Anyone who tells you that making pizza at home is easy, is either a skilled, trained pizza chef, or wouldn’t know a decent pizza if it leapt off the plate and slapped them. Don’t want to put the effort in? Go buy one from Tescos! The only point of homemade pizza is to have fun, for personal satisfaction, and to try to recreate the ones you get in your favourite restaurant, and that isn’t easy.
In fact it’s more than difficult, without a few tricks and tips, it’s pretty much impossible. The main reason being that your oven will not get up to the 400-450°C of those professional wood fired ovens. This super-heat allows them to bash out a pizza in about 90 seconds resulting in that crispy-on-the-outside chewy-in-the-middle base and brown, bubbling mozzarella.
However, that said you can make pizza at home that will be superior to anything bought from a supermarket, and it’s quite good fun, if you’re into that sort of thing. This post is long and quite intimidating perhaps, but it’s really not as much of a faff as you might think, there’s just a lot of tips below to help you avoid disaster.
Truth is, you may not crack it the first time, but persevere, do several in one session do them every Saturday for a month, whatever it takes, and before long you’ll be amazing yourself at what you’re knocking out! Here is my ever changing list of top tips:
- You absolutely must make the dough the day before, or at least 12 hours in advance. This gives it a chance to develop a lovely rich, ‘fermented’ sort of quality and will provide a better ‘spring’ in the oven.
- I’ve tried pizza stones, slabs of steel, straight on the rack, baking sheets and every other gizmo you can find. I’m here to tell you that the only way to cook outstanding pizza at home is via the hob-then-grill method detailed below.
- You can find a cast iron crepe pan on Amazon for under £20 for this, be warned that if you try this with your regular frying pan you WILL wreck it!
- Buy a bag of pollenta and spread it generously over your worktop, the hardest bit in this whole process is shaping the base and transferring it to the pan – if it sticks to the worktop, even a little, you are going to fail.
- Roll your dough with a rolling pin or push it into shape with your fingers, save the aerial gymnastics to the pros. I find a sort of push and rotate motion works well. Push the dough out into a circle with your fingers and/or palm, while at the same time rotating the whole base by a few degrees.
- Don’t overdo the toppings, 2 or 3 per pizza max
- Avoid the mozzarella that comes in water, it’s far too wet for this sort of ‘low temperature’ pizza. Look for a block of vacuum sealed stuff.
- Making several smaller, ‘rustic’ pizzas is easier than attempting big, perfectly round 12″ ones!
- Get yourself an awesome pizza cutter in the shape of the USS Enterprise 🙂
Yeasty Fermentation...To get that awesome crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, stone baked, wood fired sort of experience you need awesome dough. Other than making it the day before, you also need to decide whether to use fresh yeast, dried yeast, or a sourdough starter.
Dried yeast is perfectly fine, but fresh yeast feels like it ought to be better. You only need a little and although I like it, I can’t usually be bothered with freezing leftovers etc etc. If you go this route, go to the baker, see what he’ll give you for a quid, it will be way more than you need.
More on sourdough variants when I’ve actually tried them…!
(makes 4 rustic pizzas)
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl
- If using fresh yeast, dissolve it in the water, otherwise mix the dried yeast granules directly in with the flour
- Gradually mix in the water (yeasty or otherwise) and pull the mixture together for a couple of minutes until it is a ball of dough
- Tip onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth (unlike bread, pizza dough doesn’t need much kneading), then allow to rest for half hour.
- Then in a bowl, fold the olive oil in by coating the dough and pulling it up from the back and folding it over the front, rotate by 90 degrees and repeat though 360 degrees.
- Split the dough into 4 balls, pop into a sealed container of some kind, or a high sided non metallic container , dust with flour and cover with clingfilm.
- Leave at room temperature for up to 24 hours, they’ll be a bit sticky so an hour or two before you’re ready to cook, knock back and gently reform each ball, dust with flour and recover
Basic Tomato & Basil
Port & Herb
- Whack it all in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer until reduced to a thick, flavoursome sauce
The Main Event!
- Get your skillet on the hob with the heat whacked up to full
- Turn on the grill in your oven to high and get a shelf right up close to it
- Chuck a bit of semolina or polenta on your work surface and roll out your dough, then slide it onto the super hot skillet
- Put some sauce round the centre, leaving 1cm or so at the edges, then sprinkle on some parmesan
- Put your toppings on and dot with chunks of mozzarella, give the pan a shake and lift the base to check its not burning
- When the bottom is crisp and not sticking, but not fully cooked whack the skillet under the grill and keep an eye on it, when the pizza looks done bring it back to the hob and check to see if the base is coloured, it probably will be so slide it off onto a board and start cutting!
- Remember: the skillet will retain a lot of heat, so if you take too long to build your pizza you’ll burn the base by the time the top is done, you can always put it back on the hob for a minute once it’s out of the grill if need be.