Pizza

I've been making my own pizza for years and luckily, Michelle enjoys it just as much as I do, if not more. I make the dough and shape the skin, while Michelle creates the pizza and the baking is a mutual-effort.

During my childhood, I lived near an Italian pizzeria on Long Island, NY. The vivid memory of those slices have become the benchmark for what I am trying to achieve: a thin and chewy crust that can be folded without tearing, with great sauce and stretchy, chewy mozzarella cheese.

I want a pizza where you're always thinking of the next bite.

I have experimented with more pizza dough recipes than I can possibly remember. Trust me, I am no expert, but we have fun doing this. For a small family get-together, I threw everything I knew at a recipe and received the best compliment when my mother said I made it just like my Italian grandfather had.

Here is a recipe for a 14" pie that I have been very happy with. It has been adjusted to be baked in a regular home oven.

Flour (100%):   235.65 g    (AP or Bread Flour)

Water (63%):   148.46 g

IDY (0.20%):     0.47 g      (Instant Dry Yeast)

Salt (2%):         4.71 g

Sugar (2%):  4.71 g

Oil (2%): 4.71 g       (Regular Olive Oil)

Let me begin by saying that I weigh all my ingredients in grams. I do not use measurements, because they are far too inaccurate.

If you have a scale, measure 5 individual cups of flour, then weigh them. You will see that every single one has a different weight, but 100 grams of flour is always 100 grams of flour.

I have also become a big believer in baker's percentage. This allows people to break down a recipe through simple math.

Here's what I mean...

Flour is the main ingredient, so it is always 100% in a recipe. Every other ingredient is matched against the flour.

In the above recipe, I use 235.65 g of flour and 148.46 g of water. 

Divide the water by the flour. 148.46 ÷ 235.65 and we get 63%, this is my hydration level (water to flour ratio) of our pizza. When looking at a pizza recipe, the hydration level should never  be overlooked. Depending on the flour, 63% will give me a nice chew. Many pizza places seem to go for a much lower hydration (maybe 50-55%), delivering a much drier crust.

As long as a recipe is provided in grams, we can easily figure out the percentages of each ingredient. If the recipe is in measurements, we can weigh the ingredients and figure it out through the math.

It is through bakers percentages that we can refine different recipes and come up with our own unique versions. 

Here is how another 14" recipe breaks down... 

Bread Flour (86%): 207.57  g

Semolina Flour (14%): 33.79  g

Water (63%): 152.06  g

IDY (0.20%): 0.48 g

Salt (2%): 4.83 g

The flour, still at 100%, is divided between bread flour (at 86%) and semolina flour (at 14%). I've tried several different ratios for the semolina, and 14-15% tastes really good to me. 

I like the idea of making artisan Italian pizza pies, so my dough ingredients do not include any oil or sugar - just flour, water, salt and yeast. That's all, except for those recipes which include some form of preferment (sponge, biga, poolish or starter).

I certainly didn't start off weighing my ingredients, using baker's percentages and preferments, like some mad scientist down in a basement laboratory. I just found that I was getting inconsistent results when making my dough and wanted to really improve our overall pizza experience. 

A quick search lead me to pizzamaking.com  and that's when things really changed. I did a lot of reading, kept a lot of notes and got an incredible education on the subject by people who are truly experts on the subject.

I quickly realized I was doing many things wrong, and the first change came when I decided to weigh all my ingredients instead of using measurements.

We already had a scale, but that was only for whole grams. I wanted 0.01 gram capability and picked up one that only goes up to 500 g, but it works well enough.

A year or so later, I figure I'd look into what baker's percentages were all about and found this was the secret code for how a pizza dough recipe breaks down.

My time on pizzamaking.com led me to the "Tom Lehmann NY Style"  dough recipe. 

High-Gluten flour (100%): 263 grams (2 cups)

Water (63%): 166 grams (3/4 cup)

Salt (1.52%): 4 grams (3/4 teaspoon)

Olive Oil (0.95%): 2.5 grams (1/2 teaspoon)

Instant Dry Yeast (0.49%): 1.3 grams (1/2 teaspoon)

I tell ya, this was truly  the first pizza dough recipe that produced something which reminded me of my childhood. I initially made the recipe using measurements and when I decided to start experimenting, this recipe became my control.

So, let's talk ingredients. First, they are all at room temperature. 

I use King Arthur Bread Flour, AP will also work. Some people even sift the flour.

For greater chew and flavor, I often include Semolina pasta flour in my dough, something which harkens back to one of the first bread machine pizza recipes I followed. 

I have received nothing but rave reviews any time I served people pizza where semolina flour was included. With total flour being 100%, I found that a ratio of 86% Bread Flour to 14% Semolina Flour blend tasted best. I am just now dipping my toe into using ultra-fine 00 flour and will update this page in the future.

Our water is already filtered, but in lieu of that, use bottled water. I used to use 110°F to bloom my Active Dry Yeast and have the water temperature deliver me a finished dough in the 80-85°F range. My revised mixing technique negates all that. 

I generally prefer a hydration level in the 63-64% range, sometimes more.

I use fine sea salt. Salt is added not for taste, but to keep the yeast in check. I generally keep it in the 2-2.5% range, otherwise I will begin to taste the salt in the crust. I set some of the recipe water aside to dissolve the salt.

As for the yeast, Instant Dry Yeast (IDY) is my go-to. Since I almost always use a refrigerator to cold-ferment the dough, my IDY amount is generally 0.17-0.25% of total flour weight. I'll again set some of the recipe water aside to hydrate the yeast, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

If I am making a dough for baking that day, I may up the yeast to 0.4% or 0.5% to give it more of a rise during a room temperature fermentation.

Mixing and kneading can be done by hand, using a stand mixer, a food processor or a whole slew of other available mixers. I made great use of our KitchenAid for years, then upgraded to an Ankarsrum spiral mixer which I totally love.

Setting a mixer for "10 minutes on Speed 2 for kneading"  will deliver a good pizza, but mixing it low and slow, while slowly adding flour to incorporate it into the mixture will deliver a superior pizza by far. In the latter, our objective is to get a dough that feels  good - allowing us to pull on it and stretch the raw dough, without leaving any residue on our fingers. It's a feeling that comes through practice and experience.

By far, the biggest secret to a great pizza: Autolyse

There are 2 methods...

The first is the original, mix together JUST the water and 75% of the flour until no raw flour remains. Give it a 20 minute covered rest, then add the other ingredients before incrementally adding the flour until it feels right.

The other method is to combine ALL of the ingredients (again, only 75% of the flour), give it a 20 minute rest, then incrementally add the flour until it feels right.

One revered pizza maker (Jeff Varasano) gives the dough yet another 20 minute rest period after all the mixing is done.

Whether it's this mixing process or the upcoming fermentation period, long and slow is the key. Most pizzerias give their dough a 24-28 hour cold-fermentation, while I prefer a minimum of 48-72+ hours. After 72 hours, there is a loss in chewiness (and foldability) but it really gains in flavor.

I've known people to generally do a 5-day cold fermentation and I have even gone as long as 11 days with delicious results. (We have an extra refrigerator with one shelf designated strictly for pizza dough.)

When I transfer a plastic container with my new pizza dough to the refrigerator, I leave the cover slightly askew  to allow for ventilation. I give it at least 1 hour to acclimate to the cold temperature before sealing it completely. This way I don't trap the condensation in the container with my dough as it cools down.

On the day of baking, I will give the cold dough a 30-45 minute room-temperature acclimation period, while some go up to 2 hours.

When it comes to dressing a pizza, please do not use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese. Pre-shredded cheese is coated with corn starch to prevent it from clumping together in the bag. Unfortunately, this prevents the cheese from melting properly.

Michelle uses a dry block of whole-milk mozzarella and some Monterey Jack, sometimes a slice (or less) of provolone.

As for sauce, we like Escalon 6-in-1 ground tomatoes. 

When making your sauce, it's not advisable to first cook it on the stove, then cook it again when baking the pizza. Just mix it up cold. Once she spreads the sauce on the pizza skin, Michelle sprinkles sugar on top to cut down on acidity.

Veggie toppings should go under  the cheese, unless you want them burned, while meats go on top. Finally, Michelle adds King Arthur Flour's Pizza Seasoning.

For baking, some form of high-temperature oven is the best way to go, but not everyone has access to that.

A regular home oven goes up to 550° F if we're lucky. So to help in the baking process, include sugar and olive oil (NOT extra-virgin). They should be evenly matched with the salt (percentage and weight-wise) and will help in the baking of the pizza (unless your recipe states otherwise).

We also have a Blackstone pizza oven and usually bake between the 650° F and 700° F range. The old pizzeria's in New York would use coal-fired ovens, reaching in excess of 900° F. 

Place a baking stone or baking steel in a cold oven, crank the heat all the way up and give it a good 1-hour preheat. You want things as hot as possible.

Use a pizza peel to get your dressed pizza on the stone/steel and bake away. 

Use an Infrared IR kitchen thermometer gun to see how hot the stone/steel gets before you put your pizza on it. Every oven is different, so you'll have to find out how well your own oven bakes. 

In my opinion, people remove their pizza from the oven far too early. They see a little browning and think it's done, but it's really not. You want that char which comes from a well-baked pizza. That's why we use a pizza oven. Maybe we will have a wood-fired oven in the future, who knows?

The pizza you make is whatever you want for it to be, it doesn't need to be fancy. Michelle and I still make english muffin pizzas from time to time. The thing is to make it your own and have fun doing it.

Happy Baking!

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