Pizza hints

Once you’ve made the dough, you will no doubt want to make a pizza or two.


First, you’ll want to start preheating your oven. I recommend using a pizza stone to cook your pizza. This is just a flat piece of stone or ceramic that’s large enough for a pizza to sit directly on top. Assuming you’re using a pizza stone, you’ll need it to be quite hot. The hotter the better, and the more thoroughly heated the better. At the absolute latest, start preheating the oven when you pull the dough out of the bread machine (or whatever else you make it in) and before you let the dough balls rest.

If you find that your pizza crust comes out more doughy than you like, or that the dough isn’t cooked sufficiently while your cheese or other toppings burn, then your stone isn’t hot enough. Turn up the temperature (even if that seems counter-intuitive) and let the stone warm up longer.

Next, prepare your pizza peel. If you’re cooking the pie on a stone, you’ll need this broad, flat wooden or metal utensil to put the pizza on and take it off of the stone. Prepare the peel by sprinkling it liberally with semolina. I keep a salt shaker full of semolina for sprinkling on the peel.

If you don’t have any semolina (it’s easy to find in two-pound bags in grocery stores in my area), you can use corn meal instead. I have heard that at least some professional pizza parlors use corn meal. I think that semolina is a better choice, however. It’s more granular, so the pizza slides more easily on the peel, and the small granules that burn on the stone and stick to your pizza have a very pleasant, subtle flavor. Corn meal is a bit too fine, and also tends to turn into smoke in the oven.

Note that flour won’t work for this purpose, because you’ll need a lot of it to keep the dough from sticking to the peel, and then you’ll end up with thick powder all over the cooked pizza. The dry flour won’t really cook, but it will stick to the crust, turning to paste in your mouth. Flour is great, however, for working with the dough, such as dividing it into balls and stretching it, in the next step.

Now it’s time to take your well-rested balls of pizza dough and gently stretch them into the shape of a pizza. I start by flouring my hands and then flattening the ball of dough slightly on the floured counter top. Then I pick it up and gently pull on it to stretch it out to the point where gravity will take over, and then I just hang the stretching dough on my closed fists and manipulate it so that it stretches roughly evenly.

How much you stretch out the dough (together with its water content and the oven temperature) will determine the consistency of your crust. I like my crust to have a crisp bottom surface, but be ever so slightly bready just below the toppings. That requires a very hot stone and dough stretched just thin enough to see light through it.

Make sure there aren’t any holes in the dough—even moderate-sized pinholes can leak sauce through and make the dough stick to the peel. This will cause the whole pie to bunch up anesthetically when you try to slide it into the oven. And as you might expect, that will also affect the cooking consistency.

Place the stretched dough onto the prepared peel. Remember that the size of your pie is limited by both the size of the peel and the size of the stone. It’s convenient to find a peel that’s roughly the same size as your stone.

Ingredients and toppings

With your dough on the peel, add any ingredients you like. A traditional North American pizza would start with some sort of tomato sauce, followed by mozzarella cheese and other toppings, and hopefully a fair amount of spice, like oregano, garlic, crushed or ground hot pepper, or whatever you like. But why limit yourself to that? Try pesto, walnuts and gorgonzola with spinach, or perhaps a little tomato sauce and a mix of gouda, reggiano, mozzarella, and some other cheese you happen to have in the fridge.

Be light-handed spreading sauces and the like onto the dough. You don’t want to mash the dough through the layer of semolina and allow it to stick to the peel.


Almost there! Before opening you oven, give the peel a slight forward-and-back jerk to make sure the dough is not stuck to the peel. If it is, lift the sticking side with something like a dough scraper and try to toss more semolina underneath.

Slide the pizza onto your hot pizza stone. Try to do this in one smooth motion. The motion starts with a bit of a snap, but once you start pulling the peel toward you, away from the stone, you’re committed. If you’ve never done this kind of thing before, I highly recommend you practice this a few times with something like a folded kitchen towel on the countertop or in a cool oven before you move on to the real thing.

Allow the pizza to cook until it looks done. This will likely be around 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the temperature of your oven and what your ingredients are, of course. I take the pizza out when the edges of the crust just begin to show browning.

Remove the pizza using the same peel. Slide it under the pizza, making sure not to catch it on the front edge. (That can result in a lot of would-be tasty pizza turning into carbon at the back of the oven.)

Allow it to cool only for about a minute to let the cheese (if any) become solid enough for easy cutting. Use a pizza cutter if you have one. Eat as soon as it’s cool enough that it won’t burn you, so that you can enjoy that crispy crust. It will soon soften. It will still taste good, but that thin layer of crispiness is really something to be enjoyed.

All told, it takes around an hour and a quarter from start to finish, including making the dough in the bread machine and a minimal amount of resting the dough before making the pizza. Almost all of that time is in making the dough and resting it. After that, it takes less than 15 minutes.