Italian Margherita Pizza
When I went to Italy earlier this month, one of my top priorities was to take a cooking class. I found a pizza and gelato class and signed up. The class was held at FlorenceTown cooking school – a large kitchen with several cooking stations and lots of equipment. The Italian chef teaching us was amazing – he had such a good feel the food he was working with. The way he formed the pizza dough and worked with the dough was so artful. He also had a great eye for measurements without actually measuring things. He talked to us about treating our ingredients with care and also about choosing really high quality items for our recipes. I loved learning from a chef in Florence how to make Italian Margherita Pizza.
One interesting fact he told us was that most people that have a gluten allergy in the US can eat any type of pizza, pasta, or bread in Italy – the flours and grains are a lot less processed so apparently they don’t cause allergic reactions. Also, the dough proofs for several days in most Italian margherita pizza, so the yeast breaks down a lot of the gluten. A girl in our class confirmed this happened to her friend on their trip – she was allergic to gluten but came to Italy and ate all the pizza and pasta and felt great. Crazy to learn this! So… our instructor advised us to find the most natural kind of flour we could when making pizza (or pasta) at home. Hopefully this will help you when you go to make this Italian Margherita Pizza.
When I got home I was excited to use the techniques he’d taught us about handling the dough, shaping it, and really letting it proof to get that bubbly crust. My husband and I whipped out our Flour Water Salt Yeast cookbook and used the techniques I’d learned, along with Ken Forkish’s awesome pizza dough method and recipe to create this delicious Italian margherita pizza. My husband has been making some amazing breads recently from this cookbook and it’s the best. The recipes take a little time but are delicious (they’re not tough recipes, just take a lot of time to proof). Since my husband has gotten the hang of the artisan bread, he was excited to try some Italian Margherita Pizza.
I should also say that before this class, I’d made pizza almost every weekend for years for our family – I definitely wasn’t a new pizza maker – BUT I still had so much to learn! The way they make the dough, proof it, and treat it tastes SO MUCH BETTER than a typical pizza dough I’d always made. You really need to let the dough rest and proof for the day – or even two days – for the yeast to start breaking down some of the gluten. This Italian margherita pizza is amazing. The crust is bubbly and light, and it’s crispy on the edges but chewy inside.
There are a lot of details in the crust recipe, but don’t be intimidated. Basically you’re just making dough, then letting it rise, then refrigerating it to let it proof for a while. That’s it. We did cook ours on a pizza stone which I’d say is important to have to get that crust really bubbly and chewy. (We have the pampered chef one and love it.) If you don’t have one, you can find one here. Or you can try heating up a baking sheet really hot before you put the dough on it, but it probably won’t turn out as bubbly but should work. If anyone tries this let me know. I’m curious. Also I should say we did also get a pizza peel to get the pizza on and off the stone. It helps a lot when you’re trying to get that dough onto a hot pizza stone.
Lastly, I’d say, buy some good quality fresh mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomatoes. We’ve tried a couple versions and the best pizza (shown here) had really high quality fresh mozzarella and good canned San Marzano tomatoes. And make sure to put the basil on before you cook it. That cooked crispy basil is so yummy with the pizza.
Italian Margherita Pizza
- 3 c. water, divided
- 1/2 tsp. instant dried yeast
- 7 3/4 c. white flour (unbleached)
- 1 3/4 tbsp. fine sea salt
Optional Special Tools
- pizza stone
- pizza peel
- 1 large can san marzano tomatoes (28 oz.) (crushed in a bowl with a dash of salt)
- 1 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
- fresh basil
Making the Dough
Hydrate the yeast. Measure 3 c. of water at 90 to 95 degrees into a container. Put 2 grams of yeast in a separate, small container. Add about 3 tablespoons of the water to the yeast and set aside.
Combine all the flour and the remaining water in a 12-quart round tub. Mix by hand just until incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Mix. Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough. Stir the yeast mixture with your finger; then pour it over the dough. Use a small piece of the mixture to wipe the remaining yeast goop from its container, then throw it back in the tub.
Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing so the dough doesn’t stick to you. (It’s fine to rewet your hand three or four times while you mix.)
Reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top of the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough, until the salt and yeast are fully enclosed.
Use the pincer method (Using a pincerlike grip with your thumb and forefinger, squeeze big chunks of dough and then tighten your grip to cut through the dough. Do this repeatedly, working through the entire mass of dough. With your other hand, turn the tub while you’re mixing to give your active hand a good angle of attack.), alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. Cut and fold, cut and fold. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 77 to 78 degrees.
Fold. This dough needs 1 fold. It’s best to apply the fold 30 to 60 minutes after mixing. After folding, lightly coat the dough and the bottom of the tub with olive oil to help prevent sticking. When the dough is about double its original volume, about 6 hours after mixing, it’s ready to be divided.
Divide. Moderately flour a work surface about 2 feet wide. With floured hands, gently ease the dough out of the tub. With your hands still floured, pick up the dough and ease it back down onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Dust the entire top of the dough with flour, then cut it into 5 equal-size pieces with a dough knife or plastic dough scraper. Each piece should weigh about 340 grams; you can eyeball it or use a scale.
Shape the dough into balls. Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight round, working gently and being careful not to degas the dough.
Refrigerate. Put the dough balls on a lightly floured baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion. Lightly oil or flour the tops, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to make the dough easier to shape.
To prep for the pizza put the pizza stone in the oven and heat to 550 degrees. (If it only goes to 500 that's fine, you'll just bake it a little longer.)
Forming the Pizza
Remove the dough ball from the refrigerator, put it on the floured work surface and gently pat it down a bit to coat the bottom with flour. Leaving about 1 inch of the outer rim undeflated, punch down the middle, then flip the dough over and repeat.
Using both hands, grab the rim and lift so the dough hangs down vertically. Let gravity pull the rest of the dough down and stretch it. Run the rim between your hands, working all the way around the circumference of the dough several times.
Next, make two fists and position them just inside the rim, with the dough still hanging vertically. Gently stretch and turn the dough repeatedly, still letting the bottom of the dough pull down, expanding the surface. Keep a close eye on the thickness of the dough. You want it thin, but you don’t want it to tear or develop holes. If you end up with a small tear, don’t panic – it’s OK to patch it.
Spread the dough on the floured peel and run your hands around the perimeter to shape it into a round and work out the kinks.
Cooking the Pizza
Add pizza toppings. Slide dough off pizza peel into oven (onto pizza stone - leave stone in the oven). Bake for 5-6 minutes at 550 (if your oven only goes to 500, bake for 7-8 minutes), then turn to broil for 1-2 minutes to get the cheese and crust browned.
Remove with pizza peel and transfer to a cool surface (we use a large cutting board or baking sheet). Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.
If you want an extra bubbly crust like we did, just leave the crust area a little thicker as you form the dough. Oh man please make this! It’s amazing. (If you want to see my other favorite carb recipes, see here 😉
Just looking at these photos and thinking about this pizza again has me salivating. Let me know if you make this Italian Margherita Pizza or if you have any questions! Tag me with photos
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