Americans eat pizza at least once a week, according to Zagat’s 2013 pizza week survey. That’s a lot of pies.
To help satisfy that weekly craving, we checked in with the six-time World Champion pizza chef Bruno Di Fabio to get some tips for making the perfect pizza at home.
Di Fabio has been developing pizza dough recipes for the past 10 years of his 30-year career, and he was recently featured as a guest judge on a pizza episode of the Food Network’s new season of “Chopped.”
Check out his eight hacks for making a perfect pizza.
Add Warm Water And More Yeast Into The Dough
Heat water to reach between 95 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit before adding it to the rest of the ingredients for your pizza dough. Also, add about 3/4 of a teaspoon more yeast than the recipe calls for. The warmer water and higher amount of yeast will help the dough rise more quickly so it’ll be ready to cook sooner.
Di Fabio says yeast performs at its most optimal levels around 85 degrees.
Substitute Milk For Hard Or Soft Water
Hard water (with excessive calcium carbonate content) is bad for pizza dough because it impedes the fermentation process that allows the dough to rise. On the other hand, soft water (with minimal mineral content) is bad because it yields soft and sticky dough. If you know your area has either one of these water tendencies, replace the water in the recipe with milk for dough that will rise nicely and be easy to work into a pie shape.
“I use condensed milk in some recipes to give the dough a subtle sweetness,” Di Fabio said.
Fold In Extra Ingredients
After the dough is largely mixed, some people like to add personalised seasonings like oil, salt, sugar, herbs or spices. The best way to evenly incorporate these finishing touches is by using your fist to carve what Di Fabio describes as “a well” into the dough.
Drop the extras into the well and fold them into the dough so they mix together from the inside out. “It helps you get the exact amount of an ingredient incorporated into the dough, instead of it spilling off the surface,” Di Fabio said.
He also advised against over-mixing the dough. Folding adds friction, which in turn adds degrees of heat to the final product. Di Fabio said too much heat makes the protein strands in the flour too stiff, so it’s harder to stretch the dough out.
Drizzle Olive Oil Into The Bowl The Dough Rises In
Not only will the olive oil keep the dough from sticking to the bowl while it rises, it also adds elasticity to the dough so it will be easier to roll into a ball then flatten into a pie.
Also, be sure to cover the bowl with a dish cloth while it rises. You don’t want a completely air-tight seal.
Sprinkle Semolina Over Your Prep Area
According to Di Fabio, using too much flour can actually detract from the pizza’s flavour, so it’s best to avoid over sprinkling flour on the counter to keep the dough from sticking.
To compensate, add semolina to the mix — you know it as the coarse, white grains coating the bottom of your pizza at a pizzeria.
“It adds texture and flavour for a crispier crust,” Di Fabio said.
Cover The Dough With Plastic Wrap After You Roll It Out
The yeast is still active in the dough even after it rises. When you roll the dough into a pie shape, you push out the carbon dioxide it developed while it rose.
For a crust with a puffier texture, Di Fabio recommends laying the dough in a steel pan and covering it with plastic wrap to let it rise again. The air-tight seal traps some heat and prevents a rough skin from developing on the dough.
Bake The Pizza On A Cookie Sheet
Pizzas cook unevenly in an oven. That’s why an inexperienced chef will often make a pie with a ghostly white bottom or an overdone top. Some home cooks alleviate the problem by moving the pizza to different levels of the oven during the cooking process, but it’s easier just to get a home pizza stone made of ceramic firebricks or terracotta.
Pre-heat the oven with the stone inside so its surface temperature is the same as the oven. “Giving a pizza bottom heat at the same time as top heat cooks it evenly and more quickly,” Di Fabio explained.
You can also approximate a pizza stone by rolling the dough out on a cookie sheet that’s been coated with a teaspoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of flour and semolina to prevent the dough from sticking.
Follow The Rule Of Thirds
Di Fabio’s pet peeve is over-topping a pizza. He likes to choose a maximum of three ingredients that pair well with one another (not including the sauce and the cheese).
Staying simple in the toppings department also helps the natural flavour of the dough and tomato sauce shine through, which will leave the biggest impression on the eater.
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