How to Make the Perfect Pizza

Featured Article, Food, Hometown Cooking
on October 18, 2012

Pizza styles vary across the nation and Peter Reinhart, 62, has sampled them all, including Detroit-style, made in square or rectangular pans, and St. Louis-style, made with Provel cheese, a blend of provolone, Swiss and cheddar.

“Unless you burn it, there’s no such thing as bad pizza,” says Reinhart, author of “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.”

Great pizza, however, requires a super hot oven to bake an airy, crispy crust and fresh, top-quality vegetables, herbs, meats and cheeses for sauces and toppings.

A brick-lined oven, with temperatures ranging from 600 to 1,200 degrees, is ideal for baking pizza because heat is absorbed by the bricks and evenly released. Though temperatures in home ovens rarely exceed 600 degrees, a baking stone will improve homemade pizza. Reinhart suggests allowing at least an hour for the oven and baking stone to preheat.

Time is needed for good dough, too. “Make the dough a day ahead and allow it to ferment overnight in the refrigerator,” says Reinhart, baking instructor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, N.C. “That alone will bring out more flavor.” Unbleached flour yields dough with more flavor and aroma than bleached flour.

Pizza is more popular than ever and backyard wood-fired pizza ovens are becoming more commonplace. The next frontier is whole-wheat and gluten-free pizza, Reinhart says.

“Pizza evolved from one of the most basic food concepts—bread and topping, specifically dough-cooked over or in a fire, finished off with sauce, oil, cheese, whatever was on hand,” he says. “That combination of dough with something on it just works.”