostly use scamorza, an Italian cow cheese similar to dry mozzarella but with even better bubbling/browning. I get it from an Italian specialty shop. Agree that less topping in the center, especially sauce, helps.
Before I got my adored outdoor gas pizza oven, I did indoor pizza with the "over/under" method. Preheat your broiler, preheat a griddle or cast iron pan. Put the dough blank on the hot griddle and then add your toppings. By the time you've done that, the bottom is pretty much cooked. Transfer to a pan under the broiler to finish. (note that this is the reverse order of Kenji's well-regarded broiler/skillet pizza).
posted by Mngo at 11:35 AM on October 3, 2021

Cook the dough for a few minutes before adding the sauce. The initial heat from the stone will cook the bottom, then when you add sauce and toppings it will have a moisture barrier.

Yes to higher heat as well. I preheat at 500 for an hour, slide the dough on for 5 minutes, pull out the rack and quickly add the sauce and toppings, and cook another 5 or 6. Then I use the broiler if I want the cheese to brown.
posted by ananci at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2021

I literally just noted something in one of my cookbooks; the author mentioned that she also had a "soggy crust" problem until her former-pizzeria-staff husband told her that she was putting all the toppings on WAY too soon. "You shouldn't put them on the crust until RIGHT before you put it into the oven," he insisted. She says she tried it his way, and it fixed the problem.

So in addition to the fresh-vs-low-moisture cheese, maybe try only putting the toppings on at the last minute.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you want to up your pizza game, replace your pizza stone with a baking steel. That made the most difference in our home pizza-making.

Also be careful not to over-sauce and over-load the pizza - that's definitely a temptation I have to resist. This is a less-is-more situation.
posted by sriracha at 2:35 PM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and set your oven as high as it will go. Mine goes to 550 and that works ok; takes about 8-10 minutes to bake. If I could get it hotter, I would! (But I am not willing to snip off the safety catch and use the self-clean cycle, as some do!)
posted by sriracha at 2:38 PM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used to preheat my 1-inch stone for an hour. Now I go far less -- like 15 or 20 minutes (gas oven or outdoor gas grill).

Agreed on using less sauce, and not letting it sit.

But higher heat (475 or 500F) will get your stone hot enough to really cook the middle.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:41 AM on October 4, 2021

I bake my pizzas on a 550F pre-heated baking steel and slide the thin-crust pizza directly onto the steel. You don’t want to put a ton of sauce/cheese/etc on the dough, as this will affect how the dough cooks.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:44 AM on October 4, 2021

Is the dough too thick in the center?
posted by kapers at 6:56 PM on October 4, 2021

I use a pizza steel (baking steel, as above) on top of a pizza stone on the highest rack. This puts the pizza nice and close to the burner, so when I use convection broil, the whole pizza cooks nicely in about 5 minutes. I usually preheat for about an hour. I use crushed and drained San Marzano tomatoes with a dash of salt and touch of olive oil if I am not using a fatty landjaeger sausage. I press my fresh mozzarella slices in paper towel to reduce moisture. Fresh basil leaves. I have never had a soggy middle. Buon appetito!
(Also, surprisingly good topping combination - thin zucchini and medium thick avocado).
posted by birdsquared at 7:10 PM on October 4, 2021

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