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Making Homemade Pizzas

Pizza is a food item that is unquestionably popular in the United States, and that is available in many other parts of the world as well. A traditional pizza pie is a circular layer of dough topped with tomato based sauces that are seasoned and topped with cheeses such as mozzarella or parmesan. Pizzas are generally sliced into triangular or square pieces that are then eaten. Despite being very common in the USA, it is somewhat rare for people to try to make their own pizzas for dinner. Instead, pizza is often used as a quick take out option for nights when the family needs a fast bite to eat or simply lacks the energy to make something healthier. These take out pizzas can run the gambit from oily salty messes to truly extravagant and well put together pies, but they generally stick to a set array of flavors to choose from, with toppings and prices that can be fairly steep for a good quality pizza.

Rather than buying their pre made pizzas, more families ought to take the time to try and make their own homemade pizza in their own kitchen. Not only will it save them money, but they will have full control over the toppings and the flavors in general, thus allowing them to create a pizza that is as unhealthy or healthy as they may desire. Making your own pizza does take far more time than buying one at the local pizzeria and it can require some advance planning, but it can be a very rewarding process, and there are many shortcuts that you can take to reduce your time investment in the pizza making process. If you become entranced by the world of pizza making as a hobby, then there are many more advanced avenues available for you to pursue in order to sustain your interest and to allow our creativity to be translated into the meals that you can picture in your head.

The Equipment

Perhaps one of the most daunting reasons that most people do not make their own pizzas is that doing so tends to require a bit of specialized equipment. While most homes will own a pizza wheel to slice into cooked pizzas that they order, far fewer houses will have a wooden pizza peel. These serving boards will be familiar to anyone that has been to an Italian restaurant where they make the pizzas in view of the customers - they are long wooden paddles with a wide surface area on which pizzas are placed before being tossed into the oven, and on which the pizza can be served once it has been prepared. While you do not need a peel to serve pizzas at home, it will make it much easier for several reasons. For one, you can roll out your pizza dough on the peel, without the need to clean off a counter or a separate pan in advance. In addition, you can transfer you pizza to and from the peel when you are ready to serve it, and it makes an attractive and convenient means of serving that will no doubt impress your family or friends that are eating the pizza.

Far more necessary than the pizza peel is the pan on which the pizza is to be cooked in the oven. This is also the area where there are the most options available to you, with some options being more practical for the home cook and others being more useful for hobbyists looking to experiment with new means of making a delicious and flavorful pizza in a unique way. The most basic surface on which you can make a pizza is a simple round pizza pan. Perhaps 13 to 16 inches in diameter, a metal circular pan with or without holes in the bottom will allow you to load a round pie into the oven with relative ease , and they are generally coated in a nonstick material so that the pizza will slide off onto your pizza peel once the cooking process is complete. While you could make your pizza on a traditional cookie sheet and settle for a rectangular pizza, you may find that the raised edges of this pan make it difficult to remove your pizza when the time comes to serve it, resulting in an unattractive dish that would benefit from the low cost rounded alternative.

If you want to reach a fancier level of pizza production, then the next step above the pizza pan is the pizza stone. As the name suggests, a pizza stone is a rounded piece of stone of perhaps 1 inch thick and of similar diameter to the pizza pan mentioned above. The pizza is cooked on these stones in the oven, but unlike the pizza pan these stones are heated in the oven before the pizza is placed thereupon for the cooking process. Because stone is able to retain heat far better than the thin metal of the pizza pan, this means that the stone will be very hot when the pizza dough encounters the stone in the oven. This will result in a crispier crust on the bottom of your pizza, and will also reduce the risk of liquid penetrating through the dough it you are working with a particularly wet pizza recipe.

The final and most expensive level of pizza cooking surface is the pizza steel, a relatively recent innovation that is intended to combine some of the best aspects of the pizza stone with the properties of steel. Specifically, steel can be heated to a much higher temperature than can a pizza stone without damaging it, and steel, while heavy, will end up weighing far less than a comparable pizza stone. As such, pizza steel is simply a slab of steel on which pizza is cooked in an oven or on a grill at a very high temperature. The allows one to cook the dough very quickly while maintaining the integrity of touchier ingredients, or while creating a seared pizza surface that would not be possible with traditional cooking in a home oven or on an unaided grill. Commercially purchasing a pizza steel can be fairly expensive, however if you have conenctiosn to someone with a plasma cutter and an excess of scrap steel, it can be fairly cheap to have someone cut you a one inch thick 15 inch square of steel (stainless is preferred for cooking purposes to reduce risk of injury or disease), allowing you to use a pizza steel to make your own pizzas at home. As with the pizza stone, the pizza steel should be heated to its final temperature before it comes in contact with the dough, at which point the cooking process will rapidly elapse.

Whatever equipment you choose to purchase, you should still be able to create a huge range of pizzas that everyone will love, so do not feel that a lack of equipment is holding you back from following your sauce filled dreams. As mentioned above, you should at least get your hands on a rounded metal pizza pan, however if all else fails then any metal backing surface should serve you well, especially if it has low or no rims around the edge to constrain your pizza. Once you have obtained all the hardware you need to make your pizza, you can finally begin to assemble your ingredients as you see fit.

The Dough

The pizza dough is the very foundation of your pizza, and as such it is essential that you get it right. That being said, there is nothing wrong with buying premade frozen dough from a grocery store, provided the dough is made in house. Avoid any dough that comes in a rolled up can, as the number of preservatives present therein can make the dough more difficult to work with. Also, canned dough just does not seem to taste as good, however that may be based on my biased perceptions and you should feel free to taste test it yourself before ultimately ruling it out entirely. Even if you buy premade dough, make sure you give it time to rise at home before you eat it - if it is frozen then let it thaw in a warm location for 4-8 hours before you plan to cook with it. An ideal place to do so would be an oven that was warm but is now turned off - place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, so that it can rise into a pliable mass that you can use to craft delicious pizzas.

If you choose to mke your own dough, you will find that you have many options that will depend on just how creative you want to be and how much time you are willing to put into the dough making process. As you may know from visiting different types of pizza shop, there is a great variety of pizza dough styles available for consumption, with thicker, chewier crusts and thinner crispier crusts often vying for the spotlight. For home purposes you may find that a slightly thicker crust will be easier to work with unless you have a very hot oven/grill or pizza baking steel, as the increased cook time will work in your favor for beginning your quest into pizza cooking.

In reality, pizza dough is just a kind of bread that is eventually topped with other ingredients. As such, pizza dough recipes can be just as varied as bread recipes. The most basic recipes for pizza dough will involve the combination of flour, rising yeast (baker's yeast), warm water, some sugar to feed the yeast, and perhaps a bit of salt and olive oil to help flavor the dough. If you wish to get more creative and invest more time, however, one can make a sourdough crust for example, which will require you to start a sourdough culture that may take you a good bit of time but which can produce very flavorful results. Feel free to browse around online, or to experiment with different mixtures of flours of varying wheat compositions, such as whole grain wheat or tougher semolina wheat that is traditionally used in pasta dough. Eventually, you will arrive upon the pizza dough recipe that you most enjoy. True hobbyist pizza aficionados will further tinker with their dough, altering its humidity and moisture content to ensure that it meets their exacting standards, although there is no need for you to be concerned about such things unless you want to become involved in the world of hobby level pizza design and production.

Once you have combined together all of the ingredients for your pizza dough, simply begin to mix and then knead them until they reach a stretchy dough like consistency. If you are using a stand mixer then do not let it run for too long, as this can overwork the dough and produce a flat and unpleasantly textured final product, however if you are kneading by hand then it will be almost impossible to overwork the dough. Once you have kneaded the dough into a ball that is neither too sticky nor too dry (add more flour or water to adjust these levels), allow the dough to rest in a covered warm area, as mentioned above. This gives time for the yeast to ferment the sugars in the dough, producing small carbon dioxide bubbles that cause the dough to rise and double to triple in size. Once the dough has risen for one to two hours, punch the dough to remove the air, and then let it rise one more time while you prepare your toppings. After this final rise, either spin or roll your pizza dough out into your desired shape (a rough circle is most typical) on a floured surface such as a countertop or a pizza peel. Do not let the dough sit out uncovered for too long, or it will begin to dry and crack, resulting in an unpleasant pizza. Instead, quickly begin topping to dough so that it can be slid into the oven.

The Toppings

The dough may be the foundation of a good pizza, but it is the toppings that give the pizza its final identity. At a local pizzeria, toppings may be somewhat mundane - for example, pepperoni or sausage. Certainly, these kinds of pizzas are quite delicious when made with quality ingredients, but they lack imagination. If you are cooking your own pizzas at home then you should not feel constrained to the more traditional kinds of pizza that you have had in the past. Instead, try to conjure up images of new kinds of pizza for yourself, or browse the internet - there are thousands of unique pizza recipes and topping suggestions out there that you may never have considered, but which are delicious and will make it feel as though your home pizza cooking is a truly gourmet feat. For example, I recently made a roasted beet and goat cheese pizza topped with caramelized onions and beet greens, and even though I knew that I had made it from scratch it was still rather hard to believe because it was so delicious (the recipe is linked below, if you are curious - it is not my recipe, it is just one that I found to be quite tasty).

The basics of topping your pizza are quite simple. If you want it to be a sauce based pizza, then you should begin by laying down a thin layer of your chosen sauce. A simple seasoned tomato sauce made of simmered crushed tomatoes and garlic thickened with tomato paste is certainly the simplest option, although feel free to expand on this with seasonings or other vegetables. Alternatively, a cream sauce may better complement certain kinds of pizza and will impart a very rich flavor to the dish in the process. Still other kinds of pizza may not need any sauce to make them delicious, as in the case of the beet pizza mentioned above. After the sauce, layer the pizza with cheese - mozzarella or goat cheese are excellent choices, though certain kinds of pizza may call for other options like smoked gouda or cheddar for a barbeque chicken pizza. Next, top with your meats and vegetables, spread evenly over the surface of the pizza. Lastly, season the pizza with oil and and other seasonings that you intend to use. If you hope to add some greens like beet greens or raddichio to the pizza, then it is best to hold off on adding these until later in the cooking process (see below for explanation).

Cooking the Pizza

Unless you own a wood fired pizza oven at home, which seems unlikely, then there are essentially two ways to cook your pizza - in the oven or on the grill. The oven is certainly the most traditional means of cooking a pizza, and doing so is very simple. All you need to do is heat the oven to a temperature of ~400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (and, if you are using baking steel or a pizza stone, keep these in the oven as it preheats). Then, slide your pizza from the pizza peel onto your baking surface of choice and place it into the oven. If you have trouble sliding your pizza, you can initially prepare it on parchment paper, which you ought to be able to slide out from under the pizza after the dough has cooked for 5-10 minutes in the oven. All in all, for standard oven based pizza cooking you will likely want to leave the pizza in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. When you take the pizza out is up to you, and should be based on how it looks - if the crust is nicely browned then it is certainly time to pull the pizza, but if ingredients start to scorch then you may want to take the pizza out early, unless you are trying to achieve a charred flavor in your final product. If you are cooking in the oven and using delicate ingredients such as greens that would dry our and burn during the full 20 minute cooking time, instead add them when there is only 5 minutes left - this will give them enough time to cook without ruining them

If you prefer to instead grill your pizza, then you are showing your appreciation for what is a relatively new trend in pizza cooking. Cooking a pizza on a grill will not work with a standard pizza pan, however baking steel that is configured for specialized grills will fit in the grill, making the whole process easier. Otherwise, you will need to make relatively lightweight pizza that you can cook on foil in order to fit the pizzas inside of a grill. In the grill, pizzas will only need a few minutes to cook. This is because grills can achieve much higher temperatures than can a standard oven, allowing a home cook to more closely approximate the cooking environment in a traditional wood burning pizza oven that can cook pizzas at temperatures of thousands of degrees. Rather than the 20 minutes your pizza might cook in the oven, on a grill it may be ready in as few as four or five minutes. Because of the change in cooking conditions, grilled pizzas will have a distinct flavor profile from normal oven cooked pizzas owing both to the charring environment of the grill and the more rapid cooking of the ingredients on the grill.

There is no wrong way to cook a pizza (within reason, of course). Either the oven or the grill will allow you to create delicious pizzas with limited effort. Grilled pizzas may be a bit trickier to implement unless you purchase specialized attachments for certain brands of grills that effectively turn them into pizza ovens and allow them to easily interface with baking steel to expedite the pizza cooking process. Experiment with temperature and time until you achieve a pizza that is fully cooked without minimizing any of its flavorful components.

Serving

Serving should be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the pizza making process, and there is little need for guidance in this regard. If you are serving the pizza as a meal, simply remove it from the oven or grill and slide it back onto the peel for a moment or two to cool off. Drizzle the pizza with olive oil for additional flavor, and if you so desire you can add some fresh basil or parsley at this point in time to garnish. Then all you need to do is slice the pizza into wedges and enjoy! If you hope to serve more than just a few people, you can also try the so called “party style” means of slicing pizza into squares, however many pieces will have no crust, and the crust of any homemade pizza ought to be delicious and not to be missed. If you have leftover pizza slices, simply wrap them in aluminum foil and refrigerate them for a few days. Leftover pizza can be eaten cold and is usually quite delicious in that state. If you want to reheat leftover pizza, do not use the microwave, as this will cause the crust to turn soggy and difficult to grasp, imparting the pizza with a potentially unpleasant texture. Instead, reheat the slice of pizza in your oven or in a toaster oven if you have one available to you in your kitchen. That is just about all that can be said about the basics of pizza making - read the references below for inspiration and let your imagination run free!

References


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