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Pizza Recipe: Create Your Own

Thin- or thick-crusted pizza with your choice of cheese and toppings

by Jeff Hertzberg, Zoë François

from Fine Cooking
Issue 116

Our method for making pizza is based on a not-so-little secret: the dough lasts in the fridge for weeks. This means that if you mix enough dough for several pizzas ahead of time, you can have pizza for dinner, hot out of the oven, on any night of the week. The flavor of the dough only gets deeper as it sits. Even better, you can stretch the dough to any thickness you like—from cracker-thin to standard Neapolitan-style to extra-thick Sicilian—and then top it to your taste. Go carnivore with grilled chicken, shrimp, or sausage, or raid the produce bin and add asparagus, fennel, even thin slices of potato. Use classic mozzarella, or get creative with sharp Cheddar or crumbled fresh goat cheese. The sky’s the limit.

Here, we’ll teach you how to mix up the dough (there are three kinds to choose from), store it, and stretch it as thick as you like. We’ll also show you how to make our dead-simple tomato sauce, assemble the pie with just the right amount of toppings, and bake it in a hot oven. Follow our method and guidelines here, and you’ll soon be serving up fresh pizzas that taste better than anything you can buy.

Pizza, from scratch

Serves 1 to 4, depending on pizza style

Make the dough

Make one batch of Make-Ahead Pizza Dough. In the recipe, you'll also find variations for a hearty whole-wheat dough and a cornmeal dough.

Make the pizza sauce

Pizza sauce shouldn’t be too watery, or you’ll end up with a soggy crust, especially with a high-moisture dough like the one you're making. This thick sauce is made by simply reducing canned tomatoes. Feel free to add chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, or oregano, if you like. The sauce is simple so the flavor of the toppings can really come through.

Make one batch of Easy Pizza Sauce.

Choose your pizza style

The three pizza styles differ only in the thickness of the dough and the number of servings: Sicilian crusts are the thickest, and can be baked on a rimmed baking sheet and cut into thick squares to serve four. Neapolitan is a traditional not-too-thin, not-too-thick crust; a single 12-inch pizza serves 2. And the cracker-thin crust makes for a perfect single-serving pizza. Keep in mind too that the thickness of the dough will determine the amount of sauce, cheese and other toppings you use: see the chart below.

Cracker-Thin Crust
4 oz. dough
1/4 cup sauce
2 oz. cheese
up to 2 oz. toppings

Neapolitan-Style Crust
8 oz. dough
1/3 cup sauce
4 oz. cheese
up to 3 oz. toppings

Sicilian-Style Crust
1-1/2 lb. dough
Scant 1 cup sauce
8 oz. cheese
Up to 6 oz. toppings

Stone or Baking Sheet?

A pizza stone is the ideal tool for baking pizza at home because its super-hot surface helps achieve a deliciously crisp crust. If you don’t have one, you can use a baking sheet, but make sure it’s heavy-duty—thin baking sheets can give scorched or uneven results. If making a thick-crusted Sicilian-style pizza, use a rimmed baking sheet; cracker and Neapolitan-style crusts can be baked on rimmed or rimless baking sheets.

A pizza peel is handy for sliding an unbaked pizza onto a stone in the oven, but you can also use a rimless baking sheet or a flipped-over rimmed baking sheet to transfer your pizza.

Prepare your cheese and toppings

You want to prepare, cook (if necessary) and measure all of your toppings before you stretch your dough. Otherwise, the dough may stick to the work surface while it’s waiting to be topped. If you’re using a pizza peel and stone, you want to avoid adding too many toppings because it will be more difficult to move the unbaked pizza from the peel to the stone.

Prepare your pizza toppings (see options below) according to the notes for each ingredients. Refer to the charts above for guidelines on the total topping amounts we recommend for each kind of pizza; the thicker your crust, the more toppings your pizza can hold without getting soggy.

Choose your cheese(s) (see pizza style chart above for amounts)
Fresh mozzarella, cut or broken into 1/2-inch cubes or chunks
Mozzarella di bufala, cut or broken into 1/2-inch cubes or chunks (Use about 25% less of this creamy, fresh cheese, or the extra moisture it releases could make your crust soggy)
Gorgonzola, crumbled
Aged sharp Cheddar, thinly sliced
Provolone, thinly sliced
Fresh whole-milk ricotta, small dollops
Goat cheese, crumbled
Camembert, thinly sliced
Brie, thinly sliced

Choose your toppings (see pizza style chart above for amounts)

Prosciutto or speck, torn into small pieces
Thick slab bacon, diced and cooked until just shy of crisp
Grilled shrimp, halved, if large
Grilled chicken thighs, thinly sliced
Soppressata, pepperoni, mortadella, or other ready-to-eat sausages, thinly sliced
Italian or other fresh sausages, cooked and crumbled or thinly sliced
Capers, rinsed
Anchovies, rinsed and chopped
Green or black pitted olives, sliced or halved
Salt-preserved lemons, finely chopped
Pickled peppers, drained
Fresh herbs, such as basil, rosemary, chives, oregano, and thyme, chopped or thinly sliced (leave small basil leaves whole, if you like)
Roasted garlic, peeled
Toasted pine nuts
Roasted red peppers, diced
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh fennel, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced
Grilled asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
Raw potato or sweet potato, peeled and very thinly sliced on a mandoline
Summer squash, sliced lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
Button or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Onions or shallots, thinly sliced
Roasted Brussels sprouts, halved
Peas, thawed, if frozen 

Stretch the dough

At least 30 minutes before baking, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and if using a pizza stone, set it on the rack. (If you don’t have a stone, use a heavy-duty 13x18-inch baking sheet lightly oiled with extra-virgin olive oil.) Heat the oven to 500*F (or 550*F for a Sicilian-style pizza). If using a pizza stone, dust a peel with unbleached all-purpose flour or stone-ground cornmeal.

While the oven heats, lightly sprinkle the surface of the dough (in its bowl or container) with flour. Pull up a hunk of dough: 4 oz. (the size of a peach) for a cracker-thin crust, 8 oz. (the size of an orange) for a Neapolitan-style pie), and 1-1/2 lb. (the size of a grapefruit) for a Sicilian-style crust. Cut off the dough with kitchen shears or a serrated knife. Generously flour the dough and then stretch and tuck it under itself, giving it quarter turns as you form a ball of dough with a smooth top (see photo above). Let rest on the work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Once the dough has rested, the goal is to stretch it into a round that’s about 12 inches across. To do this, very lightly flour your work surface and lay your dough ball in the center of the floured area. Flour your hands and then, using your palms and fingertips, press and stretch the dough into a rough circle. Or use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a circle; a rolling pin is particularly helpful when making a cracker-thin crust. If sticky spots occur, flour your fingertips (or your rolling pin) and continue stretching the dough. Flip the dough occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the work surface, and use a dough scraper to detach the dough from the work surface if it does stick. If the dough continually contracts, let it rest, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before resuming the stretching process. It’s OK if your dough isn’t a perfect circle. A cracker-thin crust should end up about 1/16-inch thick; a Neapolitan-style crust should be 1/8-inch thick, and a Sicilian-style crust should be 1/2-inch thick. Transfer the stretched dough to the prepared pizza peel or baking sheet.

Alternatively, for a Sicilian-style crust, you can lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet and stretch the dough on the sheet, pressing to press the dough all the way out to the corners. You'll bake the pie directly on the sheet.

Top the pizza

Add the sauce and toppings quickly once your dough is stretched. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil just before the pizza goes into the oven adds nice flavor, but it isn’t mandatory.

Using the back of a large spoon, spread the tomato sauce onto the stretched dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Distribute the toppings evenly. Add any fresh herbs last, then a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil (optional), which adds nice flavor.

Bake and serve the pizza

If using a baking sheet, put it on the rack. If using a pizza stone, shake the peel a bit to make sure the pizza isn’t stuck and then slide the pizza off the peel and onto the heated stone. Aim for the back of the stone and place the end of the peel there. Most of your effort should be in pulling the peel smoothly toward you, not flicking it away. This takes a little practice, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts leave a few toppings on the oven floor.

Bake, turning the pizza with a peel or tongs if one side browns faster than the other, until the crust is nicely browned and crisp and the cheese is bubbly. See the chart below for baking times.

Cracker-Thin Crust
5 to 7 minutes (pizza stone)
10 to 12 minutes (baking sheet)

Neapolitan-Style Crust
8 to 10 minutes (pizza stone)
13 to 15 minutes (baking sheet)

Sicilian-Style Crust
20 to 25 minutes (pizza stone)
25 to 30 minutes (baking sheet)

Transfer the pizza to a cutting board and let stand for 1 to 2 minutes before cutting it with a pizza wheel, kitchen shears, or a chef’s knife. If you haven’t used any salty toppings like cured meats, olives, or anchovies, season lightly with kosher salt, and serve.


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