Great Pizza From Scratch

If you want to learn how to make a really good and simple pizza at home, I suggest a visit to the website of Laura Vitale.

Laura's family had several pizzerias in New Jersey, so she will expertly show you how to go from raw ingredients to baked pizza in a little over 2 hours.

Watch her video and pay close attention to how she handles the dough when shaping it into a round pizza shell. Those are well-practiced hands, my friend.

I'm serious, even if you've made plenty of pizzas before, it's worth watching the ease at which she works. 

Laura's recipe is easy and accessible to pretty much anyone with a stand mixer and a regular oven. We have made this same recipe many times with very satisfactory results, so I have no problem recommending this to people.

However, this is for a quick, one-rise, room-temperature dough. If you REALLY want to make a great pizza at home, there are a bunch of little extra steps to take.

The sad reality is that people simply don't have access to the same ingredients, mixers and high-heat ovens (600-1000°F) that the professionals have. So right from the very beginning, we are at a disadvantage, though not one that is insurmountable.

There are several tricks we can employ that will help us even the odds, AND extra steps which the average pizzeria simply does not do because of the fast-paced nature of the restaurant industry. Armed with such information, we can make a pizza that is just simply better than what we get at a big-franchise location.

What I provide here is the result of my own research, pizza experiences and the education I received from the kind folks in the forum at PizzaMaking.com.

This is where the professionals reside, the ones who currently run their own pizzeria or have in the past, along with people in the food industry and serious pizza makers worldwide. It may take a while to get up to speed on their lingo (their Pizza Glossary is highly-recommended) but once you do, that's when everything changes.

I quickly discovered I needed to stop measuring my ingredients.

Measuring the flour is simply NOT accurate. Laura's recipe calls for 3 ½ cups of flour. One website states that 1 cup of flour equals 120 grams. While others run anywhere from 125  grams to 145! I did 5 tests myself using the scoop-and-sweep method and got: 132, 139, 133, 141 and 136 grams.

This means you could make the same exact recipe every single week, and it will be different every single time because by measuring the flour, we are always getting an inaccurate result.

But when you weigh 100 grams of flour, you always have 100 grams and if there's one thing we need in our recipes, it's accuracy. This way we know what is going right and what is going wrong and how to correct things.

I soon learned about something called the baker's percentage, which is the secret code for how a yeast-dough recipe breaks down.

Here is a recipe for a 14" round pizza: 

Bread Flour: 258.53 grams

Water: 155.12 grams

Instant Dry Yeast: 0.3 grams

Fine Sea Salt: 5.17 grams


In baker's percentage, flour is always 100%, and all the other ingredients are divided by the flour's total weight.

Here, the water is 155.12 grams. When divided by 258.53 g, we get 0.60, which is a very nice 60% hydration. 

Accordingly, the Instant Dry Yeast is 0.117% and the salt is 2%.


INGREDIENTS

Most of the time, I am using only one main flour (AP, Bread or High-Gluten), but sometimes I use a Semolina pasta flour because it significantly adds to the baked crust in both taste and texture. Personally, I like an 85% main flour and 15% Semolina flour ratio.

AP is a good overall flour to use. Bread flour gives more of a chew to the crust, while High-Gluten flour takes this chew factor up an extra notch (it's also perfect for baking in a high-heat oven).

Pick a good flour to use (in my region, King Arthur Flour is commonplace) and stay with it so you get a good education on how it handles from one dough to the next.

Water. In a regular consumer oven, I will have my hydration anywhere from 58-66%. If I am using a high-heat oven, then I will increase from 66% to 70% (or more).

Handing a low-hydration dough (50% to 63%) is much easier and won't stick to your hands like it would with a higher-hydration dough (64% and up), but low-hydration doughs will not stretch as easy and the final baked result will be a dry, dense crust.

However, by increasing the hydration, we have a dough that may be harder to work with in regards to stickiness, but it stretches much easier and the final baked result is a more crispy outer shell, with a light and airy crust on the inside. This really comes out by cooking with high-heat ovens OR using a Baking Steel in a regular consumer oven.

Use filtered water with a temperature which will result in a final dough that is in the 80°-85° range.

In a cold New England winter, that would be about 93°F, while in summer, maybe 75°F.

If I'm using a food processor to make the dough, I will start with refrigerated water, about 46°F.


Let's talk about yeast.

I'm sorry, but most of the recipes out there have far too much yeast in them, to the point that it can be tasted in the final crust.

Yeast amounts (by percentage) are determined by the temperature and duration of any and all rise periods a dough will undergo.

To figure this out, go to this website: Dough Fermentation Calculator

When it comes to a yeast dough, the first rise is the most important rise, this is where a dough will reach its peak performance. All other rises will certainly add to a dough, but it won't have as big an impact as that very first rise.

With pizza dough, I use a long cold refrigerated rise in the 37°-40°F range. (My refrigerator dial goes to 6. After much testing, I found that 5.5 on the dial, gives me 38°F with a dough placed on the middle shelf.)

I usually give my dough a 2 to 3 day cold rise in the refrigerator, followed by 1 hour on the counter top. So I set time and temperature accordingly, along with the "Yeast Type" and press the "Calculate Yeast Percentage" button.

I am now presented with an accurate yeast percentage for my recipe.

It would be the same as if I wanted to have pizza that day. I would enter in the time and temperature for all the rise periods involved, then set the yeast type and press the button for the end result.

(Most pizzerias only give their dough a 24-28 hour cold rise at best, with some places only performing one or two at room temperature. I have found 2-3 days is the sweet spot for cold rises, and have even gone as long as 11 days! If performing fermentation at room temperature, I do either a single rise or as many as three. After four rises, the yeast will lose its leavening ability and the dough will no longer rise. So I go as many as 3, so I am nowhere near exhausting my dough.)

I use IDY (instant dry yeast) for the cold rises and ADY (active dry yeast) for when I want the pizza that day. It's not a rule, just a preference.


Salt is used to keep the yeast in check, preventing it from expanding out of control. Salt adds taste, but only as much so that the dough doesn't taste like a bland-nothing.

Salt percentages can run in the 0.5-3% range. My recipes run 2-2.5%. After that, it adds a saltiness to the crust. As for the salt, I use fine sea salt over regular table salt.

Pizza making falls into one of 3 camps: Using the 4 basic ingredients (Flour, Water, Yeast and Salt), adding extra ingredients (Olive Oil, Sugar and/or Diastatic Malt Powder (consumer oven ONLY) and/or using some form of preferment (Poolish, Biga, Sourdough Starter).

Neapolitan and other artisan pizzas use only the basic 4, and that's good, but adding a poolish or sourdough starter significantly adds a wonderful boost to the taste of the finished crust.

Baking in a consumer oven (550°F tops) won't get us to the temperatures that pizzeria ovens operate (600-1000°F), so adding sugar and/or diastatic malt powder allows us to even the odds if we want a good char to the baked crust.

Olive Oil I can take or leave, to be honest.

It may impart a nice sheen to the finish of a dough after it's been mixed and kneaded, but that oil will come out and imbed itself in a pizza stone as it's being baked.

One pizza certainly isn't going to matter, but one after another with the added oil will just soak right in. Besides, the addition of olive oil can also lead to straining the dough as we are stretching it into shape.

Now that we have an idea of our ingredients and their percentages, we can create a dough formula by utilizing another website: Pizza Dough Calculator

CREATING A FORMULA

Going top to bottom, enter in the information to get a final dough formula at the end.

We begin by entering in either the thickness factor or the dough weight (my preference).

Set to "U.S. Customary" then select "dough weight" and enter in the "dough weight in ounces."

1 ounce of dough = 1 inch of pizza. I make 14" pizzas , so I actually bump it up to 14.75 ounces for the dough weight to get a nice rim to my pizza. 

I will switch from "U.S. Customary" to "Metric" and see that my dough weight is listed as 418 grams.

Enter in the number of "Dough Balls" being made. (We generally make 2 pizzas for the leftovers.)

"Hydration" is next. As I said before, my preferred range is 58-66% for a regular consumer oven and 66% to 70%+ for a high-heat oven. Choose what you want.

I select the "Yeast Type," then enter in the percentage I acquired from the Dough Fermentation Calculator.

I'm not adding in preferment, but if I were I prefer using pencil and paper to do the math. (I've seen people use anywhere from 9% to 40% for a preferment, while I like 20%.)

Salt is next, both the "Type" and the "Percentage." I run from 2% to 2.5%, no matter what my yeast is. 

I'm also not adding in any other ingredients, but if I were, I just click on the "Ingredients" button to add them. (For olive oil, sugar and diastatic malt powder, it runs from 1-2%.)

Finally, there is "Bowl Residue Compensation %." This is how much dough gets lost in the mixing process. Right now, 0.267% seems to be the magic number which will still give me my target of 418 grams (14.75"/oz).

I scroll down the screen to see my dough formula. If I decided to change the hydration at the last minute, the calculator will automatically compensate to keep my formula in balance. (I use a scale that weighs down to 0.01 grams, avoiding U.S. Standard Weights (Pounds, Ounces, etc.) at all costs when cooking.)

MIXING & KNEADING

How do you currently do yours? By hand? Using a stand planetary mixer like a KitchenAid? A food processor? Or a spiral mixer?

Whatever you are using now, keep using it. Then move up if you feel the need to. I currently use an Ankarsrum spiral mixer and I just love it. The learning curve is steep, but that's because I have to unlearn everything I knew about mixing dough using something like a KitchenAid.

The food processor is lightning fast, but it will heat the dough up very quickly, so use cold water. Total mixing time will be under 2 minutes and we can only make 1 dough at a time. (Food processors are widely used by many professionals when making a single pizza at home.)

A KitchenAid or similar stand mixer, will also heat up the dough, though certainly not as much as a food processor. Mixing by hand or with a spiral mixer, has a minimal impact on increasing dough temperature.

Mixing and kneading a dough by hand is the best though, since we are feeling the dough come to life right before us. By hand was how the dough used to be made by the old pizza masters in New York City, the birthplace of pizza in America. My Italian grandfather made his at home, by hand and with no refrigeration as well. True artisan pizza.

Whether using an Ankarsrum or KitchenAid, I utilize a long and slow process to make pizza. (When using a KitchenAid, I stop the mixer after each ingredient has been incorporated so I can scrape off the dough hook.)

I begin by adding the water and 75% of the flour. (If also using semolina, the 75% will be the main flour.)

I mix on a Low speed for 60-90 seconds or until no raw flour remains.

I scrape off and remove any mixing instruments and cover the mixing bowl with a tea towel. I let it rest (called an Autolyse) for 20 minutes, to relax the gluten strands in the dough. Afterwards, I return the mixing instruments and resume on Low.

Add the yeast and mix for 1 minute.

Add the salt and mix for another minute.

The Ankarsrum has a rotating speed dial, making small increases in power possible. So I will turn the speed up slightly to the 1 o'clock position. (With a KitchenAid, I will increase speed as the dough starts to come together, you'll know when.)

I slowly sprinkle in only half the remaining flour over a 3-6 minute period.

I slowly sprinkle in the rest of the flour over the next 6 minutes, then knead for 8 minutes (or more) at the same speed.

At this point, I'm going to do a Windowpane test.

To test for windowpane, tear off a golfball size piece from the dough and form it into a round ball. Stretch and shape it into a mini pizza, gently stretching so you get a very thin membrane of dough without it tearing. If it tears, keep mixing for another 4 minutes and try again.

A spiral mixer uses a long and slow process, with mixing and kneading at a very Low speed, so it will take time. Long and slow is the way to go!

Afterwards, I will divide, ball, then transfer to a lightly oiled dough tray or container. I'll use my fist to create a nice indent in the dough's center, since pizza dough chills better as a hockey puck instead of the typical round ball.

I then place the container in a refrigerator for that long 3 day slumber.

IMPORTANT: The dough is still very warm, so leave the cover askew for 2 hours to allow  the condensation to escape. Then seal it up.

BAKING DAY

On baking day, I make sure everything is in its place and ready to go just before I remove the dough from the refrigerator. Baking stones are on the bottom rack. If using a Baking Steel, it is 6" from broiler element (second-to-top rack on my oven).

I take the dough out of the refrigerator and still keeping it sealed, place on the counter and set a timer for 1 hour. At the same time, I set the oven to 550°F.

When the hour is up, I remove the dough from the container, then dredge it in a plate coated with bench flour (50% AP flour + 50% Semolina flour).

I do one side, then another, rolling it on the edge so I get the sides. I don't want to see any wet areas on the dough.

There will be a noticeable difference between the two sides of the dough. The drier top-side is the one which was exposed to the air during the entire fermentation period, while the moister side was protected on the bottom.

TIP: If making a high-hydration dough, remove the cover of the sealed container 2-3 hours before removing from refrigerator to help dry out the top-side of the dough that much more. Remember to reseal the container before removing from refrigerator.

Place the dough on a clean and sanitized work station, coated with a little bench flour and prepare to shape the dough into a round pizza shell.

Seriously, go back and watch Laura's video again. Notice the ease at which she shapes the pizza dough into a nice round shell. You just know she's made thousands of pizzas in her family's pizzeria and that skill came through lots and lots of practice.

After the dough is shaped into a round shell, it’s time to dress, then bake the pizza.

Want to know how much cheese, sauce and toppings to add? 


PIZZA TOPPING PORTION GUIDE


This is actually an industry guide sheet (more of a consensus, really) that many pizzerias go by, or at least use as a benchmark to build upon. Just look up the size and decide if you want to go Light, Moderate or Heavy on the toppings. Us? Yeah, we go heavy.

There are two major preferences for dressing: Sauce first, then cheese OR cheese first, then sauce. Either way is fine.

I'll admit, sauce is still a work in progress for us, and I will be posting our unfancy sauce recipe when I'm satisfied enough with it.

The problem is that tomato-products we have available here, may not be available to you, and vice versa. So each of us is left to our own devices, based on what's available.

Some pizza recipes use a sauce that is made on a cooktop. They're good but the sauce will end up being double-cooked when all is said and done. My opinion is that pizza sauce should only be baked once.

Sauce can be made at room-temperature, then chilled for 24 hours (then removed 1 hour prior to making the pizza) OR it can be made and applied directly onto the pizza shell with no waiting. All these camps have very strong advocates, so try them and judge for yourself.

Vegetable toppings go under the cheese to maintain their freshness, while meat toppings go on top.

As for the cheese, we like a blend of whole-milk Mozzarella (79%), Provolone (20%) and Parmesan (1% and fresh, not from a can).

The fresh parmesan cheese is actually put down first. Shaved enough to provide good coverage. We never weighed it because when shaved, parmesan is light as a feather, so I'm guessing it's about 1%.

Provolone goes down next and at 20%, it adds flavor without the pizza being too oily on top.

The star of the show is of course, the mozzarella cheese.

Do NOT use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese or thou will most greatly offend the pizza gods. Seriously, they coat that stuff with cornstarch so the cheese doesn't clump together in the bag. Unfortunately, the cornstarch also prevents the cheese from melting well, so you end up with a hard skin-shell on the top.

We get our mozzarella from the supermarket deli counter, having it sliced into round discs to about 1/4" thickness. (The provolone can be had at the deli counter as well, and the pre-packaged version doesn't contain the dreaded cornstarch.)

If whole-milk mozzarella cheese is pre-packaged and wet coming out of the plastic bag, press it between several paper towels and several dish plates for several hours to squeeze out the excess liquid.

Whole or partially torn, strategically place the mozzarella cheese discs for maximum coverage. The reason I like mozzarella cheese in discs as opposed to being shredded is the wonderful cheese stretch factor of a New York pizza. (So don't forget to put one dead-center.)

We top our creation with King Arthur Flour's Pizza Seasoning and into the oven it goes.

BAKING

As for baking, well... that's another unique experience specific to each of us.

No two ovens bake the same and my instructions may not work for your oven. You're just going to have to bake some pizzas and find out for yourself. (Keep good notes)

With a baking steel placed on a rack 6" from the broiler element, I find that 4 minutes, the rotate, 4 more minutes and anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds on broil delivers a killer pizza with only flour, water, salt and yeast.

When using diastatic malt powder, I will go 3 minutes, rotate, then 3 minutes and judge the results. Sometimes I need the broiler, other times I don't.

As for a baking stone, place it on the lowest rack and anywhere from 8 to 13 minutes (or more) should do the trick. (Just remember, a baking steel and baking stone MUST be put in a cold oven BEFORE turning on the heat.)

Always, always, always keep an eye on your pizza as it is baking.

Remember, you are baking both the bottom crust AND the top. So this is something you're just going to have to learn in regards to how well your specific oven bakes.

The bottom should have a nice golden brown color to it OR in a pizza oven, some nice char. The top should have a nice browning of the cheese, but not excessive.

Often times, people remove their pizza from the oven before it is really done. Another minute or so can have a significant impact on taste.

So that's it. My insights and experiences on making great pizza from scratch.

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