Cooking pizza has many tips and tricks which you can learn to turn your amateur bakes into pizzeria level deliciousness. Here is a list of tips ranging from beginner to more advanced tips, which you can add to your pizza making arsenal.
1. Slowly Proof Your Dough In The Refrigerator
This is the most important step in creating good pizza. By lowering the temperature of the dough, the fermentation process is slowed down allowing it to develop the flavor and texture it needs, without over proofing.
The yeast can now break down more of the starches in the dough. This improves the texture by making it tender, lighter and with a crust with larger holes. The flavor greatly improves as this process produces lots of byproducts which add to the depth of flavor.
After kneading, let the dough rest at room temperature for an hour before moving to the fridge to ferment in bulk. Cut 220g pieces off when you need it, then ball them up on the worktop and rest for an hour to warm up before stretching or rolling out.
A minimum time the dough should ferment is 24 hours to see big benefits. It improves over the next 1-2 days, before starting to over proof. If overnight is all you can do, then that is better than nothing.
Once you start using this technique, if you ever go back to ‘one hour’ proofing times like most recipes will tell you, you will see how this is such bad instructions!
2. Don’t Stretch Cold Dough
If you take dough straight out of the fridge its coldness makes the gluten contract and the dough tighten. This makes it very hard to stretch as it springs back to the ball every time you try.
I’ve found I get other unwanted affects with cold dough too. When placed in the oven, the crust tends to spring up too much, creating an overly large crust when I’ve aimed for a thin crust pizza.
To avoid this, take the dough from the fridge and form into balls. Then leave them covered on the worktop for at least an hour. Two hours is best if your kitchen is on the cold side.
3. Get A Pizza Stone Or Even Better – A Pizza Steel
A home oven isn’t designed so well for cooking pizza as it isn’t hot enough and doesn’t have a hot surface to cook pizza on. That’s where a pizza stone comes in – it mimics the effects of a traditional pizza oven by turning into a red hot surface to cook pizza. The stone also draws moisture away to make the crust crispy, much like the bricks would in a brick oven.
The result is a pizza with a delicious crispy base. Often when you cook on a cold, thin, baking sheet you will end up with a doughy, undercooked pizza so this problem is fixed with the stone.
A newer invention is the pizza steel. This is a quarter inch thick piece of steel which works the same way as a pizza stone. Except the steel conducts heat better so it heats up faster, and then transfers more heat to the pizza, making it crispier and cooking faster. An added bonus is that they don’t crack from thermal shock. They are slightly more expensive but will last a lifetime.
4. Don’t Remove Your Pizza Too Early
This is a big beginner mistake. You get worried that your pizza has been in for too long and is going to get tough, so you take it out just a few minutes too early. You then bite into it, and yep, it’s doughy in the middle and the bottom isn’t crisp.
You need to take your pizzas just a few minutes more. When you think it’s done, then give it a little longer before you take it out. As long as the crust or toppings isn’t getting burned then you are fine. The dough won’t get tough – it isn’t properly cooked yet, so taking it too far is hard to do. The extra cooking will improve the flavor of the crust as it browns, and the cheese will toast more and the bottom will crisp up.
You will get better with practice, but for now, just keep an eye on the crust. If it is white, then don’t take it out.
5. Get To Know Bakers Percentages
This is a neat trick to be able to compare recipes of pizza dough. After all, dough is only made up of 4 main ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt, with the addition of sugar and oil in some recipes. This means that you’ve got to get the quantities right, as small differences can make big changes.
Bakers percentages work by finding the percentages of ingredients compared to the total amount of flour (flour is always 100%) e.g. Flour 100%, then water 65%, salt 2%, yeast 1%.
- Now you can look at recipe X and see how it differs from recipe Y.
- You can now create the exact dough every time which works well for you.
- You can now make 1 pizza or 7 pizzas just by multiplying the amounts.
If you know that 340g flour, 220g water, 3.4g yeast and 6.8g salt makes 1 pizza, then just multiply this by the number of pizzas you need. Similarly, divide your total flour by 100 for 1% then work out the rest of the numbers.
Check out this pizza dough calculator.
6. Don’t Over Knead Your Dough
It can be confusing knowing how long to mix or knead your pizza dough. Anyone familar with bread probably knows the ‘windowpane test’ where you break off some dough and see if you can stretch it out thin and see through it. I’ve found that using that test for pizza dough often means the dough has been over kneaded. You get a pizza skin that is difficult to stretch out as the gluten is too strong, and you get a crust that has a tighter crumb – more like bread.
In my experience, it is better to knead slightly less that this point. You want the ingredients to have mixed together thoroughly, but you don’t want the dough ball to be completely smooth and stretchy. Aim for 2-3 minutes of kneading rather than 5-8.
7. Learn To Stretch Your Dough By Hand
Unless you are making a cracker thin crust, it is better to stretch your dough than roll it out. Rolling basically pushes all the air out of the dough, and compresses it so that the crust is dense.
Learn how to stretch it by hand instead – you get much more control over the dough. And the good thing? Even a fairly misshapen dough tastes great, and will have great texture. There are lots of videos online to teach you to stretch.
8. Use The Right Flour For Pizza
Using the right flour will greatly affect the texture of the pizza. Get your hands on some bread flour, or Italian “00” bread flour which are both great flours for pizza. The “00” refers to the finest grade, so is soft and works well in the intense heat of the wood fired oven. Standard bread flours will work best for a home oven.
Protein content between 12-15% is best, as this means more gluten – with the upper end more suited to long rises in the refrigerator as gluten degrades over time.
Avoid cake or all purpose flours. These have less gluten, and so the crust will have a denser crumb – like a cake or biscuit.
9. Avoid Wet Tomato Sauce And Toppings
If you put wet sauce on, then you are getting wet toppings when it comes out of the oven. The oven doesn’t have enough time to get the toppings to dry out, and so the top gets soggy. This affects the base and crust too – it won’t get crispy if that is what you are going after.
You should make sure that your sauce is not too watery – get some quality tomatoes. And use dry mozzarella, and precooked vegetables.
There is exceptions though – if you are making Neapolitan pizza then this uses wet mozzarella and lots of tomato sauce. This makes a pizza that you eat with a knife and fork instead of picking it up by the slice.
10. Always Preheat Your Oven Long Enough
Pretty simple – a hotter oven makes better pizza. Preheat the oven for long enough so that your pizza stone or steel gets to the top temperatures. Around 30 minutes minimum, but the best pizzas I’ve made are always where the oven has been on for an hour or so.
If you don’t heat it long enough, you get less oven “spring” – the action that happens to the dough when it hits a hot oven and puffs up before it hardens. You will probably end up with a doughy pizza base too.
11. Add Finishing Toppings To Complete
This is a great way to add an extra kick of flavor to your pizzas once they are cooked. You can grate a dusting of Parmesan or Peccorino Romano cheese. Drizzle some extra virgin oil infused with garlic (this is great). Or a pinch or two of dried oregano. At the very least, a pinch of sea salt will make the toppings and dough punch more.
If you are adding prosciutto or rocket to the pizza, do it once you have cut the pizza into slices, then it’s easier to cut and everyone gets an equal amount.
12. Use A Scales Rather Than Volume For Ingredients
Baking is more of a science, and so needs more accurate measurements of ingredients. Other recipes you can use cups and teaspoons to get your quantities but in pizza making this isn’t the best way.
You can end up making errors in your dough which mean it won’t bake very well, won’t rise, or will taste too yeasty or bready. You also want to be consistent every time you make pizza, which is harder with volumes.
Instead, get yourself a proper scales. One that can measure to the 0.1g is best for the yeast, salt and sugar so you need to go digital.
13. Source Quality Ingredients
There aren’t many ingredients in making pizza, so the quality of these ingredients is very important. You can’t hide behind anything, so it’s a good idea to source some quality products. Good flour, tomatoes, cheese and meat can be found at an Italian delicatessen.
So get on to Google and have a look – you’ll probably find one hiding closer than you thought. You won’t go back to the lesser ingredients found in stores once you try.
14. Get The Right Pizza Peel
I bought a metal peel first, which caused me some problems with sticking for a while. Then I bought a wooden one and never had the problem once. The metal peel tends to get moisture from the condensing dough, while the wooden peel absorbs it. So go for a wooden peel if you are a beginner.
A metal peel comes in handy for retrieving the pizza once cooked, as the thinner edge can get under the pizza better than 1cm of wood. So if you can afford both then I would recommend it.
15. Learn To Use A Peel Properly
If you’re using a pizza stone or wood fired oven then you need a way to get the raw pizza into the oven. The best way is a pizza peel, and these can now be bought very cheaply online.
There is a specific technique to getting it right, as it can often stick or you can flop the edge of the pizza over the stone. Make sure to use semolina and flour on the peel itself, and follow some tips on how to use it. There are some videos and images in my postHow To Use A Pizza Peel Properly: No More Sticking.
16. Don’t Go Overboard With Toppings
This will make the pizza harder to transfer to the oven, and could make the top soggy. Less is more with pizza toppings – just make sure you get really quality ingredients and you won’t have to drown it. Freshly made dough with good tomatoes should be the focus. Then cheese and a few toppings is a great added bonus.
I find it’s often a hallmark of bad pizza when it has a million toppings on it. When the pizza needs this, it’s often hiding the fact that the dough wasn’t well made, or the cheese is like rubber.
17. Start Using Semolina On Your Base
This is a game changer in the war of trying to not get your pizza stuck to everything when assembling it – the worktop, the peel, the stone. You should make a mound of a 50/50 mix of semolina and flour and drop your pizza dough in it when you start to stretch it out. Then sprinkle a thin dusting on your peel before placing the pizza on top.
The semolina is better than just flour as it acts like small ball bearings when moving the dough around. This ensures it doesn’t stick to anything and you have no more worries.
It also adds a nice texture and flavor to the base. Just make sure you add some flour to the mix, as straight semolina is a bit coarse.
18. Try The Autolyse Technique
To autolyse in baking means to soak your flour in water before adding the rest of the ingredients. This allows the water to activate the flour, so that enzymes get to work, and gluten starts forming early.
This has a wonderful effect on the extensibility of the dough – it gets very soft and easy to work with and stretch. This also helps the crust rise in the oven – you get a more pronounced crust with an autolyse. Overall it has better texture and flavor because you don’t have to knead the dough as much, which can damage pigments in the dough.
How to do it? Simply add your flour and water for 30-60 minutes before the rest of your ingredients. I did a test of the technique so you can see the results in Autolyse Pizza Dough: Testing The Technique.
19. Use A Starter
Using a starter will improve the depth of flavor and aroma in your pizzas which you can’t achieve by the standard fermentation process. It also means you don’t need to bulk ferment your dough before it is balled.
A starter can be called a preferment or sponge and is a mixture of flour, water and yeast that has fermented before adding to the rest of the ingredients. Biga and poolish are Italian and French terms for starters that have different quantities of water and use bakers yeast. Sourdough starter is a longer process and uses natural yeast from the air.
Try using a biga in your recipes. You will need 100% flour, 60% water and 0.25% yeast which is mixed and left at room temperature for 18 hours – adjust your recipe for the extra yeast and hydration.
20. Add More Water To Your Dough
If you add more water to the dough, it becomes less dense and so cooks better – the texture will be tender and light with more air holes. It will actually become more crispy because the extra water makes steam which puffs up the dough as it cooks.
The trade off with extra water is a dough which is harder to work with – it becomes very sticky when trying to knead it. You can get better at this as your skills improve. I tend to use a dough scraper to gather the dough after every other knead with the left hand. So take the dough as wet as you can without compromising your shaping technique.
Different flours can take different amounts of water, but try for around 65% water to flour ratio. You can then push this a bit higher if you want to experiment.
21. Use Less Yeast
You don’t need to use as much yeast as most recipes recommend, and by reducing this you can avoid that strong yeasty flavor that most beginner bakers will encounter.
Most beginner recipes are aimed at making pizza in a few hours and so skip the long fermentation process. Because of the speed, you need the yeast to act quickly for the dough to have air bubbles.
But if you are proofing your dough for longer, say 24-48 hours, then you don’t need this large amount of yeast. The extra time gives the yeast longer to feed on sugars and breakdown starch to produce CO2 bubbles and flavor.
Try reducing your yeast to 1% of the total flour, or 0.5% if using a starter.
22. Make Neapolitan Pizza In A Frying Pan
This method mimics the high temperatures of a wood fired oven which cause the pizza to take on a different style – the Neapolitan.
- Preheat the top heating element in your oven (i.e the broiler/grill from above).
- Put a frying pan on high heat on the hob.
- Stretch the dough and place it dry in the frying pan.
- Add toppings and cook for a minute or two until the bottom of the base has browned.
- Transfer the pan to the highest shelf of the oven and cook for 2 minutes more until golden.
This technique is great as it is no fuss – no peels or stones for things to go wrong. The pizza it creates is very tender and soft. It won’t cut into slices – you will need a knife and fork for this one like you are in Italy.
You can see it creates a lovely crust, which gets slightly leopard spotted from the top heat.
23. Source Some Artisan Flour
If you buy anything which is mass produced, then you risk the natural fluctuation in quality which may occur from satisfying such high demand. Why is mass produced wine so bad? Because they take grapes from so many areas so they can still produce many bottles. The same goes for flour – it is best to try and find a smaller producer so that you can guarantee quality every time.
Independent millers will often produce specific flours which have qualities for different purposes. Check the gluten content and how fine it is milled, and you can add some variety to your pizza making.
In the UK I use Shipton Mill which have a great range of organic flours. You can give your area a quick Google search, and most small brands stock online now too.
24. Build Your Own Pizza Oven
Everyone who makes pizza wants their own pizza oven outside. You can build your own wood fired oven for as little as $200-$300. You no longer need to buy expensive fire bricks – you can buy one large bag of vermiculite (insulating volcanic rock), mix with cement and make a dome over a gym ball as a mold. See How To Build A Vermiculite Pizza Oven With A Gym Ball
You can build your own brick oven, or pay a masonry worker to do it for you. Or you can buy a pre-made kit which just needs some assembling in your back yard.
25. Buy A Portable Wood Fired Oven
The easiest and cheapest option for getting a wood fired oven in your backyard is getting a portable one. The most popular is the Ooni oven which you can buy for a fraction of the price of a brick oven.
It can reach 930ºF (500ºC) in just 10 minutes, and can cook a 13″ pizza in 60-90 seconds. So you get that intense heat and speed of a pizza oven but without the price tag. You can also collapse it down and pack it away or store it. It burns wood pellets for convenience, so you don’t need to find logs.
Another option is the Roccbox. It is more expensive but is a bit more insulated so holds heat for longer. This one can attach a gas burner to the back so you don’t even need logs.
26. Use The Right Method And Ingredients For The Type Of Pizza
There are lots of varieties of pizza and using the wrong ingredients, oven, or techniques can make you wonder why you aren’t getting the right results. Research what style you are going after and then stick to the recipe.
For example, a Neapolitan pizza will use soft “00” flour, wet mozzarella, lots of tomato sauce and all cooked in a wood fired oven. This makes a soft crust pizza, with a wet middle that needs a knife and fork to eat.
If you are trying to make New York style, then use stronger bread flour, dry mozzarella, and cook it in a lower heat oven. This will make a crisp yet chewy pizza which you can pick up by the slice.
Follow these tips and you will be impressed how good your pizza making will become. Before long you will reach for your own pizza stone rather than ever picking up a takeaway again. Making great pizza at home does take a bit more time and effort, but the results are definitely worth it.
Come back to this page when you want some more inspiration and tips to take your pizzas one step more – you will find you get twice as good each time.