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Italian Margherita Pizza
When I went to Italy, 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 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).
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 a long time 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. I also recommend 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. Again you could use the back of a baking sheet/cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel.
If you’re intimidated or unsure about trying it, watch the video I made outlining the step-by-step process. You’ll see it really isn’t tough, just a little time consuming.
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
Ken's recipe is the ultimate pizza dough! I've updated his instructions to make them a bit easier to follow. We've been making this pizza for years and it truly tastes just like pizza in Italy. It's a bit lengthy of a process, but each step is simple. It will be worth it for that chewy, airy crust. The best pizza!
- 3-4 c. water, divided (700 g.)
- ½ tsp. instant dried yeast (2 g.)
- 7¾ c. white flour (unbleached) (1000 g.)
- 1 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. fine sea salt (20 g.)
Optional Special Tools
- pizza stone
- pizza peel
- 1 large can san marzano tomatoes (28 oz.)
- 1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 ½ tsp. sea salt
- ¼ tsp. dried oregano
- dash red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
- 1 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, torn
- fresh basil
- fresh parmesan cheese
- any additional toppings you'd like (oregano, pepperoni, sausage)
Making the Dough
In a small bowl, add 1/2 tsp. of yeast and 3 tablespoons of warm water. Set aside.
In a very large bowl or 12-quart round tub, add the flour (7¾c.) and slowly add 3-4 cups of warm water in, just until the mixture comes together.
Mix by hand just until incorporated.
Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes on your counter.
Sprinkle the salt over the top of the dough. Then pour the yeast mixture 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.
Bring the bowl next to the sink and turn on a slow trickle of warm water. Mix the dough 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.) Mix well until incorporated.
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.
Fold the dough repeatedly, rotating and folding, working through the entire mass of dough. Do this for 5 minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, fold the dough again, by grabbing the edges and stretching them up and into the center. Fold about 4 times.
Then lightly coat the dough and the bottom of the tub with olive oil to help prevent sticking.
Let it rest, covered at room temperature, for 5-6 hours, or until doubled. When the dough is about double its original volume, 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 using a large knife or bench scraper, cut it into 6 equal-size pieces.
Shape each piece of the dough into balls. You will end up with 6 balls. Gently fold it into a ball, then very carefully roll it along the counter to seal the bottom. Be careful not to knead it – you don't want to deflate the dough. Gently form the 6 balls.
After each ball is formed, place it into a piece of plastic wrap that is sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled, to prevent from sticking.
Seal each dough ball in the plastic wrap (be gentle with the dough as you do it). Place all 6 balls of wrapped dough onto a large baking sheet and place in the fridge.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to make the dough easier to shape.
Once the dough has refrigerated, you are now ready to prep it for the oven.
To prep for the pizza put the pizza stone in the oven and heat to 550°F or the hottest your oven will go (heat it on the BAKE feature, not broil). (If it only goes to 500°F that's fine, you'll just bake it a little longer.)
Pulse all sauce ingredients quickly in a blender. It doesn't need to be too finely pureed.
Forming the Pizza
Remove the dough ball from the refrigerator, put it on a floured work surface and gently pat it down a bit to coat the bottom with flour. Flip and coat the other side with flour as well.
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.
Using your fingertips, press outward on the dough until it forms a 10-14 inch pizza. Leave the outside 1 inch of the dough's outer rim thicker to be your crust.
Be sure to flour your pizza peel well, so the pizza dough doesn't stick. Add the dough onto the floured pizza peel and run your hands around the perimeter to shape it into a round and work out the kinks.
Add pizza toppings starting with red sauce, then fresh mozzarella. Be sure to tear or cut your fresh mozzarella into thin pieces – it gets goopy if it's too thick. Sparsely place the fresh mozzarella around the rest of the dough – you want spaces of red sauce in between the cheese to get an even amount without too much cheese.
Add any additional toppings you'd like – we love adding fresh basil leaves before baking – they get sweet and crispy when cooked. You can also add fresh basil after the pizza comes out. Oregano, fresh parmesan, pepperoni, and sausage are also great on these pizzas. Keep it simple though, so the delicious sauce and crust can still be tasted.
Cooking the Pizza
Once your pizza is topped, 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), or until tops of crust and cheese are browning.
Remove pizza with pizza peel and transfer to a cool surface (we use a large wooden 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
@plumstreetcollective on Instagram. Thanks for reading!
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