Weeknight Cooking

5 Ways to Make Your Homemade Pizza Better

April 14, 2015

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: 

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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. 

More: Grab a slice—and a glass! Here are the best wines to pair with pizza.

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.)


4. Relax...

...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!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Elisa D. May 5, 2015
Always made pizza at home - http://casa-giardino.blogspot.com/2012/04/pizza-night.html
Julie April 27, 2015
Ruth P. April 19, 2015
for a great, crisp thin crust, I use my huge cast iron pizza pan. It's good for clean up as well, no "overflow" onto the oven floor!
Noni'sGirl April 19, 2015
I have achieved very good results at home with a dark heavy duty sheet pan. Olive oil on the bottom gives it a nice flavorful crust.
It's not a "pizzeria" pizza, but good enough for home. But now I'm intrigued and I will try the steel pan method.
My grandmother has taught me to put a small potato ( cooked) in the pizza dough. I've always wondered if it makes a difference. I guess it's more like a focaccia dough. As far as toppings are concerned...crushed tomatoes,no sauce please,small pieces of garlic and anchovies,olives,oregano ( preferably hand picked from the southern italian mountains...well, I am allowed to dream) mozzarella and a lot of pepper and of course olive oil. It's a family favorite.
Smaug February 8, 2016
There's actually a traditional Italian crust that uses a fermenting potato for leavening rather than adding yeast. Takes a few days, but makes a nice crisp crust. A lot of people swear by potato, or potato water, as a bread ingredient.
Bret April 19, 2015
500 degrees for an hour? Many of the ideas pub this blog are great but common who in blazes - has time or the inclination to heat a steel sheet for one hour at 500 degrees? How about a recipe for regular folk?
Smaug February 8, 2016
Buy a perforated pizza pan- one with fairly large holes (I think my favorite is Chicago Metallic). Works better than a stone in a home oven, and you only need to preheat the oven itself, preferably hotter than 500.
Peggy P. April 15, 2015
My favorite pizzas so far have been Asparagus with Parsley-Chive Pesto (http://www.thursdaynightpizza.com/2015/04/green-at-last-pizza-with-asparagus-and.html) and Spanikopita (http://www.thursdaynightpizza.com/2014/09/spanakopita-pizza.html), which is awesome for brunch.
April M. April 15, 2015
when you preheat your steel pan, what's next? Do you need a pizza peel to grab your uncooked puzza and slide it onto the hot pan? Or do you lay out your pizza dough onto the hot pan, then add topping?
QwertyJuan April 15, 2015
You "make" the pizza on the peel, then transfer to the hot steel. (just as you see them do in wood fired ovens at a pizzeria). The pizza will cook VERY fast. Like 5-6 minutes fast.
Hannah P. April 15, 2015
After your baking steel has heated up the next step is to build your pizza on a pizza peel then slide it onto the hot steel. Once your pizza is done you can slide it back off the hot steel with the peel. Hope that helps!
Bernice April 19, 2015
How do you make the pizza slide easily off the peel? I flour mine but it often sticks and then it's a disaster b/c the pie falls apart in the process of trying to transport it onto my baking steel. Do you just load it with flour (doesn't the flour then burn in such a hot oven?). Thanks!
Adam April 20, 2015
Try making the pizza on parchment paper. Slide the pizza and parchment paper onto the baking steel and after a minute or two you should be able to slide the parchment back out of the oven no problem and finish baking the pizza right on your baking steel.
QwertyJuan April 20, 2015
I've read this method before. I can't see why it won't work. Sounds like a good idea.

Some other hints I've read are sprinkling the peel with Semolina flour (Gennaro Contaldo says he used to use FINE bread crumbs in place of Semolina). This will allow the pizza to "roll" off the peel.
John P. April 24, 2015
I use corn meal....
Smaug February 8, 2016
If you leave the pizza for too long on the peel, it will start to stick; you can usually loosen it up by sliding a metal spatula (or a cookie sheet) under it. I've even seen people grab an edge and pull, seems to be possible with practice if you're doing a free form pizza.
Smaug February 8, 2016
Parchment shouldn't be used above 425 degrees or so- if you must, you can use aluminum foil, but peel technique, while you might lose a pizza at some point, is fun and not that difficult.
Ken K. April 14, 2015
With regard to the cleaning of a baking steel, I would suggest the following link from bakingsteel.com: http://bakingsteel.com/using-cleaning-re-seasoning-baking-steel/ Soaking the steel, as recommended for the pans in the link suggested above, would result in a lot of rust to have to remove and a big mess.....
Adam April 14, 2015
Every time i've used a rolling pin my crust has come out as hard and crunchy as a cracker. Whenever I use my hands it usually comes out soft. How can they use a rolling pin in a restaurant and not end up with a tough crust?
Dan April 14, 2015
Pizza Restaurants use high gluten flour for dough. It makes stretching the dough thin easier. what kind of flour do you use? The high gluten flour can be a little tricky to find in some places, sometimes only at a restaurant supply store or online.
Smaug February 8, 2016
I've rolled crusts for years, as far as I've ever seen it requires no particular techniques. A stretched crust will tend to be thicker- and breadier- toward the edge; a rolled crust should be crisper, but sounds like you're overcooking.
Ken K. April 14, 2015
I know what was trying to be said in #3 above, which is that the steel should be pre-heated at 500 degrees for an hour (not placed in an oven that has been pre-heated for an hour). (For those contemplating two steels, as much as adding the first helped, having the second onto which to move the pizza after 1/2 the baking time has elapsed has upped my game a lot.)
Leslie S. April 14, 2015
Hi Ken, thank you for catching that! You're absolutely correct and we've edited the article to reflect your catch!