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Today: Pat Clark—homemade pizza dare devil and head baker at Marta—shares his pizza wisdom for a successful home-baked pie.
Whether by pie or slice, piled with toppings or minimalist, pizza is a classic dinner staple. The combination of blistered crust, gooey cheese, and fresh ingredients tastes right just about any night—but you don't have to pick up the phone and order to get the perfect pie. You can make dynamite pizza in your own oven says Pat Clark, the lead baker at New York's latest "it" pizza restaurant, Marta. Here are Pat's 5 tips to keep your cool while making a hot pie:
1. Make your dough.
Pat Clark is big on this point. He says, "If there's any secret I can give folks, it's to not get stressed out. [Making] pizza is supposed to be fun!" This means that if you have the time and patience to make the dough, go for it. Clark swears by Jim Lahey's no knead pizza dough—it's fast, simple, easy to practice, and is as hands-off as possible. When Clark makes Marta's signature crust he uses a blend of King Arthur and North Country flour—the amount he uses of each varies depending on the day—but any high-quality all-purpose flour will do the trick for Jim Lahey's dough recipe.
If you are looking to cut time by picking up pre-made dough, Clark's tip is to pop into a local pizzeria on the way home and ask if they'll sell you some dough. Nine times out of ten they'll be happy to send you home with a few pieces of dough to experiment with.
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2. Turn up the heat, but don’t burn down the house.
Most restaurant pizza recipes call for a really hot oven, but don't go overboard trying to replicate pizzeria temperatures. Clark has tried every oven-heating trick in the book and strongly recommends that you do not follow suit. His approaches have ranged from breaking countless pizza stones (we didn’t ask), melting gaskets around his oven door, baking in cast iron pots and pans, and even packing his home oven with refractory bricks to mimic the conditions of a brick oven. “The last approach was a flat out disaster,” he admitted, “My landlord was not happy.”
3. Use a baking steel.
Clark describes this tool as the "Holy Grail of home baking equipment." A 1/4-inch piece of food-grade steel that works like a traditional baking stone, it's a great heat conductor which accounts for its arguably magical pizza powers.
All you need to do is preheat your baking steel, and oven, for an hour at 500º F, then bake your pizza directly on the steel. Be sure to use a peel to both put your pizza on the steel and to take your pizza off it—you don't want to burn yourself! Using a baking steel ensures a very consistent bake and has made the best crust Clark has ever eaten from a home oven. If you have plans to regularly bake bread or pizza at home he, and I, highly recommend buying one (Clark has two). (Just make sure to thoroughly dry and season it after washing to keep it from rusting and never cut your pie directly on the steel.)
...the dough! Do not forget to let your dough rest at room temperature before shaping it—a crucial step that will make it much easier to handle. If the dough is too sticky, just add a little extra flour to your hands and the table.
At Marta, they roll all their dough out with a French rolling pin, so if you have one, Pat encourages you to try this method. Do not, however, get too caught up in making a perfectly circular pizza (which can led to overworking the dough). Clark is serious when he says, “Amoebas taste good.”
5. Minimalism is a mantra when it comes to toppings.
Home bakers, myself included, can go a little crazy on the pizza toppings. But tons of cheese and sauce does not a masterpiece make.
Instead, stick to a few high-quality ingredients—Clark suggests crushed tomatoes, some decent shredded cheese, a little olive oil, and salt as a great starting point. Practice makes perfect, so make a pizza as often as possible and experiment—see what you like, what bakes well, and what tastes best. And at the end of the day, don't get stressed, it’s only pizza!
More: Pizza's perfect mate? A big salad, of course.
What's atop your perfect pizza? Tell us in the comments below!