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Eight Great Tips for Homemade Pizza

Published in Gourmet Live 09.26.12
Learn to make the easiest, cheesiest pizza in your home kitchen with this guide by Institute of Culinary Education chef Scott McMillen
Eight Great Tips for Homemade Pizza

From deep-dish to thin-crust, pizza is an all-season favorite and the ultimate blank canvas for culinary customization. Our simple tips will help you achieve restaurant-quality pizza from the comfort of your kitchen, using our basic pizza dough recipe and a secret ingredient for the best-ever sauce.

1. Wet Dough = Crispier Crust

The crispness of your pizza crust is a direct result of the moisture level of the dough. Thin-crust pizza lovers should begin with a very sticky, wet dough (like ours), which can be stretched thin for a crispier crust. If you prefer a chewier crust, incorporate more flour into your dough so that its less sticky. But keep in mind that additional flour should only be added a little at a time, as its much easier to fix a dough thats too wet rather than too dry, which requires adding more water (a trickier process).

2. Chill Out Overnight

Give yourself a head start by preparing your dough the day before and chilling it overnight. Refrigeration allows the gluten to relax, which makes the dough easier to stretch and shape. Before refrigerating, shape the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl covered securely with plastic wrap.

3. The Trio of Tools

Three tools are key to creating restaurant-quality pizza: a pizza stone, a pizza peel, and a pizza wheel. Pizza stones are a great investment, as they guarantee a crispy, golden-brown crust, and a shovel-like peel does double duty: It's a perfect prep surface and also allows you to seamlessly slide the dough into the oven.

If you don't have a stone or peel on hand, use two inverted baking sheets, one in the oven as your "stone" and the second as your peel. Whether using a peel or a baking sheet, make sure to coat it heavily with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. And finally, a sturdy, sharp pizza wheel comes in handy when it's time to slice and serve your finished pie.

4. Hot Stone = Success

A pizza stone should be heated in a 500°F oven for a minimum of 45 minutes prior to baking your pizza. Always position the pizza stone on the center oven rack before turning on the oven, as placing a room-temperature pizza stone inside a hot oven could cause the stone to crack.

5. Ditch the Rolling Pin

While it may seem counterintuitive, pizza dough is at its best when shaped gently by hand, rather than with the aid of a rolling pin. Rolling pins agitate the gluten in the dough, which makes it retract as you try to extend it. Whatever you do, don't knead the dough before stretching it. Kneading causes the gluten to become tough, which increases the likelihood your dough will tear rather than gently stretch.

The best approach to shaping pizza dough is to begin by dusting your surface with flour, and then place the chilled dough onto the surface, dusting it with additional flour. Next, coat your hands in flour, and using your fingertips, press the dough down and out to form a wide circle. Pick up the dough and allow its own weight to pull it downward as you circle your grip around the edges of the dough until it is stretched to your desired thickness. Thick or thin crust is up to you; the pros consider 1/16 to 1/8 of an inch to be the ideal thickness. Any thicker, the thinking goes, and your pizza will be too doughy.

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