Tuesday, July 10, 2012

From calzones to pizza: The "art" of homemade pizza

Don't worry - if the dough sticks, if you forget the flour, if you forget a pizza spatula, a calzone is a perfectly acceptable result...


Six years ago, during a rare snow day in DC, my girlfriend at the time and I decided to try and make homemade pizza. Arriving around lunch time, she brought over fresh dough from Whole Foods and an eclectic mix of toppings. Armed with memories from my college summer job at an Italian restaurant and a new pizza stone. We were ready.

Flour down. Oven at 475. Dough? Refusing to stay flat.

Oven preheated. Flour everywhere. Dough? Finally flat, cans of soup at the corners, like turrets on a castle, keeping the dough from contracting...(can you tell we're novices?)

Sauce. Cheese. Pepperoni. Black olives. Onions. Mushrooms. This is going to awesome.


No one ever tells you that when you're prepping pizza on your counter top, you'll need to somehow transfer said pizza into the oven. Its all fine and good with those ultra thin, sheet metal-like pizza spatulas. But your standard, encyclopedia-level thickness, $15 dollar, wooden spatula would be better suited for kindling.

Wedge. Pull. Knife. Flour. Wedge. Scrape. 1/3 of the pizza down.

The thin pizza combined with the lack of flour on the counter top squished our pizza. Dough was everywhere. Our solution? Go with the flow, finish folding the dough over. CALZONE TIME.

Second effort? Calzone time, part deux....

Fast forward...

But now six years later, its finally pizza time (did it take me six years to learn how to go from calzone to pizza? Yes, although I probably only make pizza about twice a year. But, um...disregard that thought while reading my tips below...)

Making dough is great (and more power to you if you're at this level) but you can't go wrong with store bought fresh dough - I know Whole Foods sells it, other places should as well.

I go "dough to oven" and skip the "counter top middle man" - I have yet to figure out how to get the dough to lay flat on a counter top without it contracting. My first approach was to take some dough, add flour, kind of toss it around, stretch it, maybe use a rolling pin a little bit, and finally take four cans of soup to each of the corners. Once souped up, I'd let the dough sit for a minute or two, and then finally the dough seemed to cooperate. But I'd still be left with the whole counter top-to-oven, calzone problem...

Since then, I've found that my best strategy is to work the dough with your hands, continuing to rotate it like a disc, slowly letting gravity do the work. Once the dough is of proper oblong size, my sous chef pulls open the oven door, and I put the dough directly on the hot pizza stone. This seems to fix my contracting dough problem...

I avoid the "calzone" problem by topping the pizza in the oven - I may lose about a minute or two of heat, but I'll sacrifice that for serving pizza not rolls of dough.

Use a pizza stone AND keep it hot - I preheat my oven to 475 degrees. I avoid cookie sheets. I avoid the metal grates. That $20 pizza stone will give you some incredible crust.

Still attempting deep dish pizza in my cast-iron skillet - I'm almost there. I tried it for the first time (sans internet help) last week. I feel like I'll only need about 3 more years to perfect it.

You don't need a pizza cutter - A cleaver. A chef's knife. All perfectly acceptable slicing tools.

The salad bar is an excellent avenue to forage for toppings that would be too expensive to buy a la carte

The six years in the making "recipe:"
  • Store bought dough
  • Sauce
  • Cheese
  • Foraged salad bar toppings

  1. Preheat oven to 475
  2. Take a baseball-sized portion of dough and use your best technique to get it pizza-topping-worthy (see my method above)
  3. Cook dough for 2-3 minutes BY ITSELF
  4. During this time, get your sauce, cheese, and toppings prepped and close to the oven
  5. Open the oven, and use a knife to poke out any air bubbles
  6. Prep the pizza while its still in the oven. Shoot for a two minute pit crew time. (The pizza stone just seems wayyy to hot to pull out of the oven)
  7. Close. Timer to 10 minutes. (If you use fresh herbs or other high-heat sensitive toppings, try putting them on with about 3 minutes left)
  8. After 10 minutes check the state of the crust. The crust will tell you everything. (With my oven and two topping rounds, it takes about 16/17 minutes)
  9. Once the crust looks good, use your giant spatula to remove pizza
  10. Transfer to cutting board.
  11. Cut.
  12. Eat.
Four interesting good pizza combinations:
  • Bacon + Blue Cheese + Red Onion
  • Black Olive + Pepperoni + Fresh Basil
  • Black Olive + Tomato + Cilantro + Feta 
  • Tomato + Cilantro + Jalapeno + Red Onion 

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