†††The foundation is always the most important and the foundation of making good homemade pizza is to learn how to make high quality pizza crust. The success of the pizza dough is 80% of the pizza.
The pizza dough is the most intimidating part of the pizza for most people.
Pizza dough is actually easy to make. It does take about 2-4 hours from start to finish, but only about 25 minutes of that is "work" time. The rest is either waiting for the dough to ferment or waiting for the pizzas to bake in the oven.
A basic pizza dough is only flour, yeast and water, with a little olive oil added. So how come something so simple could be so hard to perfect?
Typically, pizza crust is made from yeast dough. In its basic form the pizza dough involves mixing together flour, water, salt, and yeast. Some pizza recipes call for extra ingredi≠ents such as sugar, honey, olive oil, eggs, and milk.
To consistently make top quality pizza dough, the ingredi≠ents must be high quality, measuring must be precise, ingredient temperatures must be right, and mixing must be done for the proper length of time.
Therefore, the results of the pizza crust will depend largely on how well the pizza dough recipe was followed.
In addition, even if the pizza dough recipe was followed perfectly, pizza making has unique baking requirements.
The good news though is that once a person jumps in the rewards are great. Making delicious homemade pizza is a skill that is not hard to master. What one needs is the right recipe and a little experience.
Having said all this, one should not get discouraged. The art of making delicious pizzeria quality homemade pizzas, has evolved quite a bit in recent years to accomodate the low temperature in typical home ovens.
For this, instead of giving you a long and perhaps, boring lecture, the best advice I can say is jump in. After a few tries you should be making your own delicious homemade pizza in no time. As your experience in pizza making increases, you can modify and improve the recipe over time.
Pizza Dough Ingredients
Gluten is the primary protein in wheat which gives the dough its structure and taste. When the flour is mixed with water the proteins are able to link together and impart elasticity to the dough. The amount of water, mixing and fermentation affect the gluten strength. The more protein in the dough, the more firm and elastic the resulting pizza dough. Pizza crusts are generally made with high protein flour in order to produce a thin dough shell which will be strong enough to hold the sauce and pizza toppings while still being thin enough so that it bakes quickly. Therefore it is best to use for the pizza dough, unbleached high-gluten flour, bread flour, or all-purpose flour.
Yeast and Fermentation
Once the yeast package is opened, the yeast will start to absorb moisture from the air and slowly come to life. The yeast feeds on sugars in the flour and produces carbon dioxide and ethanol as a digestive byproduct (the latter evaporates during baking). If allowed to undergo fermentation it eventually rises to peak development, at which time it should be used. If not made into a pizza it proceeds to digest the remaining sugars and starches in the pizza dough until it eventually burns itself out and dies leaving a poor quality pizza dough.
While raising the temperature of the pizza dough will make it rise faster, pizza experts agree that the best pizza dough comes from allowing the yeast to rise naturally.
There are also natural cold temperature techniques that are used to develop the gluten in any flour by prolonging the fermentation. This results in pizza dough that is extremely tasty.
Kneading the Pizza Dough
Kneading the pizza dough is an essential step. Kneading stretches the dough and develops the gluten, the springy stuff that gives bread its texture. Kneading dough causes the structure of the bread to develop. It makes a web in the dough that allows the bread to rise and hold it's shape. When deciding to knead bread dough, it is important to remember that the process needs to take place for at least eight to ten minutes. If the dough does not quite seem to have the appearance suggested by the recipe, then try kneading for a few more minutes. Generally, people tend to knead dough for too short a period of time, which can mean the yeast does not interact with the mixture as it should, and the dough will not rise properly.
Punching Down the Pizza Dough
In many of the pizza dough recipes, you will see a stage to "punch down" the dough. This is not for getting out your anger, but rather it is for the following 4 reasons:
Punching down the dough, expels some of the carbon dioxide trapped in the dough which would choke off the yeast's oxygen supply.
It allows the gluten to relax.
It helps equalize the temperature of the dough, since the outside of the dough tends to be significantly cooler than the inside. This will make an uneven fermentation in the dough.
It allows for redistribution of the nutrients for the yeast, thus allowing fermentation to continue.
Shaping the Pizza Dough
After punching down the pizza dough, wait around 45 minutes for the second round of fermentation. After that, you're ready to shape the pizza dough. In order for the pizza to be round it is important to start off with a symmetrically round ball of dough. The pizza shaping technique is a matter of personal preference. I personally like to stretch it by hand, on a non-floured counter. This helps the counter grip the dough, and also helps to "hold" it while you stretch. Pull it slowly as much as you can in your hands, then put it on the counter, and work around and round the edges with your fingers, holding and stretching as you go. Give it 5 to ten minutes to relax, and you'll be able to stretch it a little further.
This takes a bit of practice and you may not get a perfect looking pizza the first few times, but eventually you will. Then, it's only a matter of finding your best pizza dough recipe and you will be rewarded with perfect pizzas every time. (note: Before adding the sauce and toppings, many find it beneficial to bake the pizza dough for 3-5 minutes first.)
Pizza Baking Tips
Peter Reinhart, a bread expert and culinary teacher summed up the pizza baking drama well (Bread Baker's Apprentice pg.209) "Baking pizza at low temperatures ruins the crust because it takes so long to brown it that all the moisture evaporates, leaving a cardboard-dry shell behind. The key to great pizza is an extremely hot oven and baking surface. The race between browning the pizza crust and melting the cheese is one of the great culinary dramas, and if they converge at exactly the same moment you will have a memorable pizza experience."
For this reason, most people who are serious about pizza baking should invest in a pizza stone.
This is the one thing that really makes a difference on how the pizzas will taste. I am not a gadget person and don't buy what I don't need to, but a pizza stone was well worth the 20 dollars. The pizza comes out crispy on the bottom and it cooks faster too.
If you are using a floor tile as pizza stone, make sure to use an unglazed one as the glazed tiles can contain lead which is a serious health hazard.
For heavy toppings or if you find the pizza crust getting soggy, bake the crust for a few minutes at about 475-500F before adding any toppings. Many find it helps prevent the pizza crust from getting soggy.
One common problem is how to place the pizza dough loaded with toppings on the pizza stone without having everything fall all over your kitchen floor. One solution is to slide the pizza with the paper, close the oven door and wait about 3 minutes, until the dough firms up. Then you quickly open the oven door and remove the paper from under the pizza (with tongs)so it continues to cook directly on the stone.
The more common solution is to dust cornmeal which acts like small ball bearings onto a pizza peel and then slide the pizza on the pizza stone. There is also an excellent gadget called "super peel" which simplifies the process.
As a final word, donít be discouraged if it takes a few tries. Making homemade pizza is a skill worth mastering!
Neapolitan pizza (pizza napoletana): Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are typically made with tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese. The crust is thin (about 3mm) and the pizza is baked rapidly at high temperatures. This is the most common type of pizza in the world.
New York-style pizza originated in New York City in the early 1900s; it is wide, thin and foldable. The traditional toppings were tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, with any additional toppings placed with the cheese. It is traditionally hand-tossed and light on sauce. The slices are often eaten as a 'street snack' while folded in half, as its size and flexibility sometimes makes it unwieldy to eat flat.
Chicago-style pizza is a deep-dish pizza style developed in Chicago. Chicago-style pizza has a buttery crust up to three inches tall at the edge, slightly higher than the large amounts of cheese and chunky tomato sauce, acting as a large bowl. The term also refers to "stuffed" pizza, another Chicago style. While in Chicago most pizzerias serve thin-crust pizza, generally in a style characteristic to the city, the term Chicago-style pizza is used to describe this deep-dish style of pizza.
California-style pizza is a style of single-serving pizza that combines New York and Italian thin crust with toppings from the California cuisine cooking style.
Mexican pizza is a pizza made with ingredients typical of Mexican cuisine. The Mexican pizza is not Mexican in origin, but is actually regionally modified cuisine of Italian pizza. A Mexican pizza is offered by Taco Bell fast food restaurant in most locations in North America.
Greek pizza refers to a pizza with typically (or stereotypically) Greek ingredients as toppings. These include authentic toppings such as feta cheese, onion, Kalamata olives, fresh tomato, green bell pepper, gyros meat and spinach.
White pizza (pizza bianca) omits the tomato sauce, often substituting pesto or dairy products such as sour cream. Most commonly, especially on the East coast of the United States, the toppings consist only of mozzarella and ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil and spices like fresh basil and garlic. In Rome, the term pizza bianca refers to a type of bread topped with olive oil, salt and, occasionally, rosemary sprigs. It is also a Roman style to bottom the white pizza with figs, the result being known as pizza e fichi (pizza with figs);
Sicilian-style pizza has its toppings baked directly into the crust. ("Sicilian" pizza in the United States is typically a different variety of product, made with a thick crust characterized by a rectangular shape and topped with tomato sauce, cheese and optional toppings. Pizza Hut's "Sicilian Pizza", introduced in 1994, is not an authentic example of the style as only garlic, basil, and oregano are mixed into the crust);