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Homemade pizza: tricks & tips

By Jillian Bernardini - Sep 19, 2014 - 04:35 PM
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The other day, I made some pizza dough. The following day, I made a pizza. That evening, we ate the pizza! This isn't necessarily a grammar lesson, but a few ideas and inspiration for crafting a yeast-raised seasoned ball of flour and topping it with cheese and sauce...will make it lots of fun for you to try! It can get a bit sticky, dry, hole-laden, and all of the above. The dough is communicating with you, and you must be responsive, friendly, and gentle with it! You know us Italians, we can be very sensitive, and aggressive, and you never know which side you'll get first.

Some of my favorite pizza dough recipes come from the Jim Lahey "No-Knead" method, Batali certainly knows his stuff, and my favorite ratio wizard, Michael Ruhlman, breaks it down by science. There are many trusted sources and recipes on the internet for flour+water+yeast+salt=pizza. However, to get more flavor and better texture, make the dough the day before you intend on having a pizza party dinner night, then bake them off the following day! Yeast is alive, it needs time to meld with the water and flour, rising up and punching down a few times after an overnight rise. 

It's really fun. I'll leave John a few love notes that read, "Hope you like the snacks, in the meantime, could you punch down the pizza dough, reshape into a ball, and cover again? Love you!" Opposite schedules leads to pretty entertaining notes and surprises on the kitchen counter when one leaves+returns to the apartment. 

homemade pizza dough

Okay, more honest points here, we don't have a pizza stone, or a pizza peel, or a brick oven! Somehow, we have made some pretty delicious, moderately-sized, crusty pizzas. Definitely not a perfect round shape, but how unique and Instagram-friendly are pizzas that are mishapened and have a smattering of playful toppings? I admit, my obsesson with food photography, beauty of food, and aesthetics of all things delicious takes up 90% of my daily activities. I find myself staring more at plates and dishes at work than actual guests...

In a more structured, coordinated by how you would begin this process of pizza dough making, manner, here are my go-to methods for successful pizza in a regular kitchen, with plain ol' tools and gadgets:

-A kitchen scale can definitely help towards perfection of ingredients, yielding a beautiful dough! Either zero out the mixing bowl on the stand, adding ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, slightly warm water, or individually weigh and toss together.

-TIME, give the pizza dough time to rise on its own, overnight preferably. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, lay it to rest with a kitchen towel over the top, and let it rest in a warm corner of your kitchen counter.

-Preheat that oven to the highest setting, with your baking vessel inside the oven the whole time, for at least 30 minutes to an hour. I mentioned we don't own a pizza stone anymore, so I invert an old baking sheet or roasting pan, set that on the middle rack during preheating, and shimmy my pizza on top of that. The pan is hot, it creates an instant initial sear of crust on the bottom of the dough, and evens out the cook time between dough to toppings. (And hence all of our pizzas are rectangular now!)

-Now for shaping and forming into your preferred pizza shape, but preheat that oven before you think about this step! If the your pizza dough ball is from the fridge, let it come to room temperature under a damp paper towel before shaping. The dough needs to rest and be room temp, or it could tear more easily.

-Do an initial knead and shape, gently stretch the ball into a flat circle, pulling the edges out a bit and using your fingertips to spread the dough out and around, and then let it be. The proteins in the dough are activated, so if you try to stretch it too far in the beginning, it shrinks back faster and is being forced too quickly into a larger shape. I usually stretch it a bit, then cover it with a damp towel for 10 minutes again, before shaping it more.

-Another inverted baking sheet, sprinkled with some cornmeal to prevent sticking [and allow for easier shimmying onto the preheated pan in the oven], is what I transfer my pizza dough to in order to arrange my toppings. 

-Brush a little seasoned olive oil onto the dough, simple salt and pepper and nice extra virgin olive oil is perfect, then a thin layer of sauce, and the cheese. I put big lumps of mozzarella, then save my finely shaved Parmigiano for the end. Think about the cook time for these ingredients. The oven is most likely 500 degrees, or even 525, so I toss on my delicate prosciutto or crispy pancetta half way through the baking process, or else they'd be burnt to a crisp. Yes, we may be losing heat when we open the oven to add toppings, but this ensures that all toppings will finish together in harmony.

-I'm obsessed with a golden, crisp crust around my pizza. When opening the oven to add a topping or two, I use a brush, dipped in that seasoned olive oil, and run it all around the edges of the pizza. It sounds crazy, but I love the crunch it gives on the exterior but still that rich olive oil flavor.

-If the cheese is browning too quickly, feel free to tent with foil to finish baking the interior of the crust. Depending on what type of mozzarella I use, this happens often to me. "John should I take it out?! The cheese, the cheese! I don't know, what about the crust?! What should I do?" Endless second guessing, rolling of eyes, and then true love collaborating+reassurance results in a silly good time making pizza.

homemade pizza dough

Thanks to our lovely friends, the Labrecque's, we do have a fancy rolling pizza cutter, steel-laden, and super durable. We let our pizza sit on the counter for a few minutes, then slice away and inhale the results. Favorite toppings these days? Often purists: sauce, local cheese, fresh basil, and a little prosciutto if we have some. Love little bits of pineapple with super crispy bacon or pancetta. It's been a while, but a white pizza with thin roasted potato slices, caramelized onions, and gruyere is a heavenly combo. 

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