Making your own pizza: Think outside the box

By Robin Watson
Special to The Detroit News

Experiencing withdrawal ever since your favorite pizza place shuttered temporarily, or because you’re self-quarantining? If so, it’s not surprising. According to the research firm Datassential, 91% of Americans report that they either love (or, at least, like pizza). And we’re especially hungry for it now. Over the last 30 days, reports Google Trends, pizza dough has been the second most-searched-for recipe.

So satisfy your own craving. You may not crank out pies exactly like your favorite pizza joint — the one that’s produced about a million of them since 1955 — but making a satisfying pizza is do-able, desirable and easier than you think. Plus, it’s a fine family activity when everyone’s stuck at home for a while.

Of pizzas and pantries

Think of pizza as a way to get creative, especially during these days of pantry cooking with whatever’s on hand.

“Pizza is like a blank canvas,” says Brooklyn-based International Pizza Consultant Anthony Falco. “You have to stretch it and think, ‘What am I going to put on it?’”

Don’t worry if you don’t have certain pizza-recipe ingredients, or if no pizza menu’s ever offered the combinations you have in mind. “No substitutions” doesn’t apply to home pizza-making. As Falco says, “Get crazy!”

“You could treat it like a flatbread and just use za’atar, olive oil and garlic,” he suggests. “Recently, I put mashed potatoes, bacon and chives on a pizza, like one that’s famous in New Haven [Conn.]. And, because I’m from Texas and beans are dear to me, I’ve made pizza topped with charro beans, brisket and charred onions.”

Pizza provides the perfect opportunity to take advantage of seasonality and locally produced items. Ramps, spring onions, green garlic and herbs add freshness, big wallops of flavor and pops of color. Add fresh basil or marjoram. Branch out beyond mozzarella and use burrata, local fresh chevre and melty raclette.

Whatever you choose, advises Sara Molinaro, Zingerman's Bake! Principal and Instructor, “consider cooking vegetables and meats before you put them on your pizza. Otherwise, they exude a lot of water, and will make your crust soggy.”

Detroit-style pizza is now recognized as a distinctive regional specialty.

The bottom line about toppings? Be judicious.

“Thin-crust pizza can only take so much topping,” Molinaro says. “We put only a one-quarter pound of sauce on our thin-crust pizza and a one-fifth pound of cheese. Less is more.”

Taking the “d’oh!” out of dough

“The hardest part of making pizza is the dough,” Falco says. “But the challenge is not insurmountable.”

These techniques can help:

Use a scale. “If you don’t, you’ll second-guess everything,” Falco says. Make notes. Record quantities and techniques to track what works and what doesn’t.

Be flexible about flour. Use good flour — Italian “00” flour is best, but all-purpose will do. Swap or blend in other flours — whole wheat, rye, kamut, etc. — to enhance flavor and texture.

Be kneady. “People making their own dough at home often don't knead it enough to develop the proteins (glutenin and gliadin),” Molinaro says. “Then, when they go to stretch it out, it tears because not enough time was spent developing the gluten which allows us to stretch the dough out.”Take your time. Stretching and shaping the dough and can be tricky. Springy, elastic dough may feel like it’s fighting your efforts to stretch it. “Doing this gradually (stretching the dough a little, then walking away, having a sip of wine, and coming back to it) keeps it from tearing,” Molinaro explains. “You have to gradually ease/coax the glutenin and gliadin to do your bidding.”

Go by feel. Results from batch to batch can vary based on ingredients and humidity, so be prepared to adjust accordingly. “Touch is important” Falco says. “Listen to the dough. It will let you know when it’s too wet or too dry.”

Get a handle on dough handling. Eager to try that whole throwing-the-dough-in-the-air thing that looks so cool in the movies? Fuggetaboutit! Consider the (possibly apocryphal) tale of the dough that got hung up on the ceiling fan. Or the (true) tale of the dough that landed on the very startled family dog. There’s no shame in using a rolling pin or patting out dough onto a sheet pan or cast-iron skillet. One bonus to using a pan instead of a stone: No risk of creating a flaming pizza pyre instead of a pie by accidentally spilling dough, toppings and cornmeal or semolina into a blazing oven.

Feel the heat. Turn your oven up as high as it will go.

The bottom line about preparing pizza at home?

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Falco urges.

Detroit-Style Pizza

Pizza Dough:

1 cup (227 grams)     water (100 degrees)

1 teaspoon   sea salt

2 cups, plus 1 tablespoon (291 grams)    all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon   instant yeast

Small amount  nonstick spray, olive oil or

butter for bowl & pan

Pizza Sauce:

Yield: 3 cups

28 ounces (795 grams) crushed tomatoes

3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon (44 grams)   granulated sugar

1 teaspoon  oregano (dried & crushed)

1 tablespoon   basil (dried & crushed)

1 1/2 teaspoons  garlic (finely minced)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon  black pepper


1/4 cup (45 grams)   parmesan cheese (shredded)

8 slices   pepperoni

2 cups (227 grams)  brick cheese (shredded)

2 cups (227 grams)  mozzarella (shredded)

Pinch  sea salt

Pinch oregano (dried)

1 cup (227 grams)      sauce

Dough Preparation:

1.      In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the water and sea salt. Stir to dissolve the salt.

2.      Add the flour and yeast and mix with a wooden spoon until the dough becomes a shaggy mass and all the flour is hydrated.

3.      Using the dough hook, mix on speed 4 for 4 minutes.

4.      Scrape the sides of the bowl and scrape the dough from the hook. Mix for an additional 4 minutes. It will now hold a round shape.

5.      Spray a bowl with nonstick spray or brush lightly with olive oil. Place the dough into the container and cover with plastic. Let the dough relax for 15 minutes.

Shaping the Pizza

1.      Lightly oil or butter the inside surfaces of a 9x13-inch baking pan.

2.      Place the dough into the baking pan and use your fingertips to spread the dough out to the corners and sides of the pan. The dough will be sticky, so lightly dip your fingertips in oil to make stretching the dough easier.

3.      Set the baking pan aside, cover with plastic, and let rise in a warm area for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until the dough is approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches tall.

Preparing the Sauce

1.  Combine all the ingredients and stir together in a sauce pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring periodically.

2.  Using an immersion blender or food processor, purée sauce until smooth, and place back over medium heat.

3.  Simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring periodically.

4.   Keep sauce warm for ladling, or chill and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Garnishing the Pizza and Baking

1.  Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

2. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese around the edge of the pizza where the dough touches the sides of the pan. This cheese will form a crispy, caramelized edge on the crust.

3.  Place pepperoni in 2 rows of 4 down the length of the pizza, directly on top of the dough. Gently press the pepperoni into the dough.

4. Sprinkle the brick and mozzarella cheeses over the surface of the pizza, spreading them all the way to the edges where the dough meets the sides of the pan. This will also contribute to the crispy caramelized edge on the crust.

5. Season the top of the pizza with the salt and oregano.

6.  Bake for 15 minutes until the top is amber-colored and edges are crispy.

7. After removing the pizza from the oven, use a small offset spatula or knife to loosen the sides of the crust from the pan. Slide the pizza out of the pan onto a cooling rack. If you desire a crispier bottom, put the pizza (out of the pan) directly onto the oven rack or a sheet tray and bake for an extra 5 minutes for a slightly more browned finish on the bottom of the crust.

8. After removing the pizza from the oven, top with warm sauce. Sauce amount can vary by taste and is traditionally ladled into 2 rows down the length of the pizza. Serve warm.

Storage note: This pizza can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and reheated on a lightly oiled sheet tray at 475 degrees.

(Recipe from Zingerman’s Bakehouse Cookbook.)

Flammkuchen, aka Tarte Flambée, aka “German pizza,” is thin, crispy, Alsatian flatbread that is perfect with a nicely chilled Riesling.


 (Alsatian Flatbread with Bacon and Crème Fraiche)

3 cups all-purpose flour (plus more, if needed, for kneading)

1 teaspoon   instant yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the bowl

2 teaspoons  salt

1 scant cup lukewarm water

12 tablespoons crème fraiche

2 medium red or yellow onions, sliced very thinly

7 ounces speck or bacon, cut into ¼-inch batons

To taste freshly ground black pepper

1.   Put the flour, yeast, olive oil and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times. Then, with the motor running, add the water. The dough should come together in a matter of seconds.

2.   Lightly flour your work surface and then dump the dough onto it. Knead the dough a few times until it is smooth and supple.*

3.   Form dough into a ball and place in a bowl oiled with a drop or two of olive oil. Cover with a dish towel and set aside for 1 hour.

4.   Heat the oven as high as it will go. Divide the dough in half and set aside one piece. Roll the other piece out on a floured countertop until it’s very thin, resting every so often to give it a chance to relax.

5.   Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.** Transfer dough to the baking sheet, pulling the edges so that the dough is even. Spread half the crème fraiche thinly over the dough, leaving a ¼-inch border.

6.   Distribute half the onion slices and half the speck or bacon batons over the crème fraiche. (The onions and bacon need no pre-cooking as they’re sliced so thinly that they cook up quickly.)

7.   Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 10 minutes until it’s crisp and browned. Remove the sheet from the oven and sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

8.   Cut into squares and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining dough and toppings.

*I kneaded the dough for 10 minutes using the dough hook and a stand mixer.

**Can be baked directly on a pre-heated baking stone. Load dough onto a pizza peel topped with semolina or cornmeal and transfer the flammkuchen carefully onto the stone.

(Reprinted from "My Berlin Kitchen" by Luisa Weiss,  Viking.) )

Pizza Siciliano. This pizza features a crust that's easy to press into a pan. Not an anchovy fan? Substitute diced pepperoni or ham or leave out the meat altogether. The escarole, tomatoes and cheese provide plenty of robust flavor.

Pizza Siciliana

2 ½ cups 00 flour or all-purpose flour (plus more, if needed)

½ ounce fresh yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

Pinch sugar

1 teaspoon salt (plus more, to taste)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small head (about 7 ounces)  escarole, washed and dried

To taste   black pepper, freshly ground

6 to 8  anchovy fillets, chopped

10  grape tomatoes, cut into small cubes

10 ounces  scamorza or provolone, cut into small cubes**

1.   Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Crumble the yeast into the well. Add half the water and sugar. Using a fork, mix the yeast, sugar and water together, drawing in just a little of the flour from the sides of the well until the yeast has dissolved, and then mix in the rest. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 15 minutes, until frothy.

2.   Add the remaining water slowly, mixing it with the frothy yeast mixture. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix until a shaggy dough forms. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently with floured hands for several minutes*, adding flour as needed until the dough starts to come together. Try not to add too much flour — you want a very soft, floppy dough. When the dough is no longer sticky, form it into a soft ball.

3.   Oil the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round metal cake pan with a drip of olive oil and put the ball of dough into it to rest. Cover with a clean dish towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free place (e.g., a turned-off oven) for about 1 hour, or until it has doubled in volume. While the dough rises, tear the escarole into small pieces and dress with the remaining olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

4.   When the dough has doubled in size, gently pat it out until it reaches the sides of the pan and is uniformly ½-inch thick.

5.   Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

6.   Distribute the anchovies over the dough and top with 2/3 of the cubed cheese. Pile the dressed escarole onto the cheese and top with the cubed tomatoes. Let the pizza sit at room temperature, covered with a linen towel, for 20 minutes.

7.   Bake the pizza for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the remaining cubes of cheese over the pizza. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. The top layer of the cheese and escarole should be golden-brown (some edges of the escarole may even be a little singed). Take the pan from the oven. Using an offset spatula and some elbow grease, check to see how the bottom crust is browning. If it looks a little pale, put the pan back in the lower third of the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes (tent with aluminum foil if you’d like to keep the escarole from getting any darker.

8.   Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, then carefully pull the pizza out of the pan using the offset spatula. Slice and serve immediately.

*I used the dough hook and the stand mixer to knead the dough until it reached the desired consistency.

** Do not substitute mozzarella, as it is too wet and will make the pizza soggy.

(Reprinted from "My Berlin Kitchen" by Luisa Weiss, Viking.) 

Quick, Basic Pizza Dough

The base for your pizza can be anything — tortillas, a slab of puff pastry, English muffins, pitas, naan or other flatbreads. It can also be a fast and easy dough, as with the recipe below.

3 cups   all-purpose or bread flour

1 ½ teaspoons  salt

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon  olive oil

1 ¼ cups  water at room temperature

1.   Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl.

2.   Using your hands, mix in the olive oil, crumbling the dough until it’s sandy in texture.

3.   Add the water and continue hand mixing until the dough comes together.

4.   Knead the dough by hand — or with the dough hook in a stand mixer — for 5 to 7 minutes until it forms a smooth ball. The dough will be fairly wet.

5.   Add a small amount of olive oil to a bowl. Add the dough to the bowl and turn it to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm, draft-free place for 1 ½ to 3 hours, or until doubled in size.

6.   Shape into pizzas and top as desired. Any unused dough will keep for several days under refrigeration. Makes 4 personal pizzas.

This is a pizza for sourdough bakers who love the extra flavor and texture that kamut, an ancient grain, provides. It takes some advance time, but not a lot of effort. Top the dough as you’d like. This version features crumbled, pre-cooked chorizo, chiles, heritage tomatoes, local mozzarella, fresh basil and garlic oil. It was baked on a traditional pizza pan.

Sourdough Kamut Pizza

Yield: 2 large or 3 small pizzas

100 grams   kamut flour

400 grams    00 pizza flour

300 grams   lukewarm water

10 grams  salt

100 grams  sourdough starter

 Olive oil for coating the proofing container

1.   Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, knead for about 10 minutes.

2.   Gather up the dough and place in a lightly oiled container, turning the dough ball over to coat it. Cover the container and let it rest at room temperature for about 2 hours.

3.   Refrigerate, covered, overnight.

4.   Remove dough from fridge in the morning and let rest, loosely covered, all day until ready to use for dinner.

5.   Divide and shape.

6.   Top as desired and bake at 500 degrees on a baking stone, if possible.