My Take On Thin-Crust Pizza After 30 Days Of Making Them
Since I started making my pizzas at home again about 30 days ago I have learned several things that I would like to pass along..Some of the things I have learned since last making pizzas at home a decade ago have come out of books, some things I have learned from tips & suggestions from other members here, and some I have just figured out for myself through making about 20 pizzas in the last 30 days..
First, I would like to thank the editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine for their little 96-page hardbound book, How To Make Pizza..Even though I am an experienced chef, with a fair amount of both home & professional baking experience behind me; I still did not know very much about making, or baking pizzas..It was something that I had just not ever focused my attentions upon learning to do..
So, what have I learned recently??..
1. I truly prefer thin-crust pizza to all other types..You can have the Chicago deep dish, the New York pan, the normal crust, the grilled, etc..
2. I like the crust at the rim of the pizza to be REALLY crisp, almost bordering on cracker crispy..
3. The easiest way to make pizza dough is in a food processor, unless you are going to make a really big batch of dough so that you can roll out and freeze a large number of pizza shells..Then, a stand mixer is probably in order, unless you do not mind making the dough in batches..
4. Do not worry about making perfectly round pizza shells when rolling them out..Out-of-round pizzas taste just as good as those that are perfect circles..
5. Making a large batch of dough, rolling out the shells until they are approximately 10" in diameter x 3/16" thick, placing the shells betweem sheets of parchment paper, freezing the stack of 10-20 shells until all of them are rock hard, trimming the parchment so that there is a 1"-1.5" border extending out around the shells, and freezing the stack of shells in a 2.25-gallon zippered food storage bag; is the easiest way to have pizza available to eat whenever you want to..
6. Fresh dough that is rolled out very thin has a greater oven spring than does frozen dough, resulting in a thicker crust, especially at the rim..
7. I prefer the thinness of the frozen pizza shell, and its baked texture, to the fresh shell that is baked without being frozen..
8. A frozen shell can be transformed into a ready-to-eat pizza in 30-40 minutes..While the oven and baking stone are heating up to 450F-475F, the frozen pizza shell, resting on its parchment circle, is defrosting to room temperature on a wire cooling rack..
9. The easiest way to prepare tomato sauce for pizza is in a blender, preferably a blender that has a removeable blade assembly so that as much of the sauce as possible can be scraped out of the blender..
10. There is absolutely no need to further cook the tomatoes out of a can to create a tomato sauce, UNLESS you want to create a thicker, less watery sauce..
11. Put the canned, diced tomatoes in the blender along with whatever spices and seasonings that you like, puree the mixture for however long it takes to pulverize the largest ingredients, and allow the mixture to macerate at room temperature for 1-2 hours right in the blender carafe..Or, the container that you are going to refrigerate the sauce in..
12. ALL of the toppings for the pizza MUST be at room temperature, or hotter, in order for the thin crust to complete baking in the center of the pizza..Cold ingredients are a definite NO-NO, and will result in soggy, undercooked dough..
13. There is no need to use semolina or cornmeal on the peel when putting the shell onto the peel prior to sliding the pizza onto the hot stone..I have been reading with some interest the comments here at TFL regarding putting pizza into the oven on a hot stone with a piece of parchment paper under the shell instead of using cornmeal or semolina under the shell..For the most part I had regarded this practice with some skepticism, as it is just not a practice that many professional bakers choose to employ..However, the day before yesterday, I had intended to bake off two pies..I made the mistake of allowing the shells to defrost for too long on the parchment paper..The result was a shell that stuck to the parchment somewhat when I tried to transfer it onto the cornmeal coated peel prior to topping it, and baking it..The shell stuck to my unfloured fingers & hand and when I tried to flip it off my hand & fingers it stuck to them, got tangled up, stuck to itself, and had to be tossed out as unuseable..For the second pizza I decided to bake it on the parchment..I topped the pizza, slid it onto the peel, placed it on the stone, and baked it off..Voila!!!..Problem solved!!..Within 1-2 minutes the parchment can be pulled out from under the pizza, if desired..Or, left under the pizza until it finishes baking..
14. These thin-crust pizzas usually take about 7 minutes to bake in order for the crust to be crispy at the rim..Sometimes, a little longer if the oven has cooled down when baking more than 1 pizza at a time..
15. Most of these thin-crust pizzas will benefit from having the shell brushed with a thin layer of good olive oil prior to putting the formal toppings on the pizza..The better the olive oil, within reason, the better the final taste of the pizza..The oil does four things..First, it allows any flour on the top side of the pizza to mix with the oil and become incorporated into the uncooked dough; thus reducing the possibility of any uncooked flour taste in the cooked pizza..Second, it helps the pizza to not dry out too much as it bakes at 450F-500F..Third, it acts as a barrier to the moisture content in any of the toppings, thus preventing the dough from getting too soggy..Fourth, it adds flavor, especially if the olive oil is highly flavored..
16. For pesto-based pizzas it is not necessary to use olive oil on the crust first..The pesto itself has more than enough oil in it to accomplish the above four things..Pesto plus olive oil made for a soggy crust that I did not like..Just be sure to try and spread the pesto evenly over the shell, covering it completely..
17. Cheese, to be specific too much cheese, too thick of a layer of cheese, is the enemy of thin-crust pizza..If too much cheese is placed on the pizza, then the rim of the crust will burn to a crisp before the center of the crust finishes baking..Rather than going with the traditional, shredded, dried mozzarella cheese, try using pungent, more flavorable cheeses that can be used sparingly, yet that will add a lot of flavor..
18. The same admonition towards too much cheese applies just the same to any other ingredient toppings..If the toppings are too thick, than the crust's rim is going to char by the time the center of the pie finishes baking..
19. Toppings work best, and the pie bakes more evenly, when the toppings after the tomato sauce are cut into small pieces..Pepperoni, for example, I found to work better if I cut it into small pieces instead of whole circles..Cutting the pie with a pizza wheel is easier when the pieces are small, especially if the pizza is topped with hard , cured meats like pepperoni, salami, proscuitto, etc..
20. Try just about any food that you like for a topping, especially if you are not using cheese on the pie..Most vegetables, and most meats, will taste pretty good..As someone that has only recently come to grips with a life long mild milk allergy, I am finding cheeseless pizzas to be both a challenge, and also very rewarding..
The past 30 days have been interesting, to say the least..I have learned an awful lot about pizza making..Thanks to all of the members here at TFL that have contributed to any of the pizza threads over the past several months..I appreciate your knowledge, and your willingness to share that knowledge..