Tips for Making Great Pizza

Choosing Flour and Yeast

I don't need to tell you about the good toppings that you should be putting on your pizza. Fresh ingredients almost always taste better - fresh basil, fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, etc. On the other hand, you may be a bit confused about what type of flour to use, and where to find the kind of yeast to make a good pizza.

The Flour

Don't go out to the store and blow a wad of cash on some primo expensive flour if you can help it. I have had great luck making pizza with all kinds of flours, though I most commonly use three types:

You can increase the flavor imparted by your yeast by chilling your dough overnight.

Out of the three, I've had the most success with unbleached bread flour. I find that bread flour yields a chewier crust and is easier to work with by hand when kneading. When I use whole wheat flour, I don't make the whole crust with it - usually I use half whole wheat and half bread flour.

The Yeast

I regularly use Fleischmann's Yeast (the active dry kind, not the rapid-rise stuff). It's convenient, and it is always active, even well beyond the expiration date. I also like the flavor of Fleischmann's yeast compared to other brands. Starting your own yeast culture is apparently easy and very rewarding, flavor-wise - but it still sounds like a lot of work for an amateur like me, who has tons of other stuff to do.

Let the Yeast Rest

After you have proofed your yeast to insure that it is viable, you should mix about half the flour mixture into the yeast / water mixture and let that combination sit out in a warm place for at least 15 minutes. This allows the yeast to begin breaking down the flour before kneading the dough into a tougher, starchier consistency. The result is better flavor and much better texture in the final product.

Your mixture should be somewhat liquid, but almost solid. It should come easily off of a whisk, but should be jelly-like in consistency.

Knead the Dough Thoroughly

Kneading the dough makes it more elastic, harder to rip, and easier to throw into a pie shape. Also, the more you knead your dough, the chewier it will be when it comes out of the oven.

It's pretty hard to over-knead your dough if you are doing it by hand - you'll tire out faster than you can ruin the dough. Kneading your dough ball for about 15 minutes in all should give you decent results. Knead for 3-4 minutes at a time, letting the dough rest in between spurts for a couple of minutes. The dough ball should be smooth and slightly sticky when you are done.

Chill the Dough Overnight

If you want dough that doesn't taste like flour and nothing else, the single most important thing you can do is to let the yeast work its magic.

Letting the dough sit overnight really allows the yeast enough time to do its magic. Keeping it in the fridge overnight doesn't just keep the dough from turning into a useless hot-air balloon - it also slows down and changes the way the yeast eats the carbohydrates in the flour.

While you'll have to plan a day ahead before you make pizza, you'll be rewarded with a much tastier crust.

Cook at a High Temperature

I usually cook my pizzas on the screen at the highest temperature an oven will go before "broil." For my oven, that's 500° F (260° C). Cooking at a high temperature gets the cheese and crust cooked at a more consistent rate. I can't quite put my finger on it yet, but when I cook at a lower temperature, it seems like the crust does not cook as fast as the toppings, and consequently ends up undercooked.

At any rate, it is important that when you cook at a high temperature to preheat the oven until it is at temperature, and to open the oven door as little and as infrequently as possible.