Pizza cooking in a wood burning oven
Anyone who knows me well enough quickly realizes somewhere along the way a few Italian chromosomes must have taken a big swim in my gene pool because I absolutely adore the rustic Italian cuisine too much for it to be coincidence. As a professional Chef I had the good fortune to work with an amazing Woodstone wood burning oven complete with a four ton stone which provided some of the most reliable, even heat imaginable. Pizza making at home presents a challenge because it is hard to maintain consistent high heat in order to get the crust right. A lot of pizzaiolos like higher temperatures around 800 degrees, but I always prefer lower temperatures in the 600 to 700 range. The problem at home is most household stoves only heat to 550 degrees. But fear not, I have perfected a method so that you can make perfect pizzas every time.
Pizza Dough Ingredients
Over the course of my career I experimented heavily with different doughs and ate at numerous pizzerias across the globe before finding the perfect crust. I make a variation of Nancy Silverton’s recipe from her Mozza cookbook. I enjoyed several meals at Mozza Pizzeria eating her amazing pies and tried numerous times in vain to figure her recipe out. I actually thought about kidnapping her but thankfully she published a recipe and kept me from a life of crime. She uses more of a bread baker’s approach to making pizza dough and it shows in the finished product. The flavors are more complex and the crust crisp with a chewy, rich fully developed flavor.
Kids want to saute, to cut the pizza, to see how the ingredients come together. If you let them do the fun stuff, they’ll develop skills and interests that will stay with them forever.
Do not be daunted by the dough making process. It is fun, easy and even an opportunity to get your children involved. It’s made in two parts; first the sponge then the finished dough. I generally like to let the flavors deepen by refrigerating the finished dough overnight, but you can speed things up and make everything in one afternoon.
- 15 ounces warm Water, about 105 degrees (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon dry Yeast, or ½ ounce fresh Yeast
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Wheat Germ
- 12 ounces Bread Flour
- 1-1/2 ounces Dark Rye Flour
- 7 ounces warm Water, about 105 degrees (see notes)
- 13 ounces Bread Flour
- 2 teaspoons Honey
- ½ ounce Sea Salt
- Mix all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attachment for three minutes, or until well incorporated.
- The sponge will be wet and sticky to the touch.
- Wrap bowl snugly with plastic wrap and let sit out at room temperature for two hours.
- Add warm water, bread flour and honey and mix for two minutes using the dough hook on low speed .
- Add sea salt and continue kneading the dough for eight minutes. If dough is sticky keep adding more flour till it forms a ball. Salt kills yeast so this is why we add it after the dough kneads for a few minutes.
- Gather dough and put in a stainless steel bowl rubbed with a small amount of olive oil, cover snugly with plastic wrap and let sit for 45 minutes.
- Punch the dough down, cover and let rest another 45 minutes. At this point you can refrigerate overnight or form into balls.
- Make six balls, about 7 ounces each and proof on a floured counter for 30 minutes.
- Now they are ready to use.
Forget thermometers, 105 degrees is slightly warmer than your body temperature. Stick your finger into the water; if it is just a little warmer than your finger it is warm enough.
It’s time to make you sauce while your dough is rising. This is the easiest recipe in the world and will be enough for all six of your pizzas.
Basic Tomato Sauce for Pizzas
- 28 ounce can San Marzano Tomatoes
- 1 clove of Garlic
- 8 fresh Basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon Sea Salt
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- Put everything in a blender and puree on the lowest speed for five to ten seconds. The sauce should be very lightly chunky.
San Marzano tomatoes from Italy are the gold standard for making pizza and pasta sauces. Every Chef uses them for a great reason, their unrivaled flavor and large distribution. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that sells Bianco Tomatoes made by DiNapoli and Chef Bianco of Bianco Pizzeria in Arizona then use these instead. I was absolutely blown away by these California grown tomatoes.
Now onto the heart of the matter, assembling the pizza pie. My all time favorite is a Pizza Margherita, the classic Italian pizza made with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil leaves and Mozzarella cheese. The popular story is that it was invented in honor of Queen Margherita but there is evidence that is just a myth.
- 1 ball of Pizza Dough
- 2 ounces Tomato Sauce
- 3 ounces shredded Mozzarella
- 8 to 10 fresh Basil leaves
- Roll or stretch one ball of dough out to about 13 inches in diameter. Try to not use too much flour as flour stuck to the bottom of the crust will burn and impart a bitter flavor.
- Top with 2 ounces of tomato sauce and three ounces shredded whole milk mozzarella.
- Bake in preheated 550 degree oven on preheated pizza stone for ten minutes, or until brown and bubbly.
Preheat pizza stone in your broiler set at it’s hottest temperature for thirty minutes before baking pizza. Make sure your oven is also at it’s hottest setting.
My second favorite is Pizza Carbonara, loosely based on Pasta Carbonara, in which the dough is topped with rich and creamy creme fraiche, crispy bacon, pecorino, nutmeg and a poached egg.
- 1 ball of Pizza Dough
- 2 ounces Creme Fraiche or Mascarpone
- 2 slices Peppered Bacon, cut into little pieces and browned
- 1 Poached Egg (see notes)
- 1 ounces shredded Mozzarella
- 1 Tablespoon Pecorino
- 1 teaspoon chopped Chives
- 2 grates fresh Nutmeg
- Roll or stretch dough out to 13 inches in diameter.
- Carefully spoon creme fraiche on top. Don’t worry if it isn’t even as the cream will spread when it cooks.
- Top with cooked bacon, mozzarella and pecorino cheese.
- Put poached egg in center.
- Bake in oven (see notes) for ten minutes or until brown and bubbly.
- Garnish with chopped chives and freshly grated nutmeg.
Preheat pizza stone in your broiler set at it’s hottest temperature for thirty minutes before baking pizza. Make sure your oven is also at it’s hottest setting. If you want to learn how to poach an egg correctly, watch this fun video filmed, edited and created by an amazing blogger Ayngelina Brogan and her amazingly talented Chef/boyfriend (and my buddy) Dave Mottershall.
Do not be scared to try new and different combinations. Invent, have fun, smile, laugh and explore! My favorite variations are:
Beef Cheek/Horseradish Veloute/Manchego