You’ve perfected your banana bread and your sourdough loaves are on point. What’s your next move? Might I suggest stepping up your homemade pizza game
Making pizza at home is easy and lots of fun. Everyone can make their own personal pizza with toppings to suit their own particular tastes. Plus, it’s an engaging family activity and a creative date-night idea.
You could go the easy way and buy pre-made, pre-baked or frozen dough... and you could get the store-bought sauce off the shelf... or pre-shredded cheese and still make a good pizza. But, there are simply ways to make that pizza even more delicious and rival the in-restaurant experience.
Here are a few tips to upgrade your homemade pizza skills, and really wow your crowd (or yourself)...
1. Make your own dough
Fresh dough is something to behold and makes a huge difference in texture. You have many options here. You can use a bread-maker machine to make it easy and still end up with a great taste. Or you can make it by hand and let it rise for a while and use it that day. Or you can use a smaller amount of yeast, and let the fridge do some work for you by letting it sit overnight. This step (called cold-fermenting—kind of like what you have to do with sourdough) means you’ll have to plan your pizza night a day or two ahead, but once you try it, you won’t want to go back. Whichever route you decide to go, you’ll thank yourself when you bite into that crispy, chewy crust! Here's how to make the perfect dough.
2. Making the sauce
Honestly, it’s so simple, you barely have to pay attention to it, and not only do you end up with a better base for your toppings, you avoid the overly sugary shelf-stable taste. Fresh tomatoes (especially when they’re in season, and you can make a fancy heirloom tomato sauce) work well, but if you get a good can of off-the-vine tomatoes (where that’s the only ingredient), you’re good to go year-round.
Sautée some garlic, add in the tomatoes and a bit of water, shake some spices over it (think salt and pepper, Italian seasoning or oregano), and maybe some fresh basil, and cook it down until, shocker, it’s sauce-like! (At that point you can purée it as well, if you prefer a less chunky sauce.) Make a big enough batch and you can freeze it, and save yourself the step the next time.
Oh, and if you’re feeling ambitious, or have picky eaters, you can also try a white-sauce pizza and make a Bechamel sauce. There are a few pizzas with toppings (mmm funghi with truffle oil) that go really well with a white sauce, which leads me to...
We’ll start with cheese. I know it’s tempting to get the pre-shredded cheese in a bag and save yourself some time, but the starch on them (why they don’t stick together) makes melting difficult and gummy.
At the very least, shred your own low-moisture mozzarella, or take it a step further and do a combination of a few cheeses that melt easily (havarti and fontina, for example). And if you’re making a margherita pizza, search out fior di latte cheese (or buffalo mozzarella if you can’t find it)—it’s authentic and since the pizza is so simple to start with, you should be using the best ingredients you can find.
When it comes to toppings, many can go right on the pizza, like tomatoes and prosciutto. But throwing on things like raw mushrooms and uncooked meats is going to backfire. You want to cook the pizza at a really high heat (we’ll get into that) and there isn’t enough time for those kinds of toppings to cook thoroughly and become flavourful. Sautée vegetables with a bit of olive oil to soften and bring out juices, and always cook raw meat fully before putting it your crust. That way you’re not over-cooking the pizza to try and get the toppings finished.
4. Turn it up
I’ve learned in the process of my pizza experiments that if you crank your oven as high as it goes, and if you’ve done everything right with your dough and toppings, it’s going to make the biggest difference. It all depends how hot you can get your oven (and if you follow one of the suggestions in tip no. 5 below), but it should only take a few minutes to cook your pizza.
I’ve worked at 500 degrees the last few times and even if the pizza is a weird shape (it happens) or even if the dough isn’t homemade, it usually turns out beautifully.
Another hot tip (get it?) is to turn the broil on for the last minute or so (you just have to keep an eye on it the whole time, which you should be doing anyway). This will give the top of the pizza a bit of extra attention and melt-time, and because we don’t all have wood-fired ovens in our kitchens or yards, it will help fully surround the pizza with heat.
Another idea is to cook it on the barbecue, as that can get even hotter than the oven, but that will require an extra tool for sure (or else the mess potential is high), which is what the next tip is all about.
5. Try a pizza stone
Seriously it’s a game changer. The stone goes in when you pre-heat the oven and absorbs the heat as it rises. It helps keep the oven temperature even, and when you slide your pizza on, it’s cooking from the bottom, top and surroundings. You can bake other items on this too (bread, quesadillas, pita), so it’s not just a one-trick kitchen toy, and helps regulate heat when you’re baking things that can’t go directly on it.
The best accessory to go with this is a pizza peel. Assemble the pizza, throw down some cornmeal or semolina flour on the peel, place it on and it will slide right off on to the stone (the same when it comes out). Then you’re not dealing with trying to handle 500-degree stones while taking your pizza out. It helps get an assembly line going when you’re making multiple pizzas as well.
For something different, toss (well, place gently) the pizza stone on the barbecue and try cooking your pizza on there. You lose the ability to broil, but because the ‘cue can usually get hotter than an oven, the cook time is about the same. Plus, it’s just a fun idea to make a barbecue pizza!
Like most things in the world of baking and cooking, it may take a few tries to get it perfect. So, start with even just one of these tips, and you’ll slowly add another skill to your repertoire—or at the very least look like it on instagram.
Did you try one of our tips? Tag us on social media with your creations!