Grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and your favorite spot on the couch, the spot that leans in. I wrote a novel on how to make really good homemade pizza. It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it and collect the necessary tools. But after making pizza in three apartments, a house, and two states, I’ve come to recognize the amount of nuances in making pizza—a novels worth. We’re going to talk about the essential tools for making pizza at home, how to make a good dough (plus some for the freezer too), how to assemble the pie, plus some general pizza making tips. I’ve included step-by-step pictures as well as a video. If you want this to be your thing, then lets make it your thing.
Pizza has always been an important meal in my life. Growing up, we ordered thin crust, extra-cheese pizza from Pizza Hut on Friday’s and gathered around the living room to watch TGIF. Three years ago I inserted that same ritual into our grown-up lives with homemade pizza. I knew little to nothing about making pizza at home. In fact, I remember the first time I sent a picture of a “good” homemade pizza to my sister. There were plenty of “bad” ones prior to. The crust had charred bubbles. The pizza was round but irregular enough to look authentic. I was so proud. Early on in my pizza making journey, I landed on 101 Cookbooks Neapolitan-style dough. Crisp with a short chew and plenty of flavor. Two summers ago, I went to a pizza party at theZoë François’s house. That’s where I gathered techniques for making good pizza at home. Zoë is a magician and has books to prove it. It was there that I learned to toss pizza and use a steel instead of a stone. Make no mistake, making really good pizza at home is an art. Thankfully, I get the opportunity to hone it every Friday(ish).
Instant yeast is just as it sounds, instant. It doesn’t need any activation. It, too, is nearly fool proof. Are you catching a pattern? I buy a bag of this from Amazon and store it in the fridge for at least a year, probably longer. Before switching to instant yeast, I ruined so many doughs in the yeast-proofing stage. This is a no-brainer purchase.
This type of flour has a higher protein amount compared to all-purpose flours. It yields higher lifts and longer gluten webs to the final outcome. Since we make pizza regularly, we keep this type of flour in our pantry. The recipe below calls for quite a bit of flour. You’ll wipe out the bag fast. If not, you can store it in your freezer.
If there’s one thing you can skip, it’s this. A large knife will do. But as you move forward in your pizza making, this is the best way to cut a pizza and keep everything in tact. When using a knife, the cheese tends to grab on for dear life.
I use my pastry bench for everything from scones to pizza. The dough we’re working with is on the wet side. We want to add just enough flour and no more. A pastry bench is a perfect utensil for both cutting and moving the dough around the work surface. No additional flour needed.
Make the Pizza Dough
Add 1 3/4 cups cold water to 1/4 cup olive oil in a liquid measuring cup.
Into a stand mixer, add 4 cups bread flour, 2 teaspoons flaky kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon instant yeast. Stir to combine. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in liquids.
Slowly add flour (up to an additional cup) until dough begins pulling away from the sides of the bowl. We want the dough to be tacky but not sticky. Here it's too sticky.
Just right. Tacky but not sticky. We don't want a dry dough but it shouldn't be wet either.
When the consistency is just right, the dough will stick only to the bottom of the bowl. It will look like a fat tornado. Once there, continue mixing/kneading on low speed for another 10 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a surface. If the texture is right, you wont need any additional flour. Using a pastry bench, cut the dough into 6 equal parts. Use the pastry bench to scrape it off the surface.
Assemble dough into a ball by pulling polar ends over your thumb and pinching together. Repeat 2-4 times until dough is shaped into a ball. Pinch the bottom together to create a seal.
To freeze dough, place each ball in a separate ziploc bag. Place a straw in the bag and zip up until the straw. Suck as much air out as possible and quickly finish zipping close. Place in freezer for up to 2 months.
If making same day, place dough on a pan, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for 4-8 hours.
Dough will double in size. One hour before baking, place Baking Steel in oven and preheat at the hottest temperature (not broil).
Sprinkle prepared dough with flour on all sides, making sure to dough is not sticky in any areas. Press your fingers in the dough a couple times.
Assemble the Pizza
Spread cornmeal over the surface of the peel to keep crust from sticking.
Toss, roll out, or shape dough into a circle and place on peel.
Drizzle olive oil around the edge of crust and gently rub to edge to evenly distribute.
Add a couple plops of sauce and spread around the dough using the back of a spoon.
Add thinly sliced fresh mozzarella around the pizza being sure not to weigh it down too heavily.
Slide pizza onto the baking steel and bake for 5-15 minutes depending on the heat of the oven. Remove pizza using the peel.
Marry a recipe. If not this one, then another one. After making the same recipe for 3+ years, I saw so many varying results when I’d do something slightly different or when the weather would change from humid to dry. In a lot of ways, making pizza at home is like living with a toddler—finicky. Marry a recipe and get to know it really well in the context of your kitchen.
In the same vein, be prepared for some failures before you get to the successes.
Before adding sauce and toppings to the pizza dough, make sure it can slide on the peel. It’s the worst when you go to slide the pie into the oven and it stays put.
When choosing cheese, start with a fresh ball of mozzarella. It’s a pain to slice, so pop it into the freezer about 30 minutes to an hour before assembling. This will make slicing much easier. But too much longer in the freezer will turn it into a rock.
Try not to weigh down the dough too much with cheese and toppings. It’ll yield a floppy crust.
Confession: I love the texture of the frozen and thawed dough compared to the fresh dough. If I plan ahead enough, we only cook from the frozen dough. I’ve tried putting the fresh dough in the fridge overnight a couple times, and it’s never as good. Never. I’m a believer in the method below.
You know you’ve figured out the perfect oven configuration once the bubbles on your crust char.
How to make really good pizza at home. Crisp edges and lofted insides. See images above for a complete step-by-step tutorial. This recipe will give you enough for tonight and plenty for the freezer.
4–5 c. bread flour
2 tsp. flaky kosher salt
1 tsp. instant yeast*
1 3/4 c. cold water
1/4 c. olive oil
cornmeal, for dusting
Into a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add flour, kosher salt, and yeast. Mix together.
Pour water and oil into a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in liquids until combined. Stop the mixer every so often to help incorporate all the flour.
Once all the flour is incorporated, continue adding in flour a couple tablespoons or so at a time, about an additional cup in total. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. The dough will begin pulling away from the sides, only sticking to the bottom. Once the texture of the dough is just right, it will look like a fat tornado. Continue mixing/kneading the dough on low speed for another 10 minutes.
Remove dough to a surface. You shouldn’t need any additional flour, only a pastry bench. Using the pastry bench, cut the dough into 6 equal parts. Shape dough into a ball (see tutorial above).
If freezing dough for later, place individual balls in a ziploc bag. Place a straw into the far side of the bag and zip closed to the straw. Suck out all remaining air. Quickly remove straw and zip close. Place in freezer for up to 2 months.
Allow dough to rise. If starting with frozen dough, remove from the freezer the morning before cooking. Open bag and allow to rise in the bag on the counter all day. If using freshly made dough, drizzle with a bit of oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise on the counter for 4-8 hours. (It takes dough in my kitchen far less time to rise in the summer because of a warmer house.)
One hour before baking, place Baking Steel in oven. Turn oven to highest temperature and allow to preheat. See placement in oven tips in the notes. In the meantime, assemble sauce or pesto as well as toppings. Place fresh mozzarella ball, if using, in the freezer to make slicing easier.
About 30 minutes before baking, assemble the pizza. Pull out your pizza peel. Lightly spread cornmeal on the surface to allow an easy slide into the oven. Set aside. Using a bit of extra flour, coat the outside edge of the dough to absorb any wet areas. Gently use your fingers to press into the dough a couple times. We don’t want to break the outside seal of the dough. This will help to create those picture perfect charred bubbles once cooked. Pick up dough, adding additional flour if necessary and either toss or press out the dough into a 10-12″ round. (See video for tossing how-to. You’ll use the tops of your fist to toss and catch the dough. Do this 2-3 times.)
Place shaped dough onto the peel. Drizzle the outer edge of the crust with olive oil for flavor. Gently rub in. Add a couple dollops of prepared sauce around the pizza. A little goes a long way. Use the back of a spoon to spread around evenly. Remove mozzarella from freezer and thinly slice. Place on top of pizza as well as any additional toppings.
Carefully slide pizza onto the steel. Bake for 5-15 minutes. This will vary greatly from oven to oven.** Remove onto peel. Slice and serve.
*This recipe is written specifically for instant yeast. No temperature activation is required. If using dry active yeast (or another form), use warm water instead of cold as listed. Please note, this recipe has been tested over the years using instant yeast only.
**Ovens vary from machine to machine. I’ve made this in an electric and gas oven. Either way, I turn the oven up to the hottest temperature (not broil). The first couple of times, I play around with placement in the oven. I one oven, I placed the baking steel on the very bottom, though that always made me very nervous. In my current oven, I place the steel on the second rung down from the top. That seems to work best in getting a nice crunch on the crust and melty cheese. It’s 100% trial and error. Because of this, baking times will vary immensely.