I received a pizza stone for my high school graduation. Yeah, a bit odd, huh? I don’t remember whether I got it because I loved the homemade pizzas my aunt and mom both made, or because it was an effort to dissuade me from spending all my carefully saved money at Pizza Hut or Domino’s. I did use the pizza stone frequently in college though. In fact, when I visiting one of my college roommates a few years ago, we took our families out for pizza. As we were chomping into our first bite, she remarked that I likely didn’t order too many pizzas because I probably still made them at home.
Yep. I do. And honestly? Although my family will eat pizza whether it comes from Papa John’s or frozen cardboard-ish Totino’s , I think they prefer my homemade variety. Sure, we’ve eaten Chicago deep dish Gino’s East pizzas, California Pizza Kitchen and Wolfgang Puck’s gourmet pizzas and we love them. Every time we get a chance to eat at Pizzeria Uno’s, we do. But still… we love the ones we make at home.
When you make them at home, you can control anything and everything that goes into and onto the pizza. Love cheese? Then pile it on. Or, if you’re like one of my sons who really doesn’t like cheese at all (I still can’t get over this fact that he’s genetically related to me when it comes to this), then just put enough on to hold all the other toppings together. We’ve made white pizzas, vegetarian pizzas, dessert pizzas, and breakfast pizzas. I’ve replicated a Puck pizza that has fig jam, prosciutto, fontina cheese, and arugula on it. Just the other day, my daughter and I made a pizza with cheese in the crust, similar to the ones Pizza Hut makes. If there’s a recipe that looks even remotely tasty, I whip out the pizza stone.
If you’ve never seen or heard of a pizza stone, it’s usually a round – but can be square – piece of clay that’s about 1/4″ thick. It often comes with a metal rack to rest on as soon as it’s come from the oven. If you put pizza dough on it, it pretty much replicates the thick/thin/chewy/crunchy pizza dough you get at a restaurant, depending on the recipe, how thin you roll it out, and how long you cook the dough*. I have 3 different stones (so helpful if you have teens and their friends in the house for dinner), two of which have the racks, and the other stone which has a small lip around it. We used the one with the lip for the cheese in the crust pizza…
It’s also wonderful to cook cookies, scones, biscuits, and the like on. Because the clay absorbs some of the moisture in whatever it is that you’re baking, you tend to get a crispy bottom, and a chewy inside, if you cook it right. And because it’s clay, the oils in the foods make clean-up a breeze. I am a big fan of cooking with stoneware!
In this economy, ordering out for pizza can get pretty expensive. While it can still be expensive to make your own – depending on what ingredients you put on your pie – it’s still sooooooo much cheaper than getting it from the pizza place down the street. To get you started, here’s one of our favorite pizza dough recipes – a knockoff of the Mellow Mushroom franchise’s amazing crust!
– 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
– 1 cup warm spring water
– 2 teaspoons molasses
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 1/2 cups bread flour
– pinch salt
The spring water and molasses give this crust its distinctive flavor, color, and texture.
To save time, I usually throw all this in my bread machine, but without one, it’s very easy to make with your stand mixer…
Simply dissolve yeast in spring water in your mixing bowl. Add the molasses, olive oil, flour, and salt. Mix all ingredients until well blended. The dough should have turned into a ball, and dough should come away from the sides of the bowl. If it hasn’t, add in more spring water 1 teaspoon at a time until it’s becomes a ball. You may need to add in a bit more flour to get the right consistency; just remember to add ingredients in very small amounts! Set the mixing bowl filled with dough in the warm water for 5 minutes to rise. Filling your sink with warm water is a handy way to do this.
After 5 minutes, place the ball on a floured surface and knead for another 5 minutes or so. Put the dough into a greased bowl, covering with plastic wrap, keeping out of cool drafts. Let it rise for 45 – 50 minutes, or until it’s about double in size. Punch it down, and return to the floured surface. Roll it out in a circle the size of your pizza stone. Sprinkle pizza stone with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and a teaspoon of cornmeal. To easily place dough on the stone, I usually fold the dough in half, then half again, unfolding once it’s on the stone. Take a fork and lightly score the dough in several places to keep it from “bubbling” too much while cooking.
*Bake at 425º.
* At this point, there are two schools of thought: either put all your toppings on the dough and bake then and there, or, as I do, pre-bake your crust to make it sturdier to hold toppings on later. I bake the crust for about 10 – 15 minutes, then take out and put all my toppings on. Depending on how thick or thin you want the crust, you may have to adjust your bake times. After the toppings are on (again, depending on what you like on your pizza, and how much of it you like) bake for approximately 15 to 25 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.