It’s more than just crust, sauce and toppings, says restaurateur and author Michael Shepherd.
So says Michael Shepherd, owner of Michael Angelo’s Pizza in Kenton and Rushsylvania and Six Hundred Downtown in Bellefontaine. Shepherd is also a cooking instructor, author, four-time World Pizza Champion and eight-time World Medalist Pizza Acrobat, a title that recognizes his exceptional dough-tossing abilities combined with gymnastic-style moves. His skills have been featured on TV shows such as the Food Network’s “Challenge: Pizza Champions” and ABC’s “Master of Champions.”
We asked this pizza professional to share his pie-making expertise. By following his simple instructions, anyone can prepare restaurant-quality pizza.
“You can make one of the best pizzas you’ve ever had in your life at home,” says Shepherd. “You’ve got to have the time and just be patient.”
It all starts with the flour, he says. You can’t have good pizza without good crust, and a high-gluten flour is the key to creating restaurant-quality dough at home.
“Most everybody at home is trying to make dough with their all-purpose flour or maybe a bread flour,” he says, “and it just doesn’t have enough protein in it.”
High-gluten flour can be ordered from online sources or found at restaurant supply stores that are open to the public, such as Gordon Food Service, which has locations throughout the Midwest.
Once you have the right flour, preparing dough is easy, but it does require patience. The biggest mistake people make, according to Shepherd, is using dough before it goes through a 24-to-48-hour maturation process.
“Your dough ... is like a caterpillar,” he explains. “And then you put it into the refrigerator for two days and it’s like it’s going into a cocoon. When you pull it out two days later, you’ve got a butterfly. You can’t do anything to speed it up. It just needs time.”
It’s best to blend the dough by hand, because the high-gluten flour can burn out stand mixers. Start by mixing all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, add water and stir until it forms a ball. Continue mixing and kneading on the counter for about 15 to 20 minutes. Once the dough is ready, it can be stored in the refrigerator and used for up to eight days.
The next step is sauce, which doesn’t have to be complicated. You can crush and cook fresh Roma tomatoes or use canned crushed tomatoes. From there, it’s a matter of preference. For a thicker sauce, add some tomato paste or thin it out with a bit of olive oil. For flavor, Shepherd recommends a touch of oregano, black pepper, salt and brown sugar, which offsets the acidity of the tomatoes.
The sauce, like the dough, should be refrigerated overnight so the spices have time to develop.
When it comes to cheese, Shepherd cautions against skimping on quality.
“The best cheese for a pizza is whole-milk mozzarella,” he says. “The second-best cheese would be a blend of whole-milk mozzarella and provolone.” Both can be obtained at a deli and shredded at home. But, he advises, don’t buy pre-packaged pizza cheese, which usually has part-skim mozzarella and fillers.
“When you pull the fat out of cheese, you’re pulling the flavor out,” says Shepherd.
As for toppings, “The sky’s the limit.” But just like the cheese, it’s important to focus on quality. Pepperoni lovers should visit a deli for a dry pepperoni stick, rather than purchase the prepackaged variety, which is oily.
It’s important to cook all other meats before putting them on the pizza since it won’t be in the oven long. Vegetables, however, are an individual preference. Sauteing them in advance removes some of the moisture and keeps the pizza from getting soggy, but layering in the proper order (sauce, cheese, meat, veggies) also prevents moisture buildup. With the vegetables on top, some of the water will evaporate rather than get trapped below the other toppings.
For baking, Shepherd uses a thick granite pizza stone preheated in a very hot oven for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size. If you use a pan, stick with black instead of silver to keep heat from reflecting away from the pie. If your oven has a convection feature, it’s best to turn it off so that the regular heat can crisp the crust.
Oven temperature varies based on the size of the pizza and the number of toppings, but most restaurants bake at around 600 degrees. At home, you can bake a thinner-crust pie with minimal toppings for five to six minutes at 500 to 550 degrees. For thicker, Chicago-style pies, Shepherd recommends 475 to 500 degrees to slow down the cooking and allow everything in the center to get done.
“Everyone always wants to know, ‘How long do I [bake the] pizza and at what temperature?’ You cook it until it’s done,” he says. “When you put that pizza in the oven, you’re there baby-sitting it until it’s done.”
These tips and more can be found in Michael Shepherd’s new book, Pizzeria Pizza at Home, available through amazon.com by July. For more information about his cooking classes, visit growingpizza.com.
Courtesy Michael Shepherd
Makes sauce for three, 14- to 16-inch pizzas
1 cup crushed tomatoes
6 ounces tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Put all of the ingredients into a non-metallic bowl, stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Use within four to five days.
New York-Style Dough
Makes three, 16-ounce dough balls
6 cups high-gluten flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2-1/4 cups lukewarm water
4 teaspoons olive oil
Mix dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Be sure to keep yeast from coming into direct, prolonged contact with the salt. Add water and oil, stir until flour has absorbed most of the liquid, then put dough ball on a table and finish kneading by hand until dough is smooth and aromatic, about 15–20 minutes. Roll into three dough balls, brush with olive oil and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Remove dough balls and let warm at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before using.
Deep-Dish Pizza Dough
Makes three 16-ounce dough balls
6 cups high-gluten flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2-1/8 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup olive oil
Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Be sure to keep yeast from coming into direct prolonged contact with the salt. Add water and oil, stir until flour has absorbed most of the liquid, then put dough ball on a table and finish kneading by hand until dough is smooth and aromatic, 15 to 20 minutes. Roll into three dough balls, brush with olive oil and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Remove dough balls and let warm up at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before using.
Coat a deep-dish pizza pan with olive oil, roll out dough to fit pan, place dough in pan, set in a warm spot for several hours and let it rise to about 75 percent of the desired size.
Place pan in the oven at 300 degrees and partially bake, pulling it out just before it starts to brown. Add sauce, cheese and toppings and bake or cool the crust and put it in an airtight food bag in the refrigerator until ready to use.