My Citizens – my GLORIOUS, unmatched Citizenry – today is a red letter day here at TFD Nation: red from the pizza sauce you will soon be enjoying on your very own homemade pizza!
Yes, it is time: time for you all to walk the flour-strewn path (sorry, bad pun) that the all-knowing Generalissimo – the mighty and unmatched TFD! – has worn smooth from many journeys to enjoy the ultimate homemade pizza!
My basic recipe is a Frankenstein’s Monster made from the sinews of several other recipes, tweaked by me and when combined, they make a sublime ‘za worthy of the Gods themselves (.
First, let’s familiarize you with the various styles of regional pizzas – read all about it here.
Now, if you want to sound like a pizza pro, you can learn the secret slang of pizza makers here.
I will now provide you with the most basic tools you’ll need to make homemade pizza as good or better than any you’ll have elsewhere.
For the most basic equipment, you’ll need a pizza peel and a cutter. You will absolutely need a “pizza peel” to move the pizza in and out of the oven – this is a good choice. A pizza cutter is of course necessary – here is my choice.
Now, first question – what is the most important ingredient in making a pizza?
Take your time…I’ll wait.
If you said dough, cheese or sauce – you’re wrong.
The most important ingredient in pizza is HEAT – blistering, 9th Circle of Hell-level temperatures that can hit a MINIMUM of 550 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 1000 degrees! Without great heat – there can, ipso facto, be no great pizza. It’s as simple as that.
Most home ovens can’t reach anywhere near the temp needed – but they CAN with a little help. In this case, from a pizza stone or a pizza steel! What, you’ve never head of a pizza steel? It’s the newest way to help your oven get HOT by and it blows away the older pizza stone method.
As noted by the creator of the baking steel:
My thoughts are never far from creating the perfect crust. As fate would have it, one day, I was reading pieces of Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold. In his book, Nathan stated that the best tool to use for making the perfect crust would be a piece of steel.
And that, my friends, was my “AHA” moment!
As soon as I could, I hustled out to our plant, found a piece of quarter-inch, high-quality steel and brought it home for some testing. According to Modernist Cuisine, steel is a more conductive cooking surface than a brick oven’s stone. Because of that conductivity, it cooks faster and more evenly at a lower temperature, resulting in a beautiful, thin, crispy crust.
You NEED one of these, unless you are lucky enough to have the next bit of kit in your possession – you can get a baking steel here.
If you’ve got the cash, NOTHING beats this next bit of equipment, which can reach temperatures of 900 degrees+ – it’s called the Roccbox and you can get one here.
Now that we have the heat out of the way – let’s talk dough, shall we?
First off, you may have heard of the special kind of flour used by Italian chefs to make their pizza – it’s called 00 flour. It’s a very fine mill, very high gluten – and yes, you NEED gluten and lots of it to make the best crust!
However, unless you have a Roccbox or are grilling outdoors on a Big Green Egg or a similar product, you don’t actually want to use 00 flour! It actually doesn’t work well at lower temperatures, so unless you’ve got a 600 degree oven going, you can and should actually use high gluten regular flour instead.
The best pizza dough – by far, IMHO – is one that has been fermented in the fridge for 2-3 days – just like a sourdough because it IS a sourdough! The structure and taste of the crust is dramatically improved this way and while it means you need to plan ahead for your pizza – it’s worth it. I’ll share that recipe another time.
However, not all of us have the time or patience to wait – so I will also instead share a legendary recipe for pizza dough from 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani that you can use within 10 hours.
As to hand tossing the dough in the air – that is of course the finest way to do things, but most of us will end up dropping the dough or losing control of it in the air. If you’re manually dextrous, here is a video to show you how it’s done. Consider this an optional, not a mandatory step.
Lastly, here’s a great tip to add a smoky umami flavor to your pizza that won’t be obvious but is awesome nonetheless – spread a thin layer of melted bacon fat across the dough before adding your sauce.
Now – as to pizza sauce. Remember that water/liquid is the true enemy of pizza and gives you a soggy slice. Thus, my sauce is thick and rich to avoid this very issue. Always remember that you need to use LESS sauce than you think – not more. Also remember that virtually all the flavor of your pizza is coming from the sauce, so make it flavorful as well – mine certainly does!
For your cheese – a classic mistake is to think you need to use fresh mozzarella. Preferably very expensive mozzarella made from water buffalo milk straight from Italy. Now, if you’re making a classic Neapolitan pizza, YES you should use this cheese – very, VERY sparingly as it’s water content is very high indeed. Slices should be very thin and used judiciously.
In ANY other style of pizza, DON’T USE IT.
What you actually want to use is what’s called low moisture mozzarella or “dry” mozzarella – this is where so many homemade pizzas go wildly wrong by using standard mozzarella and the pie become a gooey, watery mess. Dry mozzarella is easily available – I like Polly-O brand, personally.
Some pro tips on making Pizza that I found as noted by Chef Mario Battali:
Don’t Overtop Your Pie:
When it comes to toppings, simplicity is best, says Batali. Don’t like sloppy pizza? “Don’t overdress it.” That extra-cheese pizza is “no buono.” Choose a few quality ingredients like mozzarella, in-season tomatoes, or fresh basil, and practice restraint when decorating your crust (that goes for the sauce, too). Besides, you spent so much time on the dough! Don’t let it get lost under a mound of mozz.
Poach Your Ingredients in Olive Oil:
This trick from restaurant kitchens makes a big difference, and it also couldn’t be easier: Poach your ingredients slowly in olive oil (don’t let the oil get too hot or smoke). Batali likes to use garlic and fresno chiles, but the possibilities are endless. Not only will your toppings be more unctuous and rich-tasting, you also got some great flavored-oil out of the deal. Win-win.
Top with Torn Fresh Herbs for Better Flavor:
You’ll never see an Italian grandmother chopping herbs, says Batali. Rather than hack at a bunch of basil, simply tear it gently with your hands over the finished pie. The herbs won’t get bruised, and you’ll have a fresher, better pizza.
Now – with all of that out of the way – you are now armed and ready to become the finest Pizzaiolo (if you’re a man) or Pizzaiola (if you’re a woman) in all the land!
Without further ado – here is a master recipe that will get you started on a fantastic pie that you can customize to your heart’s content. For example, add torn fresh basil, torn fresh oregano, lots of minced garlic, crumbled cooked Italian sausage and slivered green Castelvetrano olives as toppings and you have TFD‘s personal fave ‘za!
Remember that if you are going to use any vegetable with a high water content (I’m talking mushrooms in particular here!) – pre-cook them in a pan to drive out the water content before using them as a topping.
Lastly, please don’t forget to offer dried oregano and red pepper flakes to your guests – especially if you are serving just a cheese ‘za.
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
- Pizza dough:
- 1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm (90° to 100°) water
- 1 cup ice-cold water
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- About 5 ¼ to 5 ½ cups bread flour – DO NOT SUBSTITUTE
- Melted bacon fat (totally optional but TFD likes it very much)
- Pizza sauce:
- 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
- 1 ½ tbsp. butter
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- ¼ cup celery, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. sugar
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1 tsp. freshly-ground fennel seed
- ⅓ pound per pizza Polly-O brand or Galbani brand grated full-fat dry (aka low-moisture) mozzarella cheese, placed in freezer for at least 15 minutes
- For the dough:
- In a small bowl, with a fork, stir yeast into warm water. Let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
- In another bowl, mix cold water, sugar, and salt until dissolved; stir in oil.
- If using a heavy-duty standing mixer with a dough hook, place 5 ¼ cups flour in a large bowl. Stir the yeast mixture again to blend, then add to flour along with cold-water mixture.
- Beat with the dough hook on low speed until mixture is smooth and not sticky, 14 to 16 minutes. (Don’t let dough climb up into motor drive; if it threatens to, stop mixer and push dough down. If machine labors, stop and wait a few minutes for motor to cool, then resume.)
- If dough remains sticky, add 2 more tablespoons flour and beat 2 minutes longer; if still sticky, add another 1 to 2 tablespoons flour and beat until nonsticky and smooth.
- If using a heavy-duty food processor, make dough in two batches, using half the ingredients for each: Place 2 ¾ cups flour, half the yeast mixture, and half the cold-water mixture in processor bowl and whirl until dough is smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. (If machine stops, wait a few minutes, then resume.) If dough is still sticky, add 2 to 3 more teaspoons flour and whirl until dough is smooth. Transfer to a floured board.
- Scrape dough onto a lightly floured board; cut in half (omit cutting if using processor). With floured hands, pick up one portion of dough; pull opposite edges together toward center and pinch to seal. Repeat all around circumference to form a smooth, tight ball. Place each portion in a 1-gallon plastic bag. Squeeze out air and seal bag, allowing enough room for ball to double. Chill at least 10 hours or up to 2 days.
- For the sauce:
- In a large skillet, melt butter with the oil. Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute until soft and transparent.
- Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and stir until smooth.
- Add remaining ingredients and bring to slow simmer.
- Simmer for 30-60 minutes (or not at all depending on your taste and time frame).
- Remove the bay leaf, then use an immersion blender (preferred) to make a very smooth sauce. If you don’t have one handy, let the sauce cool and process in a blender.
- To make the pizza:
- 1 hour before baking, adjust the oven rack with pizza steel to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F.
- Turn single dough ball out onto a lightly-floured surface. Gently press out dough into a rough 8-inch circle, leaving the outer 1-inch higher than the rest.
- Gently stretch dough by draping over knuckles into a 12 to 14-inch circle about ¼-inch thick (or if you’re dextrous, toss it!). Transfer to pizza peel.
- If using the melted bacon fat, now is the time to spread it on your dough in a super-thin layer.
- Spread approximately ⅔ cup of sauce evenly over surface of crust, leaving ½ to 1-inch border along edge. Evenly spread cheese over sauce. Slide pizza onto baking steel and bake until cheese is melted with some browned spots and crust is golden brown and puffed, 12 to 15 minutes total.
- Transfer to cutting board, slice, and serve immediately. Repeat with remaining dough ball, remaining sauce, and remaining cheese.
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