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Low-effort, low-mess pizza @ home


Fat Guy
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These are not instructions for making the best possible homemade pizza. If you want to do that, you need to commit to a lot more effort and mess -- pizza stones, flour and cornmeal that need to be cleaned up from the oven floor and kitchen floor, etc. -- than the following method requires. What I'm documenting here is the result of several months of refining a home pizza-making method to achieve the following goals:

1 - Uses store-bought frozen pizza dough

2 - Doesn't require use of a pizza stone

3 - Doesn't require use of flour to handle and form the dough

4 - Uses ready-made tomato sauce and readily available cheeses

5 - Contains the entire pizza in a sheet pan for reduction of mess

6 - Produces an acceptable crust and attractive finished product

7 - Is good enough that people who are serious about pizza won't be offended by it

8 - A single pie is large enough to feed my family (2 adults and 1 toddler)

I've probably made 50 pizzas now, exploring the various permutations. Here's what I've found:

1 - Uses store-bought frozen pizza dough

Store-bought frozen pizza dough is quite good, if you can find a product with a simple ingredients list. I've been getting a very good product from the "House of Pasta" brand, made in Trenton, NJ, by the Landolfi Food Company and sold at various Manhattan grocery stores. I've made my own dough for comparison, and it's possibly, arguably, maybe a little better when I make it myself. But not enough to justify doing it for any reason other than the pure enjoyment of making dough. One pound seems to be the standard supermarket unit of dough, and that works just right for my purposes.

As I've documented on the "Old dough" topic, the trick with pizza dough is to "retard" it in the refrigerator for several days before use. I can't overstate what a big difference this makes. It not only makes the dough easier to work with, but also creates a slightly sour (in the good, bready sense) and crispier crust. If you buy frozen dough, put it in the refrigerator -- not the freezer -- and let it sit for several days. And I mean several days. I recently got my best results ever with nine-day-refrigerated dough. This evening I used five-day refrigerated dough and it was great -- much better than if you use it the day you get it or, if you're making homemade, the day you make it.

2 - Doesn't require use of a pizza stone

Pizza stones are great, but they have a few drawbacks: 1- they can't accommodate a particularly large pizza, so if you're feeding a family you have to bake two or three pizzas, 2- they're messy because you need to use flour and/or cornmeal to lubricate the pizza peel and stone, so you wind up with flour and/or cornmeal on the floor of the oven and the floor of the kitchen, and 3- there's always some risk that, as an amateur, you're going to screw up the transfer of the pizza to and from the stone and end up with a pizza on the floor.

So, I started experimenting with the capabilities of my oven and found that, while you can't get real hearth-baked results without a stone, you can do pretty well if you push your oven to its limits. That means you set the oven to its maximum 500-degree setting (some ovens do 525 or 550, even better) and start preheating about 40 minutes before it's time to bake the pizza. There's no shortcut here -- if you only preheat for 20 minutes your oven will reach 500 but it won't have the retained heat in the oven walls that gives that extra push to the baking process. If you have convection, turn it on -- it helps. You want to position your lowest rack as low as it can go, so you're baking the pizza almost on the bottom of the oven.

3 - Doesn't require use of flour to handle and form the dough

I hate working with floured surfaces, because as you toss, punch and knead you get flour dust flying all up and over the place. If you have toddler assistance in the kitchen, it's even more of a disaster when you use flour. I've found that cornmeal works just as well and doesn't create any sort of dust. I also like the little bits of cornmeal that get embedded in the dough when you work this way. It reminds me of the pizzas in New Haven at Sally's, which derive part of their interest from the baked-in cornmeal on the bottoms of the crusts.

Here's the basic pizza-making mise-en-place I use. This is at the point where the dough has been stretched. You should be able to make out the little bits of cornmeal.

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4 - Uses ready-made tomato sauce and readily available cheeses

I've experimented with at least a dozen commercially available tomato-sauce products and one stands head and shoulders above all the others for use as pizza sauce: Pomi Strained Tomatoes. Not the Pomi Chopped Tomatoes. Not the Pomi Marinara Sauce. I've tried those too and they don't work as well. What you want are the Pomi Strained Tomatoes in aseptic packaging. They have a wonderful, natural tomato taste. The moisture content is just right for pizza making. You don't have to do anything: you just spread the stuff right on the pizza. There's no oil, no weird stuff, no off flavors from a can. I find that the Pomi Strained Tomato product makes a better pizza sauce than what even some very good New York pizzerias are using. It's also a very efficient product. One 26-ounce box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes is enough for four -- yes, four -- entire large pizzas of the kind I make. You just have to transfer it to other containers in order to keep it around. It freezes well, so if you're not going to use it within a few days you can just freeze in one-pizza-size portions in deli containers or even zipper bags, then put it in the fridge the night before use and take it out when you start preheating the oven. Pomi tomatoes, on account of the packaging process, don't need to contain a lot of salt. So, out of the box, they're a bit bland. I've found that the salt from the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses brings the salt level of the pizza up to just about where it should be, though. So all you really need to do is shake a little salt on the pizza right after you spread the sauce and you'll be all set.

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In terms of cheese, I've found that the typical store-made fresh mozzarella is too wet and just doesn't make particularly useful pizza cheese unless you have a professional stone oven. At the same time, I've found that Polly-O and the like just don't taste very good. What I've had the best luck with is something in the middle: "fresh" mozzarella that's not actually fresh. As in, packaged fresh mozzarella. It will say "fresh" on the label, but it was packed in some factory somewhere and has a shelf life so it's not the same as the store-made products. It has lower moisture than real fresh mozzarella but has good flavor. The brand I've been using is Cappiello, which is made in upstate New York. There are a couple of other brands I've tried, like BelGioioso, that work fine. Every Costco in every region seems to have some version of packaged fresh mozzarella that has the right moisture content for home pizza making. I've found that if you slice the cheese it doesn't melt well enough to distribute evenly, but that grating the cheese is a waste of time. I just do a rough dice.

On top of the mozzarella, some Parmesan cheese helps with both flavor and browning. It's not necessary to use Parmigiano Reggiano. Grated and baked in this application, I haven't been able to tell the difference between Parmigiano Reggiano and imitations that cost half as much such as the "Reggianato" cheese from Argentina that I've been using. Some sort of actual cheese is necessary, though -- the stuff in the green can isn't the same (though it will do in a pinch). Of course, you can use real Parmigiano Reggiano too.

I don't use a ton of cheese. Maybe 6 ounces of mozzarella for a whole pie, plus some grated Parmesan.

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5 - Contains the entire pizza in a sheet pan for reduction of mess

I have several cheapo aluminum half-sheet pans that I got at a restaurant-supply place many years ago. They're infinitely useful and they work great for pizza. The term "sheet pan" is a standard term in commercial cooking. A full-sheet pan is 18"x26". A half-sheet pan is 18"x13". The lip around the edge is about 3/4" high -- maybe 1" if you measure from the outside. Aluminum sheet pans are incredibly durable -- you can heat and beat the crap out of them and they don't warp or buckle at all. And, if you pay more than $6 for one, you're paying too much.

I do all the work inside the sheet pan. This contains the mess down to just about zero. I start by spreading a palmful of cornmeal in the half-sheet pan, then I plop the ball of dough in the middle and roll it around so it picks up a bunch of the cornmeal. Once you do that, it becomes very easy to stretch the dough without it sticking to your hands or the sheet pan.

In terms of dough-stretching, patience is key. If you try to go from a ball of dough to a pizza in one session you need skill. But if you take three breaks of about two minutes each, you'll have no problem. First, stretch the dough to about half the size of the pan -- that's easy. (Just pick up the dough and, with both hands, start pulling, first from the center and then from the edges -- the weight of the dough will do a lot of the work for you if you just kind of make a wheel with it and hold it with your fingertips from the top of the wheel and rotate it around like your fingers are gears.) Then leave it for about two minutes. Next, pick up and stretch to about three quarters the size of the pan. Easy again. Two-minute rest. Finally, pick it up again and you should be able to stretch it to the full size of the pan, or close. From there, you don't need to pick up the dough again. You can just kind of manipulate it out to the edges and corners if there are still gaps.

If you've used enough cornmeal, you don't actually need any oil on the pan. The finished pizza will release without too much struggle. However, if you want to make life easier, when you do your last stretching you can drape the dough over one arm and spray the sheet pan with a little olive oil spray (or any nonstick cooking spray).

6 - Produces an acceptable crust and attractive finished product

Here are some photos of finished pizzas from the past few times I've made it using this method. In my oven, at 500 degrees with convection on, the magic number is 11 minutes. That may vary by oven. But you've got to let it go until it almost burns -- actually, until it starts to burn. If you pull it too early, you won't be as happy with the results.

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7 - Is good enough that people who are serious about pizza won't be offended by it

I've been getting pretty good feedback on this pizza from people I trust -- people who would tell me if it sucked. It's not as good as what you can produce if you use a pizza stone if you do everything right, but it's a lot better than what most people actually do produce with a pizza stone. It's not as good as pizza from a good pizzeria, but it's much better than pizza from a mediocre pizzeria. I just had a friend over who is one of the pickier eaters I know and I couldn't believe how much pizza he ate. It was scary. I thought we were going to run out, even though I had made two large pies (13" x 18", or nearly that big).

8 - A single pie is large enough to feed my family (2 adults and 1 toddler)

No problem there. With a salad, one pie is plenty for a casual dinner and we usually have a slice left over for our son's lunch the next day.

It does take a little time to do everything. The prep time works out to about 40 minutes if you're also making salad, sauteeing a vegetable, setting the table, checking email, answering the phone, entertaining a child and a dog, etc., and the cooking time is of course 11 minutes. You just start heating the oven, get all your mise-en-place dealt with, do a preliminary stretching of the dough, work on the rest of dinner (washing lettuce, preparing a veg, setting the table, etc.), stretch again, finish up the other stuff you're doing, do the final stretching, assemble the pie, put it in the oven. Now you have enough time to sautee some greens or mushrooms or whatever.

It helps to let the pizza cool for about 5 minutes after it's out of the oven, otherwise it's hard to cut and separate. A pizza cutter is also a very useful tool to have.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Fat Guy, do you find that your dough cooks all the way through? I usually cook the dough with the tomatoes for a little while first, and put the cheese on towards the end. Otherwise I have raw-ish dough and burnt cheese. Yours however, looks delicious.

Since I can't really buy dough where I am-I too, don't see the big difference, I make a no knead dough like the no knead bread recipe from Sullivan St bakery. In the morning, flour, yeast, water, olive oil, salt. In the fridge until dinner time. I then take it out and shape it-without flour- and make a delicious pizza...

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Ambra, I can virtually guarantee you that if you add a several-days-long retardation in the refrigerator, you'll enjoy that dough even more. Another thing that I think is well worth doing is making several batches of dough at once and freezing in one-pound portions, then staging it in the refrigerator a few days before actual use. This gives you a steady, no-effort supply of dough. There was a point, when I was in peak experimental mode, when I had so much dough in zipper bags in the freezer that I lost track of which was homemade and which was what brand.

Following the method outlined here, I haven't had any problem getting the crust to cook through. I have had problems when not preheating the oven enough, putting too many toppings on, etc. I have no objection in principle to par-baking the dough, but have found that the other ingredients don't come together as well for me when I do that. If I am going to par bake, I've found that it works best to par bake with no toppings at all -- meaning with no sauce either. Also, I've found that the best technique for par-baking crust is the one that was recommended to me by Waldy Malouf, the chef at Beacon restaurant who also has a brick-oven pizza place called Waldy's. He par-bakes the crust then flips it over and puts the toppings on the "bottom" before finishing. It's hard to believe it works, but it does. That's what I'll do if someone comes over and we're putting a lot of toppings on the pizza. But for the normal sauce-cheese pie, I've had no cook-through problem when following all the instructions above.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My local grocery store always has pizza dough on the shelf, among the cheeses. I've used it mixed with my multigrain dough or sometimes 100% as is for Pizza. Their dough is wet enough to make focaccia or focaccine when you have last minute guests. Overproofed it once for more than 2 hours and the product came out soft, like a regular whitebread.

Pizza look fantastic! Like a marguerite, without the basil. Yummy!

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In my neighbourhood I am known as the Pizza Queen. I have been using Teti pizza bases which are only available in Toronto. I'm sure most folks would be horrified by my use of preformed bases but if the oven is set to

500 degrees these are pretty good. Pizza dough, either my own or purchased has always driven me crazy. I can never get them to stretch enough or with any control.

I will certainly use your method now. I like the idea of leaving dough in the fridge and the rest periods between pizza dough stretching. This will work for me and the dough.

I wish I had a hint to give you but I think you covered all the bases very well. The only thing I would mention is keep the sauce and toppings to a minimum. You also mentioned that but it is worth repeating.

Many thanks for your efforts and on to bigger, better and more consistent pizza!

Edited by Meridian (log)
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Ambra, I can virtually guarantee you that if you add a several-days-long retardation in the refrigerator, you'll enjoy that dough even more. Another thing that I think is well worth doing is making several batches of dough at once and freezing in one-pound portions, then staging it in the refrigerator a few days before actual use. This gives you a steady, no-effort supply of dough. There was a point, when I was in peak experimental mode, when I had so much dough in zipper bags in the freezer that I lost track of which was homemade and which was what brand.

Following the method outlined here, I haven't had any problem getting the crust to cook through. I have had problems when not preheating the oven enough, putting too many toppings on, etc. I have no objection in principle to par-baking the dough, but have found that the other ingredients don't come together as well for me when I do that. If I am going to par bake, I've found that it works best to par bake with no toppings at all -- meaning with no sauce either. Also, I've found that the best technique for par-baking crust is the one that was recommended to me by Waldy Malouf, the chef at Beacon restaurant who also has a brick-oven pizza place called Waldy's. He par-bakes the crust then flips it over and puts the toppings on the "bottom" before finishing. It's hard to believe it works, but it does. That's what I'll do if someone comes over and we're putting a lot of toppings on the pizza. But for the normal sauce-cheese pie, I've had no cook-through problem when following all the instructions above.

Ok. I will try again. Thank you. That's a good secret- to flip the dough. I'm going to try that too.

Happy Pizza making!

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I make pizzas on parchment paper and put them on a stone with no flour or corn meal.

No mess and you get the benefit of the stone if you want it. It can take two people to put the pizza and parchment in the oven if the pie's large. I find that using a cooling rack helps keep the crust crisp also.

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Mmm- just like Grandma used to make! (well...not exactly, but close enough.)

I really do like the idea of proofing the dough but was wondering what your preferred method of keeping it from crusting over would be. Do you coat it with oil, or just place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap?

aka Michael

Chi mangia bene, vive bene!

"...And bring us the finest food you've got, stuffed with the second finest."

"Excellent, sir. Lobster stuffed with tacos."

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This looks pretty tasty, Steven. This is what they would call pizza casalinga ("homemade" or "housewife style" pizza) in Italy. This style has become popular in East coast pizzerie recently as "grandma pizza."

The key to your process, in my opinion, is your careful selection of ingredients (you clearly went through some experimentation to determine which tomato product what kind of cheese worked the best for your process) and also your judicious and austere use of toppings. If I were doing this myself (and I'll probably give it a try) I'd probably throw on the cheese some time around minute 8 or so, since I'm not fond of browned mozzarella.

Another style that works really well in a home oven is Chicago-style deep dish, which you can do nicely in a large cast iron skillet.

--

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I really do like the idea of proofing the dough but was wondering what your preferred method of keeping it from crusting over would be. Do you coat it with oil, or just place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap?

Plastic zipper bag, air pressed out but not fanatically so, no oil. (You'll notice that the procedure I use is, from start to finish, a no-oil procedure -- although when you buy commercially produced dough it usually has some oil in it.) The dough can protest a bit when you take it out of the bag, but you should be able to invert the bag and plop the dough-ball out onto your sheet pan. Interestingly, the crummy generic bags seem to work better for this purpose than the higher-quality brand-name bags. What I really want to find, though, is a bag made from the same plastic that the commercial dough producers use. Nothing sticks to that stuff.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG: Have to agree with the theme of your experiments and report!

My version of a report of such experiments was in

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showto...dpost&p=1087260

While I need to try corn meal as you report and may agree with you that it's the way to go, I believe that you are a bit too negative on use of flour in handling the dough! I use flour and have no problems!

My maple breadboard just fits an outline depression on the top of my stainless steel sink!

So I form pizzas on my breadboard. The scattered flour goes mostly just into the sink. Once I'm done with the breadboard, I just use a kitchen utility towel to dust the excess flour into the sink and maybe wipe the board with a damp towel. If a little loose flour scatters on the counter top, then one pass with a damp cloth suffices.

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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Of course, it will be at least nine days before I can report results.

Do you think the store-bought dough is fresh every day? Maybe it's already been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days . . .

eta: I just read it again and Steven uses frozen dough. But you can probably get refrigerated dough that's been sitting around for a few days and will give you a head start. No?

Edited by Pam R (log)
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It's possible that somebody out there is selling good refrigerated dough, but none of the ones I've tried have been acceptable to me. When you produce frozen dough, all you need to do is use basic ingredients. The refrigerated doughs I've seen have had a lot of junk in them. Even the ones that say "no preservatives" have longer ingredients lists than dough should have. I guess people are saying Trader Joe's has good refrigerated dough. I haven't tried it. I've been sticking with frozen. But sure, yes, if you can find a good source of refrigerated dough you may get a leg up especially if the packages are marked with expiration dates and you intentionally buy the oldest one.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Since I can't really buy dough where I am-I too, don't see the big difference, I make a no knead dough like the no knead bread recipe from Sullivan St bakery. In the morning, flour, yeast, water, olive oil, salt. In the fridge until dinner time. I then take it out and shape it-without flour- and make a delicious pizza...

That sounds great- would you mind sharing the dough recipe? I'd imagine the original no-knead bread dough recipe would be too wet to work with as pizza dough...

---

al wang

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I have done this for a few years in terms of the sheet pan, oven heat and shape. I make my own dough with 3 c flour and 1 c water in food processor. I start with 2 c flour and then work with the last cup. The fp is aggressive -almost like kneading. I just let it rest a good while and then play a bit with it. Your several day fridge resting sounds like a fine idea and I will try it. My audience is very against tomatoes having any form so I just do tomato paste thinned with the juices from the sausage I brown for the topping and a bit of balsamic. I have found the stretching part of the process to be the most fun. Using your knuckles and being just a little playful yet gentle is so rewarding. If my dough is a bit "in your face" tough, I might start out with a few rolls with a pin. I have a wonderful full counter wooden board that makes the flour floofing thing a non-issue. I saw one on one of the EG blogs so they must be around. The best part is that the kids see the polar opposite in terms of flavor to "Dominos" (local pizza chain)- they are shocked that we can do this so easily at home.

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Since I can't really buy dough where I am-I too, don't see the big difference, I make a no knead dough like the no knead bread recipe from Sullivan St bakery. In the morning, flour, yeast, water, olive oil, salt. In the fridge until dinner time. I then take it out and shape it-without flour- and make a delicious pizza...

That sounds great- would you mind sharing the dough recipe? I'd imagine the original no-knead bread dough recipe would be too wet to work with as pizza dough...

I live in Italy, so maybe the ingredients will be somewhat different. I don't know the exact amounts of salt and olive oil, because I don't measure them! I am sorry!! I am really terrible at giving recipes, here's my best!

500 grams of 00 flour- I'm sure you can do it with AP Flour though

355 mL of warm water, I guess about a cup and a half

salt (i usually grab a few fingers worth)

olive oil (a few tablespoons?)

one cake of fresh yeast (about 25g)- (Maybe it's the equivalent to 1 package of Rapid Rise?)

I don't know that you actually need to do this, but I do it anyway: I dissolve the yeast in the warm water first. Then I combine the salt and the flour. Then I add the water/yeast mixture and combine, but just until all the flour is encorporated so not to over mix, then I add the oil and combine again- I use my hands. Dough should be wet. Then it goes into a Ziploc bag without air for a minimum of 10 hours and a max of....see Fat Guy for this! When you take the dough out of the bag to shape, you don't need to let it rise again, just shape it and use it. Wet or oil your hands to shape the dough.

In the fridge, the dough reallllly grows.....it's really flavorful.

Good Luck!

edited to remove a double quote!

Edited by ambra (log)
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I think making a pizza using your own dough, using some sort of canned tomatoe, a 5# block of cheese and rolling your own is just about as simple as what you are doing.

Dough is simply, flour, water, salt, yeast and a little olive oil. Made in a Food Processor in literally minutes.

After rising, rolling with flour is not difficult and with a good scraper clean up is fast.

A gas oven with convection in the bottom will yield a nice crisp crust and final surface browning can be under your broiler top rack if needed.

Your food processor will also provide a nice fine dice with minimal effort for your cheese. You don't even have to clean it after you make the dough before processing the cheese.

I use a high quality canned No Salt ground Tomatoe from Pastene http://www.pastene.com/Merchant2/merchant....egory_Code=TOMA . Pastene has both Califronia, Italian and San Marzano tomatoes available.

I purchase 5# blocks of cheese from Sam's!

The stone is up to you but usually I don't use one.

I guess I don't see that your method saves enough time from the method i use?-Dick

Edited by budrichard (log)
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I would suggest you check out the forums at pizzamaking.com. They have a large membership of people who are truly crazy about pizza. You'll find tons of info/recipes/techniques on everything from the simplest, most convenient pizzas to spirited debate/experimentation/etc. from people who are making pies at home that rival the best pizzerias in the world. If you're into pizza, check it out.

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I can simplify your pizza-at-home even more: instead of pizza dough, use ready made large tortillas, as described by Jacques Pepin in his new book "Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook". They taste slightly sweeter than pizza dough, and you must use the all-wheat-flour ones, but what a difference it makes in saving time and trouble. And they have a nice crusty texture. I found, however, that I couldn't use oil on the bottom like Jacques does (Makes them stick to everything), and I don't know why. Mine came out super even in my outdoor pizza oven.

Ray

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  • 2 weeks later...
Has anyone tried baking the crusts, freezing them to make this as quick as frozen (ick) pizza?

I do this all the time. My pizza recipe produces four medium, thin crust pizzas; I'll make and eat two of them that night. The other two crusts get par-baked (two to three minutes on the stone), cooled and frozen.

With the leftover crusts, I'll just pre-heat the stone, top the frozen crust, and bake normally. Since it starts out frozen, the crust and cheese end up cooked at about the same time: I've never had problems with over- or under-baked pizza. It's not as good as fresh, but it's still very good, and basically effortless.

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This is fantastic. Its like Pizza Metro here in Chicago, which is a take on roman style street or late night pizza.

This style of pizza was available many places in Italy, a little old man vendor sold it outside my university in Siena. The common practice was to get two pieces and make it a sandwich, with the crusts out. The key was two different kinds of pizza, one funghi and the other salsiccia was my favorite.

Ah, the Pizza Metro potato and rosemary pizza. I may have to try and recreate this at home.

Of course, them being only three blocks away really doesn't help.

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