Pans. When it came time to sort my Mom's things, my sister dug through the jewelery box while I dug through the kitchen. I don't know what she was looking for, but I was hunting for the pizza pans and got them - battered, old, black tin. In my experience, a black pan produces a better crust. I have a lighter coloured one and the pizza crust does not bake well on it.
I still use the lighter pan, but bake the pizzas on the dark pans first and pull them out of the oven. The lighter coloured pan goes into the oven last. Once it has baked it's time, I pull it out and check the underside of the crust. Yup, still pale. So, I slide it off the pale pan and onto a black pan (usually available by then, thanks to the wolves) and bake a little longer. Sometimes when expecting more wolves on a Friday night, I'm pressed to put a rectangular cookie sheet into use. They work fine and just require a tad more dough.
Use Lard to grease the pans. Yuk. But it works better than anything else I've used. Never wash your pans. Double Yuk. Wipe clean with a paper towel.
Dough - For a 13-inch pizza I use 3/4 lb. of raw dough. For an 8-inch personal pan size pizza, use about a 1/4 lb. of raw dough. If you like a thicker crust, use more but remember to up the bake time. Remember to handle the dough properly. Go back to Handling Raw Bread Dough and follow those instructions.
You know how we see pizza dough being tossed up in the air? I succeeded in taking down some cobwebs and scaring The Cat. I can't prove this, but I suspect it has something to do with some guy a very long time ago, trying to impress his mother or girlfriend. Make a little ball of dough. Plunk it down on the pan. Flatten it with your palm. If you are making more pizzas, plunk the dough balls down on those pans and flatten them. And like any other time you find yourself working with raw dough, let it rest if it resists. Dough will co-operate after having a rest. In a minute or two you will be able to stretch the thing out to cover the entire pan by pressing both palms down and pushing outward with your fingertips.I couldn't show you both my hands because one was holding the camera, and the pictures GG took showing both of my hands got eaten up by a low camera battery and Speedy hasn't sped in to fix it all yet and I promised to get this pizza thing up for Y'ALL. (I can say that. I live in the southern part of Canada.) So this is what you get. Spin the pan and keep stretching. Push the dough right up and over the pan edge. This will all be easier if you work traveling from pan to pan. Homeschoolers will totally get this. Teach this one something, move on to the next, teach the third one, come back to the first one. Keep making the rounds. Each pan of dough will have a little rest while you are working on the next pan, pushing, prodding, stretching. When it begins to resist. Go on to another pan. We will OverCome!
Toppings - Like a lot of things in life, less is more. I don't add much more than three toppings after the tomato sauce or olive oil, cheese and oregano. Don't load up the toppings, or the dough sitting beneath it, won't be able to bake properly. Space things out, just like the teacher made us space out our letters when learning to print. Sundried tomatoes are so flavour intensive that I use them very sparingly. The same applies to olives.
Don't put sopping wet stuff on top of the dough and expect a good pizza. Squeeze out the tomato juice and seeds, fine-chop the peppers and give a quick squeeze in paper towel. Drain the tinned mushrooms, tomatoes and frozen spinach. If you are preparing a precooked topping like spinach or tomatoes, cook down until the mixture starts to clump together.
Slice things thinly. Slice the onions, peppers and tomatoes thinly. Again, it's about getting rid of moisture. Thinly slice sausage. It's easier to do this when the sausage is frozen. Quickly rinse off the frost by putting it under running water. Dry. Score the sausage casing with a knife and peel it off. Cut slightly defrosted bacon into smallish 1/2 inch pieces and fry until just done. Not crisp. A 500gr. or 1.1 pound of bacon (don't ya' just love metric?) will stretch to cover about 4 pizzas.
Tomato sauce - Go easy. I use a 5 1/2 oz. tin of tomato paste reconstituted with water to equal 1 cup. That one cup will stretch out to cover up to 8, 13-inch pizzas. At most, I put about 2 Tbsps. of sauce on a 13-inch pizza. Pick it up with the back of a tablespoon and apply it that way. You only want to just scantly cover the dough. Purchasing "Pizza Sauce" is unnecessary. Buy the tomato paste. It is far more economical and can be used for so much more.
About Cheese - Mozzarella - Look for cheese with a low moisture content, buy it when it goes on sale and toss it into the freezer. Frozen cheese will crumble when thawed. I usually put the larger chunks through the grater just the same, or crumble it very carefully over the dough. It is easy to put too much cheese on the dough if the cheese has been frozen, since crumbled cheese is thicker than grated cheese, so be careful. Keep thinking thin. Think about what that cheese is going to do when it gets stuck in a 400 F oven for 15 minutes. It will spread out and cover the crust. So go easy on the cheese. Just cover the top lightly, not obliterate it.
Feta - Use feta packed in water. Go easy with it too. Also, because this is pricey, I'll often put down a small amount of mozzarella first, finish it off with feta and pretend that nothing is amiss. No one has caught on yet, that I do this.
Parmesan - On occasion, I've run short of mozzarella and used parmesan. Divide up the mozzarella amongst the pizzas, then fill in by sprinkling on the parmesan. Very nice.
Other Cheeses - I haven't been all that adventurous with cheese when it comes to pizza. Once we finally hit on a good basic pizza, and more wolves and wolfettes than usual swarmed in every Friday night, I sort of said, "Okay, I can go read a book, now." I'm sure you can think up some wonderful combinations. Think smokey...mmmm. Or skip cheese altogether. Some people I happen to be related to only eat cheese-free pizza. Imagine the calorie reduction just by doing that.
Oregano and Seasonings - Oregano is the basic seasoning in pizza sauce. I buy a big container because I use a lot. The kids complained about it when they were little. Now they love it. Seasonings are especially important with vegetarian pizzas. Think about it. Usually meat on pizza has been smoked or highly seasoned in processing - bacon, sausage, ham. Vegetables are not. With a vegetarian pizza the missing spicy meats are compensated for with the addition of extra spices. Spinach improves with minced garlic and onion. Thyme adds a smokiness. Marjoram is a milder version of Oregano.
Garlic Flavoured Olive Oil - I use this in place of tomato sauce on our Vegetarian Tomato Pizza and also for other breads - focaccia - garlic breads - pasta. It is easy to make. Peel some garlic cloves. Pop them into an old wine or vinegar bottle. Pour in good quality olive oil. Cork. Set on the counter and in about a day or two it's ready to use.
Baking Temperature, Times & Method - Put one oven rack at the very top and one at the very bottom. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place two pizzas in the oven, one on the top rack and one on the bottom rack. Bake for about 6 - 7 minutes. Switch the two pans, also rotating them front to back for even baking. Bake another 6 - 7 minutes. If you haven't overloaded the pizzas with toppings or your pan is not real light in colour, the pizzas should be done. Watch colour. Use a metal spatula to lift up the edge of the pizza to check the colour of the underside. The crust should be golden brown underneath and on the perimeter.
Usually 15 minutes total is good for pizza - sometimes a little less, depending on how clean the oven happens to be. Don't give up if you find yourself fiddling around. Take careful observation of what you have done, pan size, pan colour, dough weight, lard vs. other grease, moisture content of the cheeses, moisture content and thickness of the topping. Oh, and a gas oven makes a world of difference.
Cutting the Pizza - You know those cute little roller blade cutters? I don't own one. They slide the toppings around. I slide my hot pizza off it's pan onto a cutting board and using a sharp, wide blade knife, cut by pressing down firmly. Once cut, pick up the cutting board with the pizza and slide it back onto the pan to be served that way. I mention this because I've watched people timidly slicing away at pizza, when a good whack is the thing to do.
In the weeks to come, I'll post a few of our favourite pizzas. I am not the last word on pizza. I am a housewife, in her tiny kitchen somewhere in rural Canada. This is just what works for me and a little of what I have learned over the last thirty-some years. When Saucey Chef shows up on a Friday night it's fun to see what she does with my humble pizza dough. Definitely Decadent.
(The first pizza is Sweet Canadian. The second pizza is Greek. The third pizza is Vegetarian Tomato.)
(Pepper Photo by GG)