As a person who’s devoted most of my life to food, I have certain beliefs that I fervently hold on to. One: never grill chicken breasts for a dinner party. That’s depressing. Two: When baking with chocolate, it’s important to eat a quarter cup of the chocolate in its raw state. Quality control. And three: there’s absolutely no reason to make pizza at home. Order in, it’ll be better.
Pause on that last one. Recently, I felt inspired to try my hand at homemade pizza again after many unimpressive efforts from the past, earning comments like this one:
Nicholas Bergus had a point. I never quite got the dough thin enough, giving up on stretching it while it still looked rather puffy. The resulting pizza was, as Nicholas Bergus says, “more like focaccia than pizza.” When the internet trolls are right, you know you’re doing something wrong.
So what changed?
My friend Ben gifted me with a pizza steel. You may be thinking: “I’m not going out and buying a pizza steel!” and that’s fine. Get a pizza stone. What you want is a hot surface to cook your pizza on. If you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s a wood-burning oven in your backyard; if it’s me, it’s a pizza steel your friend Ben gave you.
The other big thing that changed is I stumbled upon David Tanis’s pizza dough recipe.
I love how simple it is: you mix yeast, warm water, flour, salt, and olive oil in a mixer and when it becomes dough, you work it a bit longer, then work it on the counter. You cut that dough into four and you can make four pizzas right away or, for more flavor, you can place the dough into sandwich bags and refrigerate overnight.
I opted for the second option, taking the slow-fermented pizza dough (which is a fancy way of saying: “pizza dough that sat in the fridge for the night”) out of the fridge a few hours before I was ready to use it.
At the same time, I placed the baking steel on the highest oven shelf, cranked the oven to 500, and let it rip for an hour while walking the dog.
When it was time to start the pizza show, I put some parchment paper on my cutting board, sprinkled it with flour, cut the dough out of the bag (scissors helped), and sprinkled the dough with a little flour too.
To stretch, I watched this video and read this article on the Ooni Pizza Oven web site. Here’s the gist: don’t overflour it. Use your knuckles to press down on the dough, flattening it, and defining a crust (a ring that stays elevated around the perimeter of the dough). Then you push out as you rotate it on the parchment, like two hands on a steering wheel going in different directions. When you’re ready to stretch further, you lift up the dough and use the back of your hands to stretch it even more. Don’t give up if it tears, you can pinch it back together. Just keep stretching and stretching until it looks something like this.
Truly that’s the hardest and most important part. If you look at my old puffy pizza post, the dough never got thin enough, hence Nicholas Bergus’s comment.
But once you get your dough this thin and you have a hot surface to cook it on, you’ve already won the battle for excellent homemade pizza.
It’s as easy as this: drain a can of San Marzano tomatoes. Put the solid tomatoes in a bowl and squish them with your hands. Add a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a clove of grated garlic. Use a handheld blender to blitz the mix into what looks like chunky tomato soup. Then, the most important advice: taste. You want it to be big and bright, so you’ll probably add more vinegar and salt, maybe even more sugar. Keep going until it’s undeniable.
Spread it gently on to your pizza dough, keeping it away from the edges and, if you like it spicy, adding some red chili flakes.
I had burrata in the fridge, not mozzarella, and since people on Twitter told me cooking burrata on pizza was a waste of burrata, I decided to just cook the pizza just like this and to add the burrata after.
Here’s the only other tricky part: the transfer of the pizza on the parchment to the cooking stone/steel. The first time around, I lifted the parchment with two hands and ran it across my kitchen, which was a bad move because it almost reshaped the whole pizza.
The real move is to put the parchment on the back of a cookie sheet and then to slide it directly on to the cooking surface. It’ll slide right off.
As you can see, it’s okay to leave the pizza on the parchment; the parchment turns dark brown, but it doesn’t catch on fire or anything. It makes the transferring so much easier.
Cooking time-wise, you want the pizza to look like pizza, so go for 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust is deep brown and charred in spots and the top looks like a pizza should look.
Out of the oven, I topped with the burrata, a dusting of Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, and some more chili flakes.
I cut into it and we ate it almost immediately.
The verdict? An absolute hit. The crust had the perfect amount of salt and it went CRUNCH when we bit into it. There was nothing overly chewy about it. It didn’t taste like bread, it tasted like pizza. Even Nicholas Bergus would approve.
The next pie involved a little more fancy footwork. Following someone else’s advice from Twitter, I cooked a yellow onion in olive oil and then added a bunch of sliced button mushrooms. I cooked that all together, with some chopped thyme, salt, and pepper, until it looked like this.
You don’t want to get it too much darker, or it’ll burn on your pizza.
As for the pizza, same approach: cut open the bag, stretch stretch stretch. I topped this one with a generous amount of Bellwether Farms ricotta, then the onion/mushroom mixture.
Same technique going into the oven.
Did I tell you how to get it out? I used a spatula.
This pie was the star of the night. Once again, I dressed it up with a little olive oil and red chili flakes, but it didn’t need a lot of help. The pizza crust was, once again, crispy and not overly bready (despite how it looks in the picture). And the creamy ricotta with the onions and the mushrooms was a dreamy experience.
For the third and final pizza, I used up the rest of the raw tomato sauce and the mushroom/onion mixture.
Once again, I didn’t overload it. Transferred the same way, about ten minutes (or maybe longer, I wasn’t really timing… just looking) and behold.
As a homemade pizza skeptic, I’m absolutely converted. I like the idea of starting a Friday night tradition of homemade pizza night. The only trick will be remembering to make the dough the night before (which should be easy enough).
So if, like me, you have your doubts about pizza-making at home, take my word for it. Get yourself a steel or a stone (if it gets you stop ordering pizza from Postmates, it’ll pay for itself). Then just learn how to stretch and you’ll be a pizza-making badass. Your pizza will be untrollable.
Pizza Dough Recipe
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting Just for fun, I did 4 cups of all-purpose and 1/2 cup of whole wheat. It's fun to experiment.
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Start by mixing the yeast with 1 3/4 cups of warm (but not hot) water from the tap with a fork in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a mixing bowl if you're doing this by hand). Let it sit for two minutes (you should see some bubbles).
- Add the flour, salt, and olive oil, put the dough hook in, and mix until a dough forms, about five minutes. (Again, you can do this by hand.)
- Dust a work surface lightly with flour. Turn the dough out and knead until it's smooth, another 3 to 4 minutes.
- Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and place each piece in a freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to use, remove the dough from the bags, form into smooth balls, flour lightly, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
- Stretch the dough as suggested in the blog post above and make your pizza.
11 Essential Tips for Better Pizza (Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats)
Pizza, Made with a Light Hand, California Style (David Tanis, NYT)