LEARN HOW TO MAKE THE BEST H̶O̶M̶E̶M̶A̶D̶E̶ QUARANTINED PIZZA EVER!
Anyone who knows me well enough will quickly conclude that somewhere along the line, a few Italian chromosomes must have snuck in and taken a big swim in my gene pool. I love rustic Italian cuisine far too much for it to simply be a mere coincidence. One of my favorite things to make is pizza at home. It’s actually quite easy to do and very satisfying on many different levels. The added bonuses are the wonderful smells of pizzas baking in your oven and being able to modify one any way you want.
THE BEST HOMEMADE PIZZA DOUGH
Do not be daunted by the dough making process. It is fun, easy, and a great opportunity to get your children involved.
Over the course of my career, I heavily experimented with different pizza doughs before settling on what I believe is the perfect crust. It is an ‘easy to make’ fermented pizza dough with rich complex flavors and produces a crust that is both crispy and chewy. I discovered it while sitting at the counter of Nancy Silverton‘s restaurant Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles. I tried and tried several times to emulate her perfect dough, always ending up with something close but not quite there. At one point I actually contemplated kidnapping her. Thankfully she published the recipe in ‘The Mozza Cookbook’ and saved me from a life of crime.
What I love most is that Nancy uses much more of a bread baker’s approach to making pizza dough than I had seen before. It reminded me more of my trials and tribulations perfecting focaccia at home than making pizzas. I made her recipe verbatim for a while before I started to modify it to my tastes. The first step is making a sponge and letting it ferment overnight. That sounds far more complicated than what it really is. You could make the dough all in one day but trust me you will lose a lot of the flavors that arise in slow-fermentation.
It is an easy to make fermented pizza dough with complex flavors and produces a crust that is crispy with a chewy, rich fully developed flavor just like the better pizzerias.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Resting Time 18 hours
- 15 ounces warm water about 105 degrees (see notes)
- 1 tsp dry yeast
- 1–1/2 tsp wheat germ
- 12 ounces bread flour or all-purpose
- 1–1/2 ounces dark rye flour
Finishing the Dough
- 7 ounces warm water about 105 degrees (see notes)
- 13 ounces bread flour or all-purpose
- 2 teaspoons honey or brown sugar
- 1/2 ounce sea salt
For the Sponge
- Mix the water, yeast, wheat germ, flour, and rye flour in the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment for 3 minutes, or until well incorporated. The sponge will be wet and sticky to the touch. Wrap bowl snugly with plastic wrap and let sit out at room temperature for 12 hours.
Finishing the Dough
- Add warm water, bread flour, and honey to the sponge then mix for 2 minutes using the dough hook on low speed. Add the sea salt and continue kneading the dough for 8 more minutes, or until smooth and well mixed. If the dough is sticky, keep adding more flour until it forms a ball. Remember salt kills yeast so this is why we add it only after the dough kneads for a few minutes. Gather dough into a ball and put in a stainless steel bowl rubbed with a small amount of olive oil, cover snugly with plastic wrap and let sit for 6 hours, or until doubled in volume.
- Punch the dough down, divide into 6 even balls, cover and let rest another 45 minutes.
Forget thermometers, 105 degrees is slightly warmer than your body temperature. Stick your finger into the water; if it is just a little warmer than your finger it is warm enough.
If you do not have a stand mixer simply do everything by hand. This was the way it was done for centuries.
Cooked or not cooked. I am sure this question will be argued about for the rest of Eternity like all aspects of any great dish. I personally prefer uncooked because it results in a better product. Understand that the sauce cooks as the pizza bakes at high-temperature. Your choice of tomatoes to use will impact the final flavor. This is the time to but AOP San Marzano tomatoes that cost more than the knock-offs.
Perfect Pizza Sauce
Prep Time 5 minutes
- 28 ounces whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes see notes
- 1 clove garlic peeled
- 8 fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1-ounce olive oil
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- Put all the ingredients in a blender and puree on the lowest speed for only 5 to 10 seconds. The sauce should be slightly chunky and not aerated.
San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are the gold standard for making pizza and pasta sauces. Every Chef uses them for a great reason: their unrivaled flavor.
WOOD BURNING OVEN VS HOME OVEN
As a professional Chef, I had the good fortune to work with an amazing Woodstone wood-burning oven that had a four-ton stone which provided some of the most reliable, even heat imaginable. It took all day for the massive stone to reach the proper heat of 800°F evenly. Pizza making at home presents a challenge because it is hard to maintain consistent high heat in order to get the crust right. The main problem being that most household stoves only heat to 550°F. Fear not, I have perfected a method so that you can make perfect pizzas every time. For several years I used pizza stones and would always break them in the first 6 months. At Nancy’s suggestion, I switched to using sheet pans and then I had a vision of the future. I was walking through my local mega-market and pursuing the kitchen aisle. I came across a $20 cast iron pizza stone and haven’t turned back since. The added bonus is it is also the perfect pan to make Socca with. The price online is higher than what it was in the store.
Here is the most important part about cooking pizzas in your home oven. Position the cast iron pan in the bottom third of your oven. Crank the heat to 550°F and let the cast iron heat for a minimum of 30 minutes. Open and close your oven door as quickly as possible. You lose a remarkable amount of heat quickly by just opening the door.
Now onto the heart of the matter, assembling the pizza pie. My all-time favorite is a classic Pizza Margherita made with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella cheese. The popular story is that it was invented in honor of Queen Margherita but there is sufficient evidence that this is just a myth.
The Classic Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Pizza
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
- 1 ball pizza dough rolled to 12-inch circle
- 2 ounces tomato sauce
- 3 ounces shredded whole milk mozzarella
- 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
- Preheat cast iron in a 550°F oven for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Roll or stretch 1 ball of dough out to about 12 inches in diameter. Do not use too much flour. Flour stuck to the bottom of the crust will burn and impart a bitter flavor. Top with tomato sauce and 3 ounces shredded whole milk mozzarella spread evenly across the pizza, leaving a 1-inch border clear around the edge.
- Using a pizza peel, slide the pizza quickly onto the heated cast iron. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Top with basil leaves and serve immediately.
A playful pizza interpretation loosely based on Pasta Carbonara, in which the dough is topped with rich and creamy creme fraiche, crispy bacon, pecorino, nutmeg, and finally a poached egg.
- 1 ball pizza dough
- 2 ounces creme fraiche or mascarpone
- 2 slices peppered bacon cut into little pieces and browned
- 1 ounce shredded whole milk mozzarella
- 1 tbsp Pecorino
- 1 poached Egg
- 1 tsp chopped chives
- 2 grates fresh nutmeg
- Preheat cast iron in a 550°F oven for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Roll or stretch 1 ball of dough out to about 12 inches in diameter. Do not use too much flour. Flour stuck to the bottom of the crust will burn and impart a bitter flavor. Spread creme fraiche, bacon, mozzarella, and Pecorino spread evenly across the pizza, leaving a 1-inch border clear around the edge. Put the egg onto the center.
- Using a pizza peel, slide the pizza quickly onto the heated cast iron. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Top with chives and nutmeg and serve immediately.
Do not be scared to try new and different combinations. Invent, have fun, smile, laugh and explore. Some of my other favorite combinations are:
Apple/Bacon/Cheddar: Make a Carbonara pizza without the pecorino, egg, chives, and nutmeg. Instead, use apple slices and chunks of cheddar cheese.
Grilled Peach/Sausage/Burrata: Make a Margherita pizza without the basil. Add grilled peaches, cooked Italian sausage, and a ball of burrata when it is cooked.
Creamed Spinach and Egg: Make a Carbonara pizza with the creme fraiche, bacon, and chives. Instead, top with creamed spinach.