Our Top Tips for Making Pizza

How to get wood-fired results in a home oven

two pizzasGreetings, my name is Kristie, managing partner of Zingerman’s Food Tours and a serious pizza enthusiast.

About two years ago, I turned a dream into reality when I finally had a wood-fired oven installed in my backyard. Extravagant, sure, but for those folks who are into experimenting with traditional baking and being outside, there is no better fit.

For me, the woodfired oven is more than just something fun to have in the yard—it causes me to stop, slow down, and really think about the food I’m going to make. While I don’t fire it up every week, I do cook in it several times a month and have been known to light it all the way into December.

Anyhow, I’m here to talk pizza and how to get those dreamy wood-fired results in your oven at home.

Equipment  

  • Home Oven—Mine goes up to 500° F and happens to be a gas oven 
  • Pizza Stone—I use a simple pizza stone, no frills here.

Dough 

Guess what, if you’re local here in Ann Arbor the search is OVER.  Zingerman’s Bakehouse is here for us and I, for one, could not be happier about it. For years I have experimented with mediocre pizza dough. The only recipe that I liked calls for two days of prep, and let’s face it, outside of COVID times that’s hard to do without planning and pizza should be easy. The moment the Bakehouse started offering frozen pizza dough is the day my pizza game totally changed, for the better. You may find no bigger fan of their recipe than I.

Cheese 

I’ve used countless different types of cheese but when you have Zingerman’s Creamery at your fingertips honestly, why wouldn’t you just use that? So, I do. I love fresh mozzarella and while you can make pizza with any cheese, I do pizza with burratasuggest that you find the freshest cheese you can get your hands on. My top three are mozzarella, burrata, or ricotta. All delicious and can be used for incredible results.

Toppings  

I’m a purist when it comes to pizza. You’ll never find me making a pie with loads of toppings.  The beauty of Italian cuisine is that they don’t use too many toppings or sauces.  As long as you have great ingredients you don’t need to go crazy. I’ve fully adopted this philosophy in all my cooking, pizza or not.

Technique  

The key is heat—crank that oven as hot as you can get it. For most home ovens, that’s 500° or 550° F. Make sure you preheat with the stone IN the oven, another key to getting a good crust. I preheat my oven for no less than 30 minutes, so yes, your kitchen can get a little warm.

First, I pull my thawed pizza dough out of the fridge at least an hour before I want to use it. I want the dough at room temperature (or a little warmer due to the heat from the oven). It’ll grow and swell but that’s good, it means the dough is alive!

The moment the Bakehouse started offering frozen pizza dough is the day my pizza game totally changed, for the better.

Just before cooking, I stretch the dough on a lightly floured surface. You may be tempted to use a rolling pin, but for me, I find I get better air pockets (which I like) when I stretch and do not use a rolling pin. Play around with it and find the results you like best. Who knows, maybe you’re an incredible tosser … I am decidedly, NOT great at tossing the dough. 

Go easy on the toppings. I established my feelings about toppings above, but there is a real reason for it, I swear. The lighter you go, the better results you’ll have. I know here in America, we tend to really get a kick out of “more” but in the case of traditional Neapolitan style pizza—relax and ease up.  

Kristie’s Top Three Pies

Classic Margherita

margherita pizzaI judge all quality pizza shops on how good the margherita pizza is. We’re talking SIMPLE! Add a nice thin layer of quality tomato sauce, a few pieces of fresh mozzarella, and a dash of salt—bake until it’s just how you like it and then top with fresh basil and very good extra virgin olive oil. This is as good as it gets for me, but I have also been known to add anchovies to a classic margherita pizza as well if I’m in the mood … making it no longer a classic margherita pizza. 😉

Pizza Bianco

This is a type of pizza I play around with a lot but lately, I’ve been baking the pie with only oil, salt, and prosciutto. Once it comes out of the oven, I put baby arugula (tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette) right on top. You can eat it just like this or go even more creative and add fresh burrata (make sure it’s room temperature). You’ll blow just about anyone’s mind with this pie …. if you’re a vegetarian, I suggest adding thin slices of zucchini instead of prosciutto. 

Pesto and Fresh Sweet Corn

sweet corn pesto pizzaYou’ll need a good pesto for this and I encourage you to try your hand at making your own from fresh ingredients—there is no substitute for fresh pesto and good olive oil. I tend to use a peppery, more robust olive oil, Tuscan especially. I also pre-roast my corn. This is a simple process: I heat up a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until it’s smokin’ hot and then I add my freshly cut corn to the pan. Don’t touch the corn!  Let it sizzle and pop until it’s nice and caramelized, remove from the pan and set aside.

Top the dough with a thin layer of pesto—stick to a light layer, you don’t want to add too much oil to the dough or it could get soggy.  Then, top with the roasted corn, a few cut cherry tomatoes (sometimes I roast them first but not always), and then fresh mozzarella. When the pizza comes out, I sprinkle with red peppers and a little bit of aromatic salt (a blend of sea salt, garlic, and chopped herbs).

Baking

Notice I didn’t say for how long to bake these. Honestly, each oven is different, as is preference, and pizza is personal, just like wine or anything worth enjoying. I would suggest you bake your pizza until you think it’s as golden or as brown as you’d like. I tend to rotate mine once during the baking process and I would estimate that it’s maybe 5 or 6 min in my own oven.  

Go easy on yourself, the art of pizza making is simple, but sometimes it takes a little time to understand the dough and your oven. Practicing this art is guaranteed to be fun and delicious.

Have fun and share photos of your pizza creations with me by tagging @zingermansfoodtours on Instagram!

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Kristie BrablecMarge Rutila Recent comment authors
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Marge Rutila
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Marge Rutila

What do you recommend for a tomato sauce?

Kristie Brablec
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Kristie Brablec

Hi Marge, thanks for asking. I make my own pretty often and it’s the perfect time of year for fresh tomatoes. Lately, I take about a pound or so of cherry tomatoes with some garlic, fresh sage, salt and loads of olive oil then I roast them in the oven while it’s heating up. this way you can get them exactly to the consistency you like and go from there – someones I really almost dry them out and other times I take them out nice a liquidy. You could also just take fresh tomatoes and herbs to a food… Read more »