What better way to celebrate National Pizza Day than by demonstrating some tips and tricks for better home pizza making on LIVE with Kelly and Ryan?! The segment aired on National Pizza Day. Ryan reminisced about the pizza tour we did together back in 2018, which featured stops at Best Pizza, L’industrie, and NY Pizza Suprema. Kelly was bummed she missed out, but made up for it when I had her literally put the gloves on to make a mess in the kitchen.
We pushed a lot of information into a quick segment, so let me spell out the most important beats with these Top 5 tips for home pizza making. And of course you can watch the entire segment here.
Make Your Dough Early
Don’t be afraid of making your own dough. It’s just 4 ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Sometimes we add oil, but you don’t need to. You can use all purpose flour or bread flour, whichever you have on hand. Bread flour will make for a chewier pizza. All purpose flour will result in a stickier dough but sticky dough always makes better pizza if you know how to handle it. The key here is to make your dough at least 1 day in advance. If you plan ahead, that same dough made 2-4 days in advance is even better! Here’s my recipe for pizza dough:
700g flour (I like King Arthur Bread Flour)
2g instant yeast
10g olive oil (optional)
Combine the flour, water, and yeast. Mix until fully incorporated. Let that sit covered for 15-20 minutes. Mix in salt until completely dissolved. Next you can add olive oil if you’d like (omit that if cooking in a high-temp oven like an Ooni or Roccbox or anything similar to that. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and bouncy. Let that rest covered for 20-60 minutes (until it relaxes). Split the batch into 4 equal pieces and fold into seamless dough balls. Store covered in lightly oiled containers. You can let them sit at room temp for up to 2 hours then store in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.
During our segment I joked with Kelly Ripa that making sauce isn’t hard at all, but I was serious! All you have to do is choose a good tomato, add salt, and crush it appropriately. What’s a good tomato? Most people swear by San Marzano tomatoes from Italy but buying them could be tricky because the certification labeling isn’t super dependable. I usually go for tomatoes that aren’t labeled San Marzano for just that reason. I really like tomatoes from California and some of the non-DOP Italian tomatoes. They all taste different so try some out and use the one you prefer.
The key here is to choose a good tomato, then simply crush it and add salt. Unlike pasta dished, in which both the pasta and sauce cook before being combined, pizza ingredients come together before the bake. That means there’s no need to cook your pizza sauce! You certainly can cook a pizza sauce if you want to thicken and sweeten it, or if you’re adding in a bunch of seasoning, but I like an uncooked sauce on my New York style pizza.
Don’t Squash Your Dough
This is the biggest issue with home pizza making. People tend to be too aggressive with their dough before they begin to stretch it. You want to avoid degassing it, otherwise the dough will snap back when you try to stretch. I like to store my dough in round plastic covered containers or bowls. If you line the containers with a little oil, the dough should fall right out when inverted on a floured countertop. Once the dough is on your table, you can cover it with flour and start stretching by tapping down.
Ryan asked me about store-bought dough during our segment. There is no shame in buying dough from the grocery store, but I do have a couple tricks for getting it to stretch well. If you grab a dough that’s a bit mangled, re-ball it when you get home and place it in a lightly oiled container to rest overnight (covered, in the refrigerator). It will rise more evenly and you’ll be able to stretch it without an issue! Grocery store dough isn’t bad, but it’s stored in plastic bags that allow it to get squashed.
Sauce on Top of Cheese
We’re all used to seeing pizza makers toss their dough up in the air before ladling on pizza sauce. That may work in a pizzeria, but your home oven is different. You probably won’t reach the same temperature as your favorite pizzeria and that means your bake time will be longer. Cheese tends to burn when it’s in the oven that long. Even worse, it could break up and give you a river of oil as a result. The best way to avoid this is by placing cheese directly on the dough and applying sauce on top.
This method is nice because the cheese prevents the moisture from the tomato sauce from penetrating the dough and causing soggification. When you take a bit, your cheese won’t slide off because it adheres so nicely to the crust! I’m a big fan of sauce-on-top and I know Kelly Ripa loves it because she called out Mack and Manco’s on the Jersey shore as being one of her favorite pizzerias. Maybe one day I’ll do a road trip to the Jersey shore with Kelly and Ryan!
Pre-Heat Your Baking Surface
This is the big one. Someone emailed me the other day about his pizza not coming out so great. He was baking at 350°F. Your favorite pizzeria probably bakes between 500 and 900°F and that’s part of the reason their pizza comes out the way it does! Not only is it important to bake at a high temperature, it’s just as important to pre-heat your baking surface if you’re using one. By “baking surface,” I mean a pizza stone or baking steel. In the photo above and in the segment with Kelly and Ryan, I used a Baking Steel. I like these because they transfer heat really fast and they’re essentially indestructible. I heated mine up for over an hour at the studio so we could make a killer pie on it!
The point of a pizza stone is to transfer heat into your pizza via conduction. That can only happen if the stone or steel is preheated thoroughly. The 10 minute preheat your oven needs isn’t enough, your stone or steel needs more. Once it’s hot, you don’t want to remove it from the oven at all. Instead, you’ll use a wooden pizza peel to slide your pie onto the baking surface. If you’re using a baking sheet, there’s no need to preheat it at all.