Return to menu

What I've learned about making pizza

By: Mike Gashler

Let's start with my pizza recipe:

Step 1: Put 1 cup cold tap water into my glass measuring cup.
Heat in my microwave on high for 28 seconds. Put 2 TBSP sugar, 0.5 tsp salt, and 2 tsp instant dry yeast into my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl.
Test warmed water on my wrist. (If it hurts, mix in a little cold water.)
Add to bowl and let it proof for a few minutes.
Step 2: Add 1.25 cups bread flour.
Stir with the whisk attachment on the lowest setting for about 8 minutes.
Step 3: Add about a TBSP olive oil and 1.5 more cups of flour.
Knead on the lowest setting with the hook attachment for 5 minutes.
Pull dough off hook and let it rest for 2 minutes.
Knead on the same setting for a long time (5-10 minutes).
The dough should still be slightly sticky. If not, use a little more water next time.
Step 4: Coat two 7x11" glass pans with cooking spray.
Put some flour on a dinner plate.
Cut the dough into 4 approximately equal-sized blobs. (Meat shears seem to work well for this.)
Plop just one side of a dough-blob onto the flour.
Roll the dough inward, toward the sticky side, so the floured side forms a smooth soft-looking round dome.
Keep rolling as needed to make them as perfectly smooth and round as possible.
Place two dough-balls (smooth side up) in each glass pan.
Step 5: Spray the tops of the dough-balls with a little cooking spray. (This will dissolve the flour on top and help to protect them from drying out in the fridge.)
Cover with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate over night.
Step 6: Take your dough balls out of the fridge about 3 hours before you intend to bake them. Start heating your baking surface at least a half hour before you start baking. Start preparing the toppings.
Step 7: Spread a very thin layer of sauce over the pie. Cut fresh mozerella with meat shears and distribute over the pie.
Add other toppings.
Step 8: Ensure the surface temperature is right (at least 600 degrees Farenheit). Adjust your source of infrared radiation from above. (If you are using a conventional oven, that means turn on the broiler. If you have a real pizza oven, that means adjust your flame.) Bake the pie.
Step 9: Transfer to cooling rack (so air can reach the underside).
Prepare your oven for the next pie.
When cool enough to eat, cut with a pizza cutter.

And here is some discussion about what I've learned in my efforts to make a good pizza:

Conducting experiments (Importance 10/10)

With most foods, all you need is to follow a good recipe, and voila! The results will be as good as the recipe. Pizza is not like that. With pizza, the convective properties of your oven make a difference. The surface you bake on makes a difference. The flour you use makes a difference. Your kneading technique matters. The temperature of your fridge matters. The number of times your family members open the fridge makes a difference. The yeast makes a difference. And even the chemicals your city adds to your local water make a difference. So with pizza, it's really not about the quality of the recipe. It's about the skill of the pizano. How do you become a great pizano? You experiment.

The biggest rookie mistake people make at this point is they get excited about trying a whole bunch of new tricks. The most important rule of conducting experiments is that you should be able to learn from the results, and that means it must differ from a previous experiment, or another pizza you are making in parallel, by exactly one factor. (Not two. Only one!)

Suppose you add 50% more sugar, knead the dough for twice as long, and try baking on a plain old cookie sheet. And suppose the resulting crust tasts better than your previous pizza, but comes out a little soggy. What does that mean? Did the extra kneading bring out the flavor? Or are you just tasting more sugar? Did the extra kneading cause the dough to retain more moisture? Or was that the cookie sheet? You don't know! (And that's a problem.)

We like to think of each adjustment has having exactly one effect, but The reality is, they are all combinatorial effects. So all of your adjustments had some impact on all of those results! And now you'll never be able to sort out what caused what. So what did you learn? Absolutely nothing! Sure, you got another pizza. That's nice. But learning takes patience.

Remember, you're in this for the long-game. A little restraint now will slowly produce the knowledge that makes all of your future pizzas better. Yes, it's a long slow process. Yes, everyone else will think you're crazy for making sub-optimal pizzas again and again. Welcome to the world of science. But if you keep at it, some day you'll know more about making pizzas than all your critics. ...and then you'll show them! (This is where you get to break out into the maniacal laughter that betrays just a little bit more obsession with experimentation than is generally considered socially acceptable.)

Of course, it's more efficient if your experiments are guided by the best available knowledge. And people have been making pizzas for a long time. So reading about other peoples' experiments is a great idea. But you also need to get to know your own equipment, your own ingredients, and your own technique. So trying stuff is necessary too.

Oven temperature and baking surface (Importance: 9/10)

I have come to the conclusion that the most important factor in pizza making is oven temperature. Here is a picture from Jeff Varasano's Page of a crust that was baked at 800 degrees Farenheit.

Wow! I wish my crusts looked like that! Commercial pizza ovens range from 700 to 900 degrees Farenheit (370-480 Celsius). Some Neopolitan pizzas are cooked at such high temperatures that they are fully baked in just 90 seconds! Seriously.

Alas, my lousy oven only goes up to 550 degrees Farenheit.

Can a great pizza pie be made in a traditional oven like this? I tried for years. I attempted every imaginable trick to make it work. But I'm sorry to say, the answer is no, not really. Sure, you can make one that will cause people to say, "Wow, this is home made? It's so good!" But they'd never really mistake it for a commercial pizza, and secretly they would prefer the commercial pizza. If you are content with that, there are a few tricks you can use, but if you really want to make a great pizza, sorry, some kind of pizza oven is required.

It is important to be aware that the top and bottom of your pizzas are cooked by different mechanisms. The crust on the bottom is cooked mostly from heat that transfers from the hot surface beneath. The top is cooked primarily by infrared light that radiates from above.

When I first started making pizzas, I tried to bake them on a cookie sheet. My crusts always came out dense and soggy. Yuck! Cookie sheets just don't have enough mass to hold much heat. Never use a cookie sheet. You need something heavy.

Eventually, I was gifted a pizza stone. The idea of a pizza stone is to replicate the conditions in a brick oven. Well, if your oven can get up to 800 degrees Farenheit, then that's perfect. But if you've got a conventional oven that maxes out at 550, like mine, stone is actually a bad surface to use because it doesn't transfer heat efficiently.

Eventually my pizza stone cracked, so I started using a big heavy cast iron pan. Suddenly, my pizza crusts started getting a lot better. It turns out heavy iron is a lot better at transferring heat.

When the heat transfers quickly, water in the dough will be turned to steam, which puffs up the crust. It also flash-bakes the outside of your crust to form a thin and crispy layer. If you cook at a lower temperature, you will have to cook for a longer time. And the longer your crust is subjected to heat, the drier and denser it gets. Don't be afraid of charring the outside a little. The best pizzas always have a little char on them. If there's no char anywhere, it's a lousy pizza.

The biggest problem with my cast iron pan is that it was hard to get the pizza in and out of. I made lots of messes trying to make this work.

Eventually, I learned that making my pies on aluminum foil solved the problem:
Plus, it made it easy for everyone in the family to make their own custom pie.
This system made much better pizzas than my pizza stone.
But I still wasn't satisfied. My pizzas still tasted homemade.

I found this great paper by some physicists who did the math to determine exactly how to bake a perfect pizza in a conventional oven: The Physics of baking good Pizza. They independently came to the same conclusion I did that cooking on steel works better than tile in conventional ovens. Based on some mathematical calculations, they claim that steel can even over-cook your crust at temperatures conventional ovens can reach. Unfortunately, my experimental results disagree. My crusts don't even start to burn until they've been sitting in my cast iron pan at 550 degrees Farenheit for 7 whole minutes!

So I bought a heavy steel baking sheet.

This is no mere cookie sheet. It's 1/8 inch thick steel, and is very heavy. Now I could finally bake my pizzas directly on the hot surface, with no aluminum foil beneath them, and I could directly test the claims in that paper! And yeah, it did made my pizzas better--a little bit better. ...but not enough. I was still not satisfied. I needed more heat!

My sister-in-law pointed out that dutch ovens get really hot.

So I made a wood fire and heated my dutch oven to over 1000 degrees Farenheit! In less than a minute, the underside of my crust was turned to char!

So it turns out, there is such a thing as too hot when baking pizzas. I tried using two pie crusts and then discarding the charred one beneath. But somehow, all the smoke and char still infected the taste of the pie on top. It still came out tasting like I had topped it with the contents of an ash tray. I tried cooling down the dutch oven so it wasn't so very hot, but it still didn't cook the toppings right. Apparently dutch ovens don't emit the infrared radiation that brick ovens do. After several attempts, I gave up. I am convinced dutch ovens are just not the secret to great pizzas.

I had just started mulling over designs for a brick oven when my wife found this:

It's a propane-powered pizza oven. (There was also a wood-fire option, but that one sounds messy. Also I really don't like the taste of smoke anyway. So I'm glad I got the propane one instead.)

It cooks the pizzas on a stone, but can reach satisfying temperatures.

Also, I can control the infrared radiation it reflects down on the pizza by adjusting the flame.
Finally, with a little more experimentation, my pizzas reached the point where I could honestly say I preferred them to commercial pizzas.
That's progress! I still have a long ways to go.
My crusts still don't come out looking like that amazing one by Jeff Varasano.
But I'm working on that. I'll get there.
A fight isn't over until I get what I want or I give up ...and I never give up.

Broiling, or flames, or some source of infrared radiation (Importance: 9/10)

In a brick pizza oven, the under-side of a pizza is cooked by heat that transfers from the tile beneath. The top of the pizza is cooked by infrared radiation emitted by the hot bricks overhead. If you use a conventional oven, you need something made of iron or steel to transfer heat into the crust. And to reproduce the infrared radiation from overhead, you use the broiler.

The pizza pictured above was baked in a conventional oven. You can see how infrared radiation from the broiler crisps the cheese and toppings, and carmelizes the exposed top surface of the crust. (You can also see that it just doesn't look as good as the ones I made in my pizza oven. Sorry. That's the way it is.)

Some recipes I found on other sites recommend turning on the broiler half-way through the baking process. But when I use a conventional oven, I only bake my pizzas for 5 minutes, so I find it works best to have the broiler on the entire time. So I turn it on just before I insert a pie. (Between pies, I switch back to bake because the internal oven temperature seems to fall slightly while the broiler is on.)

But now that I've got a pizza oven powered by propane gas, I have a lot more control over the infrared radiation by adjusting the flame.

Bread flour vs. All purpose flour (Importance: 8/10)

A lot of recipes say you can use either bread flour or all purpose flour. I agree that a quality pizza can be made from either type of flour, but this is not some trivial matter. It makes a huge difference in the style of pizza you will get.

Bread flour contains more gluten. Gluten is what creates a stretchy chewy texture. So if you want a light airy crunchy vacant crust that stays out of the way, all purpose flour is for you. If you prefer a chewy stretchy substantial crust that commands attention, bread flour is for you. If you think the crust is a canvas, and the toppings are the art, use all purpose flour. If you think the crust is the masterpiece, and the toppings are just the frame, use bread flour.

I enjoy both styles of pizza, but frankly I think a commercial oven is needed to do justice to an all-purpose-flour crust. Besides, after baking pizza, I'm usually hungry for something substantive. This is what I like to see in my crusts:

See those stringy strands clinging to the two halves as you pull the crust apart? See the blistering surface texture?

See how non-uniform bubbles form throughout the crust?

Aww yeah. A pizza like that will leave me satisfyingly full. And then it's time for a nap.

Whisking before you add the remaining flour (Importance: 6/10)

Gluten is a long stringy protein. When you stir a goopy mixture of flour and water, you spin those proteins into forming even longer chains. These long chains of gluten are what make your dough stretchy and elastic. And when you bake the crust, they gives it a more springy texture.

See the stringy fibers in this dough? Just imagine what that's going to taste like when it is baked. Mm, yeah! That's why we take some time to work the gluten into long strands.

Kneading with all the flour (Importance: 4/10)

Almost anything you read about pizza-making will talk about the importance of kneading. I tried making some crusts with minimal kneading, and sure enough, they tasted like the epitome of bad homemade pizzas. But in further experiments, I honestly couldn't tell the difference between crusts made from dough I had kneaded for nearly a half-hour, and crusts I had only kneaded for 5-10 minutes. My suspicion is that whisking the wet dough actually does more to form gluten strands than dry kneading.

So take that how you will. Kneading is supposed to be important--everyone else says so--but I think you can get away with just a few minutes of it. Maybe this is something you should test for yourself before you accept my advice, especially since my advice differs from most of the conventional wisdom out there.

Resting the dough (Importance: 2/10)

When you knead dough with gluten, it tenses up. But if you let it rest, it relaxes. You can physically see the difference just by watching how the dough behaves when you stop kneading for a while. And when you start up again, it feels different than if you just keep kneading tense dough.

Why is that important to do? I'm not really sure, but it seems to make wet dough feel less sticky and easier to work with. And since I prefer to use a wet dough, resting mid-knead seems to be a good thing to do. Plus, it's not hard, so I figure you might as well just do it.

Wet dough (Importance: 3/10)

Using a fairly wet final dough has a few benefits:

  1. It's easier to push into a flat pie crust shape.
  2. It will produce more steam when you put it in the hot oven, creating large bubbles in the crust.
  3. It gives the gluten more flexibility to form bonds during kneading.

There are some disadvantages. For example, you'll have to use a little flour to keep it from sticking. And you can't really spin it over your head to show off. But do you really need to do that anyway?

Infrared thermometer (Importance: 4/10)

The temperature of your baking surface makes a big difference in how your pizzas will turn out. So how are you supposed to be methodical and deliberate if you don't even have a way to measure the temperature of your baking surface?

Besides, they're not very expensive.

Salt (Importance: 3/10)

I read somewhere that salt is hard on the yeast, but is necessary for the flavor it adds to the dough. I wasn't really into salty flavor, so I made a lot attempts without salt. ...and my crusts were consistently lousy. It wasn't the flavor that was lacking. It was the yeast.

The yeast just seemed like it was dead, and my crusts came out dense and flat. Apparently what I read was completely wrong. So contrary to what my reading says, my experiments say the yeast needs salt to do its job. I don't think you need a whole lot, but apparently bad things happen if you just leave it out.

Supplementary gluten (Importance: 4/10)

If you really like stretchy dough, you might want to add a little supplementary gluten. Adding extra gluten will make it even easier to get that springy stringy rubbery texture. I almost added it to my baseline recipe, but I decided not to because I ran out, and my regular grocery store doesn't carry it. So until I make a trip to the natural foods store, I'll be baking without it.

But don't imagine that extra gluten will magically create a fabulous crust. You still have to knead the dough well to make the gluten form those strands. You still need the long rising time to let the slow bonds form and the yeast to ferment. And you still need the extremely high oven temperature. I've made a lot of bad crusts with extra gluten. ...but a little extra gluten can do good things if you use it prudently.

Natural gluten (Importance: 3/10)

If you don't have any supplementary gluten, but you're feeling hard-core today, there's a way you can concentrate the gluten yourself. Gluten is hydrophobic. So to concentrate it, you just need to rinse away all the starch:

Step 1: Mix some bread flour and water into a wet ball of dough.
Step 2: Put the wet ball of dough in a colander.
Step 3: Knead it under gently running tap water until it falls apart into sticky little balls of hydrophobic glue that won't rinse away.
Step 4: Scrape together as much of the hydrophobic glue-balls as you can. They are mostly gluten and water. (The starch and fiber all rinsed away as milky cloudy water.)
Step 5: Add the sticky gluten to your dough.
(You'll need to reduce the amount of water in your recipe to compensate for the extra water that came with your gluten.)
Step 6: Good luck cleaning that sticky goop off of your colander. Hot soapy water might help a little.

Some of my best-ever crusts came from this technique. It seems to produce even better gluten than the supplemental powdered gluten you can buy. It's just such a bother that I don't like to do it very often.

Yeast (Importance: 3/10)

My reading says that the yeast you pick makes a big difference. But I've only ever tried instant dry yeast. So that's a variable you get to tune in your experiments. So I don't really know how important this is. Some articles make a big deal about growing your own sour-dough yeast culture. But that sounds like a lot of work, so I'll just use instant yeast for now. I guess I'll give this a 3.

Long fermentation (Importance: 3/10)

My reading suggested if you use your own sour dough starter, rising over night in the fridge can produce a very nice-tasting crust. I was using regular instant dry yeast, but I decided to try fermenting over night in the fridge anyway, just to see how it would turn out.

I couldn't sense a flavor difference, but my crusts turned out much better. I'm not sure exactly why. Perhaps letting the dough sit for a long time gives the gluten a chance to relax and fuse into the dough. Or maybe I'm just imagining it. I'm not entirely sure. But the bottom line is, my crusts seemed to turn out much much better when I gave them a day to rise in the fridge. So that's how I make all my crusts now.

Cooling rack (Importance: 2/10)

The purpose of the cooling rack should be obvious. I don't like escaping steam making my crust soggy. The cooling rack prevents that.

Peels (Importance: 1/10)

Pizza peels are those big paddles pizanos use to slide their pizzas in and out of hot ovens. They can also serve as convenient cutting boards.

I use the one in the middle to stage my pies. It's the perfect size, and conveniently fits into my propane pizza oven. I use the metal one on the left to rotate my pies while they cook in the hot oven. It's the best one for scooping up hot pizzas and sliding them around. I use the big one on the right as a cutting board. Additionally, I have three plastic cutting boards that I usually use for preparing toppings.

I didn't realize how much of a difference these things make until I got three of them. It seems I can never get enough large portable surfaces to cut on and slide things around with. I use all of them every time I make pizzas. So, if you can, I recommend getting several pizza peels. You'll probably get plenty of use out of them all.

Foil (Importance: 1/10)

Experienced pizanos know how to put just the right of meal or flour on their peel. They know just how to flick it so the pizza slides right into place every time. But if you are stuck working with a tiny pizza stone or cast iron pan with high walls, just getting your pies into the center of the hot surface can be a major pain.

Too much meal or flour will accumulate to make a mess. Too little meal, and an even bigger mess may ensue! Hot oven! Thrown pie! Toppings everywhere! The dough inevitably starts oozing through the rack onto the burner. Some of it falls on the bottom of the oven and burns, filling the room with smoke! Or it lands part-way out of the door, so you can't shut it until you clean it off, but it's all much too hot! Then the smoke alarm starts going off, and all the children come running into the kitchen to see what's going on! Chaos ensues, and a dog somewhere starts barking for no reason!

Putting the pies on a sheet of aluminum foil can make it super easy to just slide them around as needed. Yes, it will interfere somewhat with the heat transfer. But until you get a big baking surface with plenty of room to slide your pies around on, maybe it's worth it to just make your life easier.

Semolina flour or corn meal as a lubricant (Importance: 4/10)

Before rolling out my pie crusts, I first sprinkle a little semolina flour on the peel. It makes a nice lubricant to help your pies slide off of the peel. It also adds a nice bit of crunchy texture to the underside of the crust. If you don't have any semolina flour, corn meal can work too. I like the flavor of corn meal, but it seems to catch fire much easier than semolina flour, so if you've got a fire-oven, corn meal is a bad choice--after it catches fire, it will make the pizza taste too ashy. If you have a very wet dough, you will need more flour to ensure it doesn't stick to the peels. Sometimes, I mix a little flour and corn meal together. That gives me the nice flavor of corn meal, and also usualy prevents it from catching fire on my hot stone surface.

Sugar (Importance: 1/10)

Sometimes I add a little extra sugar because I imagine it will make my pizzas more appealing. Every time I do, I regret it. Sweet pizzas are garbage. Obviously, you need a little sugar to feed the yeast. But adding more sugar doesn't make the yeast bloom any better. It just makes everyone feel sweeted out after they are done eating. Note to self: Just stop trying extra sugar. It's a bad idea. Try less sugar.

Oil in the dough (Importance: 1/10)

This site says oil softens the dough and ruins the crunch. It says that oil keeps dough in commercial pizzas from drying out during long baking times, but the best Napoletana pizzas are baked at very high temperatures for very short durations, and therefore need no oil.

I wasn't sure, so I decided to do a thorough side-by-side comparison with and without oil. I made one batch with no oil, and another batch with 3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil. To give both batches approximately the same texture, I added slightly less flour to the one with no oil.

As you can see, the oil makes the dough slightly more yellowish.

When I baked them, the pie with the olive oil was done after 5 minutes. The pie with no oil seemed under-done, so I put it back in for an extra minute. After that, they both appeared about equally cooked. (I'm slightly uncertain about whether the broiler was on the same setting for both pizzas, so I might need to repeat this experiment to confirm this result.)

To my surprise, there was little difference between the two pizzas. Both puffed up nicely. Both developed pretty similar texture structures. Both tasted good.

I decided that I slightly preferred both the taste and texture of the one with the oil, so I decided to keep oil in my recipe. However, the difference was admittedly very small. If you prefer not to have superfluous ingredients in your pizza recipe, I think it would be just fine to have no oil.

Oil between the crust and toppings (Importance: 0/10)

This site suggests brushing your dough with a little oil before topping it with sauce to prevent the sauce from producing a gum-line with your dough. Supposedly, it lets the crust crisp by keeping the sauce away from it. It makes sense. After all, oil repels water. Surely, this will work, right?

My experiments say nope. In fact, just the opposite seems to occur. When I brushed my dough with oil, it never fully cooked, and it made a gooey mess with the sauce. Yuck!

Maybe it works with pizzas that bake for a long time in a cool oven. But it seems to be a very bad idea for rapid-bake pizzas in hot ovens.

Carmelizing the crust surface (Importance: 0/10)

Starches and sugars are what carmelize to make the surface of your crust brown and tasty. So if you rinse away too much of the starch, your crust might taste bland. I suspect that a certain popular pizza chain may achieve its characteristic crust texture by removing a lot of the starch, but then replacing it with sugar. I haven't sufficiently confirmed that, though, so it's just speculation.

One straight-forward trick might be to brush something on the crust surface that will carmelize. I've tried butter, milk, egg whites, and sugar-water. I was never happy with the results. Parmesean cheese on the crust adds a nice flavor. But I personally prefer plain un-coated crusts. And, of course, doing nothing is always easier.

Finely-ground flour (Importance: 0/10)

Supposedly, finely milled 00 flours are best for pizza dough. Alas, I haven't yet done enough experimenting to confirm that for myself. Some sites claim that this makes a big difference. Others suggest it is little more than a meaningless gimmick. So this is something you get to discover with your own experimenting!

Sifting (Importance: 0/10)

Supposedly sifting makes the flour more fluffy and light. As far as I can tell from my experiments, however, it makes no difference on the final product. So I say, don't waste your time.

Vanilla extract (Importance: 0/10)

In my opinion, vanilla extract makes things taste like graham crackers. Does that flavor enhance pizza crusts? Nope. And, in case you're wondering, root beer extract doesn't tast great in pizza crusts either. And neither does mapleine. Just leave that cupboard closed. There's nothing in there worth adding to your pizza. ...but I had to try it. C'mon, it was for science!

Corn starch (Importance: 0/10)

I tried adding corn starch in a few different crusts. It seems to make the crust a little more crunchy, but I didn't like what it did to the internal texture. Same with potato starch. I read that starch will help carmelize the crust, but I haven't had any problems with that anyway.

Whey protein (Importance: 0/10)

Since gluten seems to make textures I like, and gluten is a protein, what about adding other sources of protein? Well, it seemed like a nice idea at the time, but it didn't seem to really do anything useful. And I tried several times. I'm pretty convinced gluten is the best protein for a nice texture. The whey protein seemed to make it really dense, but didn't enhance the texture much all. So, meh.

Dough conditioners (Importance: 0/10)

I did some experiments with Soy Lecithin. I didn't like the results. I think it made bubbles tiny and the dough all uniform and bready. That's not what I wanted. I also tried L-cysteine. It's weird stuff. It made the dough behave like a liquid, no matter how much flour I added. But the final crust turned out about the same as usual.

Honestly, I haven't done enough experimenting to say for sure, but my impression is that dough conditioners are not the great secret to excellent crusts. After all, people have been making great pizzas since long before dough conditioners were synthesized. And they're such a bother to hunt down and purchase anyway.

Ascorbic acid (Importance: 0/10)

I love the flavor of ascorbic acid. And just a little seems to make the yeast more active. I always add just a little when I'm making bread--it makes the dough rise higher. A little bit of ginger seems to make yeast happy too. But I don't think any of that really helps with slow-fermenting pizza dough.

Cheese (Importance: 3/10)

Real mozarella cheese comes floating in liquid. It is far too soft to grate. If you try, you will just smear it all over your cheese grater. You can only slice real mozarella cheese. Also, it's expensive. And it tastes so fabulous! If you're trying to impress someone, get some authentic mozarella.

...but the dry pre-shredded stuff is so cheap and easy. Also, the wet cheese tends to leak a lot of liquid all over the pie when it cooks, so I have to limit the amount of cheese when I use the really good kind.

Sauce (Importance: 1/10)

Making your own sauce is pretty easy. Here's a basic recipe:

Step 1: Put four or five tomatoes in a blender.
Add an onion.
Step 2: Pour into a sauce pan.
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil.
Add a half-teaspoon of salt.
Add a teaspoon of sugar. (Careful, not too much.)
Add several shakes of basil.
Step 3: Boil until a thick sauce forms, stirring occasionally.

The reason for the blender is because those darn tomatoes always have skins. It's far too much of a bother to remove them. And if you just cook the sauce with them, you'll end up with curled tomato skins on your pizzas, which isn't awesome.

...but an even easier solution is just to open a jar of marinara sauce. Sure, the home made sauce tastes more fresh. Sure, a really great pizza needs fresh sauce. But in my opinion, pizza is about the crust. So if you haven't made a perfect crust yet, perfecting your sauce can wait.

Low-carb and gluten-free options

What if you need to include someone who is on a special diet? Let's be honest. Nothing you can do is going to be worthy of being called a "pizza". But there are a few options. You can buy a (rather expensive) low-carb substitute for Bisquick called Carbquick, and it gives a recipe for pizza crust. I made several experimental attempts with Carbquick. My results ranged from tasting like pizza toppings on a well-spiced sawdust biscuit to nearly as tasty as a frozen pizza that had been baked and then left out over night.

Next, I tried making crust using riced cauliflour, eggs, and cheese. I thought it tasted kind of like pizza toppings on a gritty omlette. My wife liked it a lot, but she's a serious cheese affectionado, and I made sure there was a lot of crusty parmesean in it for her.

Frankly, I preferred the cauliflour option. It wasn't bready at all, but its flavors seemed to mesh with pizza toppings a lot better than the Carbalose one. Plus, the cauliflour option was also gluten-free, whereas the Carbalose one was not. I recommend buying the microwaveable bag of riced-cauliflour. It's way easier than making it fresh, and it's not like cauliflour has much flavor to preserve anyway.

Pizza cutter (Importance: 0/10)

I read somewhere that round rolling pizza-cutters are awful, and it's better to cut pizzas with a big chef's knife. Well, to each his own, I suppose. I've tried them both, and I like the round rolling pizza-cutter better. What 'evs.

Docker (Importance: 0/10)

A docker is a spikey roller used to pop large bubbles in the dough. I actually like big bubbles in my crust, but some of my favorite crusts happened when I used a docker. The places where the spikes smashed the dough seemed to form little pellets of nice texture. I don't think it really makes much of a difference. So, I guess I'm not really sure, yet.

Pineapple (Importance: 0/10)

Enjoying sweet fruit on your pizza -> cool.
Disliking sweet fruit on your pizzas -> cool.
Telling people what they should like on their pizzas -> not cool. Telling people what they should dislike on their pizzas -> not cool.