I can make an average pizza, but it took me a while to figure out how. Maybe I should repeat it – I can make an average pizza, but it took me a while to find the right teacher. For a long time I didn't really know where to look for guidance – I just knew I wanted pizza as I had enjoyed it in Rome and Naples. The key is good pizza dough.
The best pizza dough: Watch the video
I was smart enough to know early on, if you have a bad pizza dough, you are ready to have a bad pizza. Drafting the dough factor was not as easy as you might think. As I was going, my oven scratched the fruit of many deflated efforts – a little dough here, a lot of dough there, this flour, flour, kneaded by hand, kneaded with a mixer, high bristles, over and over again.
Then I was given a hint. A gift, really. My friends and I would visit a very beloved little pizza in San Francisco quite often. We're going to eat, but also try to absorb some of the good karma pizza that flows from Baker's Single-shelf oven. A lot of time was spent there, not because we really wanted to know their secrets – but mainly because the food was so good. Hours will pass as we chat over fine spicy pizzas with slightly swollen, swollen edges. It became the bark I'd been trying to emulate at home.
One day in the aforementioned pizza shop, I noticed a copy of The Apprentice of Peter Reinhart's Bread in a library near the preparation area. It must have been published recently and my curiosity was painful. Sure enough, the book contained an interesting (and meticulous) description of how to make the kind of pizza I was looking for. The dough that Peter uses for the Napoletana pizza in this book has a rooted method of late fermentation – unlike other techniques I had tried so far. Game.
Make pizza dough ahead
If you want to wait until the last minute to make the pizza dough, you have no luck here. The key is overnight fermentation. You end up with a golden, beautiful crust with the perfect amount of crunchiness and fine dough. If you try this recipe and like it, Peter has continued to write an entire book on the search for the perfect pizza, aptly named, American Pie. It's a great reference for those of you who really want to cheat on pizza.
Give Peter the dough a try, and if you are interested in baking great breads worldwide, be sure to spend time with his book.
I'll leave you with the dough recipe. It is up to you to play the garnishes. The best advice I can give you is to take it easy on that front – it goes a little too far. My favorite is a simple pizza margherita made with this tomato sauce, some slaughtered mozzarella balls of bocconcini cow's milk, and a few salt bars before you put the pizza in the oven. And, don't forget the magic touches. When the pizza is hot out of the oven, give it a quick dusting of fresh grated parmesan, a small chopped virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of basil sprinkled on a chiffon. Serve pronto!
As for the oven temperatures – I have excellent results at 450F with a pizza oven. Go buy a stone pizza right away if you are serious about making great pizza at home. They are cheap and make a huge difference to your crust.
This is the stripped down, customized version of Peter's Napoletana pie dough recipe. If you want all the great notes, tips, and recipe history, please pick up the book.