There are few people in the world who don’t like pizza. Since its humble beginnings as a popular dish among the poor in 18th century Naples, pizza has been exported across the globe and adapted to all different tastes.
If you love pizza, then why not think about making your own at home? You don’t have to be an Italian chef to knock up the perfect base – and the whole process is far quicker and easier than you might think.
Plus, homemade pizza is almost always far tastier than the pizzas you buy from supermarkets. Or even ones you order from your favourite pizzeria, which have spent around 20 minutes steaming away in a box on their journey to your front door.
With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know to make your own pizza at home.
1. Choosing the right dough
In spite of how many different kinds of pizza toppings are available today, the true focus of a delicious pizza should always be the dough. In fact, the traditional Neapolitan pizza was originally only topped with tomatoes, garlic and herbs – as according to the chefs, the freshly baked dough was the real highlight, and it only needed the subtlest hints of flavour to complement it.
Cheese wasn’t added to the Neapolitan pizza until 1889 when Queen Margherita visited Naples’ famous Da Michele pizzeria – and to honour the queen and the red, green and white Italian flag, the chefs added mozzarella and named this new pizza after the visiting monarch. Whatever toppings you choose to put on your pizza, the most important thing is perfecting your dough – and while you can buy decent pizza dough from most bakeries, making your own is more enjoyable – and satisfying.
Authentic pizza dough is made with finely milled 00 flour (also called pizza flour), and salt, water and yeast are the only other ingredients. Today, there are dozens of different types of pizza dough recipes, some which use plain flour, some which use strong white bread flour, some which use a mix of flours and semolina, and others which add a glug of olive oil or a dash of milk. But, if you’re after a traditional Italian pizza base – chewy, crisp yet also soft – it’s best to stick to the basics: just flour, water, yeast and salt.
This pizza dough recipe from The Kitchn uses all-purpose flour, whereas this recipe from Italian Food Forever uses 00 pizza flour. If you want more guidance on how to make the perfect pizza dough, have a watch of the video below, where the ‘world’s best pizza chef’ Johnny Di Francesco gives you step-by-step guidance on how to make the perfect pizza.
2. Preparing your dough
To prepare your dough, simply mix the yeast and water together, and then add to your flour. If you’d like to prepare your dough by hand, mix it together with a wooden spoon, and then turn your dough out onto a work surface, add the salt, and knead for around 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can mix it in a food processor on the lowest speed. If you’d like to do it this way, then mix the dough in the processor for four minutes, add the salt, then mix for another four minutes.
Pizza dough needs time to rise and ferment – and generally, the longer it’s left to ferment, the more flavour the base has. If you’re not desperate to eat your pizza today, you can always make your dough the day before and give it a full 24 hours to rise. Usually though, four hours is plenty of time for the dough to rise, and afterwards it should be twice its original size.
To allow your dough to rise, put it in a large bowl that’s been lightly oiled, turn it over a few times to coat the dough, then cover with a damp tea towel or cling film and leave for a few hours (but don’t put it in the fridge!). Once it’s risen, divide the dough into orange-sized pieces and roll them out into balls using your hands – if you use a rolling pin you’ll flatten out the air bubbles in the dough, which will cause your pizza to be flat and hard!
The easiest way to shape your pizza is to roll each piece of dough out onto some parchment paper. This stops it sticking to the surface and makes it easier to work with – plus, it makes it easier to transfer into the oven, too. Once you’ve divided up your dough into balls, cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave for another hour or so before you stretch them out: this is the perfect time to prepare your sauce and toppings, and preheat your oven. To see the perfect way to prepare and stretch your pizza dough, have a watch of the video below.
3. Preparing your oven, toppings and sauce
To earn the approval of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, authentic pizza must be baked in a wood-fired oven at 485°C – but obviously, most of us won’t have one of those in our kitchens! The best alternative is to get your oven as hot as it goes and use a pizza stone. These can be bought from around £17 – and if you want to make perfect pizza, they’re a wise investment, as they make sure every part of your base gets cooked. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can use a heavy baking tray – but either way, allow your pizza stone or tray to sit in the hot oven for an hour to make sure there are no cold spots.
Making the sauce
Then, it’s time to prepare your toppings and sauce. Traditional Neapolitan pizza sauce is really easy to make: simply mix quality Italian peeled tomatoes with fresh basil, a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil – and don’t cook it. Traditionally, the tomatoes are broken up by hand, although you can always use a blender if you prefer. Check out this authentic pizza sauce recipe by Vincenzo’s Plate – or have a watch of the video below.
You can of course add your own spin to your pizza sauce, and this recipe by Budget Bytes uses garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, basil, oregano and red pepper, and involves cooking the sauce for 20 minutes. You can also buy ready-made pizza sauce from your local supermarket too, if you like – though making your own from scratch doesn’t take long at all.
Then it’s time for the toppings. Traditional Neapolitan pizza contains only tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella, but you can add whatever toppings you like – there are no rules! Aside from mozzarella, cheeses like ricotta, goat’s cheese, provolone, feta, parmesan or gorgonzola work well on pizza – but cow mozzarella is usually always a staple. If you eat a plant-based diet, then you can buy vegan cheese from most supermarkets (the Sheese and Applewood brands melt best) or even have a go at making your own stretchy vegan mozzarella, like this cashew-based recipe from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.
For your veggie-based toppings, there are endless options: peppers, mushrooms, courgette, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, chillies, pesto, spinach, olives, capers, aubergine… and if you fancy it, you can even add the most controversial pizza ingredient of all – pineapple! If you want to add fresh greens like rocket or basil, sprinkle them over your pizza when it comes out of the oven – not before. Popular meat toppings include bacon, pepperoni, sausage and chicken – though just be sure the meat is cooked beforehand if it’s unlikely to cook through in the eight or so minutes that the pizza will be in the oven for.
While it can be tempting to overload your pizza with all your favourite fillings, it’s best to keep it as simple as you can; if you load homemade pizza with too many toppings, it may take too long to cook and cause parts of your pizza to be burnt – or you’ll end up with soggy, sloppy pizza when you try to eat it!
4. Cooking (and eating!) your pizza
Once you’ve stretched out your pizza, made your sauce, and prepared your toppings, it’s time to prepare the pizza for cooking. Slide your base onto a rimless baking tray, or ideally, use a pizza paddle that’s dusted with semolina, or lined with baking parchment. Just like a pizza stone, a pizza paddle is one of the most important pizza-making tools and is a great investment (prices start from around £11).
Next, top your pizza: spoon some sauce onto the middle of the pizza and use the back of a spoon to spread it around the base, avoiding the edges. Add your cheese and any other ingredients, plus a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and then carefully slide your pizza onto the pizza stone. If you don’t have a pizza paddle, you may want to take the pizza stone out of the oven to do this, but it’ll be very hot, so do be careful.
Bake the pizza for around eight minutes, though depending on how hot your oven is, the exact time might vary, so keep an eye on it. Once it’s crisp and golden, remove it from the oven, slice, and serve!
While a pizza stone and a pizza paddle are usually viewed as the only real ‘essential’ pizza-making tools, if you’re serious about getting into making your own pizza, you might want to think about purchasing a few other utensils that make the process a bit simpler. Have a read of this article by Serious Eats to see which tools might help you up your pizza game.
And of course, you could always think about participating in a pizza course, either online or in-person. Udemy offers an artisan pizza masterclass course, which will teach you how to make seven different kinds of pizza dough, including Neapoletan, sourdough, heritage, and gluten-free. Alternatively, you can do a week’s free trial at Skillshare and take advantage of some of their own pizza courses.
Have you made your own pizza from scratch before – or do you have any of your own tips you can share with our readers? We’d love to hear about your pizza-making experiences! Leave us a comment below, or share your photos and join the conversation over on the Rest Less community.