Pizza. It’s one of America’s favorite dishes, served thin crust, deep dish, round, square and even all-out gourmet, topped with ingredients like sliced grilled pears and gorgonzola cheese. Other than for convenience, there’s no reason you cannot make pizza in your farmstead kitchen that’s better than anything at a restaurant—especially if you’re growing your own ingredients.
As with making other bakery treats, there are some techniques and a few details that will allow your pizza to turn out as good, if not better, than a chef’s. At a Sur La Table’s cooking class in Skokie, Ill., Chef Alison Honiotes helped us demystify the process of making a thin-crust pizza in your home oven.
To get a crisp pizza crust, you’ll need to purchase a pizza stone. To prepare the stone for baking, place it in a cold oven on the lowest rack and set he oven to the highest temperature, 500 to 550 degrees F. To prevent the stone from cracking, do not put the cold stone in a hot oven. Pre-heat the stone for about 30 minutes.
You’ll also need a pizza peel, a flat pan with a handle. With the pizza peel, you can easily slide the completely assembled pizza onto the hot stone in the oven.
Pizza can be a quickly prepared meal if you have the dough prepared in advance. To get the perfect pizza dough, pay particular attention to activating the yeast. “Yeast is a living thing,” Chef Alison explains. “So when you add warm water, it should be about 96 degrees to 104 degrees F. Our normal resting body temperature is 98.6 degrees F, so when you put a finger in the water, it should be about the same temperature, not much hotter or cooler. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast.”
Place water in a small bowl and sprinkle in yeast. Then cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. For a pizza dough recipe with yeast, see our La Fortuna-style Pizza recipe. (To forego the yeast altogether, make a non-rising dough using our Quick Summer Harvest Pizza recipe.)
In a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and salt, add the yeast mixture, and mix on low speed. Add the additional water and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Shape the dough into a smooth ball, and place it in a large bowl with a little flour to prevent it from sticking. Cover with plastic and let rise for about 1½ hours or until dough has roughly doubled in size. This is the proofing stage.
When the dough is ready, use a knife or bench dough scraper to divide it into two equal pieces. With lightly floured hands, press out any bubbles that might have formed in the dough. Then place the dough on a floured surface to roll out with a rolling pin or by hand, starting in the center and working outward in a circular direction.
Lightly cover the pizza peel with corn meal, and place one rolled-out crust onto it. Give the pizza peel a quick shake to make sure the crust doesn’t stick.
Chef Alison shared a simple recipe for uncooked tomato sauce that calls for about 28 ounces of whole, peeled tomatoes with seeds removed. Using a strainer placed over a bowl, drain the tomatoes of excess liquid. Transfer tomatoes, two cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil to a medium bowl. With three or four pulses of an immersion blender, purée the ingredients until the sauce has a coarse consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. To keep your assembly process smooth, prepare the sauce in advance.
Cover the pizza crust with tomato sauce, and add your favorite toppings. Be sure to cook any vegetables or meat in advance. “Pizza is like a blank canvas,” Chef Alison says. “Experiment and have fun. If you like a certain combination of foods, it probably will taste good on a pizza.”
Slide completed pizza into oven and bake until crust is golden-brown and cheese is melted. Use the pizza peel to remove the pizza from the oven. Let the pizza rest one to two minutes to make cutting easier. If your toppings include herbs, like fresh basil, add them at the end, tearing into small pieces and sprinkling on top.
Slide pizza onto cutting board, and use a pizza cutter to slice into wedges.
Savoring the good life,