Making pizza from scratch

This is a recipe adapted from one that my good friend Charles Ledvina gave me. I have only made it once — to good effect — so I am blogging this mostly so that I have an easy way to find it. If you find it useful, too, all well and good.

The first pizza as it came out of the over. The cheese is slightly toasted, because I left it in too long, hoping to char the crust.

Why make a pizza from scratch? Because even if, like me so far, you’re not very good at it, it’s still much better than any pizza that comes out of a box. The drawback is that, although it’s not too much work, it takes a long elapsed time — so you will need to get started on the dough either the morning of the day when you want to have pizza in the evening, or even the night before.

The base

Ingredients to make bases for four decent-sized pizzas:

  • 600g strong white flour
  • 390g water
  • 1/6 teaspoon of active dry yeast
  • 18g salt

Method:

  • Mix by hand in a large bowl until the flower has soaked up all of the water.
  • Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes.
  • Knead until smooth, about five minutes.
  • Cover it and let it ferment for about two hours.
  • Split it into four equally sized dough balls; dust each with flour to prevent their sticking together.
  • Cover the dough balls and let them ferment for at least another six hours — longer is fine.

The tomato sauce

This is simple:

  • Empty a 400 g (14oz) can of peeled plum tomatoes into a blender with 4g of salt.
  • Blend till smooth.

This makes easily enough for four pizzas, maybe five.

Assembly and cooking

Get the oven as hot as it will go. A regular domestic oven such as mine tops out around 250 C. In that oven, pre-heat the trays that you will be cooking the pizzas on. Prepare your toppings: you want everything pre-chopped and ready to go straight onto the pizza so that the actual assembly can be as quick as possible.

Now you want to work quickly. For each of the four pizzas you’re going to make:

  • Roll out a dough ball on a floured surface
  • Stretch it by hand to about 30 cm (12 inch) diameter: thinner in the middle, thicker at the edges.
  • Bring a pre-heated tray out of the oven, and transfer the stretched pizza base onto it.
  • Spoon a quarter of the sauce into the middle of the base, and spread it evenly using the back of the spoon.
  • Add your toppings, if any.
  • Sprinkle with cheese.
  • Get the Pizza into the oven as quickly as you can.

Now you can get to work on the next one while the current one is cooking. Depending on how long your oven takes and how quickly you can make each pizza, you might briefly have all four of them cooking at once; you will need to keep an eye on the pizzas in the oven (or have someone else do it) because they cook quickly.

You’ll also want to eat them quickly.

Other considerations

If you can get them, San Marzano tomatoes are said to be the best for pizza.

Authentically, pizza dough is never rolled with a pin, only stretched by hand. It may be that I’d be able to develop that skill in time, but at the moment it escapes me. When I hand-stretch, the dough gets much too thin in the middle and too thick at the edges, and it’s so elastic that it shrinks back too small. So it’s a pin for me.

Don’t overdo the toppings: aside from grated cheese, you really only want a small amount of flavourings — in my case, finely sliced chorizo and jalapeños. Don’t load the pizza down with lots of a vegetables that will ooze water and make the base soggy. (When I want to use vegetables — peppers and onions, most likely — I pre-chop them and let them dry out and partially roast in the oven as it is heating up.)

Only a really hot oven (not a domestic one) can char the crust, which is why in trying to achieve that charring I ended up slightly toasting the cheese on my first attempt. If you want really charring, you can achieve it by painting diluted honey onto the crust, but to me that seems like it dilutes the purity of the process.

 

Update (20 May 2020)

I’ve made this again, for my household of five, very successfully. But everyone wanted more, so here are the ingredients upgraded to 5/4 as much, to make five pizzas instead of four. (This is mostly for my own benefit, so I don’t have to do the mental maths the next time I follow this recipe.)

  • 750g strong white flour
  • 488g water
  • 1/5 teaspoon of active dry yeast
  • 23g salt

11 responses to “Making pizza from scratch

  1. Martin McCallion

    I must give this recipe a try. I’m really surprised to see that there’s no olive oil in the dough. All the recipes I’ve tried have some (sometimes quite a lot).

    Also that 1/6 tsp of yeast must be hard to judge.

  2. This is really good, and it looks splendid. Many thanks 😁😁

  3. Thanks, JimmyM!

    Martin, I half-expected to see oil in the recipe, too; but it’s definitely not there, and definitely not necessary. My sense is that the exact quantity of yeast possibly doesn’t matter too much: the limit on fermentation is probably imposed by the fermentable ingredients, not by the yeast.

  4. Using less yeast means longer proofing time, which means more time for flavour development. So if you have the time and space for letting the dough sit undisturbed, use less yeast by all means.

  5. Interesting, Stefan, thanks. So proving for longer allows the use of less yeast — but does anything bad happen if you put more in? (It’s tough to measure such small quantities after all.)

  6. If you put more yeast in, proving will necessarily be quicker (if you leave it too long, the yeast will run out of food and your dough will deflate and you will be Sad). That means less flavour in the pizza base.

    It’s possible to get little weighing scales that can measure smalle fractionnes of a gramme. If you really want that 1/6tsp to be right, that would be the way to do it. (I’ve never seen a 1/6tsp measuring spoon, though I have seen 1/8tsp and 1/4tsp.)

    I’ve seen recipes with oil and recipes without. I haven’t done the obvious experiments to compare. I would expect adding oil to impair the dough structure a little — it interferes with the formation of a good strong gluten network — but not enough to stop you making really good pizza.

    My personal favourite pizza dough recipe (admittedly not based on broad comparison) is the one at https://smittenkitchen.com/2013/10/lazy-pizza-dough-favorite-margarita-pizza/ which has a nice long rise and no kneading, and makes really good pizzas. I also wholeheartedly endorse the suggestion there that you drain your tomatoes before turning them into sauce — you get a less wet sauce, and wetness makes for soggier pizzas.

    If you don’t mind a bit of extra faff and a bit of extra expense, you can improve on that preheated baking tray by using a pizza stone or (much better) steel. You’ll want to make sure you give it a good long preheating, especially using a steel. What works for me: preheat at 250 degrees (highest my oven will go in its normal mode of operation), switch to grill and turn up to 300 degrees, when the steel is really hot put a pizza in and switch back to not-grill mode and 250 degrees, cook for 5 1/2 minutes, take it out, switch back to grill/300deg to get the steel hot again for the next pizza, etc. This does mean a certain amount of waiting around between pizzas, though. (And your oven will not be identical to mine, your pizza bases may be thinner or thicker than mine, etc.)

    You may find the dough easier to shape if you flatten it somewhat 5-10 minutes before you actually come to make the pizza and let it rest.

  7. Sorry, that last sentence was badly constructed and may be gratuitously unclear. What may help is: 5-10 minutes before making the pizza, flatten the dough out (not all the way to pizza-form but stretch it somewhat) and then let it rest for those 5-10 minutes, during which time the gluten will relax a bit and you may then be able to stretch it further without it springing back.

  8. I tried exactly that when making some pizzas this lunchtime, and I can confirm that it did what I hoped it would.

    I should also make a kinda-obvious remark: if, as I follow Deb Perelman in suggesting, you drain your tomatoes before making them into sauce, then you will end up with substantially less sauce (by volume, if not by amount of flavour). I tend to use 250g of flour to make 3 reasonable-sized pizzas which serve 3 for lunch, and I use two cans of tomatoes to make the sauce.

  9. Thanks, g, lots of really useful advice here. I made pizzas for all the family a few nights ago using the recipe as I gave it here, and they worked so well that I am loath to less around with it too much. But draining the tomatoes is an obvious quick win. I’ll play with some of the other variables.

  10. Making pizza from scratch

    I’ve only just realised that this is presumably an obscure Italian remake of that classic situation comedy about ‘making bread out of nothing but air’.

  11. Pingback: I’m getting better at this pizza thing | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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