Pizza from a chain restaurant can seem like an inexpensive dinner choice, but you’ll save big if you learn how to make your own pies. Here in Denver a large, hand-tossed cheese pizza from a popular chain is $12.24 with tax, and that doesn’t include delivery charges or a tip. Chain restaurant pizzas are made with processed ingredients, but you can make your own fantastic, authentic, hand-tossed cheese pizza with all organic ingredients for less than $4.00.
The first time I made a homemade pizza, I was dumbstruck by how much better it was than delivery pizza. The improvement in flavor was like comparing a home-grown summer tomato to one of those hard, pink, grocery store varieties – worlds apart. After I took a pizza baking class from my local Slow Food chapter at the Whole Foods bakery, I was hooked. The professional bakers taught us some tricks for making amazing homemade pizza, and now I’m going to share them with you – along with everything else I’ve learned about cooking pizzas nearly every week in a home oven.
If making homemade pizza sounds like a lot of trouble, I’m going to share our simple method—and you don’t need any fancy ingredients or equipment. I prepare the dough ahead and freeze several batches so we can have fresh pizza whenever we like. I can easily prepare a homemade pizza faster than one can be delivered from one of the pizza chains. Best of all, even though we use all-organic fresh ingredients it’s less than a third of the cost of a delivery pizza.
I’ve experimented with different techniques, and I keep coming back to simply shaping and baking the pizza on a plain ole’ metal pizza pan. I bought ours for $10 about ten years ago, and since I’m aiming for simple, family-style pizza I generally don’t bother with the pizza stone and the peel and all that. But you certainly can if you’re feeling motivated.
The first step is to prepare the dough. I’ve included two recipes here. The first is a variation on the recipe we learned from the professional bakers at the class, and it takes 24 hours from start to finish so you do have to plan ahead. The base of the recipe is a Poolish, or “sponge” that you make one day ahead. This pre-fermenting step allows more time for yeast and enzymes to develop starch and proteins in the dough, which in turn creates greater complexities of flavor. The dough also goes through several steps of rising and kneading. The resulting crust is fantastic – crisp and slightly chewy, similar to what you might get in a great wood-fired pizza restaurant.
The second recipe, which is based on The Pioneer Woman’s, can be prepared on the same afternoon you have a hankering for homemade pizza. The dough is softer and slightly less chewy, but it’s still a hundred times better than delivery pizza crust.
Both recipes call for bread flour, which has a 12 to 14 percent protein content and will make the nice, elastic dough that creates great pizza crust. But if you don’t have bread flour, no sweat! Just use all-purpose flour and it’ll turn out fine. Also, you’ll save a ton of money if you pick up a bag of all-purpose instant yeast instead of using those little packets. The recipes below will work just fine with either type of yeast.
I freeze unbaked pizza dough by separating it into half-pound balls. After flattening the balls slightly, I freeze them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then I store the them in individual zip-lock plastic bags that I’ve brushed with a little olive oil. I thaw the dough in the refrigerator 24 hours prior to cooking, or on the counter for about an hour prior to cooking. (To reuse the bags, just tuck them back into the freezer until the next time you make pizza dough.)
Are you ready to get started?
Pizza Dough Recipe #1
Note: You need to start this recipe 24 hours before you want to bake pizza. For a same-afternoon pizza, see recipe #2 below.
- 1 1/4 cups bread flour
- 3/4 cup water at 70 degrees F
- 1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast
In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients until well-blended. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours.
Pizza Crust Recipe:
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 3/4 cup spelt or whole wheat flour (or just use additional bread flour)
- 1 3/4 cup hot water at 140 degrees F, or as hot as you can get it from the tap
- 1 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
- 1 recipe Poolish (see above)
Combine the flours, hot water, salt and yeast by hand, just until incorporated. Let the dough rest, covered, for about 30 minutes. Add the olive oil, honey and Poolish and mix by hand until incorporated, kneading for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest again, covered, for another 30 minutes.
On a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough for 5 minutes:
Cover and rest for 20 minutes. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes, then cover and rest for another 20 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 or 5 pieces, lightly pre-shape into round pieces and cover and rest for 20 more minutes. Bake according to directions below.
Pizza Dough Recipe #2
This is a good all-purpose recipe for when you want to bake a homemade pizza that same night. The dough needs just one rise, and it’s ready an hour or two after you combine the ingredients. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, now’s the time to use it!
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 teaspoon dry yeast
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl combine the warm water and yeast. Stir to combine and let sit for a few minutes, until bubbly. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), combine the flour and salt. Using the low speed of an electric mixer or your hands, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and the yeast/water mixture. Mix until the dough comes together, like this:
Pull the dough into a ball and knead it for two minutes. If it’s too moist, add a little flour. If it’s too stiff, add a few drops of water. Continue kneading for two to three more minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Brush the bowl with a little olive oil, and place the dough inside. Flip it over to coat the bottom with oil, then cover with a damp dishtowel. Let the dough sit in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until doubled in volume:
Divide the dough in two equal pieces if you want a thicker crust, or into thirds if you want a thinner crust.
Easy Pizza Sauce Recipe
True confession time: sometimes I use a can of Hunt’s spaghetti sauce seasoned with a little oregano to top kid-friendly pizzas. A 28-ounce can costs $1 on sale and tops three large pizzas. Most of the time, however, we want a simple, traditionally-flavored sauce with rich tomato flavor to top the pie.
Here’s a super easy recipe that nicely fits the bill:
- 2 cups tomato puree or 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon ground dried oregano
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mix together the tomato puree and tomato paste until smooth. Stir in the oregano, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. Makes about 2 2/3 cups of sauce, or enough for 2 large pizzas.
For grown-up pizzas, you can simply pulse a can of drained, Italian San Marzano tomatoes in the food processor until they are lightly blended but still chunky. Season to your liking, and you’re good to go. Or skip the red sauce altogether, and try a drizzle of olive oil.
Cooking the Pizza
Preheat the oven to 550 degrees F or your oven’s highest setting, and put the oven rack right in the middle. If you have a convection setting, turn it on. If you have a pizza stone you want to use, put it in the oven on the rack now and let it get nice and hot. If you don’t have a pizza stone, no problem – your pizza is still going to be crispy, chewy and GREAT.
Now, use your hands to pat and stretch the dough on lightly greased baking sheet to the desired shape and thickness. I don’t recommend using a rolling pin, because it will compress the dough and eliminate those wonderful air bubbles that give your pizza crust snap. Initially the dough may keep pulling back, and it may seem like it will never fit the pan. But keep working with it, and in a few minutes it will relax and stretch out. We like our pizza crust quite thin, so I try to stretch it as far out as possible without tearing the dough:
I like to bake the untopped pizza in the oven for three minutes to set the crust. This keeps the pizza from getting soggy when you add the sauce and toppings. Remove the pale, barely-baked crust from the oven:
Next, add your desired sauce. I tend to use more sauce when I’m making pizza for kids:
Finally, add your toppings. For some kids, this may mean simply a generous sprinkling of your favorite grated cheese. You can, of course, make the pie half-and-half for family members who like different toppings:
If you prebaked the pizza for three minutes, you can now easily slide it on a hot pizza stone if you like. I usually just leave it on the pan, but you may not be as lazy as I am. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes if you’re baking it on the pan, or until the edges of the crust are a golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. (One of the things the professional bakers said in our class is, “Home cooks never cook their pizzas long enough.” So make sure the crust is good and golden brown before you take it out of the oven.) Here’s a pie we made with half cheese, half Canadian bacon:
While the pizza is baking, I like to make a little garlic flavor for the crust. Just combine 1 tablespoon of melted butter or extra virgin olive oil with 1 clove of minced garlic:
Right when you take the pizza out of the oven, give the hot crust a quick brush with the sauce:
Ingredients for Pizza Toppings
Here’s a pie we made recently topped with sliced fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, spinach and basil:
You likely have your own favorite combination of ingredients, but if you’re looking for fresh inspiration you might like to try:
- Barbeque sauce
- Alfredo sauce
- Pesto sauce (make your own!)
- Goat cheese
- Fresh mozzarella slices
- Fresh ricotta cheese (make your own!)
- Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- Pepperoni slices
- Cooked, crumbled ground beef
- Cooked, crumbled sausage
- Cooked, crumbled bacon
- Sliced grilled chicken
- Canadian bacon slices
- Sliced prosciutto
- Baby shrimp
- Fresh tomatoes, sliced and drained
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Caramelized onions
- Thinly sliced red onion
- Sliced mushrooms
- Sliced roasted eggplant
- Sliced bell peppers
- Roasted red peppers
- Sliced giardineria or banana peppers
- Sliced black or green olives
- Roasted garlic
- Sliced jalapenos
- Roasted asparagus spears
- Thinly sliced roasted new potatoes
- Chopped artichoke hearts
- Basil leaves
- Thinly sliced sage leaves
- Lightly sauteed spinach leaves
- Pineapple chunks
- Crushed red pepper
So there you have it. I didn’t mean to write quite such a book, but hopefully this long post will inspire you to bake some amazingly delicious pizza pies at home. Whether you regularly make homemade pizza or are ready to give it a try for the first time, you know we’d all love to hear your thoughts, questions, suggestions and experiences.
P.S. What are your favorite pizza topping combinations? Please share them in the comments section below!