If you put wet sauce on, then you are getting wet toppings when it comes out of the oven. The oven doesn’t have enough time to get the toppings to dry out, and so the top gets soggy. This affects the base and crust too – it won’t get crispy if that is what you are going after. You should make sure that your sauce is not too watery – get some quality tomatoes. And use dry mozzarella, and precooked vegetables. There is exceptions though – if you are making Neapolitan pizza then this uses wet mozzarella and lots of tomato sauce. This makes a pizza that you eat with a knife and fork instead of picking it up by the slice.
Using the right flour will greatly affect the texture of the pizza. Get your hands on some bread flour, or Italian “00” bread flour which are both great flours for pizza. The “00” refers to the finest grade, so is soft and works well in the intense heat of the wood fired oven. Standard bread flours will work best for a home oven. Protein content between 12-15% is best, as this means more gluten – with the upper end more suited to long rises in the refrigerator as gluten degrades over time. Avoid cake or all purpose flours. These have less gluten, and so the crust will have a denser crumb – like a cake or biscuit.
Unless you are making a cracker thin crust, it is better to stretch your dough than roll it out. Rolling basically pushes all the air out of the dough, and compresses it so that the crust is dense. Learn how to stretch it by hand instead – you get much more control over the dough. And the good thing? Even a fairly misshapen dough tastes great, and will have great texture. There are lots of videos online to teach you to stretch.
It can be confusing knowing how long to mix or knead your pizza dough. Anyone familar with bread probably knows the ‘windowpane test’ where you break off some dough and see if you can stretch it out thin and see through it. I’ve found that using that test for pizza dough often means the dough has been over kneaded. You get a pizza skin that is difficult to stretch out as the gluten is too strong, and you get a crust that has a tighter crumb – more like bread. In my experience, it is better to knead slightly less that this point. You want the ingredients to have mixed together thoroughly, but you don’t want the dough ball to be completely smooth and stretchy. Aim for 2-3 minutes of kneading rather than 5-8.
This is a neat trick to be able to compare recipes of pizza dough. After all, dough is only made up of 4 main ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt, with the addition of sugar and oil in some recipes. This means that you’ve got to get the quantities right, as small differences can make big changes. Bakers percentages work by finding the percentages of ingredients compared to the total amount of flour (flour is always 100%) e.g. Flour 100%, then water 65%, salt 2%, yeast 1%.
This is a big beginner mistake. You get worried that your pizza has been in for too long and is going to get tough, so you take it out just a few minutes too early. You then bite into it, and yep, it’s doughy in the middle and the bottom isn’t crisp. You need to take your pizzas just a few minutes more. When you think it’s done, then give it a little longer before you take it out. As long as the crust or toppings isn’t getting burned then you are fine. The dough won’t get tough – it isn’t properly cooked yet, so taking it too far is hard to do. The extra cooking will improve the flavor of the crust as it browns, and the cheese will toast more and the bottom will crisp up. You will get better with practice, but for now, just keep an eye on the crust. If it is white, then don’t take it out.
A home oven isn’t designed so well for cooking pizza as it isn’t hot enough and doesn’t have a hot surface to cook pizza on. That’s where a pizza stone comes in – it mimics the effects of a traditional pizza oven by turning into a red hot surface to cook pizza. The stone also draws moisture away to make the crust crispy, much like the bricks would in a brick oven. The result is a pizza with a delicious crispy base. Often when you cook on a cold, thin, baking sheet you will end up with a doughy, undercooked pizza so this problem is fixed with the stone. A newer invention is the pizza steel. This is a quarter inch thick piece of steel which works the same way as a pizza stone. Except the steel conducts heat better so it heats up faster, and then transfers more heat to the pizza, making it crispier and cooking faster. An added bonus is that they don’t crack from thermal shock. They are slightly more expensive but will last a lifetime. I have this pizza steel and can fully recommend it (click to see on Amazon). If you’d rather get something a bit cheaper, then at least get a pizza stone made of cordierite like this one from Amazon. It is less likely to crack like other pizza stones. See all the essential tools I recommend on my pizza equipment list guide.
If you take dough straight out of the fridge its coldness makes the gluten contract and the dough tighten. This makes it very hard to stretch as it springs back to the ball every time you try. I’ve found I get other unwanted affects with cold dough too. When placed in the oven, the crust tends to spring up too much, creating an overly large crust when I’ve aimed for a thin crust pizza. To avoid this, take the dough from the fridge and form into balls. Then leave them covered on the worktop for at least an hour. Two hours is best if your kitchen is on the cold side.
This is the most important step in creating good pizza. By lowering the temperature of the dough, the fermentation process is slowed down allowing it to develop the flavor and texture it needs, without over proofing. The yeast can now break down more of the starches in the dough. This improves the texture by making it tender, lighter and with a crust with larger holes. The flavor greatly improves as this process produces lots of byproducts which add to the depth of flavor. After kneading, let the dough rest at room temperature for an hour before moving to the fridge to ferment in bulk. Cut 220g pieces off when you need it, then ball them up on the worktop and rest for an hour to warm up before stretching or rolling out. A minimum time the dough should ferment is 24 hours to see big benefits. It improves over the next 1-2 days, before starting to over proof. If overnight is all you can do, then that is better than nothing. Once you start using this technique, if you ever go back to ‘one hour’ proofing times like most recipes will tell you, you will see how this is such bad instructions!
I NEVER remember to take the cream cheese out of the fridge in time. The quickest way to bring it up to room temperature is by defrosting it in the microwave! Yes, I know it’s not “frozen”, but the defrost setting warms up the cream cheese VERY gently and slowly. Yet again – low and slow.