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Pizza Basic

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Unless you build a brick oven in your kitchen, it’s not possible to duplicate pizzeria style pies at home.  Commercial pizza ovens can reach 800 degrees, home ovens just can’t compete.  That said, homemade pizza is delicious even if different from the pies you get when you eat out.  The crust is chewier, crisper, and not nearly as greasy.  To ensure good homemade pizza, here are a few things to know.

Use Tiles or a Pizza Stone

Baking pizza on tiles or a pizza stone is a must because crusts baked on a pizza screen (a perforated pan) or a baking sheet is not as crisp and chewy.  Unglazed quarry tiles made of terracotta are porous and absorb heat better than a metal baking sheet, thus, they transfer more heat to whatever food is cooked on them.  Pizza crust becomes especially crisp and well browned on the bottom when cooked on tiles.  Look for 1/2-inch thick tiles – they come in 6-inch squares and can be cut at a tile store to fit your oven rack perfectly.  If using tiles, simply line the bottom rack of your oven with them – you will need six or eight, depending on the size of your oven.  But if you don’t want to bother with tiles (they can chip and I have lost one on occasion) consider a pizza stone.

Pizza stones (also called baking stones) are prized for their ability to retain heat and lessen the effects of temperature fluctuations in home ovens.  Pizza stones are usually made of clay or ceramic (although soapstone and composite cement stones are also available).  When coupled with extreme heat they absorb moisture, producing crisper, drier pizzas, breads, and calzones.

But not all pizza stones are created equal.  Lipped edged pizza stones inhibit easy placement and removal of food and some stones are extremely heavy (I’ve seen one that weighed a whopping 19 pounds).  There are stones that are too big to fit in most home ovens or too small to handle a large pizza.  My recommendation is to chose a good-size stone (about 16 by 14 inches is idea) with smooth edges and don’t equate a higher price with a better stone.  In terms of whether to buy tiles or stone, we think a stone is easier to store, but if you already own tiles, use them – they work very well.

Preheat the Oven

An oven temperature of 500 degrees is your best bet.  When cooked at a lower temperature, the crust is not as crisp.  Remember to heat the oven (and stone or tiles) for at least 30 minutes.

Use a Peel

A pizza peel is the best tool for getting topped pizza dough onto a heated stone.  The long handle on the peel makes it easy to slide the dough onto tiles or a stone in a hot oven.  Although a rimless metal baking sheet can be used in this fashion, the lack of a handle means your hands are that much closer to the oven heat, so use caution.  When shopping for a pizza peel, note that  there are two choices.  Aluminum peels with heat-resistant wooden handles are probably the better bet because they can be washed and cleaned easily.  Peels made entirely of wood can mildew when washed, so it’s best just to wipe them clean.  Either way, make sure your peel measures at least 16 inches across so that it can accommodate a large pizza with room left around the edges.

Prevent the Dough From Sticking

Pizza dough is sticky.  There are a few options for preventing your dough from sticking to the peel.  With its fine, sandy texture, semolina does a good job at helping pizza dough slide off the peel.  Cornmeal can also be used, as can flour.  Alternatively, if parchment paper is handy, you can simply stretch out the dough onto the parchment and slide the pizza, paper and all, directly onto the stone.  Although this method works well, I like the crunch and flavor the semolina or cornmeal gives to the bottom of the crusts.  But the choice is yours!

Bake Fully

Depending on your oven, the type of stone or tiles used, and the amount of topping, pizza may be done in as little as 6 minutes or may take as long as 12 minutes.  Don’t pull a pizza out of the oven until the edge of the crust is golden brown and the toppings are sizzling.

If you are looking for an easy pizza dough recipe, please click here

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