The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My Take On Thin-Crust Pizza After 30 Days Of Making Them

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baltochef's picture
baltochef

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..


Bruce


 

allysnina's picture
allysnina

For a standard crust, I spread the dough on a pizza pan (the one with the tiny holes)...then before I add any sauce or toppings, I put it in a PRE HEATED oven for about 5 minutes or so, until the crust is just "set", then I remove from oven and add the toppings, sauce, etc. This is a great tip and you'll never have soggy crust!

allysnina's picture
allysnina

I meant to say that at that point I put it back in the oven till done....

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

My experience with home made pizza has been exactly the same as yours (although you have done more with rolled, frozen dough).  I have been using a lean dough with about 80% hydration that oftens turns out very elastic, but not as extensible as I would like, i.e., when I try to work/toss/roll it out larger it tends to spring back; sometimes it tears before it gets as large as I would like.  


What's your dough formula and is there anything I can do to improve extensibility, other than letting the dough rest for a while if it springs back?


 


Thanks


 


 

niagaragirl's picture
niagaragirl

Never thought of heating some of the ingredients a bit.  I never put them on fride cold, but the little bit of preheat would probably help. My own pizzas are getting better. Thx for the tip.

samsara's picture
samsara

I completely agree on using different cheeses.  I have been using some gorgonzola on mine lately and love it.  I still add a little mozzarella to fill in some of the gaps (a little gorgonzola goes a long way).  I also rarely use tomato sauce any more because I am very happy with using a little olive oil with herbs.


 


I also have been doing the parchment method for pizza and breads and it works great.  Another option I tried today was using some of the pita bread that I made yesterday for a "personal" sized pizza on pita bread.  I just topped it, put it in the oven and got everything warm and melted and it was quick and delicious.


 


I highly recommend the dough recipe from the pizza primer on this site.  I make five dough balls at a time and keep one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer until I'm ready to use them.  The sauce recipe there is very good too.


 


I am now ruined for any pizza other than mine  :-)


 


Dave

baltochef's picture
baltochef

louiscohen


I am using a recipe, slightly modified, from the book I mentioned above, How To Make Pizza by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine..Approximately 3.7 ounces of this dough rolls out just fine to a roughly 10" daimeter  x 3/16" thick pizza shell..


My Pizza Dough Recipe For A 7-Cup Food Processor


10 oz. bread flour


1 oz. margarine, 45F (refrigerator temperature)


2 teaspoons granulated sugar


1 teaspoon table salt


1 teaspoon instant yeast (I use SAF Gold brand)


6.05 oz. water, 80F


Yield: Approximately 18 oz. of raw dough -- Five 3.7 oz. balls of dough -- Five 10" pizza shells


The bread flour is weighed out and placed into the bowl of the food processor followed by the sugar and salt..Cover the bowl and pulse several times to evenly mix the ingredients..Remove the lid, add the margarine in 1/4 ounce chunks evenly distributed arould the bowl, replace the lid, and pulse 5-10 times for 30 seconds to cut the fat into the flour mixture..With the motor running, and the small feed tube removed, pour the 6.05 ounces of water into the bowl, taking care to pour it cleanly through the center of the opening..The dough sholud come together in a ball and bounce around the inside of the bowl off of the side, bottom, and the underside of the lid..After the ball of dough fully forms, run the processor for NO more than 30 seconds..Avoid over kneading the dough at all costs..This is really easy to do, as the blade of a food processor spins roughly 10 times as fast as the average stand mixer does at bread kneading speeds..Kneading, and therefore gluten development, is accomplished FAR more quickly than in a stand mixer..


Remove the dough from the food processor..Repeat the process if you are making multiple batches so as to freeze pizza shells for future use..Knead on a countertop with your hands for 1-2 minutes until the dough is smooth and satiny..Place in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap to rise until doubled at room temperature, approximately 60 minutes..If you want to speed the process up, pre-heat your oven for 10 minutes at 200F prior to starting to make the dough..Turn the oven off, place the covered bowl of dough in the oven on a middle rack, prop open the door approximately 1/2" with the handle of a wooden spoon, and it should reduce the proofing time to 30-40 minutes..


Once the dough has doubled in volume, remove it from the bowl, scale out 3.7 ounce portions, round each portion up tightly into a ball, place on a lightly floured conntertop, cover with a non-scented plastic bag, and allow to rest for 30 minutes to relax..


On a well-floured countertop, or work surface, place the first ball of dough, keeping the others covered..Using the tips of the fingers of both hands, rapidly poke into the ball of dough, flattening it until it is approximately 4"-6" in diameter..Keeping the work surface, and the dough itself, well floured, roll out the dough until it is approximately 10" in diameter..While you are rolling the dough out you want to constantly turn the dough around its axis, as well as flipping the dough over so that the side touching the work surface is now the side being touched by the rolling pin..


Every so often while rolling out the circle of dough, you want to put the rolling pin down, and with the tips of the fingers of both hands, lift up the edges of the dough circle closest to you..Gently shake the dough quickly up and down so that ripples flow through the piece of dough from front to back..Front being where you are holding the piece of dough with both hands..This relaxes the dough, and helps to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface..


The number one reason that dough tears when trying to stretch it out thin is because the dough is sticking to the work surface..Period..The second most common reason that doughs tear is because they are made with a flour that has too low of a protein content..All-purpose flour is more lilely to tear when tyring to make thin-crust pizza than will bread flours..


I do not worry myself with trying to make perfectly round shells..Out of round is OK..


Bruce

caryn's picture
caryn

Bruce- I found your whole analysis on making pizza most inspiring.  I really like the idea of making a number of shells for the freezer. I do have a couple of questions, though.  First, why margarine? Why not use olive oil instead?  Secondly, your measurements in ounces seem more exact than most of us could measure with our scales.  Did you really mean 6.05 ounces or 6.5ounces?  I actually prefer to measure in grams to avoid decimals anyway. Thank you.  I willl appreciate your clarification.

AndreaReina's picture
AndreaReina

Bruce (and this may be a little late into the discussion), have you tried a pizza marinara? This is probably the simplest cheeseless pizza you can make, and one of my personal favourites, along with margherita -- I am of the opinion that these two are the very definition of perfect pizzas.


The sauce is simply tomato pizza sauce topped with minced garlic. Out of the oven, with a dribble of extra virgin olive oil, it is absolutely heavenly.


Regarding too much cheese, it is unfortunately true that many people (myself included, at times) put more cheese than is necessary, with the result that the cheese dominates, instead of being part of a complex whole. The best pizza I have tasted had little enough cheese that the tomato sauce could be seen peeking out from beneath it. Another thing that can be tried is to put the cheese on halfway through the bake -- this allows the pizza to cook appropriately without burining the cheese. Cheese brought just past the point of melting has a different flavour profile than that of cheese brought ot the point of bubbling.

buns of steel's picture
buns of steel

Thanks Bruce for your excellent and insightful post, and even better for saving me 30 days of experimentation!


 


 

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

I've been a DIY pizza freak for a while too, and after similar experimenting to you, baltochef, I made a breakthrough - SOURDOUGH pizzas. Whatever you think you know at the moment, just give sourdough pizzas a try. There is no comparison between these and the standard dry yeast versions in terms of flavour. Retard for 2 -4 days in the fridge and I promise you, you will never go back to dry yeast. Also, sourdough is particularly good for thin crust pizzas.


BTW, sourdough was the original Italian pizza dough, and is still used in the most traditional pizzerias. This really is a case of original is best.


Finally, for the BEST pizza resource on the web - that I have come across, at least - check this site out: Jeff Varasano's pizzas

davesmall's picture
davesmall

There is some good info here. That's for posting.


I've also been trying to perfect thin crust pizza and have been having great success of late. Here are my observations.


The crust needs to be crisp all the way. That is, when you pick up a pie shaped piece of pizza you don't want the point to droop.


When it comes to toppings, less is more. Too much topping insulates the top of the dough which may not then fully cook. A thin layer of raw dough beneath the topping is not what you want.


Italian bakers bake in a very hot (700 degree) oven which our home ovens can't match. To compensate for the cooler (450 degrees) oven I pre-bake the shell for about 5 to 7 minutes on a pizza stone (or on a BBQ grill). Then I flip the shell over and put the toppings on what was the bottom. First I brush with olive oil and then go lightly with the toppings. The goal is to get the thin crust crispness just right while barely cooking the toppings.


My best results have come from toppings that avoid slathering the dough with tomato sauce.  Here is one topping that comes out really great. 


Buy those little grape size tomatoes which are loaded with flavor any time of the year. Cut them lengthwise into 4 pieces. Place in a plastic bag or lidded jar and marinate for 30 minutes  with some good olive oil and one or two cloves of crushed garlic.  These tomatoes alone make a good topping but you can jazz it up by adding some sauteed bacon or ham squares and chopped scallions. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.


 

turosdolci's picture
turosdolci

I use Passata di Pomodori or fresh cherry tomatoes. You can buy passata in US markets now. Most Italians have a bottle of this in their frig because it can be used in many recipes. I never use tomato sauce. I often freeze the dough as I want it available when I feel like having a pizza. I cook the pizza in my fireplace over wood burning coals. I use all kinds of cheese and really like goat cheese and fresh basil. But often put the cheese on the last few minutes of the cooking especially mozzarella.This way the top of the dough cooks and doesn't get soggy. The toppings you can use are endless. I bought a very thin metal grate at Surfers in Culver City, CA awhile ago - I lay the dough right on it and put it on my grill in my fireplace. It works beautifully and I love the woody flavor the wood coals give the crust. You have to keep turning it so that it cooks evenly, but the entire bottom is crispy as the dough is exposed to the coals. This one is red onions, proscuitto and mozzarella.


This is a great post and you have offered some really good ideas that I will have to try.  Thanks


 

turosdolci's picture
turosdolci

A master chef in Puglia Italy gave me his recipe for pizza dough. I wrote a blog about it some time ago. I suggest using semolina on the pallet to prevent the sticking, but I like the suggestions in this post and suggest trying out the parchment paper.


Ingredients
3 1/2 cups flour, reserve 1/2 cup for working the dough
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water, tepid


 


http://turosdolci.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/homemade-pizza-dough/

turosdolci's picture
turosdolci

I wanted you to know that I just tried your parchment paper idea instead of using semolina to slide the pizza onto the stone. It worked great, glad I read your post.


Regards,


Patricia

dollhead's picture
dollhead

I used to hate them...until I tried them.  I roll/shape them really thin and use my perforated pan covered with parchment to cook my pizza under my elec oven broiler element (set to LOW).  I cook the undressed pizza about 3-4" from heat source until it lightly browned, remove it from oven, flip it over (no need for parchment now as it can sit on pan without sticking), dress it with sauce etc, then return it under broiler (sliding it off pan and onto stone) to cook the toppings.  My dough recipes are many and this seems to work well for all of them, even my whole wheat one.  Hope I described this well.  I like that fireplace idea too!    

Elagins's picture
Elagins

gluten creates extensibility, which lets us stretch the crust paper thin; gluten also gives breads chewiness, which some folks consider a negative in pizza crust. the Italians have developed pizza flours that are blends of hard and soft wheats and produce a crust with a cracker-like crunch and a very tender crumb, while yielding (at higher hydrations, i.e. 70-75%) the non-elastic extensibility to produce those thin crusts.

Stan Ginsberg
www.nybakers.com

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Hey Stan, I saw your mention of 'classical neapolitan pizza' in another thread and was puzzled at your quote of 70-75% hydration. This is not the typical or 'classical' hydration for a 00 flour - even one that is formulated for pizza (by which I assume you're referring to the flours which you stock: caputo rinforzato and pizzeria which as the name suggests is reinforced with a percentage of hard wheat in the blend to support long fermentation). That's not to say you can't use it at that hydration - but it's not what I would call typical.


Most neapolitan pizza makers use 00 flour at 56-65% hydration (VPN suggests 50-55% - that's a little on the stiff side but a good starting point) but still have remarkably extensible doughs and thin crusts. The key is a slow, gentle kneading process with flour gradually added to the water, salt and yeast followed by a long fermentation (8 hours to 3 days!) This however does not create a dough which gives a the results being called for by the OP. nor is it intended to.  


In summary, I think it's misleading to suggest that 'italian flour'  should be considered over other cheaper alternatives for making cracker-like pizza.


Cheers,


FP


 

Elagins's picture
Elagins

After reading your post, I went to the Forno Brave site, which has an English translation of the official Vera Pizza Napoletano specifications, which call for 55% hydration.

I apologize for the inaccuracy, but stand my my assertion that the flour matters. For anyone interested, here's the link:

http://www.fornobravo.com/vera_pizza_napoletana/VPN_spec.html

Stan Ginsberg
www.nybakers.com

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Indeed. I totally agree with your assertion that flour matters and I realise you were writing with the benefit of experience with 00 flour at higher hydrations - something I've not explored fully myself before.


Thanks, It's given me something to think about next time I use that flour.


FP