I’m a big fan of pizza. So is Mr. Michelle Miller. This household would eat pizza every day if I didn’t put my foot down and say we should stick some rice dishes in there, too. Before we changed our lifestyle, we used to get the nasty stuff. You know the pizza I’m talking about: all grease, and cheese, and flavorless tomato sauce. I’m not trying to say that nasty pizza isn’t tasty; on the contrary, I’m so hooked on the stuff that I can’t eat just one slice. No, it’s delicious in the way that boxed macaroni is delicious – not through any virtue of its own, except that most of us ate it plenty growing up and so that is what we associate with “normal pizza” and fuzzy feelings.
Recently, I wrote a few articles that outline my favorite healthy pizza dough recipes and my favorite healthy pizza toppings. In the process, I realized that so much of producing great healthy pizza depends not necessarily on the recipe, but on the method. The standard pizza recipes benefit from but don’t require careful method because the ingredients are more flexible; white flour, in other words, is more flexible. For healthy pizza, however, if you really want something tasty, you will need to abide by a few rules:
- Use a baking stone, also called a “pizza” or “bread” stone. Stones retain heat exceptionally well, and they do so consistently. So when you slip the pizza off the peel (<— go ahead and click, I didn’t know what a peel was not too long ago, either), the crust will begin to crisp to perfection right away, without any great temperature loss on the stone. Place the stone on the lower rack of the oven and begin preheating it 30 minutes before baking.
- Use a hot oven. For most pizzas, you want to get your oven to 500°F or 550°F. A hot oven and a hot stone will remove the moisture from the crust quickly, and this helps to get the perfect crunch. If, however, you’re making the deep dish variety of pizza, then go lower, around 400°F.
- Homemade dough is better than store-bought dough, not just because store-bought doughs have preservatives and artificial everything, but because store-bought dough tends to be way too wet. A slightly wet dough is good, but a very wet dough will end up mushy!
- Be judicious with toppings. If your healthy crust is thin, don’t overload it. If you have a breadier healthy dough, which is my favorite, it can stand up to more toppings, but that’s no excuse to pack on meat and cheese. Try using thinly-sliced red onion, mushrooms, olives, and my personal preference, bell peppers!
- Dust your pizza peel with cornmeal. Not only does this give more crunch, but it helps slip the pizza from the peel to the stone without sticking.
- If you want a chewier crust, look for a healthy pizza dough recipe with some vital wheat gluten in it. If you want a tender crust, opt for a whole wheat recipe without vital wheat gluten.
- Use fresh yeast! This is important: so often we buy yeast in bulk, stick it in the fridge, and forget about it. But the best way to keep yeast fresh and perky is to keep it in the freezer. If you notice lackluster development in your dough, it’s probably due to your yeast.
- If you have the time, refrigerate your dough overnight after doing the initial kneading. This creates a more flavorful, perfect crust.
So these are my hard-earned tips for great pizza. I really cannot overemphasize using a baking stone. I wish I had known these things when I first began to fiddle with healthy pizza: I would have saved myself many pizza pan purchases and soggy crusts!