Rule 1: The best pizza method is one that works for you
There are so many videos and online blogs around these days with the perfect pizza method, that it could be tempting to surmise that “they can’t all be right”. However, you would be wrong to assume that.
Just like every other type of food, from fish & chips to falafal, every pizzaiolo makes his or her own stamp on traditional recipes and develops new or improved techniques as the generations (and technology) roll by.
Our best piece of advice right now, is for you to immerse yourself in this food method, that is possibly the most enjoyable and universally loved of them all, and find what works for you and your equipment.
Try out new ideas and ingredients. Test new floor temperatures and dusting flours. Accept that it won’t always go well. Have fun and get better at the same time. Find your inner Neapolitan and give it free reign!
That said, you are best to tweak just one element each time, rather than several, or you won’t necessarily know what made the difference.
Rule 2: Heat
First up, oven heat is probably the most important point to great pizza, after perhaps the dough itself.
This applies in pizza ovens and kitchen ovens, but the basic principle is that you want a floor temperature that will seal the dough and puff up the crust (“oven spring”) quickly, and an overhead temperature that melts and sears the toppings fast, causing “caramelisation” and FLAVOUR.
So, in a kitchen oven, you need to use a baking stone and maximum heat (worth trying turning the fan off too, if you can, so you get just top and bottom heat like a pizza oven. OR use the frying pan technique, that we believe works better.
If you have a pizza oven, then depending on what type you have, you will want a floor temperature of at least 350 C and an air temperature of 400 – 500 C . This is what works for us in our high-dome insulated clay oven. Again, find your sweet spot with practice in your oven.
Rule 2a: You need sustained heat, not a flash in the pan.
Some pizza oven manufacturers claim that their ovens are “up to heat” in 40 mins, or less in some cases. I have found that just because the oven has touched 400 C for the first time that evening, it doesnt mean that it has enough residual heat to give good cooking performance. Our 100cm oven needs at least 1.5 hours to get to a level of heat that is balanced and consistant and wont let you down half way through cooking. Take your time, and don’t take shortcuts. Kiln dried hardwood is the only fuel that works for me.
Step 2: Once the sauce is on, work fast
Once you have added sauce to your base, it is imperative that you transfer it in the piping hot oven as possible – within a few seconds ideally. The longer it sits around uncooked, the more likely you are to have a soggy pizza that sticks to your peel or your oven, or remains doughy once cooked.
Never try and be all “organised” before a pizza party, by topping all your pizzas beforehand. You will likely end up with an oven interior that looks more like a fondue cauldron and wasting an awful lot of amazing ingredients. Pizza making is all about staying relaxed and in the moment, going with the flow, and learning to have fun.
Step 3: Less is more with toppings
If you try and overload your pizza you will end up spending too long making it and risk the soggy bottom syndrome. Remember, you are not Dominos, so don’t try.
Start very simple – your base sauce and then 2 or 3 other ingredients. Focus on quality of ingredients, rather than the quantity of them, and you will never be disappointed.
Step 4: Dust your work surface and pizza peel
Don’t be afraid to use plenty of dusting flour to ensure things keep nice and mobile. The last thing your want is your marvellous creation sticking at the vital moment. We use a scattering of polenta to act as a bed of “ball bearings” between the pizza and the peel, but a little flour or semolina will usually work fine too. A little shimmy on the peel before taking it to the oven will allay any sticking fears.
Step 6: Enjoy yourself
Pizza night should be, above all, great fun. Our first tries at cooking pizza from scratch are often not great, but a little pratice and experimentation is all part of the game. As we’ve already said, don’t try and be too formal or efficient. The key to great pizza is taking your time with preperation, enjoying the moment, and relaxing with one of the simplest, but most satisfying foods in the world.