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Best Tips For Stretching, Building, And Launching A Pizza At Home

Best Tips For Stretching, Building, And Launching A Pizza At Home

When someone becomes an expert at their craft, their work can truly become an art form.

If you've ever had to wait for a table at a busy pizzeria, chances are you've seen this in action. The pizzaiolo, or highly-trained pizza chef, making authentic Italian-style pizzas is typically quite visible. The glimpses you get of him tossing dough in the air and pulling pizzas from a hot oven only heighten the anticipation of getting seated, ordering, and ultimately tasting the pizza.

Like most experts, pizzaiolos are efficient. They don't make a lot of sudden movements when they work. Seemingly everything they need to stretch, sauce, top, and send a pizza into the oven is a short reach away.

Speed and efficiency are important for restaurant chefs but especially important at pizzerias. A good pizza chef can build a pie and launch it into the pizza oven in under a minute.

Pizza restaurants with well-thought-out kitchens will have a prep station beside the pizza oven. This minimizes walking and keeps the chef in the zone of building, launching, cooking, and serving the pizza so they can quickly get on to the next order.

Unfortunately, not all of us have dedicated prep stations at home like Pizzaiolos do. But that doesn't mean we can't take some pointers from how the professionals make pizzas in an effort to make quality pizzas at home.

Time is of the essence

One of the things that separate pizzaiolos from home cooks is how timing is factored into making pizzas. At a pizzeria, other cooks are behind the scenes working to make the Pizzaiolo's job more efficient. It's truly a team effort and there's not a single element of pizza making that isn't impacted by other members of the kitchen brigade.

Although the Pizzaiolo was the one physically sliding the pies into the oven, hours ago, someone else fired up that oven and ensured it would be at the proper temperature.

Pizza dough takes time to make and some pizza restaurants will make dough a full three days in advance before it's even available to be ordered. This is why some pizza restaurants will sell out on busy nights. They've sold all the dough they thought they needed to make for a particular evening.

Prep cooks are also making pizza ingredients ahead of time. The chef doesn't have time to open cans of tomatoes for sauce and grating cheese during a busy service.

In restaurants, these behind-the-scene efforts are called mise en place - a French phrase that means "everything in its place."

Mise en place is just as important for making pizza at home as it is for chefs in a restaurant.

It can include tasks such as measuring ingredients, chopping vegetables, preheating the oven, and setting out pots, pans, and other cooking equipment. By taking the time to properly prepare for the cooking process, chefs can save time and reduce the risk of mistakes or accidents in the kitchen.

Here is a short mise en place checklist for when preparing to make pizza at home:

  • Preheat the pizza oven
  • Bring the dough to room temperature
  • Chop and dice the toppings
  • Sweat and par-cook wet vegetables like mushrooms, onions, and peppers to remove some of the moisture
  • Set out a wire cooling rack to allow the pizza to rest before slicing
  • Place a cutting surface near your oven for slicing the pizza

Consider how important timing is when you plan on making pizza at home. Take a good look at every aspect of the process and be sure you've allotted enough time to make it effortlessly come together.

It all starts with the dough

As the foundation for good pizza, the dough is one of the most important things you'll want to get acquainted with.

Pizza dough is pretty basic and can be made with four basic ingredients. Flour, water, yeast, and salt are all you need to make an amazing pizza dough. Whether you're making pizza dough from scratch or buying it from the local market, there are a few things to remember.

Pizza dough shouldn't be cold

Store-bought pizza dough is typically sold frozen or recently thawed. It's common to keep pizza dough in the refrigerator for up to three days before using. Although doable, working with cold pizza dough can be frustrating. When the dough is cold, the gluten becomes less elastic and more prone to tearing, making the dough harder to stretch. To combat this, allow your pizza dough to come to room temperature for 1-3 hours if possible.

Pizza dough shouldn't be too tacky or too dry

Pizza dough should not be too tacky or too dry because the texture of the dough can impact the quality and texture of the finished pizza crust.

If the dough is too dry, it will be difficult to stretch and shape. It may also be more likely to crack or break during stretching. This can result in an uneven pizza crust, with thin and thick areas that can cook differently and sometimes be difficult to chew.

On the other hand, if the dough is too tacky or sticky, it may be difficult to work with and stick to your prep surface or a rolling pin as it is being stretched. This can also result in an uneven pizza crust, with areas that are too thick or thin. In addition, a dough that is too sticky may be harder to handle and more prone to tearing or getting stuck on the pizza peel.

To achieve the best results when stretching pizza dough, it is important to find the right balance between tackiness and dryness.

The dough should be moist and pliable, but not so sticky that it is difficult to handle. The exact texture of the dough will depend on the type of dough and the specific recipe being used, but in general, the dough should be smooth and slightly elastic, and it should hold its shape when it is stretched.

If you want a round pizza, start with a round dough ball

This may sound intuitive, but if you want to make a round pizza, start with a round dough ball.

It doesn't matter if you're hand shaping dough or using a rolling pin; it's easier to achieve a round pizza starting with a round ball.

Although there's nothing wrong with pizza in other shapes, you may as well take advantage of as much real estate as the pizza oven allows for cooking.

Less is more when it comes to building pizzas

You may think one of the best parts of making pizza at home would be using a heap of toppings. But in reality, fewer toppings can actually make a more delicious pizza.

Blackstone's pizza ovens can cook true Neapolitan-style pizzas, which means they can cook up in under two minutes at about 900°F.

The high temperatures and quick cooking times make one delicious pizza. But if you overload the pizza with toppings, cooking this quickly barely allows enough time to let the cheese melt and the other ingredients to get acquainted with the heat.

Overloading a pizza with toppings makes it more challenging to launch into the oven and more susceptible to sticking to your pizza peel. 

Don't loiter on your launch

Launching the pizza into your oven can be both challenging and intimidating. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make the process simple.

  1. Start with an oven that is properly preheated. If your oven isn't properly preheated, it can make for some challenges when launching the pizza. If the oven is properly preheated, it will cook the pizza more efficiently and evenly.
  2. Dusting your pizza peel with flour, semolina, or a combination of the two is always a good practice. This will help to prevent your pizza from sticking to the peel when launching.
  3. Building your pizza on a wooden peel can help prevent the pizza from sticking. But regardless of the surface, if the peel has any moisture on it the pizza dough will stick and can make things frustrating.
  4. Be careful with your sauce and toppings. When sauce gets too close to the edge of your pizza, there's a good chance some can get on your peel and cause the pizza to stick. Take special care to maintain a sauce and topping-free perimeter to prevent sticking.
  5. Shake before you bake. Giving the pizza peel a shake with the pizza dough on it before launching is a surefire way to determine if you may have issues with the pie sliding into the oven. If a small area is sticking, carefully lift the dough and rub a small amount of flour under the area where it's been sticking.
  6. The longer an uncooked pizza sits on the peel, the more likely it will stick. Work to get your pizzas in the oven as quickly as possible when building them to prevent sticking.

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