Pizza means pie and pie crust should crackle. It should be as satisfying as toast and butter. It should complement the toppings, not compete with them, but it must have its own internal integrity. Crust, in other words, should be memorable.
Begin by preheating the baking stone, cloche, or oven bricks in the oven at 450°F. for at least 20 minutes. Lacking a baking stone, cloche, or oven brick, you might use a standard metal pizza pan, sheet pan, or cookie sheet.
Roll out (or stretch) the dough
Rub a little olive oil on the surface of the dough. Then, and this is important and usually overlooked, put all the toppings on the crust first. (I hold strong opinions about the assembly of pizza. Home-baked pizza is often a disappointment because of one simple error: too much sauce. Complicating that is the desire to make the sauce thick so that it ill not run off and it ends up becoming like a paste when baked.) The meat, mushrooms, onions—anything that can burn—should be sprinkled over the crust. Cover them up with half of the cheese.
Do not use a lot—perhaps half a cup, or a little more. Let it be thin sauce, thinner than you would put on pasta. If you are making your own sauce, spice it liberally but keep it thin. If you are using commercial sauce, thin it down and maybe add a little oregano and basil.
Put fresh chopped herbs and the remainder of the cheese. Quickly transfer the pizza to the hot stone. Get help; four hands work better than two, or if you have the nerve, use a wooden pizza peel with plenty of polenta on it and slide the pizza directly onto the stone while it is still in the oven. Keep the heat high. Bake at 450°F. for 6 to 8 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave the pizza in the oven for another 3 minutes. The pizza will cook, the crust will set, the toppings will soften, and the sauce will thicken. Remove the pizza with a peel or spatula, let it sit at room temperature for 2 minutes on a wooden counter. Slice and serve.
Everyone around the table will offer pizza reaction one or pizza reaction two: 1) “Why don’t they make pizza like this in pizza parlors?” 2) “Can you imagine how great it would be if we opened a pizza parlor and served pizza like this!” If they give reaction number two, refer them to reaction number one.
© 1991 Peter Reinhart. All rights reserved.