Becoming a Pizza Maker ((and a little peek into my trip to Napa))
About a year ago, I had the great privilege and fun treat of learning to make pasta from Chef/Owner : Tyler Rodde ((Chef Tyler — “CT”)) at Oenotri in Napa. ((You can read all about that trip & pasta recipe HERE)) After 12 months of practicing pasta production ((and eating — yum.)), I got the opportunity to return to the Oenotri kitchen for more cooking lessons.
BTW, I will share a brief “Becoming a Pasta Maker 2.0” in an upcoming post ((so get ready)).
I came into the Oenotri kitchen with a mental check-list of “to-do’s”. Given the fact that it goes against my grain to do just one thing at a time ((you know – I am a mom of a herd, the days of doing one thing at a time are LONG GONE)), I decided:
- perfecting pasta-making,
- learning the art of — yeast, well, actually “pizza-making”,
- figuring out focaccia AND
- remembering the in’s and out’s of making each simultaneously
seemed a good list of things to do. About halfway through, CT and I decided learning 3 things wasn’t quite enough so we added Sicilian pizza ((called Sfincione)) to the list. I hate to tell you the end of the story before I really get started – but WOW-WEE. We ((or at least I)) had so much fun. I asked a ton of questions, CT answered every single one, kindly pausing so I could take notes & we ate some of the yummiest food I have ever helped make. All the while I learned – a lot.
In order to get warmed up for the tasks ahead, CT let me prepare the pasta for the night’s dinner service ((if you are reading this and ate at Oenotri on 12/8 and the food was exceptionally good, you can thank me)). While whipping out the pasta dough, I learned a few more tricks that can only help make my pasta-making life easier ((yippee)). You can read my original “Becoming a Pasta-Maker” post HERE and be well on your way to making yummy fresh pasta and upping your pant’s size in no-time.
With that little job checked off my list, we moved on to pizza. I LOVE pizza — making pizza and especially eating pizza are two of my favorite things to do, but I have always managed to avoid making my own pizza dough. Making homemade crust has always be a goal, Laura even came over and taught me how to make a yummy pizza dough recipe ((see it HERE)), but I still couldn’t get myself over “the hump”. It’s the yeast that has always scared the pants off of me.
Maybe it’s the “salt can kill it” rule but you still need to add salt rule, or maybe it’s the “let it rest” requirement ((ain’t nobody got time for rest in this busy momma’s kitchen)) or maybe it’s the part where “punching is required” ((which goes against every fiber of this mom of a herd’s DNA)) — whatever the reason, I found myself nervous to become a pizza maker.
As we started in on the pizza dough making process, my apprehensions faded. Really, friends, there is a short list of ingredients that increase or decrease depending on the size & number of pizzas you want to make. And before you get out your calculator and notepad, let me share one of CT’s perfect-pizza-making secrets: the Lehmann Pizza Dough Calculator ((bookmark this)). This calculator takes all of the guesswork & frustration out of pizza-making. It takes you from “I can’t do this!!” right into “Wow! Look what I just did! — BOOM”.
There are a few things you will be asked when filling out this calculating tool, so here is what you need to know in order to make an “Oenotri- quality” pizza:
- Flour :: 00 Flour is a MUST. CT typically makes a 12″ pizza from an 8.5 oz pizza dough ball ((we made ((6)) 4.5 oz balls in order to practice making mini-pizzas for my herd)). But – be aware, the smaller your pizza, the greater the crust to pizza ratio. Yep, it will slam you right back into 9th grade geometry. Thank goodness that phase of life has passed.
- Water :: CT’s kitchen has an awesome wood-burning pizza oven, so his pizzas require 67% hydration. For the home-cook, baking at almost half the temps, 65% is fine.
- Yeast :: CT uses 0.5% Instant Dry Yeast (IDY)
- Salt :: CT uses 3% Kosher Diamond Crystal salt
- and that is it
Simply type this information into the pizza making calculator and it will give you the exact measurements for each ingredient. See – no sweat.
Now that you have your recipe, gather your ingredients and a short list of essential perfect-pizza-making tools:
- a kitchen scale, preferably one that measures in 0.01 grams. My scale doesn’t measure in hundredths of a gram – I will let you know in the upcoming months if that little detail is problematic.
- a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment
- a pizza dough cutter/scraper
- a pizza peel
- 12″ pizza tins
- 2 pizza stones that fit into your oven ((wouldn’t it be bad if they didn’t fit in your oven?!))
- semolina ((aka the ball-bearings of perfect-pizza-making))
As far as the pizza-making equipment goes, I would say your are all in for under $200 (not including the stand mixer).
Okay, now that we have talked ingredients and equipment, let’s get to work.
Measure out the flour, room temperature water, yeast & salt.
Add the first 3 ingredients ((not the salt)) to the mixing bowl of your mixer, reserving 3-4 T of water, and mix at low-speed until incorporated. Once the ingredients are incorporated, you will probably notice the dough seems a bit dry – if so, add the remaining water, 1 T at a time (continuing to mix on med-low speed) until the dry pockets of flour disappear.
Take the dough off of the hook and cover the bowl with a damp towel for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes has passed, add the salt and mix on medium speed for under 1 minute — until the salt is incorporated. Remove the dough from the hook and place it into an ((ungreased)) bowl that is at least twice the size of the dough. At this point you have a few options. When I was a kid – I LOVED that book series “Choose Your Own Adventure”! I would eventually read each book in such a way that I had read each adventure option combination possible. I spent hours reading each book. Hey, I think I just figured out what to get for the boys. This momma may have peace & quiet in her future!
Okay back to pizza – once the salt has been incorporated, you have many choices and they all depend on when you want to eat and what you want to eat. For this post, we are sticking with classic pizza ((I will share focaccia and sfincione soon)):
- You can place the dough in a warm spot (±200°F) and force it to rise within 1-2 hours
- You can place the dough in a refrigerator, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 1-2 days
Once the dough has doubled in size, it is ready to be formed into balls. As I mentioned earlier, a 12″ pizza requires an 8.5 oz dough ball. So, remove the expanded dough from the bowl by dumping in onto a lightly floured work surface. Get your kitchen scale & pizza dough scraper and begin cutting and weighing out your dough. A scale helps you be exact – and we are shooting for exact ((no pressure)).
Now comes the fun part: forming balls. Don’t freak – this is an acquired talent. The more you do it, the better you will become. And just to set the record straight, you are just dealing with flour, water, salt and yeast. You are the boss of this — if you tell it to work — it will work. So tell the dough who’s boss.
Roll each ball out on a very lightly floured surface. The most important part of dough ball making is to make sure it makes it into the shape of a ball AND there is no hole on the underside of the ball once you have formed it. But even if there is a hole, just pinch it back together. See, it’s all good.
Set the dough ball on a lightly floured 2″ – 4″ deep pan ((think roasting pan)) and continue cutting, weighing and rolling each ball until all the pizza dough balls have been formed.
Lightly cover and place the dough back in the fridge for 2 hours or up to 4 days. The goal is to let the balls double in size. Again, if you are in a hurry, you can speed this process up by placing the covered dough balls in a warm spot of your kitchen ((if your let the balls “proof” at room temp, however, give them a chance to chill in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before moving on to the next step ((I have been told it will make your life easier, or at least make the dough easier to work with – and either one sounds good to me)).
Now there is only one thing left to do – make pizza. Once the dough balls have doubled in size, take your first ball ((taking care to handle the ball gently with finger pads not your finger tips)) and place it in a shallow dish of 00 flour, gently remove it from the dish and begin pressing the dough out, taking care not to flatten the edges of the dough. There are a few ways to stretch the dough out:
- by hand while the dough lies flat on the work surface
- first by hand on the work surface and then holding it about chest-high, gently passing it through your hands ((still taking care not to mess with the edges)) allowing the weight of the dough & gravity to do most of the stretching work
- everything previously discussed but allowing the portion of the weight of the dough to rest on the work surface instead of being totally suspended in the air
- all of the methods mentioned above AND tossing high into the air while spinning it. ummm…
Now folks, as you can imagine, there is an art to this step as well and it is best learned by practicing for yourself rather than reading the steps. And that being said, this is a good time to remind you to keep telling the dough who’s boss. You can do this – it’s just flour, water, yeast and salt.
One last piece of pizza making pep-talking advice: as my momma always says “if at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry a hen.”
Once you get the dough stretched out to your desired size & thickness, liberally sprinkle the surface of your pizza peel with semolina. It is important to cover the entire surface with semolina; doing this little step well will allow your pizza to transfer to the pizza stone rather than sticking on the peel. CT refers to the semolina as the ball bearings of pizza-making, yep — they “move ’em on down the line”.
Time to transfer the stretched pizza dough from your work station to the prepared pizza peel. A swift, “folding half over your arm and turning it back out onto the peel” motion is all that it takes to check this task off of your list.
Brush a little olive oil onto the edges of the dough and then fill ‘er up.
Sauce and toppings to your hearts desire – but for my first pizza, we made a simple margarita pizza with a crushed tomato sauce, some fresh mozzarella, dried oregano (basil was out of season), a few dashes of red pepper flakes and some s & p – and into the HOT oven she went. 7-9 minutes later, rotating halfway through cooking, lunch was served. The wood-burning pizza oven bakes at a whopping 800°F, but for us home cooks – baking your pizza in a preheated 450° oven for 9-12 minutes is perfect.
Once the pizza is cooked, with a light/medium golden crust and underside, use your peel to remove it from the oven, place it on a pizza tin and brush the edges ((or as we call it, “the pizza bone”)) with a little more olive oil. Cut, serve and enjoy.
And that is how you become a ((very excellent)) pizza maker. Can you hear the sound of my list being checked?? Before I let you graduate into being your own pizza maker, though, let me leave you with a few closing tips:
- When stretching out your dough, pause every so often, laying the pizza dough flat on the work surface. Run your hand across the dough to make sure the thickness is consistent. If not, clench your fist and pound on the thicker areas until consistency is achieved.
- If you are a clean freak like me, you will really appreciate this tip: when sprinkling semolina on your peel, do it outside.
- You may notice your pizza dough likes to shrink back to a smaller diameter. If this happens there are 2 ways (at least) you can fix this problem:
- First, if it is still on the work table, let it rest for a few minutes and then come back to it. The rest time should be just enough time to allow the gluten to relax, yielding a more workable piece of dough.
- Second, if you have already transferred the dough to the peel, ((the same stretching process works whether it has toppings or not)) slide two corners of the dough over the corresponding corners of the peel and hold them in place while pulling the other two corners of the dough in the opposite direction.
- You may notice some bubbles, or air pockets in your dough as you are stretching it out. “To leave the bubbles or not to leave the bubbles, that is the question.” The answer? Whatever floats your boat. I left the bubbles and they turned into the charred spots you can see in the photos of my pizza. But when baking in a conventional oven, they most likely wont char, but rather puff and force the filling to move over.
- If baking in a conventional oven, the secret to mimicking a wood burning pizza oven is to stack 2 pizza stones on top of each other in your oven ((middle rack positioning)). The double stone stack helps maintain consistent temperatures while baking.
- CT suggests placing an empty baking pan under the pizza stones in order to catch any semolina that may drop onto the oven bottom while transferring the pizza from the peel to the stone ((nice CT – I love tips for minimizing mess!!))
- It never hurts to bake one pizza first without toppings, just to test your oven temperature and relative baking time.
Best Pizza Dough
- 00 flour
- instant dry yeast ((IDY))
- room temperature water
- kosher salt
- sauce, approximately 4 oz per 12″ pizza
- desired toppings such as uncooked sweet Italian sausage, basil, fresh mozzarella, herbs, pepperoni, salami, olives, veggies etc
- Use the Lehmann Pizza Dough Calculator to determine the exact quantities of the first four ingredients needed to make your desired size and number of pizzas.
- Combine first 3 ingredients in a stand mixer using the kneading attachment. Allow the dough to rest 20 minutes before adding the salt. Use the keeping attachment to incorporate the salt into the dough. Allow the dough to rest, covered with a damp towel for 20 minutes. Depending on how soon you plan on baking your pizzas, either allow the dough to proof ((covered)) in a warm spot for 1-2 hours or refrigerated for up to 2 days. Once dough has doubled in size, scrap it out of the bowl and cut & weigh portions ((according to the weight you selected when using the Lehmann calculator)). Roll each portion into a ball as described in the body of this post and place into a deep ((think roasting pan)) pan that has been lightly floured. Continue placing formed dough balls into the pan, 2″ apart, until all dough balls are formed. These dough balls can rest, covered in the fridge for 2-4 days or in a warm spot for 1-2 hours before stretching into pizzas.
- Once the dough balls have doubled in size, place your stacked pizza stones (2 is plenty) onto the middle/top oven rack and preheat the oven to 450°. Gently remove the balls and form your pizza, by stretching, being sure to follow the instructions & tips detailed in this post.
- Once the pizza dough has been shaped, sprinkle semolina generously over your pizza peel and transfer your dough to the peel. Top with sauce and desired toppings. Once the oven is preheated and your pizza is assembled, swiftly and confidently slide your pizza off of the peel and onto the stone.
- Bake the pizza for 9-12 minutes or until the crust is cooked through and a light golden brown.
- Allow the pizza to cool for 3-5 minutes before slicing and serving.
By Chef Tyler Rodde