I made all the mistakes so you don’t have to.
It has recently become my mission to master the art of homemade pizza. Because if I’m going to be known for being really good at making something, what better dish than a cheesy pie? Plus, there’s an infinite amount of room for growth and creativity (new toppings! whole wheat crust!), so I knew this was a project I could really dig into. A few weeks back, I decided I would make pizza every Sunday night, building upon what I learned the week prior. While I haven't achieved perfection (my pizza tossing skills could use some serious work), here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
Fresh Dough Will Always Make a Better Crust Than Frozen
While nothing beats a homemade crust (we made it easy for you with step-by-step instructions), you can also find fresh pizza dough in the refrigerator section of many grocery stores nationwide, including Whole Foods. If your local supermarket sells fresh pizza but you don’t see any dough, ask the employee behind the pizza counter. Chances are, they’ll sell you a 1-pound ball of dough for less than $4. Another option? Your local pizza joint. Call ahead and ask if they’ll sell you some fresh dough (if you’re lucky, they might even shape it for you).
Let the Dough Come to Room Temperature Before Shaping
I know, you’re hungry, and you want pizza ASAP. But you will thank yourself come dinnertime if you follow this simple rule. Room temperature pizza dough is much easier to stretch, so you can work it into your desired shape without having it shrink back up on you, or worse, tearing holes in it. If you just picked up your dough for dinner and truly don't have time to wait, senior editor Brigitt Earley told me she turns her oven onto the lowest setting and sets the dough on top. This quickens the warming process without cooking the dough.
Dust Your Baking Surface With Cornmeal
Whether you’re baking your pie on a pizza stone or an overturned baking sheet, dust your surface with cornmeal before adding the dough. Trust me—this will keep your crust from becoming one with your baking sheet. Oh, and make sure you’re happy with the shape of your dough before laying it onto the baking surface. If you pick it back up and re-work it, the cornmeal will come with it, leaving you with a now-bare surface that the dough is sure to stick to. If you are using a baking sheet, feel free to shape your pie into a rectangle, which is often easier than a circle.
Skip the Jar and Make a Quick No-Cook Pizza Sauce
It takes two seconds, and you’ll taste the difference. Drain a can of whole peeled tomatoes, pour ‘em into a food processor, add a glug of olive oil, a splash of red wine or sherry vinegar, a clove of garlic, a pinch of kosher salt, a dash of red pepper flakes (if you like your sauce on the spicy side), several grinds black pepper, and pulse until smooth. Done!
Use a Block of Low-Moisture Mozzarella Instead of Fresh
This may seem counterintuitive—wouldn't you want to use a freshly-made ball of buffalo mozzarella? Not unless you want a soggy pizza. Instead, buy a block of low-moisture mozzarella and grate it yourself, which will melt into cheesy perfection on your pizza. I like to add a second type of cheese, too, whether that's freshly grated Parmesan or dollops of ricotta.
Bake the Pizza at 500°F on the Lowest Oven Rack
To create a pie that resembles one from your favorite wood-fired pizza joint, you want your oven scorching hot. This not only means baking your pizza at this temperature, but also pre-heating your baking surface, too. Because heat comes from the bottom of the oven and then circulates to the top, the bottom of your crust will get nice and crispy, and your cheese will melt—but not burn. A pizza baked in the middle or top of the oven won’t achieve the same crunchy crust. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through baking, too, to ensure every side cooks evenly. Making two pizzas at once? Our Food Director Dawn Perry told me she bakes hers right on the bottom of the oven. Genius!
Add Fresh Herbs Just Before Serving
You likely know that fresh herbs such as basil and oregano will get sad if you bake them with the rest of the pizza. But even if you wait and sprinkle them on when you take it out of the oven, the intense heat and steam will cause them to immediately wilt and brown. Instead, wait until just before serving, when your pie has likely cooled down a bit. Speaking of your hot pie, it can be a doozy to slice. Try using scissors to get a nice clean cut.