If what you’re after is a thin crust base with a light, crisp and puffy rim around the pizza, there is a right and a wrong way to roll out dough.
Start by rolling the pizza from the centre to the outer edge. However, stop short of rolling all the way to the edge. While you roll the dough from the centre outwards, you push out some of the trapped gases from the dough but also push some of them towards the edges. If you roll out all the way to the edge, you push out those gases, leaving the edges with very little gas to give it lift.
There’s nothing wrong with rolling out to the edge and pushing out all those trapped gases. You’ll just end up with a pizza that is uniformly thick from the centre to its edge.
As illustrated above, roll it out part of the way then rotate the dough a quarter turn 90 degrees and repeat until you reach the desired shape and thickness.
Bear in mind that you don’t have to roll out the dough to the desired shape in your first go. You can be a bit gentle with it and take a little more time to get to the desired size whilst retaining as much of the trapped gas around the crust to give that lighter, airier texture to it.
Once you’ve rolled out the dough to the desired size, transfer it to your pizza peel, or in my case, a thin cookie sheet, that has been dusted with some semolina, cornmeal or even flour. Give the peel a quick shake to ensure that the dough has not stuck to it.
The pizza peel or whatever thin flat surface that you wish to use in its place, needs to be sufficiently dusted so that the pizza base doesn’t stick to it. When you’re starting out for the first few times, you may want to err on the side of caution and be quite generous with the dusting.
Trust me, you don’t want to feel the sense of frustration and disappointment of waiting three days for the dough to cold ferment, then time to prep all the toppings, bringing it all to room temperature, pre-heating the barbecue and grill and find that the pizza obstinately refuses to depart from the peel and when you eventually force it too, it folds over onto itself like an inside-out calzone, you burn your fingertips while trying to fix it and then serve what you explain to your guests as a rustic pizza (true story).
However, you’ll find the less you use the better as it’ll affect the taste of the pizza with either a gritty or flouriness to it. Also, on humid days, you may want to go with more as well, as the humid air makes it more likely that the dough will stick to the peel.
Once the dough is on the peel and it’s not sticking, apply the pizza sauce to the base. Less is generally more but I tend to like my bases on the saucier side. It means that sometimes the toppings slide around but I’m ok with that.
The next thing to do is add enough cheese on the base to cover it lightly and then top with the slices of blanched pumpkin.
I’m of the school of thought that it’s generally best to have only a light layer of cheese and that it’s below all the other toppings. You may be tempted to add cheese on the top as well to brown as well as keep all the ingredients together. However, if you add too much cheese on top, all it really does is it prevents the other toppings from getting that nice caramelisation or slight char to it, which adds extra flavour. It also keeps in the moisture of very wet ingredients like tomatoes or capsicum, which can make the pizza soggy and perhaps counter-intuitively, means that the ingredients are more likely to slide off the base.
You’ll see in the next shot I do add a small amount of cheese on top as well but it’s used very sparingly and only really there to help some of the looser toppings stick to the tiles of pumpkin.
When adding the ingredients onto a pizza, I generally start with the flattest and largest on the bottom and work my way up to the smallest on top. This is so as to minimise gaps between ingredients and help it to better stick to each other and the base. The only exception to this rule of thumb has to do with raw ingredients that require more cooking, ingredients with more moisture like fresh tomatoes to give it the best opportunity to cook off its juices to prevent the pizza from getting soggy or delicate ingredients that may overcook or burn with the top-down radiant heat of the grill.
The home barbecue, while not as good as a commercial pizza oven, produces better pizzas than most home ovens for a couple of reasons which were mentioned earlier in the post i.e. equal and generally higher temperatures and better conductive transfer of heat to the position and proximity of the heat source.
For my low end three burner gas barbecue, even with its flimsy lid and gaping holes for a rotisserie attachment that I’ll never purchase, with the lid closed the barbecue can reach temperatures of around 370C/700F with all three burners firing. This is great as it starts to come close to the sorts of temperatures that commercial pizza ovens reach.
However, the more observant of you may have noticed that my cheap pizza stone has a crack in it, which had occurred within its first few uses after replacing a stone that was reliably being used until a failed experiment permanently destroyed old faithful (moral of the story – never “preheat” a pizza stone directly on your stove top). While I’m not entirely sure of the reason for the crack in the new pizza stone, whether it was due to direct heat from a burner below or some errant moisture that wasn’t properly dealt with when I had used it the first few times or both, I’ve erred on the side of caution in the recipe and used an indirect heating method which keeps direct heat off from below the pizza stone. It means that the recipe ends up with a lower temperature of 260C/500F, with the pizza stone on the left and only the centre and right burners on high, though it’s still sufficient to produce great results. It just takes a little longer than the full burn 370C/700F and the crust isn’t quite as crispy but still has a nice crispness to it.
It’s up to you whether you wish to risk going with the higher temperature with your pizza stone but one thing I can say is after the initial crack, the stone has been able to withstand full direct heat without further damage. If you choose to use the barbecue’s hotplate or you get your hands on a pizza steel i.e. a metal version of a pizza stone, the cracking issue will be moot and you can use your barbecue’s full heat potential. Just make sure to adjust the timing for the recipe to suit.
For more information on temperatures and heat transfer, check out Part 1 of the Pizza at Home series.
The higher convection heat as well as the better transfer of conduction heat through the pizza stone on the barbecue not only produces a lighter, crisper base, but it also can add a smoky flavour note to the base in some areas that char a little. In the shot above, you can see the beginnings of the charring on the base. While you can pull off the pizza at this stage, I like to give it a little more time just so the darkened areas get a hint of char to them, while making sure not to actually burn the whole pizza base. A little char tastes good. A lot, not so much.
You’ll get the same sort of results with the hotplate directly but as the hot plate has a small width than my pizza stone, and the fact I have a pizza stone, means I tend to prefer using the stone over the cast iron hotplate. However, if I wanted to make a party-sized, rectangular pizza, I’ll definitely put the hotplate to use.
While the barbecue with the pizza stone does a great job on the base, it leaves the top of the pizza looking rather insipid and undercooked. This is where the grill comes in.
The idea came from how pizzaiolos i.e. Italian pizza chefs would finish off a pizza by using a technique called “doming”. Once the base of the pizza was cooked, the pizza chef would place the pizza on the peel and raise the pizza to the dome of the pizza oven, the hottest part of the oven which can reach temperatures of 538C (1000F), to cook the top of the pizza for a few seconds. This intense heat quickly caramelises the top of the pizza can produce charred blisters around the top of the crust, adding a nice smokiness to it.
Finishing the pizza under a grill/broiler set to high seeks to replicate the same results while also making up for the lower ambient convection temperature of the barbecue, which is unable to cook the top as much as a pizza oven would. Ideally, the faster the application of heat from the grill the better. So if you have a grill with an adjustable shelf, adjust it so that the pizza is as close to the heat source of the grill as possible.
Naturally, given the high heat and particularly in the case of gas grills, make sure to keep an eye on the pizza lest it catches on fire.
The finished product, which I pulled out of the grill a little early as parts of the asparagus were charring further than I wanted them to. While the top of the crust is a tad underdone for my liking, you can still see some browning and nice little charred blisters, particularly on the left. Along with the crispy base and the light application of cheese, this made for a very tasty and rather healthy pizza that’s better than any frozen pizza I’ve had and even better than most of my local pizzerias (though that’s not saying that much given the options in my area).
Hope the recipe and notes serve you well. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below and I’ll look to get to them as soon as I’m able to.
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