The perfect pizza can sometimes be an elusive thing. You need a great dough recipe, the dough needs to be proofed and ready to use, you have to properly stretch out the dough, get it on the peel, top it, and (what some would consider the hardest part) actually get the pizza off the peel and into the oven! There are a lot of places where your perfect pizza can go off the rails, and if you throw in hungry guests waiting to eat, you’re going to be one frustrated foodie. Just take a deep breath and relax, because today we’re going to talk about five pizza problems and how to fix them.
The Stuck Pizza
One of the most common pizza-making problems is a pizza that’s stuck to your peel. Even after making thousands of pizzas, it’s something that still happens to me! So why does it happen, and how do you prevent it? The culprit is usually not using enough dusting flour.
Dusting flour is your best friend when working with pizza dough. Don’t be afraid of over-flouring your pizza; you’ll have a chance to brush off any excess before putting your dough on the peel. I usually start with at least ¼ cup all-purpose flour spread across my work surface. After placing the ball in the flour, I sprinkle even more on top to keep the dough from sticking to my hands or rolling mat. Once your dough is flattened enough to begin stretching, you can toss the dough quickly from one hand to the other to shake off the excess flour. After your dough is stretched to the right size, don’t forget to flour your peel!
That brings me to another common cause of a stuck pizza: the peel. Wooden peels are definitely best when making your pizza and putting it into the oven. A metal peel can be difficult for a novice pizza maker to use to put a raw pizza in. Metal, especially aluminum, can heat up really fast. Even those few seconds your peel is in the oven can cause the metal to get hot enough to start baking your crust. Moisture is emitted, and the pizza sticks to the peel. But don’t despair if you already own a metal peel! They’re better at other tasks than wooden peels; they’re the superior choice when it comes to retrieving your pizza or rotating it in your oven. In fact, I always tell people they should have two peels, a wood one and a metal one, to get the best of both.
Thy Holy Crust
While pizza might be a heavenly, delicious food, a “holy” crust isn’t a good thing. But ripping a hole into your dough doesn’t mean it’s garbage! Pizza dough is actually pretty forgiving and resilient. If you find yourself constantly ripping your dough, try these tips:
- Sometimes dough rips because the gluten hasn’t developed enough. If you’re trying to stretch your dough and it’s resisting, chances are it hasn’t had enough time to proof. Stretch it only as much as it naturally lets you, and if it doesn’t cooperate, simply let the dough rest on your work surface, covered in flour, for another 10 -15 minutes.
- If you experience ripping frequently, try cutting off a small piece of dough and saving it before you start stretching. If you rip a hole, take your “patch” dough, flatten and stretch it to size, and use it to cover the hole. Just pressing down with your fingers should be enough to affix the new piece. If you’ve used a lot of flour (remember, that’s also a good thing), it might make it a little harder for the patch to stick. This is the perfect time to use a dough docker. Rolling a docker over the two pieces will fuse them together as the tool’s spikes forcefully seals the two pieces.
Huge, Monstrous Bubbles Everywhere
Maybe your pizza problem is that it blew up like a balloon – we’re talking Goodyear blimp size. This usually happens if the dough is too cold. Normally, a few small or medium-sized bubbles create a fun and tasty texture in a pie. But big bubbles can be a real problem, especially if they take up enough real estate that they cause you to lose a slice or two. Always make sure your dough is properly proofed to avoid this. Your dough is ready when it’s almost completely lost its chill, and has about doubled in size. The dough docker we’ve already mentioned is another great way to keep bubbles from taking over your pizza. Roll it over your stretched dough to pop any bubbles that might be lurking in your crust.
There’s (almost) nothing worse than a soggy pizza, and there’s a few ways pizzas end up that way. It’s a problem not only with fresh pizza, but also with reheating leftovers. If you saw our leftover pizza blog you already know to skip the microwave and use cast iron or a pizza stone to reheat leftovers to crispy perfection. If you’ve got a water-logged pizza you made from scratch, ask yourself a few questions: “What’s the moisture content like in my pizza toppings?” “How thick (or thin) is my sauce?” “Do I have more than a few meats high in fat on my pizza?” All these things can contribute to a soggy slice that just won’t hold up. Wet vegetables like marinated artichokes, olives, and fresh tomatoes can really add to the moisture content of your pizza – especially when combined with a “loose” or high-moisture pizza sauce. Try using less of these ingredients, or cut the ingredients smaller to better cover a pizza while still using less. Draining canned vegetables and even patting them dry with paper towels can also help solve this dilemma.
Sauce is Sauce
My last word of advice is to skip the pre-made stuff! When it comes to sauce, you should let your tomatoes do the talking. What you lay down before the cheese should be a simple combination of great-tasting tomatoes, salt, and maybe a pinch or two of fresh basil (if you’re feeling fancy). Pizza has fallen victim to over-processing over the years, so the simplicity of the ingredients will help your flavor profile become more balanced, rather than loud and obnoxious. That doesn’t mean you need to skip the can altogether: canned crushed tomatoes (as opposed to processed, pre-made sauce) can be a great base. Some pizza problems can be solved with a nifty gadget; others require practice and trial and error. In either case, take these five tips with you to your next pizza cookout for a less stressful, less problematic night.