But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As long as you are okay with not expecting to re-create the pies you might find coming out of a wood-burning Neapolitan oven, you can make good pizza at home with normal home kitchen equipment, even more basic than you might think.
That is what I found with a crust recipe pulled from the reliable King Arthur Flour archives. You can mix the dough with your hands very easily. Instead of a pizza peel, the pies are topped on a rimless baking sheet or overturned baking sheet. No pizza stone? No problem. We still very much enjoyed the crust when the pizza was baked on an overturned baking sheet. Of course, if you have a peel or stone for baking and would rather knead the dough in a stand mixer or bread machine, by all means use those tools.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you make the most of your pizza experience:
- Heat is your friend. I crank up the oven to 500 degrees and let it preheat for an hour, with the baking sheet (or stone) on the bottom rack. A hot surface helps the crust brown.
- Time helps, too. You can let the dough rise for an hour, and the pizza would be fine. I go with the upper range of what KAF recommends, which is two hours, so the dough has a little more time to develop flavor and expand. You can develop even more flavor by letting the dough rise and/or rest in the refrigerator overnight. Just put it on the counter a half-hour or so before you plan to shape it to take the chill off.
- Don’t go overboard on the toppings. I get the temptation, but putting too much on top of the pizza can make the crust soggy. It can also create a mess when toppings slide off and burn.
- Be confident. Kneading definitely takes some work to do by hand, so don’t worry about being too rough on the dough. My preferred method involves alternating arms, using the heel of one hand to almost push the dough away from me, then pulling it back before repeating with the other hand. But do whatever feels natural, as long as you’re not holding back. Make sure you are working all parts of the dough. Similarly, the dough may need some not-so-gentle nudging to stretch into a 12-inch round. And when it comes to sliding the pizza into the oven, that is not the moment you want to lose heart. Give the sheet a quick jerk forward so the far edge begins to slide onto the sheet in the oven and then pull the one with the pizza back so the rest of the pie glides off.
You’ll have enough dough for 2 more pizzas crusts, which makes this recipe excellent for a pizza party (double the cheese and sauce ingredients). Or freeze the risen dough in 2 portions, which will shorten your pizzamaking session the next time. The dough also makes for fantastic calzones; use 1/4 of the extra dough per calzone (or 1/8 of the original recipe).
This simple red sauce pizza is just a starting point (so is the amount of mozzarella — add more if you like it cheesy). Or skip the red sauce and use the dough as the base for a white pie. Really, you can top the pizzas with whatever you want. Here are just a few combinations we like:
- Red sauce, pepperoni and spicy honey (apply the honey after baking to keep it from burning)
- Camembert, fig preserves and pickled red onions
- Pesto, mozzarella and cherry tomatoes
- Fontina, sausage and pickled jalapeños
We prefer using finer-grained semolina under the rolled-out dough to help slide it into the oven, but cornmeal is fine, too. Either fresh mozzarella from the cheese or deli counters or the firmer kind you find in the grocery store aisle will work on top of the pizza.
Especially if your oven is not spotless, be prepared to open a window or turn on the exhaust fan. Smoke can happen once the semolina starts to turn dark or if some of the toppings slide off and burn. Brushing the semolina off the baking sheet in between pizzas (use heavy-duty oven mitts to pick it up) helps.
Make Ahead: Dough for the crusts can be made at least 1 day in advance. Refrigerate it for at least 8 hours to let it slowly rise in cold storage after kneading, or refrigerate after it has risen for an hour or two at room temperature. The dough can be frozen for up to a few months.
- For the crust
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or instant yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 4 3⁄4 cups to 5 1/4 cups (23 1/2 to 25 1/2 ounces) flour, plus more as needed
- Semolina, for dusting the baking sheet (may substitute cornmeal)
- For the toppings
- 1 1⁄2 cups (half of one 26 1/2-ounce carton) strained tomatoes, such as Pomi brand
- 1 small clove garlic, minced with a pinch of salt into a paste
- Salt, as needed
- Sugar, as needed
- 8 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1⁄4 cup to 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the crust: Combine the sugar, yeast, salt, oil and the lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Lightly flour your countertop. Turn the dough out there; use your hands to knead it until it becomes smooth and elastic, about 7 to 10 minutes. If it starts getting very sticky, sprinkle more flour on your hands, the dough and the counter. The stickiness will begin to go away as the dough smooths out.
Use some oil to grease a large bowl. Transfer the dough there, cover and place in a draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours (it should almost double in size), or transfer to the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
Meanwhile, make the toppings: Stir together the strained tomatoes and garlic in a medium bowl. Taste, and add salt and sugar as needed.
At least an hour before baking the pizza, place an inverted baking sheet or a pizza stone, if you own one, on the bottom/lowest oven rack; preheat to 500 degrees.
Lightly flour your countertop again. Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into four equal portions, turning each into a rough ball. Reserve 2 of them for later use, either by placing back in the covered bowl in the refrigerator or loosely wrapping in plastic wrap and sealing in a zip-top bag in the freezer. Cover one portion with plastic wrap while you work with the first one. Use your fingertips to begin flattening out the dough, until it’s about 8 inches in diameter.
Hold one hand in the center of the dough to lightly anchor it. Use your other hand to begin stretching the dough on the side farthest from you, rotating the dough in quarter turns so that you are stretching all sides. If the dough resists stretching, let it rest for a few minutes. Aim for a round that’s about 12 inches in diameter.
Use semolina to dust the surface of a rimless baking sheet or inverted, rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the dough round there.
Brush the dough with a bit of oil, if desired. Spread half of the sauce lightly over the surface, leaving about a 3/4-inch border around the edge. Add half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste.
Slide the dough from the rimless baking sheet onto the inverted baking sheet in the oven. Bake (middle rack) for 13 to 16 minutes, until it’s golden brown, the toppings are hot and bubbly, and the cheese is melted. Immediately transfer the pizza to a wire cooling rack (so the bottom of it doesn’t get soggy).
Once the toppings have set for a bit (5 to 10 minutes), slice and serve.
Repeat the stretching, topping and baking with the remaining ball of dough.
Crust recipe adapted from KingArthurFlour.com.
Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to email@example.com. The nutritional analysis below is based on 4 servings.
Correction: An earlier version of this recipe included the time needed to make 4 pizzas. This version has been updated.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.
Calories: 530; Total Fat: 19 g; Saturated Fat: 10 g; Cholesterol: 45 mg; Sodium: 1250 mg; Carbohydrates: 66 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 22 g.