I would like to try making homemade pizza with my kids. I’m confident that I can make a decent crust and sauce. My concern is in the baking. I don’t own a pizza stone. Do I need one to make pizza, or can I use a pan that I already own, such as a cookie sheet?
Pizzas made commercially are baked directly on the floor of a pizza oven at extremely high temperatures (as high as 800°F.) . Because of this direct, high heat, a crispy crust is guaranteed.
To duplicate this environment as closely as possible in a home oven, a pizza stone is very helpful. Proper preheating ensures the oven and the stone achieve a steady, high heat which will cook your pizza quickly and drive off any moisture that would make the crust soggy.
However, you don’t have to have a baking stone to make a decent pizza. Proper preheating of the oven is key. And because you’ll be using a hot oven – anywhere from 450°F to 500°F – your baking sheet must be sturdy or it will buckle, so you may need to upgrade your cookie sheet.
With a baking stone, a bit of flour, semolina, or cornmeal or a piece of parchment paper will keep the pizza from sticking. The pizza can be shaped on your work surface and slid from a peel (a big sheet of wood or metal with a long handle) directly onto the stone.
Using a baking sheet, you’ll want to coat it lightly with olive oil. Go easy, or the crust will fry on the bottom; you want just enough oil to keep it from sticking. Because the crust is covered on the bottom, not as much moisture will be driven off as it would if baked free-form, but the difference in texture probably won’t be appreciable.
A couple of pointers to keep your pizza from being soggy: don’t overload it with sauce or toppings, and be sure to bake it all the way through.
Now, I have a question for you. Do you have a grill with a cover? If so, you have the means to make a pizza that will knock your socks off! When I first tried this technique, I couldn’t believe the directions. Slap the dough directly on the grill? Wouldn’t it just ooze through the grate and stick? The answer is no, it doesn’t. It starts to bake and sets up so quickly it doesn’t have a chance to do either. So here are my favorite directions for making pizza at home.
For a charcoal grill, get a good quantity of briquettes or charcoal (my preference) white hot, and arrange them around the perimeter of the grill. Shape your dough into something which fits your grill (oblong works well for a round kettle-type grill), and make your pizzas on the small side, say 5″ or 6″ in diameter. Much larger, and they’ll be difficult to maneuver. Be careful not to have any thin spots in the dough, which will burn; and only cook one at a time until you’ve done this a few times.
Transfer the untopped dough to the middle of the grill (an easy way to do this is to fold it in half, and unfold it as you put it on the grill), close the lid, and wait about three minutes. Uncover the grill, and check the bottom of the pizza. Lift it to peek using the edge of the peel, a spatula, or tongs. It should be striped with light brown grill marks; if they’re black the grill is too hot. Wait a bit for it to cool down before continuing.
Invert the dough onto a peel or cutting board, i.e., being sure the grilled side is UP. (I’ve been known to forget this.) Now add your toppings, and don’t overdo it. Go for flavorful ingredients rather than lots of them. Slide the pizza back onto the middle of the grill and close the lid. Cook, covered, until the pizza is done. Check after three or four minutes to see how it’s progressing; it may need a little longer.
If you want to speed things up, cook all your pizzas on the first side, line them up, and top them. Once you get the hang of calibrating the heat of the grill and working with the dough, you can go faster. When they’re all topped, you can cook the pizzas two or more at a time, depending on the size of the grill. Or you can make and keep them warm in a low oven until they’re all cooked before serving.
To use a gas grill, preheat it with all the burners on high for about 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat of the burners to medium. Cook the pizzas on the first side. To finish cooking them topped, turn off one or more burners for indirect heat, and use that portion of the grill.
Whether you’re using a charcoal or a gas grill, the fire should be hot enough to brown the dough without scorching before it cooks through. You should be able to hold your hand over it for three or four seconds. Do give this method a try – the taste is amazing. And my favorite topping? Smoked salmon, goat cheese, caramelized red onion (precooked), and capers – highly recommended!