2009/02/05 The quest for the perfect pizza

yummy delicious pizza

I've been trying to make the ultimate pizza. One that is just as good as you get from a good pizzeria. There are so many variables to getting it just right-- the crust, the sauce, the cheese, the toppings. One night I ended up at the Flying Pie website and there was a huge section on how to make really good pizza at home. I guess they have taken it all down off their website, however, since I can't find it now. I'm kind of bummed that you can't go read it for yourself. I spent way too many hours minutes reading that night. Some of the things I had already discovered were listed, and I got some more tips as well. (edited to add the link that I finally found) So here goes:

Crust

The crust tastes better if you've let it proof in the fridge for a day. Or five. Sitting longer develops great flavor and texture in the crust. I discovered this by accident but was delighted to read this advice at Flying Pie. Your crust also needs plenty of salt, and a wetter dough will have a chewier texture. My current recipe is (makes enough for 2 pizzas):
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cups flour

I often throw some dried herbs (basil and oregano) or granulated garlic in with the dough as well. It needs at least a half a day in the fridge after it's made, but overnight is better. It really needs to be room temperature when it's baked, though, so take it out at least an hour before you want to bake it, but I find that if I can get it stretched into a crust while it's cold, once it's nice and thin, it comes to room temperature a lot more quickly. I mix it up, put it in a gallon-sized zippy bag, and put it in the fridge. The next time I open the fridge, I let some of the air out and keep doing that as long as the bag keeps expanding.

Sauce

Still working on this one. I have a lot of home-canned tomato sauce that I don't love, but I have to use it up, so that's what has been going on the pizza. Sometimes I also mix up:
6 oz tomato paste
1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground oregano

Assembly

I used to always put the toppings on before the cheese. Lately I put the cheese on first and then the toppings. I think I use less cheese this way. But I think the next time I need to try Flying Pie's method of putting the cured meat (the pepperoni and salami) on under the cheese.

Baking

This one is the most important. I've always heard that baking on a pizza stone is the best way to get good crust. But I was never doing it right. You can't just spread dough out on a cold stone and bake it. I've had soggy underbaked crust by doing it that way. Soggy, underbaked crust that sticks to the stone. Put the stone in the oven and preheat it at 475 for at least half an hour (it will take you almost this long to make your pizzas anyway) Cut a piece of parchment paper to make your crust on. I stretch the crust to make about a 13-14" circle on the parchment, put on the sauce and toppings, then I carefully slide the parchment/pizza onto a regular pizza pan (if I had a pizza peel it would be easier because my pizza pan has a little lip that gets in the way) and slide it right onto the hot stone. Then I bake it for 7 minutes. Then I do Flying Pie's thing of running the pizza cutter around the edge of the pizza halfway through the dough, then running the pizza cutter through the toppings to "stir" them around as well. Then bake it another 4-5 minutes or so until it is done. The top will be browned, the toppings will be cooked, and the crust underneath will be brown as well. Use the pizza pan and slip it under the cooked pizza (faster works better) and then transfer it to a big cutting board. Let it sit for a couple minutes to let the cheese set up before you cut it.

I've always believed that you can't really compare frozen pizza to take-out pizza to home-cooked pizza. They are just different foods that happen to have the same name. But after these recent developments, I'm not sure I'll ever look at home-cooked pizza the same way again. My mouth is watering just typing this, and my tummy is growling. Hmmm, there's dough in the fridge...I think I know what's for dinner.