Alright, so you have a good pizza dough recipe but your crust still isn’t turning out right? Nothing to worry about, you’re probably just baking pizza wrong.
Home pizza bakers have been long hindered by poor baking habits brought on by years of frozen and take-home pizza instructions. “Bake at 375℉ for twenty-five to thirty minutes, direct on the oven rack” they typically suggest. Online pizza recipes rarely present better advice with suggested temperatures ranging anywhere from 350℉ to 500℉ and bake times often upwards of 25 minutes.
While those instructions may be well enough to offer the visual of a finished pizza (melted cheese and cooked toppings) they do so at the considerable cost of an inedible crust. The low temperatures (350-475℉) so often suggested produce minimal oven spring in the dough resulting in a dense, compact internal structure (crumb). Meanwhile the longer the pizza stays in the oven the more moisture is baked out of the bread and the thicker the outer wall of crust becomes. The final product: dense, dry and hard to chew, all of which is antithesis to what makes a good pizza. Ideally you want a home baked pizza crust that is light and airy, featuring large air pockets, a soft crumb, and a thin, crisp outer crust akin to what you’d get at the local pizzeria. I promise this is possible to do.
With the exception of brick ovens, commercial pizza ovens do not typically bake at temperatures higher than home ovens can achieve; which is to say it’s not that home oven aren’t up to the task. Commercial pizza ovens may be more effective at baking pizza because they are specifically designed to do so, where home oven are multi-purpose, but with a little effort you can mimic the conditions of a professional pizza oven from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Commercial ovens come equipped with stone or brick decks for the pizzas to bake on. Stone is an excellent conductor of even heat so that when a pizza is placed inside the oven the hot baking surface immediately begins forming a bottom crust. No wire rack or cookie sheet in a home oven could possibly compare to the thermal conductivity of stone, which is why the first step in excellent pizza baking is to acquire a baking stone. When preheated a baking stone, or pizza stone, successfully imitates the hot baking surface of a professional oven and because stone is slow to warm and conversely slow to cool it helps to maintain a constant source of baking heat even as air temperatures fluctuate with the opening of the oven door. In addition to the stone deck commercial ovens are designed so that heat is directed at all areas of the pizza evenly either through convection, thermal reflective surfaces, or through active heating elements cooking from both above and below. In a home oven the ‘bake’ setting utilizes the bottom heating element only, relying on ambient air temperature to cook the food within. This is not an especially efficient method of heat transference, which why it can take as long as 25 minutes to melt some mozzarella and the origin of those long bake times in typical homemade pizza recipes. By alternating between the ‘bake’ and ‘broil’ settings it is possible to activate both top and bottom heating elements in an oven thereby applying direct heat, like a commercial oven would, to both sides of the pizza.
Employing this more efficient heating method through use of a baking stone and the broiler element a large pizza can be fully cooked in under ten minutes. The shortened bake time is just enough to produce a crust that is browned and crisp without losing too much moisture or baking a hard outer shell. Combine this with extra-high oven temperatures, >500℉ (260℃), to insure maximum oven spring from the dough [Read: larger air pockets] and the result will be a soft, airy pizza crust that you’ll enjoy eating. Step by step instructions below.
The Bake/Broil/Bake/Broil Pizza Method :
- Place baking stone on upper-middle rack of the oven.
- Preheat oven to maximum baking temperature (550℉/287℃).
- Once heated, switch the oven setting from ‘bake’ to ‘broil’ for at least 5 minutes.**
- Before adding the pizza, switch oven back to ‘bake’. Using a bread peel quickly slide the prepared pizza into the oven, directly on the baking stone.
- Bake at 550℉/287℃ for 4 minutes; then
- Switch the oven back to ‘broil’ for an additional 2-to-3 minutes.
- Remove pizza when the crust is browned and beginning to char in spots, the cheese should be melted and bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing.
**This accomplishes two things: First, the broiler superheats the baking stone so that the moment the pizza slides into the oven a bottom crust begins to form. A well developed bottom crust is important to provide structure for each slice to bear the weight of toppings when lifted. Second, the heated broiler coil will continue to radiate heat at the top of the pizza even as the oven is switched back to ‘bake’. This ensures that direct heat is aimed at cooking the toppings the entire time the pizza is in the oven.
Bake then broil to preheat, bake then broil to cook. About 7 minutes in total to a finished pizza. If you’re tired of home baked pizzas with thick, dry crusts then I highly recommend you give this method a try. I promise you’ll not be disappointed.
See also: Kitchen Tools for Baking Pizza for a quick discussion on baking stones and bread peels