Alright. Any advice for a first-time pizza-maker who hasn't yet invested in paraphernalia like a baking stone? Thanks!
Use a tried and true crust recipe from a trusted source. Don't overload with toppings, makes it soggy.
I've had great luck with this crust recipe:
I cook the pizza at 500 degrees on an upside-down baking sheet on the middle rack of my oven. It has worked so well that I crossed the pizza stone off of my kitchen wish list!
Two tips: for now, make your oven as hot as possible, and preheat for a long time.
I have a rectangular pizza tile that just stays on the bottom grate of my oven, all the time. Longer preheat times, but keeps the oven temperature much more stable.
From a hard core pizzaiolo http://www.food52.com/recipes...
Three things: use high gluten flour and let the dough rest overnight in your fridge in tight clingwrap (it actually freezes well too).
Cook on the highest heat possible. If you obtain a stone that fits on your outdoor grill use that and cook it over a screaming hot wood fire, at around 600F.
Third thing, pineapple does not belong on pizza.
Besides a very hot oven, I think the key to a great homemade pizza is high quality ingredients - not necessarily 'fancy' ones. Of all the 'creative' pizzas I've made, the one that always seems to be the favorite is a classic Margherita - simply topped with very fresh mozzarella, good tomatoes (if fresh not in season, San Marzano,) good pungent olive oil and a mere scattering of fresh basil leaves. (I'm definitely a less is more girl when it comes to pizza.)
Rule #1: Pizza is fun. Keep it that way.
Rule #2: Don't let anyone trick you into thinking that their way is the only way. Except for pierino: When he speaks pizza, you listen with both ears. Got it?.
Rule #3: I have definite, intractable opinions about the way things should be done, but pizza isn't one of them. Never argue with anyone about Chicago vs. New York, thin crust vs. cracker crust, mozzarella under or on top of the sauce. They're all good. You should try them all.
Rule #4: First, make a pizza. Don't let the lack of a stone or a peel or bricks to line your oven stop you. Make do with what you've got; don't purchase any tools or equipment until after you've made a few pizzas using different recipes for doughs and sauces. I started making pizza in the late 60s and didn't get my first stone until the mid 80s. I figure that I've made about 2,000 batches (often double) of dough and sauce, but I still look for new recipes and techniques.
If you want to make your head swim from an overload of recipes and opinions, check out www.pizzamaking.com and http://slice.seriouseats...
Unless you're making a deep dish or Chicago style pizza, go light on the sauce and toppings. That's been the biggest improvement I've made in my efforts. Thin crusts just get soggy and yucky from too much sauce and wet toppings. I usually brush a very thin layer of olive oil on top of the dough, after it's shaped, before the other toppings, Brush it all the way to the edges, it helps them crisp up and also helps to keep the rest of the crust from getting soggy. Sometimes I put a light layer of grated Parmesan on top of that, again, helps to "seal" for want of a better word, the crust. THIN slice any veggies you do use, and if they're prone to wetness, consider precooking them before you bake the pie. Seriously, use about half the amount of sauce and other stuff you think you want.
And yes, as pierino says, an overnight rest for the dough is the absolute best, but it will still be OK if you don't plan ahead enough to accomplish that.
Oh, and if the dough starts to fight you when you're shaping it....walk away from it for about 5 minutes. Throw a towel over it, and just leave it alone. That lets the gluten relax, and it will be much more cooperative when you return.
Don't sweat the baking stone - you don't need it initially.
For your first time, keep it simple. Dough, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and boom, you're done. LOTS of great pizza recipes on the food52 site, btw.
DOUGH: If the pizza guys like you, you can probably buy decent dough from a pizzeria for cheap. Supermarket pizza dough in the bakery section is not bad either. But seriously, it's not rocket science, so make it yourself if you can. It takes like 10 minutes to throw the water, yeast, flour and salt together, and then the yeast does all the work for you, and 3 hrs later, you've got beautiful pizza dough that you can say "Holy smokes! I made that myself!"
OVEN TEMP: You want your oven smokin hot. I set mine to 550. Preheat it AT LEAST a half hour before you'll cook your pizza. Again, don't worry about the pizza stone for now.
In order to easily roll out the dough, it's gotta be room temp and relaxed. Cold dough and/or dough that's been handled too much will spring back and not stretch, and you'll get cranky. If that happens, have a glass of wine, let the dough sit for a few minutes to chilax, loosely covered, then try rolling again. Cover a sheet pan with parchment, and lightly oil it. Put your relaxed dough smack dab in the middle and start pressing it out with your lightly oiled fingers into a round/oval/square/ellipse/whatever shape, very thin.
Spread on a thin amount of sauce, then add sliced mozzarella (any kind really, just don't use non-fat, else it won't get melty, and you'll have gross-cheese pizza.)
I put my sheet pan pizza on the lowest rack of the oven. I only bake 1 pizza at a time. It'll be done pretty quick, like 10 - 20 minutes, depending on your oven heat and the size of your pizza. So keep an eye on it. Char marks on the crust and bottom of the pizza are GOOD! Or is that just a NY thing?
You can preheat a large cast iron skillet in the oven, upside down, grease it and bake your pizza on it.
A word on Chicago "deep dish"; it's not a pizza it's a casserole. I deeply love Chicago but I hate this concoction.
A pizza-making thread came up a couple months ago, lots of people weighed in and I learned a lot. Put pizza in the search box...
Char marks on crust and bottom earn bonus points. What does not earn bonus points is the orange complexion that New York pizza by the slice almost always has. Low moisture mozzarella combined with weak tomato sauce. There are certain things that are ubiquitous in NYC. That doesn't necessarily make them good. The "dirt water dog" being another example.
I would just like to thank all of you for these wonderful snippets of advice. They've been both informative and comforting too. The pizza was a grand success and I plan to make it on a regular basis. To everyone who said it's not worth going out and buying all manner of equipment until you've found your pizza groove, an extra thanks. You gave me the confidence to proceed without a baking stone, and you were right. I was just dandy without it. The pre-heating tips were also crucial--the kitchen got so hot (the oven was at 550 for an hour before the 'za went in) but it was worth it. So, yes, thanks to you foodpicklers, New Year's Eve was salvaged. Happy 2011 to all! CD