Tips For Topping and Baking The Perfect Pizza

There’s almost no limit to the toppings you can pile on a pizza.

Tomato sauce and pepperoni you know. But apples and walnuts? For sure. Fresh figs and prosciutto? Of course! Sweet corn and peas? Well, in Europe and Japan, corn and peas are common pizza toppings. Bottom line, pizza is open to an infinite amount of creativity where toppings are concerned.

Pizza Toppings

Prepped for pizza | Photo by Meredith

Recently, we asked Matt Robinson of Real Food by Dad for his pizza dough-making method. Lucky us, he also had some favorite pizza-topping combos to share:

Breakfast Pizza topped with crumbled bacon, diced red and green peppers, and fried eggs.

Chicken and Broccoli layered with pesto or with an alfredo sauce instead of the traditional red sauce.

Veggie Lovers is great as anything can go on it. Throw any odds and ends of veggies onto a bakesheet and roast them in the oven, then use Harissa for the base sauce. And to keep it simple, use a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan for the cheese.

Taco Pizza works great. It’s such an economical choice, and the ingredients are always stocked in the pantry. For the sauce, it’s usually a puree of black beans or refried beans, and then layers of traditional taco fixings.

Almost BLT Pizza. A variation on the classic sandwich using bacon, spinach and sundried tomatoes.

Great ideas. Thanks, Matt!

Try these toppings for a Greek-inspired pizza:

Greek Pizza Toppings

Photo by Meredith

Once you have your toppings lined up, think about the order you’ll lay them down on the crust. It matters!

Layering The Ingredients Is Key

Layer the ingredients one way, and you have pizza perfection. Arrange the same ingredients in a different order…and it’s curtains. For example, if you put the cheese down first, then layer tomatoes and basil on top, the basil burns and shrivels and the cheese doesn’t brown. Possible pizza fail.

Of course, you can put tomato slices on top of the cheese. Tomatoes have a high moisture content, so they won’t caramelize; instead, they’ll dehydrate slightly for a more concentrated tomato flavor.

Choosing Cheeses

Mozzarella, Fontina, and Parmesan cheeses all work great. These cheeses are all very low in moisture, so they’ll brown fairly quickly.

Feel the Burn: When pizza scalds the roof of your mouth, don’t blame the cheese. Most likely, it’s the sauce. That’s because heat is conserved in the wet sauce; and an insulating layer of cheese is very likely adding insult to injury. Next time you get a slice fresh from the oven, lift the lid of cheese with a fork, and you’ll see how the steam pours off the hot, hot sauce. It’s like the molten core of the earth in there.

Now let’s get this thing in the oven!

1. Generally, the hotter the oven, the better the pizza will be.

Place a pizza stone on a lower oven rack. Preheat the oven between 450 and 500 degrees F (250 to 260 degrees C) — the stone needs heat up while the oven heats. Large, thick-crusted pizzas might need an oven temperature closer to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) so the crust can cook completely before the toppings burn.

Pro Tip: For a crunchy crust, preheat a baking sheet or cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven. Once you load the pizza, toss ice cubes into the hot pan to create a burst of steam.

You know another way to get a terrific crust? Put your pizza on the grill.

2. Form the pizza dough and place it on a peel dusted with a little flour or cornmeal. If you like, lightly brush the crust with olive oil. This helps create a golden brown, crispy crust rather than a dry, dusty outer crust. See how to make and form your pizza dough.

Okay, the oven is hot and the pizza’s all topped and ready to roll.

3. Now let’s slip it onto the hot pizza stone.

But first, jiggle the peel to make sure the pizza isn’t sticking. You want it to slide off the peel easily. If it’s stuck, gently lift the sticky dough and dust with a wee bit more flour or cornmeal.

Place the tip of the peel on the edge of the stone at the back of the oven. With one swift motion, jerk the peel back out from under the pizza. If the pizza slides freely on the peel, it should land perfectly in the middle of the pizza stone. If the pizza sticks to the peel, your toppings will slide off the pizza onto the stone, and the kids will hear you say those words you’re not really supposed to use in front of them.

Close the oven door and let the pizza bake.

4. After 5 minutes of baking, check the pizza. If some spots are browning faster than others, turn the pizza; slip the peel underneath it like a giant spatula. Rotate the pizza on the peel and return it to the baking stone using the same swift motion described above.

If you like, remove the pizza from the oven halfway during baking to brush more oil on the crust. This added oil will help darken the crust and make it even tastier. For a little garlic flavor, infuse the oil with minced garlic.

5. The pizza is done when the cheese is melted to a medium-to-dark brown — color means flavor. Carefully remove the pizza with the peel and let it cool slightly. If you want, top it with additional fresh toppings. Slice with a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, and serve to your adoring crowd.

Pizza From Oven

Photo by Meredith

Practice your pizza-baking prowess with these recipes:

The Best Way to Reheat Leftover Pizza

Bring cold, lifeless leftover pizza back to glorious, crispy, delicious life! Here’s Chef John’s foolproof stove-top method for reheating leftover pizza; it comes out with a perfectly crisp crust on the bottom and tasty melted cheese on top. Use this technique to re-crisp soggy delivery pizza, too.


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