Tools and Tips for the Home Pizza Chef
Rather than getting delivery or going out to eat every night, many home chefs decide they want to make restaurant quality pizza in their home kitchen. In order to do that, they will need the proper tools and follow a few of the procedures that pizzerias do. Fortunately, with a little bit of practice, any homeowner can make professional pizza in their home.
Making the Dough
The dough is the foundation to any good pizza. Though the ingredients are simple, you will need to portion and mix them correctly; otherwise your dough will be a big flop.
Salt and Yeast Don't Play NiceWhen adding ingredients to your mixing bowl, be sure that the yeast and salt do not come into direct contact. Salt kills yeast and has to be dissolved in water first. Dumping the yeast in last, atop the flour, will assure that everything goes smoothly.
- Ingredients. Flour, yeast, salt, water and oil are the basic ingredients needed for pizza dough. The ingredients need to be added in a certain order; otherwise the entire batch can be ruined. Also, if the recipe calls for oil, it should always be added last to make the dough more pliable and to keep it from sticking to the bowl and your hands.
- Mixing. Traditional methods of mixing dough ingredients call for a wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease. Luckily, we live in the modern age with countertop mixers and dough hooks that will mix and knead the dough for you. You will want to use lower speeds, though. Mixing at high speeds will increase the dough temperature and cause it to proof too soon and too fast.
- Proofing. Most home pizza recipes call for you to cover the dough and let it rise (proof) for a couple of hours at room temperature (70 to 80 °F). Where this option gives you pizza dough in a hurry, most professional pizzerias proof at cool temperatures. They make their dough a day in advance and let it proof in the refrigerator overnight. This keeps the dough from becoming too airy and makes it easier to form in the morning. Plus, proofing at warm temperatures can cause the dough to dry out or even partially bake.
- Portioning. As with proofing, a lot of home recipes have the portioning backwards from the professional pizza kitchens. Pizzerias portion and weigh their dough balls after it comes out of the mixer, before it proofs. Home recipes suggest you divide the dough after it has risen. Which method to use really depends on how you will proof the dough. Generally speaking, if you choose to proof at warm temperatures, you should portion afterwards.
>>Pizza Dough Recipes
Forming the Dough
In the professional pizza kitchen, there are three methods of forming dough, by hand, by rolling pin and by machine. Each subsequent method is a little faster than the previous and may or may not affect the overall taste and characteristics of your final pizza. Traditionalists contend that forming the dough by hand is the only way to go, and using a rolling pin, press or automatic roller squeezes air out of the dough, making the final product chewy and unappetizing.
How you choose to shape the pizza dough in your home kitchen depends on your aptitude and how much time you have. Using a pizza rolling pin is the quickest way for the home pizza chef to form the dough, but forming it by hand can be fun, once you have practiced enough to get good at it.
>>Learn How to Shape Pizza Dough
Making the Sauce
The technique for making pizza sauce in a home kitchen is virtually identical to the method pizza restaurants use. Pizzerias simply make larger batches. The basic steps include: dumping everything into a bowl and mixing. Some recipes require you to cook the sauce, but most of the time, you do not have to. Here are a few other tips you can follow to make sure your sauce turns out just right:
- Do not mix at high speeds. If the recipe calls for a lot of chunky ingredients, like diced tomatoes, mixing at a high speed will mash up those ingredients and potentially alter the way your pizza tastes. Also, high speed mixing can splash sauce all over the place, making a huge mess. Some recipes even suggest you mix by hand.
- Add water as needed. Most pizza sauce recipes call for a certain amount of water. The water is there to help create the proper consistency. This is something that needs to be adjusted to your preferences. If you simply dump the called-for amount of water into the bowl, the sauce may become too runny, so add a little bit at a time as you are mixing.
- Do not store in aluminum bowls. The main ingredient in most pizza sauces is tomatoes, and tomatoes are highly acidic and can pit or corrode aluminum bowls or pans. This corrosion may even impart a slightly metallic flavor in your sauce. It is better to use plastic or stainless steel mixing bowls for the sauce.
- Adjust the sauce to your taste. All pizza sauce recipes are open to interpretation, and you should experiment by adding more or less of certain spices and fit the pizza to your specific tastes. You can also try new concoctions out on your family or friends who will come running at the offer of free pizza.
If the recipe calls for a lot of chunky ingredients, like diced tomatoes, mixing at a high speed will mash up those ingredients and potentially alter the way your pizza tastes. Also, high speed mixing can splash sauce all over the place, making a huge mess. Some recipes even suggest you mix by hand.
>>Pizza Sauce Recipes
Here are some additional tips to make sure your pizza comes out just right:
- Do not over-sauce the dough. The pizza sauce should be applied with a swirling motion and should not be so thick as to overpower all of the other ingredients. Most pizza shops use a flat-bottom ladle to spread the sauce. You should be able to see some of the crust through the sauce. Also, do not spread the sauce to the very end of the dough, or it will burn.
- Precook some toppings. Certain pizza toppings contain a lot of water and will turn your pizza into soup if put on the pizza raw, so be sure to pre-cook all of your peppers, eggplant, thick mushrooms and sliced tomatoes before putting them on your uncooked pizza.
- Layer ingredients. The general order for topping a pizza goes, sauce, then cheese, then meat, then vegetables. However, Chicago style deep-dish pizzas put cheese and sauce on top of the meat. Also, German pizza recipes call for cheese to go on the crust, followed by the sauce, so the order is not a hard and fast rule. The important part is that the pizza and all the toppings are cooked completely.
- Oil the top. A final “topping” that most professional pizzerias put on their pizzas is a little bit of oil, usually olive oil. This will seal in some of the juices and help prevent the top of the pizza from burning or drying out during baking. You do not need to put a lot on, just drizzle no more than a quarter of a cup per pizza.
Listed below are some commercial pizza supplies that you can use to transform your home kitchen into a professional pizzeria.
The Baker's PercentageThe baker’s percentage is a method of portioning ingredients based on their relationship to the amount of flour (by weight) in the recipe.
>>How to Make Pizza Dough
- Portion Control Scale. All of the dough recipes used by professional pizzerias are based on weight. This is because pizzerias make so much dough at once that it is simply easier to weigh out the ingredients and dough ball sizes. Also, dough recipes based on weight that use the baker’s percentage are easy to scale up or down depending on how much dough you want to make. A third reason why you will want to use a digital portion control scale to measure your ingredients is because a cup of flour that is hard packed will contain more than a cup of sifted flour, but one pound is still one pound, regardless of how the flour is packed.
- Pizza Stone. Most homeowners cannot afford a wood-fired brick oven to put in their backyard to make truly authentic pizza, but a pizza stone will make a close approximation in your home oven. Simply preheat the stone in your oven and place the pizza directly on the stone once it is hot enough. The pizza stone will deliver the same kind of char and flavoring as a wood-fired brick oven. >>How to Use a Pizza Stone
- Pizza Peel. Pizza peels provide a preparation surface and give pros and homeowners an easy way to transfer an uncooked pizza into the oven. Before placing the pizza dough on the peel, you will want to lightly dust it with either flour or cornmeal, so the pizza will easily slide off the peel into the oven. You should choose a peel with a shorter handle, so it is easier to handle and manipulate in the kitchen.
- Dough Docker. Another handy tool most professional pizzerias use is a dough docker. Resembling a miniature rolling pin with pointed spikes on the roller, dough dockers place small dimples in the raw pizza dough and help minimize the amount of bubbling. Using a docker will assure that your homemade pizza does not come out all swollen and possibly burned in places.
- Pizza Screen. Homeowners that opt not to use a stone can use a pizza screen as a cooking surface. Pizza screens will allow better heat transfer on the bottom of the pizza, so it will bake faster. Screens also help create a crispier crust that is similar to a pizza baked on a stone.
- Pizza Pan. The most common method for baking pizza, used by homeowners and professionals alike, is by using a pizza pan. Some pizzas, like thick crust or deep dish, require the use of a pan because it will not hold together otherwise. Flat, solid pans are convenient because they also double as a serving tray. The only downside to using a pan is that pizzas will take a little longer because the heat is not transferred as efficiently as it would when using a stone or screen.
- Pizza Cutter. Once the pizza is baked, you will need something to cut it into individual slices. There are several different pizza cutters available, but most of the pros use the traditional pizza cutter wheel.
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