Pizza

We've been making our 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 itself. The baking is very much a mutual-effort.

During my childhood, I lived by an Italian pizzeria on Long Island, NY. The vivid memory of those slices and pizza pies have become the benchmark for what I am always 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 that 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 it and received the highest compliment when I was told I made it just like my Italian grandfather had.

The Tom Lehmann NY Style Pizza Dough Recipe...

2 cups Flour (AP or Bread)  (263 grams)

3/4 cup Water (166 grams)

3/4 teaspoon Salt (4 grams)

3/4 teaspoon Sugar

1/2 teaspoon Olive oil (2.5 grams)

1/2 teaspoon Instant Dry yeast (IDY) (1.3 grams)

That's a freebie, providing a recipe by measurements, not by weight.

I do not use measurements because they are just far too inaccurate, this is especially important when you are trying to refine a recipe. I use digital scales to weigh my ingredients.  

Measure out 5 individual cups of flour, then weigh them. Each will have a different weight, but 100 grams of flour will always  give you 100 grams of flour. No more, no less.

I have also become a big proponent in using the baker's percentage. This allows people to break down a recipe and tweak it to the way they want. Here's what I mean...

Flour is the primary  ingredient in a dough. So percentage wise, it is always 100%. ALL other ingredients will be matched against  the flour.

The above recipe used 263 grams of flour and 166 grams of water. Divide the water (166) by the flour (263) and we have a pizza with 63% hydration level.

At 63%, the dough won't stick to my hands and it will be easy to work with. The crust will have a nice chew and still be a tad moist. If we use less water, we lower the hydration (some recipes go down to 50%), resulting in the crust becoming much drier and crunchier.

By using baker's percentages, we can modify the pizza's crust to OUR liking. Pretty neat, huh?

At 1.3 grams, the yeast is 0.49%. That's good for making a dough, letting it rise at room temperature and then baking it, but if I'm going to refrigerate a dough (I personally find 48 hours  to be the sweet-spot), I will lower the yeast percentage to 0.3% or 0.2%.

Any recipe can be broken down to a bakers percentage. If it's only provided in grams, we can simply do the math and see how each ingredient stacks up against each other.

If the recipe is in measurements, weigh the ingredients (do an average of 3) and figure out the bakers percentage that way. It literally is the secret code to a pizza or bread recipe.

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 the best to us. 

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 the basement laboratory. I was just tired of getting inconsistent results when making my dough and wanted to improve my overall pizza experience.

A quick search lead me to the gang at 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 start weighing my ingredients instead of using measurements.

A year or so later, I figure I'd look into what this baker's percentages talk was all about, that's what really changed everything for me.

The Tom Lehmann NY Style recipe was truly the first pizza recipe that produced something which reminded me of the pizza from my childhood.

I initially followed this recipe using measurements, but when I decided to start experimenting, I switched to weighing everything and this recipe became my control.

Now, let's talk about ingredients...

First, they are at room temperature. I use King Arthur All-Purpose flour, Bread Flour or their High-Gluten flour. Some people go the extra step and sift their flour.

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

I have received nothing but rave reviews any time I served people pizza where semolina flour was included.

For some recipes, I also use the ultra-fine Italian 00 flour. This flour is evenly matched with AP flour BY WEIGHT.

Use filtered or bottled water.

110°F to bloom Active Dry Yeast (ADY) or instant (IDY) with water around 93°F. Whatever delivers a finished dough in the 80-85°F range. 

As for the yeast, IDY is my go-to, but I still use ADY from time to time.

I prefer using 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. 


Mixing and kneading can be done by hand, using a stand mixer, a food processor, a bread machine and 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 just totally love.

Setting a mixer for "10 minutes on Speed 2 for kneading"  will deliver a good enough pizza, but you can do better.

Mixing low and slow, while slowly adding flour to incorporate it into the dough mixture, will deliver a far superior pizza.

Our objective should be 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 second method is to combine ALL of the ingredients (Only 75% of the flour), give it a 20 minute rest, then incrementally add the flour until it feels right.


Dough can be risen at room-temperature (warm fermentation) or in a refrigerator (cold-fermentation).

Most pizzerias give their dough a refrigerated 24 to 28 hour rise, while I prefer 48 to 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. 

When I move the container with my new pizza dough to the refrigerator, I leave the cover slightly askew  to allow for ventilation. I give it 90 minutes to acclimate to the cold temperature before sealing it completely. This way I don't trap condensation in the container with my dough as it cools down.

On the day of baking, I will give the cold dough a 30-60 minute room-temperature acclimation period, while some go up to 2 hours. When I take the dough out of the refrigerator, I usually start the oven.

When it comes to dressing a pizza, we start with the sauce first, spreading it to within 1" of the edge. It doesn't matter if there are bare spots.

Sauce is still a work in progress for us. When making your sauce, it's generally advisable not to first cook it on the stove, because it will be cooked again when the pizza bakes. Just mix it up cold. Once the sauce is spread on the pizza skin, sprinkle some sugar on top to cut down on acidity.

Veggie toppings go next.

Cheese is added in the shape of a donut, spread from within 1" of the edge to the inside of the pizza, BUT leave the middle empty of cheese. When the pizza bakes, as the cheese melts and the sauce heats up, they will gravitate towards the center anyway. 

Please, do not use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese.  That stuff is coated with corn starch to prevent it from clumping together in the bag. Unfortunately, the corn starch prevents the cheese from melting properly.

Michelle uses a dry block of whole-milk mozzarella, some freshly-ground Parmesan (NEVER the container) and Monterey Jack.

Next will go any meats, then finally topped off with a pizza seasoning.

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

The typical home oven only goes up to 550° F (if we're lucky), while the old pizzerias would use coal-fired ovens, reaching in excess of 900° F. 

Place a baking stone (bottom shelf) or baking steel (6" from broiler) in a cold oven, crank the heat to 500° F and give it a good 1-hour preheat. You want things as hot as possible. Use an Infrared IR kitchen thermometer gun to verify how hot the stone/steel reaches.

We employ a pizza peel to get the dressed pizza on the stone/steel and bake away. 

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.  For us, steel has replaced stone for baking pizza in our oven. We also make use of a Blackstone Pizza Oven.

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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