Pizza has joined air and water as a necessity of life. Some families even have a pizza night once a week. Delivery means home cooks get a meal off.
But, as with all food, pizza is getting more expensive. Large pies with extra toppings are approaching $15 in many shops, higher with delivery. Many of us shop by price, refusing to purchase without a good coupon.
You can cut your pizza bills in half with homemade, but that’s vexing for many cooks. The competition with commercial is rigorous, and it’s all in the oven. Store pizzas are baked at 500 F in special, narrow ovens that concentrate the heat and blow hot air over the pie, called convection baking. This prevents the dreaded sogginess of baking at lower heats. No way can you approximate this in your family GE.
A pizza oven replicates the heat of the wood-fired beehive ovens common in Italy. They nuke the crust without burning the toppings, crucial to good stuff.
Still, the best recommendation for homemade is you’ll create your favorite pizza every time with no compromises. Homemade is fraught with challenges, but I think I’ve hit on the right stuff.
So here you go, five steps to perfect pizza:
1. THE CRUST MUST
Amid the oven problem detailed above, I’ve quit trying to make my own crust. The solution is pre-baked pizza shells, popularized by Boboli, the baker of Thomas’ English Muffins. They cut baking time to 8 minutes and are very close to commercial quality. Cost is about $1.25 each, usually sold in packs of two.
Some in-store bakeries offer their own crusts. You’ll need a proper pizza pan here. Mine has holes punched all over the bottom. This creates the crunchy, golden crusts my family craves.
2. THE SAUCE BOSS
Canned pizza sauce tastes, well, canned. One small can is enough for two pizzas. Open both top and bottom. Press one end to eject the entire contents. Remove the second lid. Too easy.
Pizza needs a robust sauce, and tomato paste is the most concentrated flavor. I add a dollop of olive oil and some water or red wine to thin, a dash of sugar to temper the acid, a dash of dehydrated garlic, a dash of basil and a few drips of pepper sauce.
Simmer 10 minutes to meld flavors. So simple.
3. THE TOP TOPPINGS
Homemade means custom pies. I’ve already created separate pepperoni, sausage and vegetable slices on one crust, perfect for families of disparate preferences. No more having to buy four different smalls to satisfy everybody. I must have pickled Italian pepper rings.
4. THE MIRACLE OF CREATION
Place your crust shell on a lightly oiled pizza pan. Smear on the sauce, just enough to coat. I add vegetables, then the meat and finally the cheese, a combination of shredded mozzarella and provolone. The provolone is more difficult to melt, tempering somewhat that stringy cheese experience of the mozzarella.
Page 2 of 2 - Some eaters like the meat on top of the cheese, especially pepperoni. Note you’ll need to skillet fry raw meat before baking, but not pepperoni.
5. BEATING THE HEATING
Using a pre-baked crust shortens baking time to less than 10 minutes. I find 8 minutes at 425 F works best in my oven. I turn on the convection blower at 4 minutes to go. It’s handy but no necessity. I look for slightly browned cheese, my family’s favorite.
Jim Hillibish is a columnist at The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.