I have made eleven pizzas since Saturday night. Eleven.
That’s seven batches of dough, five pounds of four different flours, a container of Pomi strained tomatoes, four pounds of mozzarella, and a bunch of basil. Whew.
No, I did not eat eleven whole pizzas. Not even close. I tasted eight of them, gave a lot to my roommates, fed two to the family I work for, and deposited three directly into the trash. You see, I was on a mission. I wanted to see if I could make restaurant-quality pizza at home–without a stone, peel, or an oven that reaches 1000F.
I don’t think I’ll be putting Di Fara out of business anytime soon, but yes, I can in fact make a high quality pizza in my home oven. And now, so can you.
Now, I’m sure many of you have made pizza–probably very good pizza–at home. I have too, but it was never anything like the pizza I want when I go out with friends. Where their pizzas are paper thin, delicate, and charred to perfection, mine have traditionally been thick and bready, with a yeasty flavor and pale crust. I’m not saying those pizzas were tough to eat; I’m just saying that, after this past weekend, I don’t think I’ll spend so much time daydreaming about the pizzeria six blocks away.
So, how do I make quality pizza in an apartment oven that barely reaches 500F? Well, it’s simpler than I ever imagined it could be.
First things first–every great pizza starts with great dough. Mine is simple to make, doesn’t require any unusual flours, and comes together quickly. Just whisk together flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt, then stir in water and olive oil until a shaggy dough forms. I find this easiest to do with my hand, but I’m sure a silicone spatula works too.
Once the dough is formed, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then knead it on a floured surface until smooth, about seven minutes. That’s fun for me–I love to knead. If kneading is not your favorite task, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Just let it run on low for seven minutes.
Use a sharp knife to divide the kneaded dough into two pieces. Form them into balls, place them on a floured baking sheet, and brush them with olive oil. Cover them with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour. The dough will expand into two large, thick discs.
Now it’s time to make the pizzas. Before you do anything else, preheat your oven to 500F. It needs to heat for at least an hour–it should be screaming hot. If you have an in-oven broiler, place a rack about six inches away from the heating element.
Take one disc of dough, lifting it with the tops of your hands. Let gravity stretch it while you slowly move your hands in a circular fashion. The dough is very delicate and will stretch in a minute or so. Gently lay the stretched dough on a floured baking sheet, shaping it as necessary. Pinch the edges lightly to form a crust. Repeat this process with the other disc of dough.
Next, top the pizzas. Today’s recipe is for a classic Pizza Margherita, topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I like to use Pomi strained tomatoes for my sauce, but use any sauce you like. Spread it around each pizza crust, leaving the pinched border bare. Top them with torn fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.
Baking the pizzas is a two step process and neither is what you might expect. Instead of being baked on a rack, the pizzas are baked in their pans on the oven floor. Yes, the oven floor. This is the poor (wo)man’s way of getting a crisp bottom crust without having to work with (or even own) a pizza stone. Bake the pizzas for about seven minutes–when you take them out of the oven, lift the edges with a spatula to make sure the bottom crust has some good color.
Next up, broil the pizzas. I know this sounds drastic, but a 500F oven will never give you the blistered cheese and singed crust that the broiler will. This is a quick process; it usually takes me 2 1/2-3 minutes. This step will give the pizzas a sort of charred flavor, not unlike those at your favorite coal oven pizzeria.
Once the pizzas are to your liking, remove them from the broiler. Top them immediately with some grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, and some torn fresh basil. Let them cool for a few minutes before transferring them to cutting boards and slicing them up.
These pizzas, y’all. They’re thin and delicate, but have a good crisp edge and chewy crusts. Oh, and the flavors. It goes without saying that the combination of tomato, mozzarella, and basil is an unbeatable classic, and the slight char from the broiling step brings it over the top. You won’t be able to stop at just one slice!
And that, my friends, is how you make pizza reminiscent of your favorite pizzeria at home. All you need is a little dough, a few toppings, some time, and eleven test-pizzas worth of ingenuity.
makes enough for 2 12-inch pizzas
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (instructions for regular yeast below)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for brushing
1 cup lukewarm tap water
In a medium-large mixing bowl, stir together flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt. Add olive oil and water. Mix with your hand or a silicone spatula just until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.
Flour a surface and your hands. Turn dough onto the surface and knead until smooth, about 7 minutes. Form dough into a ball. Divide dough ball into two pieces and form those into balls. Heavily flour a rimmed baking sheet (or two dinner plates). Place dough balls in opposite corners and brush any exposed dough with olive oil. Wrap pan in plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free environment for 60-70 minutes, until doubled in size. Proceed with pizza-making.
You may also use regular active dry yeast, but the recipe needs a few adjustments. All volumes stay the same. Start by dissolving sugar and yeast into the lukewarm tap water. Let sit 5-10 minutes, until yeast bubbles (proofs). If your yeast does not bubble, it is dead–start the recipe again with new yeast. In a medium-large mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add olive oil and yeast mixture. Use your hand or a silicone spatula to mix until just combined. Cover bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Proceed with recipe as written, keeping in mind that the rise might take up to 90 minutes.
makes 2 12-inch pizzas, enough for 4-6 adults
1 batch Pizza Dough (2 dough balls)
6-8 tablespoons strained tomatoes, tomato purée, or other sauce, divided
8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces, divided
olive oil, for drizzling
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves, torn
If you have an in-oven broiler, place one rack about 6 inches from the heating element. Preheat oven to 500F for at least one hour–the entire oven needs to be very hot.
Flour 2 rimmed baking sheets, tapping out any excess.
Flour your hands. Working with one ball of risen pizza dough at a time, place your hands (palms down) underneath the dough, lifting it from the pan it rose on. Let dough stretch with gravity, moving your hands slowly in a circular motion to allow for even stretching. Gently place dough on one of the prepared pans. Stretch further with your fingertips until the desired shape is reached. Pinch the edges to form a crust. Set aside while you stretch and shape the other ball of dough.
Working with one pizza at a time, pour 3-4 tablespoons of sauce in the center. Use a spoon or ladle to spread the sauce in a circular motion, leaving blank space at the edge. Scatter torn mozzarella over the top. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside while you top the other pizza.
Working with one pizza at a time, bake pizza (in the lightly-floured pan) for 6-8 minutes on the floor of your oven. Remove from oven. Lift edges with a spatula to ensure bottom crust is browned. If it isn’t, bake for an additional 1-2 minutes, checking bottom crust after each minute. Repeat process with other pizza.
If you do not have an in-oven broiler, turn off oven and heat broiler for 5-10 minutes, until very hot. If you do have an in-oven broiler, turn it on and proceed immediately.
Broil each pizza 1-4 minutes, until crust and cheese are bubbly and a bit charred. Check pizzas after each minute, and every 30-45 seconds after the 2 minute mark. My pizzas broil in 2 1/2-3 minutes. I like to rotate the pans after 1 1/2 minutes for even browning. Let pizzas cool for five minutes in their pans.
Remove to cutting board(s). Top with grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, and torn fresh basil. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife (or pizza cutter) and serve. Wrap any leftovers in foil and store in the refrigerator.