It’s actually not that hard to make good pizza at home. It takes a little time, a little patience, and a little practice. But how do you make great pizza? That takes more practice and experience plus good quality ingredients. No matter what type of pizza is your favorite, all great pizza starts at the bottom with the crust.
I’m going to assume you’re already doing the basics like starting with good ingredients and measuring by weight, not volume. Here are three often overlooked details that can take your pizza crust from merely good to great.
Hydration Level & Oven Temperature
Don’t let the heading scare you. One reason you might make a dough recipe from your favorite cookbook or pizzeria and end up being disappointed in the result is the maximum temperature of your home oven. Most Neapolitan pizzas cook in 60 seconds or less at 900 degrees. You can’t get that from a typical home oven. You may get 550 degrees and cook the same dough in six or seven minutes. If you use the same hydration level, the home oven is going to dry out that crust to a brittle cracker. A Neapolitan pizza cooked in a restaurant might use a 58% hydration. That same hydration will not work in a home oven. You need to adjust the hydration level higher as the temperature of your oven goes lower. In other words, a longer cook time in the home oven needs a wetter dough so it doesn’t dry out.
Don’t Underestimate Time & Temperature
Just like bread, one of the key ingredients for developing a dough with some complexity of flavor is letting time do its work and develop the fermentation and proper rise. One part of the recipe that is often overlooked is the temperature of your kitchen. Is the cookbook or recipe you are using assumes a kitchen temperature of 72 degrees but your kitchen is closer to 67, then you’ll need to adjust the fermentation time or adjust the temperature of the water that you mix with the flour, salt, and yeast.
Make the Second Rise Longer Than the First
Here is a key difference between making a loaf of bread and making a pizza dough. A long initial fermentation is good for bread to help it develop a strong gluten network and hold more gas and give you more volume in the finished loaf. A pizza dough doesn’t need that strong of a gluten network. In fact, a strong network is going to make it difficult to shape. By giving the shaped dough balls a longer rest allows the dough to relax and makes it easier to work with while still retaining a delicate crumb.
Ultimately, you are the judge of what tastes great. Maybe you prefer NY style over Neapolitan. Or Grandma squares over bar pizza. You’ll have your own tastes and preferences. Along with your own kitchen’s quirks and aesthetics.
Let all of that ultimately be your guide but don’t overlook these three tips when you are looking to really dial in your dough to match your desires. Understanding hydration, time, temperature and fermentation is what can can take merely good pizza to something that makes people sit up and say, Wow!