How the Right Dough and Cast Iron Make Delicious Pizza

Cast iron makes great pizza

So often when you hear someone talk about making homemade pizza, it conjures up the image of soggy crust, bland toppings, and an understanding of why there are so many frozen pizzas at the grocery store. But it doesn’t have to be that way; pizza is such a simple dish, it’s crust and toppings, sometimes with sauce, sometimes without.

What changed how I look at homemade pizza was a few years ago while traveling with some friends we ended up making delicious grilled pizza with some dough that a restaurant sold over the counter like they were selling stereos out of the back of a truck and a few fresh ingredients from the market.

The pizzas ended up being a revelation, not because they were the best thing ever, but because of what they became; instead of being soggy messes, the dough became a canvas for whatever ingredients we threw at it. Ever since I’ve been searching for the right combination of dough, tools, and technique to make homemade pizza worth eating.

Great Pizza Starts with a Good Crust

Good pizza crust starts with a good dough.  It may be stating the obvious, but when you start looking around the internet, you can find millions of pizza dough recipes, that range from super simple flour and water combinations to complex time-sucking affairs.

My goal was to develop a pizza dough recipe that had good flavor, was easy to work with, and had an interesting texture.  It also had to have some legs, since making a dough that has to rise and be used in the same day starts to turn homemade pizza into an all-day affair that requires more forethought than I’m willing to give things that really matter.

After a lot of trial and error, I ended up with a dough that uses a combination of semolina and all-purpose flours, olive oil, and butter.  The semolina flour, which is made from Durham wheat and is most often used to make pasta, has a beautiful gold color to it and adds a little crunch that makes the final crust taste more rustic.  It also makes the dough more pliable and easier to work with.

Homemade pizza dough
Semolina flour adds a nice gold color and rustic texture to the pizza dough

There are a lot of schools of thought on whether good best pizza crust should be thick or thin.  I wanted our dough to have enough flexibility that it could be rolled out thin and have a nice crunch or taste deliciously bready when it was thicker.  This meant finding ways to add flavor to the dough, without creating a crust that got so dense when it was baked that it couldn’t do simple addition.

The breakthrough was when I started adding both olive oil and butter.  The olive oil adds a nice flavor to the dough and makes it easier to work with, but there are limits on how much you can add and still have a dough that works.

The idea for adding butter came from a trip to Chicago when I was eating this amazing pizza at Lou Malnati’s and was surprised how much their pizza crust tasted like a pie crust, the secret, of course, was butter. It took a few tries to get the right amount, but it was pretty obvious as soon as the first batch came out of the mixer that adding butter here, as with most things, was the right choice.

The final dough is a nice combination of flavor and texture that works whether it’s rolled thick or thin. The best thing about this pizza dough is it easily lasts for a week in the fridge.  This means with a little work up front you can have homemade pizza in 30 minutes all week long.

Cast Iron is Your Friend

The question of what to cook the pizza on was easier to answer. At Umami, we’re really big fans of versatile cookware that can be used for lots of things.  This meant fancy pizza stones were out, and cast iron was in.

Cheesy homemade pizza
Cheesy homemade pizza

A good cast iron pan can be used for so many things that we think every cook should have one or two in their kitchen.  What makes cast iron the right choice for pizza is it works in the oven and on the grill, something that isn’t true for some of the more specialized pizza pans.

The reason cast iron works so well, compared to other materials, is because of how it holds heat.  By putting the pan on the grill or in the oven first, so it has time to heat up, you end up with a crisp crust that comes out with a deep beautiful light-brown color.

Working on our pizza dough recipe, I found that a 14 inch cast iron pan is generally the right size because it fits on most grills and provides enough room to make a pizza for two to four people.

Have Fun with Your Pizza Ingredients

The biggest thing to keep in mind for great pizza is to have fun with your ingredients.  When you start thinking of each pizza as an empty canvas there is no right or wrong, want sauce, add sauce, want extra cheese, add extra cheese.  It’s one pizza if it doesn’t taste good, throw it out and make another.

A few combinations that I’ve found work well are to grill up Italian sausages and use them with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, spinach, and basil.  When I want a pizza with a good red sauce, it usually gets pepperoni, green olives, and lots of cheese.

Pizza on the grill
Delicious homemade pizza is all about putting what you want on it

One advantage of keeping dough like this around is how easy it is to use with whatever is in season.  Throw some fresh greens and goat cheese on a pizza, and it will feel like you’re eating a delicious salad.  Want something different try spinach, chicken, and feta.

There are very few limits to what you can do with homemade pizza when you’re willing to let your imagination and taste buds run wild.


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