Baking tips

Use A Starter

Using a starter will improve the depth of flavor and aroma in your pizzas which you can’t achieve by the standard fermentation process. It also means you don’t need to bulk ferment your dough before it is balled. A starter can be called a preferment or sponge and is a mixture of flour, water and yeast that has fermented before adding to the rest of the ingredients. Biga and poolish are Italian and French terms for starters that have different quantities of water and use bakers yeast. Sourdough starter is a longer process and uses natural yeast from the air. Try using a biga in your recipes. You will need 100% flour, 60% water and 0.25% yeast which is mixed and left at room temperature for 18 hours – adjust your recipe for the extra yeast and hydration.

Try The Autolyse Technique

To autolyse in baking means to soak your flour in water before adding the rest of the ingredients. This allows the water to activate the flour, so that enzymes get to work, and gluten starts forming early. This has a wonderful effect on the extensibility of the dough – it gets very soft and easy to work with and stretch. This also helps the crust rise in the oven – you get a more pronounced crust with an autolyse. Overall it has better texture and flavor because you don’t have to knead the dough as much, which can damage pigments in the dough. How to do it? Simply add your flour and water for 30-60 minutes before the rest of your ingredients. I did a test of the technique so you can see the results in Autolyse Pizza Dough: Testing The Technique.

Start Using Semolina On Your Base

This is a game changer in the war of trying to not get your pizza stuck to everything when assembling it – the worktop, the peel, the stone. You should make a mound of a 50/50 mix of semolina and flour and drop your pizza dough in it when you start to stretch it out. Then sprinkle a thin dusting on your peel before placing the pizza on top. The semolina is better than just flour as it acts like small ball bearings when moving the dough around. This ensures it doesn’t stick to anything and you have no more worries. It also adds a nice texture and flavor to the base. Just make sure you add some flour to the mix, as straight semolina is a bit coarse.

Don’t Go Overboard With Toppings

This will make the pizza harder to transfer to the oven, and could make the top soggy. Less is more with pizza toppings – just make sure you get really quality ingredients and you won’t have to drown it. Freshly made dough with good tomatoes should be the focus. Then cheese and a few toppings is a great added bonus. I find it’s often a hallmark of bad pizza when it has a million toppings on it. When the pizza needs this, it’s often hiding the fact that the dough wasn’t well made, or the cheese is like rubber.

Learn To Use A Peel Properly

If you’re using a pizza stone or wood fired oven then you need a way to get the raw pizza into the oven. The best way is a pizza peel, and these can now be bought very cheaply online. There is a specific technique to getting it right, as it can often stick or you can flop the edge of the pizza over the stone. Make sure to use semolina and flour on the peel itself, and follow some tips on how to use it. There are some videos and images in my postHow To Use A Pizza Peel Properly: No More Sticking.

Get The Right Pizza Peel

I bought a metal peel first, which caused me some problems with sticking for a while. Then I bought a wooden one and never had the problem once. The metal peel tends to get moisture from the condensing dough, while the wooden peel absorbs it. So go for a wooden peel if you are a beginner. A metal peel comes in handy for retrieving the pizza once cooked, as the thinner edge can get under the pizza better than 1cm of wood. So if you can afford both then I would recommend it.

Source Quality Ingredients

There aren’t many ingredients in making pizza, so the quality of these ingredients is very important. You can’t hide behind anything, so it’s a good idea to source some quality products. Good flour, tomatoes, cheese and meat can be found at an Italian delicatessen. So get on to Google and have a look – you’ll probably find one hiding closer than you thought. You won’t go back to the lesser ingredients found in stores once you try.

Use A Scales Rather Than Volume For Ingredients

Baking is more of a science, and so needs more accurate measurements of ingredients. Other recipes you can use cups and teaspoons to get your quantities but in pizza making this isn’t the best way. You can end up making errors in your dough which mean it won’t bake very well, won’t rise, or will taste too yeasty or bready. You also want to be consistent every time you make pizza, which is harder with volumes. Instead, get yourself a proper scales. One that can measure to the 0.1g is best for the yeast, salt and sugar so you need to go digital.

Add Finishing Toppings To Complete

This is a great way to add an extra kick of flavor to your pizzas once they are cooked. You can grate a dusting of Parmesan or Peccorino Romano cheese. Drizzle some extra virgin oil infused with garlic (this is great). Or a pinch or two of dried oregano. At the very least, a pinch of sea salt will make the toppings and dough punch more. If you are adding prosciutto or rocket to the pizza, do it once you have cut the pizza into slices, then it’s easier to cut and everyone gets an equal amount.

Always Preheat Your Oven Long Enough

Pretty simple – a hotter oven makes better pizza. Preheat the oven for long enough so that your pizza stone or steel gets to the top temperatures. Around 30 minutes minimum, but the best pizzas I’ve made are always where the oven has been on for an hour or so. If you don’t heat it long enough, you get less oven “spring” – the action that happens to the dough when it hits a hot oven and puffs up before it hardens. You will probably end up with a doughy pizza base too.