Q&A: Cooking Pizza at Home

I used to have this deal with myself: if I wanted something really indulgent, like french fries, cookies or ice cream, I could have it if I made it myself. Having kids torpedoed that rule, just no time to hand cut fries any time the craving strikes, but it has stuck around for pizza.

Ten years after moving here and we still haven’t found a local or convenient place that makes a reliable pie that we like. It’s cheaper, easier and tastier (sometimes healthier) to just make pizza at home.

I make a lot of pizza at home. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Here are the most common things people ask about or should know if you want to make pizza at home.

 

Do I need a pizza stone?

No, you can made good home Sicilian in a half sheet pan or rimmed cookie sheet. And you can make good bar pizza in a skillet, but if you want to make the typical round, take-out style pizza then you’ll need a pizza stone to have any chance at getting a good crisp bottom and a fluffy crust.

Home ovens are limited by temperature (usually 500 – 550 degrees) and the way they cycle on and off. You will never be able to match the high heat of brick, coal or restaurant deck oven. A pizza stone won’t level the playing field but it get you a bit closer.

You do not need anything special. I bought this stone years ago with little research and it’s been fine.

 

Are there any alternatives to the standard pizza stone? 

Yes, the baking steel is a bit more expensive than the standard pizza stone, but if you get hooked on making your own pies, you will eventually want to upgrade. 

The secret to the steel is that it conducts heat better than the stone. It doesn’t hold on to the heat, but essentially reflects it back which means a better pizza for you and me!

More on the science and testing over at serious eats.

 

Do I need to make my own dough?

No, but it a makes it a lot more fun and rewarding. And it usually tastes better. And it’s really not that hard.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own dough, you can almost always find frozen dough at the supermarket. Better yet, if you have a local pizza place that you like they will often sell you some dough to bake at home.

If you do decide to make your own dough (and you really should), it doesn’t take long to make, but you will benefit a lot from letting it ferment in the fridge for a few days.

So if you plan on having pizza Friday or Saturday night, you should try to remember to make the dough mid-week.

My two favorite dough recipes are this NY-style one and this Sicilian one. The Sicilian can be made same day.

 

Do I need to preheat the oven?

Yes, this is especially important if you are using a pizza stone or steel. You can’t cheat here. You need crank up your oven as hot as it will go and let the stone/steel heat up for at least 30-45 minutes. You want that stone as hot as it can get.

 

What’s a simple sauce recipe?

The very simplest is to buy whole tomatoes (the least processed kind of canned tomatoes), crush them up and add a little salt to taste. Maybe some fresh herbs.

This works really well in the summer for grilled pizzas, but I think it’s fine in the winter, too. The tomatoes have already been beat up enough in processing. They don’t need more abuse. Keep it simple. You don’t need to double cook your sauce.

If you want something cooked or a little stronger in flavor, this simple sauce with onion, garlic and basil has worked well for me in the past.

See also:   Jammin'

 

Should I use fresh or aged mozzarella?

There’s a time and a place for both, so experiment and find out what works best for you and your toppings. Just keep in mind that fresh is going to produce more moisture as it melts.

 

 

Do I need to pre-cook the toppings?

This mostly depends on the toppings. 

Most vegetables, other than broccoli or tougher cruciferous stuff, if you are able to shave the toppings thinly (using a mandolin), typically cook best on the pie in the oven. 

Most ground meats should be pre-cooked. A typical NY-style pie will be in the oven 7-10 minutes which often ins’t long enough to cook most toppings safely. Prosciutto or cured meats, like pepperoni, can be placed on the pie.

 

At what temperature do I cook the pizza?

As hot as you can. Max out your oven and let that stone get blistering hot. 

Most home ovens will max out at 500 or 550 degrees. If you properly pre-heat you should be able to cook a typical NY-style pie in 7-10 minutes.

 

How do I transfer the pizza to the oven?

I’ve found parchment paper and a wooden pizza peel to be the best best when using an indoor kitchen oven.

Traditionalists may be appalled, but I’ve lost or maimed too many pies that sat on the peel too long and stuck when launching into the oven. 

Easier, cleaner and safer to use a little parchment between the peel and the dough, launch it all seamlessly into the oven and then pull the parchment out again after a few minutes when the crust has set.

 

 

How long do I cook the pizza?

This will depend on the type of pie you are cooking.

NY-style will likely be around 7-10 minutes depending on how hot the oven has gotten.

Neapolitan will likely take a little less time, 5-7 minutes, with the lower hydration and thinner dough.

A Sicilian or Detroit style, cooked in a half-sheet pan, will take longer, typically 15-18 minutes. Note, these pan types often benefit from a little parbaking time before adding the sauce and cheese to help everything cook evenly.

You are looking for bubbling cheese on top and some spotting (pizza nerds call this leopard spotting) underneath. 

 

What’s the best way to reheat leftover slices?

This is a loaded question and you probably already have your favorite. Maybe you don’t reheat at all and stand in front of the fridge and eat it for breakfast. 

But if you do reheat, I find the pizza stone or a cast iron skillet on the stove do a fine job of re-crisping the crust without drying out the pizza.

You don’t need to completely reheat the stone, that would likely dry out the slices. 

If you do have dried out slices, I’ve found a little sprinkling of water before reheating can bring some life back.

 

Should I use cornmeal on the pizza peel?

No. If you decide to use parchment than you don’t need anything on the peel. If you don’t want to use parchment, try flour. Just not too much flour. You want to taste the crust not the flour.

The problem I’ve had with cornmeal is that it typically burns on the stone creating an unpleasant smell and taste to your pizza.

 

Should I do anything to pizza after it comes out of the oven?

It depends on the pie, but I often like to finish with a sprinkling of hard cheese, a little oil and sometimes some salt.

 

What’s the best way to store leftover slices?

You have leftovers?

Plastic wrap or foil has always worked for me. Leftovers don’t last much longer than a day in our house, so it’s less about the storage and more about the reheating.

 

MIKE'S WINDOW