I adore pizza. My parents made it at home when I was a kid, and it was classic homemade pizza – thick, soft, bready crust, lots of toppings, needed to be eaten with a fork. We sometimes went out to Godfather’s, which was a pretty standard American chain pizza. Then when I was in college I invented my own pizza using available materials: a whole wheat crust, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella and falafel. It was amazingly good (but I was starved for meat and fat that year – not the most discerning palate). I went to Italy and ate some very good and some very bad pizza (spinach with an egg on top, yum. Potatoes and salt – what was I thinking?) Then after I was married, we discovered takeout chicken alfredo pizza and stuck to that for a while.
I don’t actually remember when I started making pizza at home again. We bought a pizza stone at some point, and a peel, which I eventually learned to use without dropping the pizza down the back of the oven. I still wasn’t wild about my own homemade product – I was putting the sauce and toppings on the dough and letting it rise, then attempting to fit the whole thing into the oven without the toppings all falling off. Not easy, and not a great crust result.
Then a friend of ours who has a great deal of experience eating and making real Italian pizza had a pizza party, and it reminded me what you can do with careful attention to the crust and very simple toppings. I began to experiment with crust recipes and we scaled back to a basic mozzarella-pepperoni-basil topping as our default, then began to branch out from there. Now I feel like I have a handle on good homemade pizza, and we haven’t ordered takeout in years.
For my crust I use a recipe adapted from Home Baking by Alford and Duguid – it’s actually the crust for a Middle Eastern lamb and pine nut flatbread, but I really like it for pizza. It has just enough whole wheat to add flavor and it develops a great chewy crust. I use high gluten bread flour for extra chewiness.
The baking technique I owe mostly to our friend A, who makes some of the best pizza in the world. I never thought of waiting to add the toppings until the dough was on the hot stone, but it works great –
Dough for two pizzas:
- 1/2 tsp dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- about 1 1/2 cups white bread flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 small glug of olive oil (a little less than a tablespoon, I guess – I don’t measure)
Mix the yeast and water in a large bowl. Mix in the whole wheat flour and a half cup of the white bread flour. Stir it up good, cover it with a towel and let it sit for at least ten minutes. Stir in the salt, then the oil, then add more white flour and knead it a bit until it seems like a good texture. Then either let rise at room temperature for an hour and a half, or put it in the fridge for a day (I mix up the dough in the morning before work and take it out to warm up when I get home).
To bake, put a pizza stone in the oven and crank it up to 500°. Make sure it gets good and hot – just because the preheat buzzer has gone off doesn’t mean it’s really hot. Roll out half the dough into a round, flour a peel and slip the dough onto it. Then, working quickly, pull out the oven rack with the pizza stone on it, slip the dough onto the stone (it should start bubbling immediately), spread your sauce over it and sprinkle your toppings on. Pop it back in and shut the door – it should only take about ten minutes. Take the pizza out when the cheese is melted and the toppings are all bubbling nicely. Let it sit briefly before cutting.
We try to always have a good pizza wine on hand. Our usual favorite is Pietra Santa Sasso Rosso, which is cheap, tasty and comes in a seriously cute bottle. Last week we asked our wine person for something new, and she recommended a Mendocino wine, Monte Volpe Primo Rosso, which was really great – I’d buy it again.