As much as I love Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast for making bread, I just never latched onto his pizza book in quite the same way. Maybe it was because I bought them so close together. Or maybe the detailed instructions felt like too much for a Friday night dinner (They really aren’t). It didn’t make sense, but either way, the book made its way to the basement shelves and stayed there.
This week, I’m giving it another shot with his 48-72 hour dough. So far, so good. The process is very similar so far to FWSY. The dough came together quickly without all the folding, just a countertop rise, shaping and into the fridge. Why did I think this was complicated?
While it’s fermenting, I put together 8 essential tips for making better homemade pizza. Please don’t settle for poor takeout pizza. If you live in a good-sized city, you can probably find good takeout pizza. If you live in the suburbs, it’s much rarer and a real stomach hazard. Luckily, with a little planning, a little prep, and a little practice you can make pizza more cheaply that is way better than most local joints.
Don’t Kill Your Yeast
Yeast needs moisture and warmth to properly grow and develop but it needs to be the right temperature. If the water is too cold, the dough won’t rise. If the water is too hot you’ll kill off the delicate spores and the dough also won’t rise. I like to shoot for a water temperature of about 95F to 110F. I like this digital thermometer and find it almost essential in bread or dough making.
Know Your Flour
Depending on the type of crust/type of pizza you prefer, you need to use the right flour. The fine milled 00 Italian flour with lower hydration is great for thin, crispy Neopolitan pies and home ovens. Like a slightly puffier cornice with some chew, like a NY-style? Consider using bread flour with higher protein percentage to yield more gluten and more bread-like crust.
Don’t Fear the Moisture
A wetter dough is a better dough. Overmixing or over kneading will result in a dough that is stiff and inflexible. A firm dough is almost a lost cause. It will be difficult to knead and shape. If you do coax it into shape and bake it, it will result is a dense and tough pie. A wet dough, properly kneaded will soon lose the stickiness yet remain supple and relaxed. If it won’t loosen or stretch, let the rest for 10-15 minutes and try again.
Life is a Circle
To end with a circle of dough to bake, you need to start with a circle. When shaping dough to rest or proof, shape the dough gently into small balls by pulling the dough out and tucking under, rotating a quarter turn and repeating until you have a dough ball with a nice tight “skin” on top. Sprinkle flour on top and let proof until ready to shape.
Less is More
Add way too many toppings is probably the biggest mistake novice home pizzaiolos make when starting out. Too many toppings can lead to a lot of problems when baking. First, the added weight makes getting it off the peel and into the oven more difficult. Second, depending on the topping it can make the pies wet and soggy. Third, if any topping drips off the pie in the oven, it can “glue” the pie to the stone making it difficult to remove. Best bet, go light and thin with your toppings for the best results.
Parchment is Your Friend
If you get frustrated or lose one too many pies when trying to launch them off the peel into the hot oven, consider using parchment paper on your peel. Place the parchment on the peel and then place your shaped dough right on the parchment-lined peel and top before sliding it easily into the oven. Remove the parchment after a few minutes when the dough has set to get the final crisp on the crust.
Stone Age Tools
You don’t actually need a lot of tools to make great homemade pizza, but if you care about the crust, it’s worth investing in a baking stone for your oven to really help crisp up the crust. It also comes in handy when re-heating slices the day after.
Hot Out of the Oven
Adding a little olive oil, a touch of salt, or some grated hard cheese on top after the pizza comes out of the oven and is cooling (don’t torch the inside of your mouth, always let pies cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving) is a nice way to add a punch of flavor.
That’s it. Many of these tips will become second nature as you make more and more pies at home. Mediocre pizza is still pizza, but it’s so much easier, healthier and tastier to make pies at home. It’s not hard, I promise. With a little practice, you’ll be turning out pies that rival and likely surpass anything you might get at your local pizzeria. These 8 essential tips for better homemade pizza will hopefully get you enjoying quality pies a little faster.