Tips for Great Homemade Pizza
* Use fresh active dry yeast when making dough. Feed the dough with quality olive oil, warm (not hot) water, a bit of sugar or other sweetener, and sea salt. Allow plenty of time for your dough to rise, up to an hour.
* Preheat your oven fully. Most recipes suggest at least 400 degrees.
* If you prefer a soft crust, bake your pizza at a lower temp for longer time. For a crispy crust, cook it for less time at a higher temp.
* Arrange your pizza pan in the middle of the oven rack, in the center of the oven.
* To test for doneness, look to see that the edge of the crust is browning and the cheese is fully melted.
* For a smoky flavor, try cooking your pizza on the barbecue. At 400 degrees, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Or include a barbecue seasoning, like Frontier Barbecue Seasoning, in your sauce.
* In addition to sprinkling spices on top of the pizza, incorporate them into your sauce, or even into the dough. Try Italian seasoning, garlic powder, fennel, or even sesame seeds.
* Always lightly oil your pizza pan before spreading the dough. Most pizza cooks prefer olive oil.
* Experiment with baking surfaces. Some pizza cooks declare you can't make a perfect pizza without a pizza stone. Others prefer pans with holes in the bottom, or pizza screens, that allow the bottom surface of the dough to cook nicely. And others use a basic pizza pan sprinkled with cornmeal.
* Vary your cheeses. Mozzarella is traditional, but Parmesan, Asiago, goat, feta, fontina, and provolone cheeses work well, too.
* Take shortcuts. If you enjoy the process, go ahead and make your dough and sauce from scratch. But if you're in a rush or don't relish time in the kitchen, buy a plain tomato sauce and liven it up with your favorite spices or spice blends (such as Pizza Seasoning or Italian Seasoning), or purchase a pre-made pizza sauce. Try pre-purchased crusts, or even ask your local pizzeria if they'll sell you a batch of dough (many will).
* Try different sauces. Marinara sauce, spaghetti sauce, pesto, Alfredo sauce, and even melted butter with spices (like basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, and parsley) are nice variations on standard pizza sauce.
* Expand your topping selections. Yes, a great plain cheese pizza is perfectly satisfying. But it's also fun (and nutritious) to add a variety of vegetables, meats, even fruits. Try spinach, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes (fresh and sundried), artichokes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, baby corn, olives, peppers of all sorts, and of course onions and mushrooms. (Some veggies, like broccoli and sweet potatoes, need to be cooked first.) Dried mushrooms (and other dried vegetables) work well, too; simply reconstitute by soaking in warm water and then drain well before using.
Pineapples, raspberries, and mangoes make for interesting pizza fare. And for meat you might pass up pepperoni once in a while for salami, prosciutto, sliced roast beef, chicken, white fish or jumbo shrimp.
Spread toppings evenly -- to the edge of the crusts -- to avoid undercooked areas of crust below. And don't overdo or your dough won't cook through.
* Some connoisseurs like to put the vegetables on last, while others prefer to top with cheese, so it melts down over everything else. You decide.
Establish a standard pizza night at your house. Or throw a pizza party and invite guests to assemble their own pizzas. Have an elegant gourmet pizza dinner, complete with wine and a tossed salad. Pizza lends itself to such a wide variety of occasions. And with so many options for seasonings, toppings, dough and baking styles, you may never serve exactly the same pizza twice, no matter how often you indulge.
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