Saturday, February 07, 2015

Make Pizza

I like pizza. Shocking, isn't it? Like many people, I have enjoyed the delicious combination of dough, sauce, and cheese since I was a kid. For a long time I dreamed about making my own pizza at home, but it wasn't until I was around 30 that I finally decided to give it a try.

My first attempt was disappointing to say the least. The crust was baked hard like a cracker and was difficult to chew. The sauce, Newman's Own pasta sauce from a jar, was over-applied, and overpowering. The cheese had been on the verge of burning, baked into a kind of solid orange mat that clung to the pie while also recoiling from it, leaving considerable gaps between it and the sauce.

After that first attempt, I didn't try again for some time.

Then, around 7 years ago, I made a commitment to get better at it. How would I do it? I would "make pizza every Friday night." Eventually, my technique, and the results, would have to improve. Right? Right?

My wife was pregnant with our first son, and I looked forward to establishing a family tradition that the kids would also enjoy. Thus, Friday evenings were known from the start of this grand experiment as "Dad's Pizza Night."

A Pizza Recipe

Here's how to make a pizza, in four easy steps:

  1. Shape the dough. Ideally into a pizza-like shape.

    Pizza dough shapped in a roughly circular form.

  2. Add sauce. How much is mostly a matter of taste.

    Image of pizza dough shaped and topped with sauce.

  3. Add cheese. And/or other toppings as you see fit.
  4. Image of pizza dough topped with sauce and cheese.

  5. Bake. On a stone, on a pan. Whatever. Just don't forget to stop baking at some point!

    Image of pizza in the oven while being baked

  6. Ta da! Pizza. Enjoy.

    Image of baked pizza out of the oven.

You might have noticed that this recipe is considerably easier than some, leaving out the painstakingly opinionated advice about how the dough should be made, which flours to use, whether the sauce should be cooked or not, fresh mozzarella or aged, how hot to heat the oven, whether to use a stone, whether to use a peel, etc., etc., etc.

The recipe is simple because I believe you should start your pizza-making adventure by eliminating most of the complexity, thereby minimizing the number of things that go wrong. For such a simple food, pizza preparation can be fraught with peril. It occurred to me when I started my "Dad's Pizza Night" tradition, that it was hard enough to modestly master the four steps above without delving into the nuanced questions of how each step could be improved. For first-time, and even tenth-time pizza makers, just getting the pizza into the oven should be considered a triumph.

I encourage you to start by simply buying all the components for your pizza pre-made, at whatever level of convenience you find most approachable. Bags of pizza dough are available at most supermarkets for under $2. Buy a bag of pre-shredded mozzarella if you fret grating it from the block. Cans labeled "pizza sauce" will actually get you in the right ballpark. Oh, and don't forget to buy two of everything. This stuff is relatively cheap, and if you don't end up needing backup supplies to avert a crisis, you'll have an excuse to make pizza again soon.

After you get the feel for assembling and baking pizza, you'll be in a position to evaluate which components could be improved. After the stress of worrying whether the thing will even be edible has been soothed, consider trying a recipe for homemade sauce. Or switch it up and use fresh mozzarella (tip: pat the mozzarella very dry with paper towels). Eventually, you'll probably also make your own dough. And it will all seem relatively easy.

If your pizza adventure is anything like mine, you'll forever be finding faults in the fruit of your labor, while nonetheless enjoying it more and more. After 7 years of making pizza nearly every week, I still consider myself to be more or less a novice. I'm frustrated that my progress has seemed so slow, but on the other hand, I am sometimes quite proud to look back at how far I've come.

Over the years I've also developed a lot of very fine-grained opinions about pizza making that I would love to share with you. I've purposefully left them out of this post, because the message I want to send is that people who are interested in making pizza should just start doing it. I'll look forward to writing future posts about my opinions on making and shaping dough, cooked vs. non-cooked sauces, cheese varieties and quantities, and the mother lode of all home pizza making opinions: oven temperature and apparati.

Stay tuned for more pizza posts. In the mean time, go buy some supplies and have a go! Good luck.