By Hannah Petertil
Today: Pat Clark—homemade pizza dare devil and head baker at Marta—shares his pizza wisdom for a successful home-baked pie.
Whether by pie or slice, piled with toppings or minimalist, pizza is a classic dinner staple. The combination of blistered crust, gooey cheese, and fresh ingredients tastes right just about any night—but you don’t have to pick up the phone and order to get the perfect pie. You can make dynamite pizza in your own oven says Pat Clark, the lead baker at New York’s latest “it” pizza restaurant, Marta. Here are Pat’s 5 tips to keep your cool while making a hot pie:
1. Make your dough
Pat Clark is big on this point. He says, “If there’s any secret I can give folks, it’s to not get stressed out. [Making] pizza is supposed to be fun!” This means that if you have the time and patience to make the dough, go for it. Clark swears by Jim Lahey’s no knead pizza dough—it’s fast, simple, easy to practice, and is as hands-off as possible. When Clark makes Marta’s signature crust he uses a blend of King Arthur and North Country flour—the amount he uses of each varies depending on the day—but any high-quality all-purpose flour will do the trick for Jim Lahey’s dough recipe.
If you are looking to cut time by picking up pre-made dough, Clark’s tip is to pop into a local pizzeria on the way home and ask if they’ll sell you some dough. Nine times out of 10 they’ll be happy to send you home with a few pieces of dough to experiment with.
2. Turn up the heat, but don’t burn down the house.
Most restaurant pizza recipes call for a really hot oven, but don’t go overboard trying to replicate pizzeria temperatures. Clark has tried every oven-heating trick in the book and strongly recommends that you do not follow suit. His approaches have ranged from breaking countless pizza stones (we didn’t ask), melting gaskets around his oven door, baking in cast iron pots and pans, and even packing his home oven with refractory bricks to mimic the conditions of a brick oven. “The last approach was a flat out disaster,” he admitted, “My landlord was not happy.”
3. Use a baking steel.
Clark describes this tool as the “Holy Grail of home baking equipment.” A ¼-inch piece of food-grade steel that works like a traditional baking stone, it’s a great heat conductor which accounts for its arguably magical pizza powers.
All you need to do is preheat your baking steel, and oven, for an hour at 500º F, then bake your pizza directly on the steel. Be sure to use a peel to both put your pizza on the steel and to take your pizza off it—you don’t want to burn yourself! Using a baking steel ensures a very consistent bake and has made the best crust Clark has ever eaten from a home oven. If you have plans to regularly bake bread or pizza at home he, and I, highly recommend buying one (Clark has two). (Just make sure to thoroughly dry and season it after washing to keep it from rusting and never cut your pie directly on the steel.)
…the dough! Do not forget to let your dough rest at room temperature before shaping it—a crucial step that will make it much easier to handle. If the dough is too sticky, just add a little extra flour to your hands and the table.
At Marta, they roll all their dough out with a French rolling pin, so if you have one, Pat encourages you to try this method. Do not, however, get too caught up in making a perfectly circular pizza (which can led to overworking the dough). Clark is serious when he says, “Amoebas taste good.”
5. Minimalism is a mantra when it comes to toppings.
Home bakers, myself included, can go a little crazy on the pizza toppings. But tons of cheese and sauce does not a masterpiece make.
Instead, stick to a few high-quality ingredients—Clark suggests crushed tomatoes, some decent shredded cheese, a little olive oil, and salt as a great starting point. Practice makes perfect, so make a pizza as often as possible and experiment—see what you like, what bakes well, and what tastes best. And at the end of the day, don’t get stressed, it’s only pizza!
Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough + Margherita Pie
Makes four 12-inch pizza crusts
Making the Dough
500 grams (17 ½ ounces or about 3 ¾ unsifted cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping the dough
1 gram (¼ teaspoon) active dry yeast
16 grams (2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
350 grams (11/2 cups) water
In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and, with a wooden spoon and/or your hands, mix thoroughly. We find it easiest to start with the spoon, then switch to your hands (see slideshow).
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature (about 72°) for 18 hours or until it has more than doubled. It will take longer in a chilly room and less time in a very warm one.
Flour a work surface and scrape out the dough. Divide it into 4 equal parts and shape them. For each portion, start with the right side of the dough and pull it toward the center, then do the same with the left, then the top, then the bottom. (The order doesn’t actually matter; what you want is four folds.) Shape each portion into a round and turn seam side down. Mold the dough into a neat circular mound. The mounds should not be sticky; if they are, dust with more flour.
If you don’t intend to use the dough right away, wrap the balls individually in plastic and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature by leaving them out on the counter, covered in a damp cloth, for 2 to 3 hours before needed.
Assembling and Baking the Margherita Pie
4 balls pizza dough from above
128-ounce can best quality peeled Italian tomatoes (or fresh, peeled Roma tomatoes, if they’re in season)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into large chunks
20 fresh basil leaves, or to taste
¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Put the pizza stone on a rack in a gas oven about 8 inches from the broiler. Preheat the oven on bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
Shaping the disk (Method 1): Take one ball of dough and generously flour it, your hands, and the work surface. Gently press down and stretch the ball of dough out to 10-12 inches. Don’t worry if it’s not round. Don’t handle it more than necessary; you want some of the gas bubbles to remain in the dough. It should look slightly blistered. Flour the peel (or an unrimmed baking sheet) and lay the disk onto the center. It is now ready to be topped.
Shaping the disk (Method 2): Take one ball of dough and generously flour it, your hands, and the work surface. Gently press down and stretch the ball of dough out to 6-8 inches. Supporting the disk with your knuckles toward the outer edge and lifting it above the work surface, keep stretching the dough by rotating it with your knuckles, gently pulling it wider until the disk reaches 10-12 inches. Set the disk on a well-floured peel (or unrimmed baking sheet). It is now ready to be topped.
Drain tomatoes and pass through a food mill or just squish them with your hands – it’s messy but fun. Stir in the olive oil and salt. The sauce will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Switch the oven to broil for 10 minutes. With the dough on the peel, spoon the tomato sauce over the surface and spread it evenly, leaving about an inch of the rim untouched. Distribute 10 to 12 hunks of mozzarella (about 7 ounces) on top.
With quick, jerking motions, slide the pie onto the stone. Broil for 3 ½ to 4 minutes under gas (somewhat longer with an electric oven), until the top is bubbling and the crust is nicely charred but not burnt.
Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a tray or serving platter. Sprinkle the Parmigiano and salt evenly over the pizza. Distribute the basil on top. Slice and serve immediately.