Recipe rescue: Creating the perfect at-home pizza
By Patrick MathieuFeatures Nutrition canadian firefighter firefighter firefighters wellness
As a cookbook author, I am often asked, “What is your favorite dish to cook?” As I scroll through my mental recipe rolodex and think of all the memorable dishes I’ve made and eaten, it always come back to one thing: pizza.
Yes, I could live and die by a good slice of pizza. Whether it’s Neapolitan-style, wood-fired, Chicago or Detroit deep dish, a doughy grandma slice, or crispy thin-crust—I love it all. Any occasion from date night or being out with the kids, to a special occasion celebrating with friends, you can always count on a good za’ to please the crowd. While I love to cook, I always assumed that making good pizza was some secret technique reserved for seasoned pizza-making veterans – a skill inaccessible to casual home cooks. But, like any skill in the kitchen, practice makes perfect.
If you’re already trying to perfect pizzeria-quality pizza at home, then you’re aware of the plethora of pizza making ovens available. It might be the new home cook appliance craze, but they are not necessary. I’ve tried pizzas in these ovens, or on the pellet smoker in a BBQ accessory pizza oven, and all offer varying results—but really, all you need to make pizza at home is an oven and a pizza stone.
Now, let’s go to pizza school. Here are the best tips and tricks I learned to make delicious homemade pizza.
Make dough from scratch
While it’s easy to pick up store-bought pizza dough, you only need a few simple ingredients to make it from scratch: unbleached flour, instant dry yeast, sugar, salt, water and olive oil. You’ll also want some semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting. That’s it! Homemade dough is much easier to work with, and it’s well worth the extra effort.
Knead the dough by hand
You don’t want to overwork your dough. Using a stand mixer with a dough hook is easier, but you’ll have a better feel for the texture of your dough if you knead it by hand. If the dough is sticking to you, add a little bit of flour. The perfect dough should be a little tacky, but not too sticky.
Save your take-out containers, then use them to freeze pizza dough for future use
You can pre-make pizza dough and freeze it in plastic take-out containers. After you knead the dough, shape it into a ball and store it in airtight containers in the freezer. Then you can defrost your dough in the fridge overnight whenever you want to make homemade pizza.
Let the dough rest and rise at room temperature for 45 minutes
Whether you’re planning on making pizza immediately or storing the dough for later, it must rise at room temperature. Set the dough aside and cover it. After about 45 minutes, you’ll see it has doubled in size.
Don’t use a rolling pin
When it comes time to stretch the dough, all you need are your hands and gravity. Remove the pizza from its container and softly pat around the edges. Then, hold the pizza in the air, turning it slowly, and let gravity do the work for you.
Obviously homemade pizza tastes amazing, but making it from scratch is half of the fun.
Semolina flour is your saving grace
The first time I tried making pizza from scratch, I had a very hard time transferring my pizza into the oven. The dough got super sticky and it completely stuck to the countertop. There’s a simple hack to solve this problem. First, dust semolina flour on top of a pizza peel. Once your pizza dough is stretched, place it on the floured peel and add your toppings. Thanks to the semolina flour, the dough should slide right off the peel and into your oven.
When it comes to toppings, less is more
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I like a saucy slice, but you’ll want to use toppings sparingly, especially the tomato sauce. Too much sauce and your pizza dough will get soggy, and it will be difficult to transfer into the oven. Apply the sauce like you’re painting an abstract painting with a few splotches here and a drizzle there. Avoid putting sauce (or any toppings for that matter) right at the edges of your crust.
Let your pizza oven or pizza stone get hot, hot, hot
The key to a nice, charred crust and evenly cooked pizza is a hot oven. Most people don’t have a restaurant-style pizza oven, but that’s OK. Just buy a pizza stone and let it preheat in a 500°F conventional oven for about an hour.
Time your pizza toppings carefully
Timing is important when it comes to pizza-making. Certain ingredients that cook quickly (like sun-dried tomato and fried egg, for example) should only be added when your pizza is almost out of the oven. Others, like fresh herbs and condiments like extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, or hot honey, should be added right after you remove the pizza from the oven.
Don’t skimp on quality toppings
Great pizza is made from great ingredients. For example, the olive oil you use to make the pizza dough doesn’t have to be anything special, but you should choose a good finishing olive oil because it’ll enhance the overall flavour. Opt for high quality cheeses, ripe farmer’s market veggies and fresh herbs. Obviously, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a ton of fancy ingredients; just settle on a few quality toppings even if it’s just fresh mozzarella, basil and a reputable brand of San Marzano tomatoes.
Obviously homemade pizza tastes amazing, but making it from scratch is half of the fun. It’s a great way to spice up date night, a family get together, or an evening with friends. Now go forth and make pizza! You’ll be making my favourite dish.
Eat well and stay safe.
- 1 cup (237ml) warm water (between 120°F to 130°F degrees)
- 1 normal size packet fast-acting yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
- 3 cups (372g) all-purpose flour
- Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
Mix 1 cup flour with salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl
Measure warm water (between 120°F to 130°F) in a measuring cup. Add the oil. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until a wet mixture forms. Add one more cup flour and continue mixing, then add as much flour as you need for the dough to come together in a ball (about 3/4 cup – 1 cup). Use a wooden spoon until you can’t anymore then get your hands in the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead for just a few minutes, or until the dough comes together and springs back when pressed with two fingers. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Note: This pizza dough can make one thicker crust or two thin crust 10-12” pizzas, or four to six small personal-sized pizzas.
Patrick Mathieu is a Captain Training Officer with Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario. He has appeared on Food Networks Chopped Canada and is the author of The FireHouse Chef Cookbook. Please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Instagram @stationhouse_
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