I have a lot of ardently held beliefs. If you know me personally, you’re probably familiar with my die-hard convictions and my tendency to
beat them with a stick express them passionately. When it comes to food, I have a more pleasant and diplomatic soapbox disposition, but equally sincere and enthusiastic beliefs.
I believe in real food. I believe in butter. I believe in knowing where my food comes from and what’s in it. I believe in “everything in moderation – including moderation”. I believe in making things from scratch, especially soup and chocolate chip cookies. And I believe that home chefs like me and you can do it like the pros.
When it comes to pizza, I believe in thin, crispy, bubbly crusts. I believe in the nuanced flavors of yeast and rustic cornmeal on the bottom. I believe in wood-fired ovens and farm fresh toppings. And I believe that pizza is part of a healthy, balanced diet, if you do it right (whole wheat, more vegetables, less cheese).
Here’s the thing about pizza though: it’s a paradox. It is both beautifully simple and deceptively complex. Anyone can make a decent homemade pizza, but I’m going for the gold here. I want pizza reminiscent of Red Rocks or Ella’s or Otto – coming fresh and hot out of my own oven. And I have made some gorgeous pizzas, but here’s where I always hesitate: the crust. It’s hard to say which is more important, a perfect crust or the freshest toppings around. But I lean towards crust. It defines the entire experience. And it’s quite easy to fail. I’ve made pizza dough that came out damn near perfect – then used the same recipe later only to fail miserably. And it’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong, whether outdated yeast, human error, incorrect temperatures, etc.
So I’ve decided this is something I have to perfect. I must find – or create – the perfect pizza dough recipe. I must perfect my method. This is something I want to be able to do with my eyes closed and still impress my friends.
What’s your go-to recipe? Your fail-proof tips? I’ve had great success with Smitten Kitchen’s basic formula, but something went wrong (I think dead yeast) when I tried her appealing honey and wine version. Unfortunately my attempt at Mark Bittman’s virtuous whole wheat dough was an utter disaster. I’m intrigued by Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead formula and by Joy the Baker’s whole wheat spin on it. And of course the thought of a beer-infused pizza crust is drool-worthy – and King Arthur knows his stuff.
I have a ceramic pizza stone, which I love, but it gives me a little trouble. I know you’re supposed to preheat it, but when I do it smokes and fills the kitchen with a burning smell. When I don’t, the pizza is underdone in the middle. My oven is also a little testy and the temperature is fairly unreliable (and very slow to heat up). I also really hate to waste, so when I open a packet of yeast but don’t use it all, I’m tempted to use the remainder next time…. which seems to be a problem. Does yeast expire/die if opened? When I’ve done this, my dough didn’t rise. I don’t have a pizza peel either – it just seems like a waste of money and space. Does this affect my pizza outcome when I have to remove the stone from the oven to top the pizza?
I’m conflicted about flour, because I try to avoid the “white trash” (refined flour and sugar) but it seems to make a far superior dough vs. whole wheat. And I wonder if I should parbake the crust before adding a lot of toppings – or just go lighter? I love to smother my pizza with a ton of vegetables, so it’s a fine line.
For the next few posts, I’m going to test out a variety of recipes and try to fool-proof my technique. You’re invited! What’s your favorite recipe? Any advice? How do you feel about different types of flour – all purpose, whole wheat, bread, semolina? Keep it simple or invite interesting flavors like honey or beer? What equipment do you consider essential? Knead with a dough hook, by hand, or not at all?
Join the conversation about the best pizza you’ve ever had or made at home. Since my dream of an outdoor wood-fired brick pizza oven is a long way off, I guess I’ll have to adapt.