Friday, March 19, 2010

Quick Tips - Homemade pizza crust

Over the years, I've tried to compete with the local pizza places for the stomach and hearts of my family. For a very long time, I have lost to even the average chains, let alone the local mom & pop joints.

I usually cheat and buy the sauce, and everyone likes it just fine. We wouldn't know a gourmet pepperoni from a Hormel, so there's no trouble there. The problem seemed to center on the crust. We prefer a deep-dish style, and my first several attempts were unsatisfyingly soggy.

I've tried various solutions, and finally feel that we can save money and truly enjoy pizza from home as much as takeout. Here's what works best for us:

  • Skip the premade doughs and use a bread machine. I use my bread machine on the dough setting to make the crust. I prefer a simple white/whole wheat dough from the great Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. 
  • Beware of yeast in small packages. I buy yeast at a food service supplier like GFS, or at a warehouse like Costco. The price of yeast at a grocery store is shocking by comparison–up to 4 times the price per ounce, the last time I checked. A pound or more might seem like a lot, but yeast has a very long shelf life when stored in the refrigerator. I've never had a package of yeast lose its efficacy.
  • Add a little texture. Before you empty your bread machine pan, dust your countertop or pastry board with cornmeal instead of flour. It prevents sticking and adds a little crunch to your finished product.
  • Roll out the dough, let it rest. Simply pressing the dough into your pan makes for an unevenly baked crust. Take the 5 minutes to roll out the dough to size. Cover the dough and allow to rise a little more (25-30 minutes). 
  • Be generous with the EVOO. Brush your pizza pan (we use a jellyroll pan) liberally with olive oil before placing your dough.
  • When it comes to baking, keep it low and use something as a pizza stone. Baking the pizza on a higher rack results in overly browned toppings and an underbaked crust, so before preheating your oven, place a rack in the lowest position. Stick your pizza stone or tiles on this rack. If you're like us and don't have a stone or tiles, try our MacGyver solution: an upside-down jellyroll pan. Let it preheat to 450ºF for 25-30 minutes along with your oven. Stick your pizza pan on top of that when it's time to bake.
  • Topping order matters. Put about 2/3rds of the cheese directly on the crust, followed by the sauce, then the toppings. Finish with the last 1/3 of cheese and bake.  For a 17"x11" rectangular pizza, I use 3-4 cups of cheese.

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