Although pizza may seem reasonably basic in its combination of crust, cheese, sauce and toppings, these ingredients—along with proper oven temperature—can make all the difference between creating a savory pie of majesty and one that has the look and taste of cardboard.
Fortunately, home cooks wanting to tackle pizza making are in luck. Two local pizzeria owners—Aric Mei from The Parlor and Bob Lynn, hospitality founder and president of La Grande Orange Pizzeria—have shared their expert advice on how to create the perfect pie.
When it comes to creating a terrific homemade pizza crust, Mei suggests Hayden Flour Mills pizza flour and active dry yeast.
“I love a good starter, but an active dry yeast dough is a lot easier to control and would be my choice for the first timer,” he says.
Since making homemade dough from scratch can take some practice, Mei says home cooks are also welcome to come by The Parlor and purchase some raw dough.
“Dough can be really hard to get right, and sometimes making a stop at your favorite pizzeria and asking to buy some dough can really take the pressure off. It also greatly speeds up the whole process.”
Pizza sauce is not a one-size fits all type of ingredient. As Lynn says, sauces can range from uncooked smashed, perfectly ripe tomatoes to a long-simmered Sicilian style, along with many other great bases like homemade pesto. “Our favorites at LGO are the simplest, cleanest ones with a fantastic olive oil,” he says.
No matter what type of cheese you prefer on your pizza, Mei strongly suggests avoiding the pre-shredded variety.
“The pre-shredded cheeses are filled with anti-binding agents so that they don’t clump together as they sit in a bag for months,” he says. “Get some good mozzarella, roll up your sleeves and use a grater—you’ll be glad you did.”
In addition to mozzarella, Mei says The Parlor also mixes in some good aged white cheddar for a little added depth of flavor.
When looking for topping inspiration and ingredients, Lynn suggests checking out a local Farmer’s Market.
“Make your pizza vegetable-centric, or garnish it with meat and other proteins as you desire,” he says, adding that using vegetables and fruits that are in-season helps to set up a more exciting pie that will naturally taste better and “feel in rhythm with the season.”
Fire It Up
When the pizza is ready to be cooked, Mei suggests using a pizza stone instead of a baking sheet.
“The other key piece is a wood pizza peel, which is a thin wood board with a handle that you will stretch your dough and build the pizza on,” he says, adding that heavily flouring the pizza peel will help the raw dough slide off easier onto the hot stone.
“When it comes to oven temperature, I subscribe to the philosophy of ‘the hotter the better.’ Five hundred to five hundred and fifty degrees is about as hot as your home oven will get. Stretch your dough thin and keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.”
Both Mei and Lynn say that while perfecting homemade pizza does take practice, the end result is definitely worth it.
“My philosophy is always to be fearless in the kitchen. How will we ever grow as cooks and chefs if we don’t push ourselves to find our edge?” Mei says.
“Keep it simple and be patient,” Lynn says. “Practice making pizza dough until you have a style and quality you are enthusiastic about. Once you’ve done that, the sky’s the limit on toppings.”