A person’s love affair with pizza starts at an early age and reflects his or her environment. The thickness of the crust varies from a New York City pizza that’s so thin it can be folded in half lengthwise, to a Chicago favorite, the deep-dish pizza. Toppings range from traditional (tomato sauce with cheese) to trendy (duck sausage and goat cheese), and everything (and anything) in between. Pizza has diversified, blended, and been embraced by many ethnic cultures.
Make Homemade Pizza
The best pizza, though, may be the one made in a home kitchen. Why make pizza at home? To control the quantity and quality of the toppings, regulate the thickness of the crust and the size of the pizza, for the satisfaction of making pizza at home, and for sharing the pleasures of cooking with family and friends.
Homemade pizza is one of the easiest meals to make and provides the cook with an opportunity to personalize his or her creation. Make the dough from scratch for this simple recipe in the style of Pizza Margherita. A pizza stone will help crisp the crust, but it isn’t essential. Baked on a hot pizza stone, a pizza cooks fast; but it can also be baked in a pan with a few minutes added to the cooking time.
Pizza Cooking Methods
If using a pizza stone, a pizza peel will make it easy to place or remove the pizza from the stone. The pizza may also be formed on parchment paper and both the pizza and parchment paper are placed on the stone. Another method is to form the dough into a pizza on a flat surface, then place the dough on the hot stone and then add the toppings. The stone and brick pizza oven will be hot, so precautions must be taken against burns. A pizza peel will be needed to remove the cooked pizza from the stone.
Additional toppings are optional, but too many toppings will add moisture to the pizza and produce a soggy crust in the center. Cook vegetables and meat to reduce moisture content and bake the crust for a few minutes before adding toppings to give the center of the pizza a chance to cook partially through.
When making pizza, use fresh yeast and a high-gluten flour (don’t use cake flour), and make sure the oven can reach and maintain a temperature of 500°F. Have all toppings ready; they can be prepared while the dough is rising. After removing the pizza from the oven, give it a few minutes to cool down before cutting.
The Perfect Basic Pizza Margherita
- 2 cups very warm water
- 1 (¼-ounce) package active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 to 4½ cups flour
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped coarse
- 8 to 12 stems fresh basil, washed, dried, and leaves removed from stems
- 1 medium onion, sliced thin (optional)
- 8 to 16 ounces shredded mozzarella
- Pour water into a large mixing bowl. Add honey and sprinkle with yeast. Let sit for 15 minutes, allowing yeast to foam. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and three cups flour and mix well. Stir in enough remaining flour for dough to form a ball. Transfer dough to floured board and knead five minutes (knead in mixer with dough hook for four minutes) or until dough is smooth.
- Coat the inside of a large glass or ceramic bowl with remaining olive oil. Place dough in bowl, cover with wax paper and a dish towel folded in half. Place in a warm spot. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
- Place baking stone in oven and heat oven to 500ºF.
- Punch dough down. Divide into four pieces. On floured board, pat and stretch one piece of dough into a 10-inch circle. With heavy oven mitt, carefully remove baking stone from oven and place baking stone on a heat-proof surface. Position round of dough on hot baking stone. Or transfer dough to parchment paper and place dough and parchment paper on baking stone. Or place dough on a large oiled cookie sheet. Top dough with one-quarter of the tomatoes, basil leaves, onion (optional) and cheese.
- With oven mitt, return stone to oven and bake for 8 minutes or until pizza is golden brown. If using a cookie sheet, bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Allow pizza to cool a few minutes before cutting
- Form the next pizza while the first is cooking, and cover with wax paper. After removing the cooked pizza from the oven, immediately transfer it to a serving dish or cutting board and place another round of dough on the stone or cookie sheet. Add toppings and bake. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.