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In Chatelaine’s new series Cooking Qs With Chuck Hughes, the celebrity chef and restauranteur answers your most-asked questions about favourite go-to meals.
This episode: There are seemingly infinite ways to enjoy a pizza: thick crust or thin crust, extra cheese or dairy-free, all the veggies or for meat-lovers only. But when it comes to baking your own pie at home, it’s easy to stumble over the basics of preparing dough from scratch, or even the strategic placement of toppings (pro tip: cheese never goes on top of the pepperoni!). Luckily, Montreal-based Chef Chuck Hughes is here to share his tried and tested tips for making the perfect pizza at home.
What’s the perfect go-to pizza dough recipe?
Hughes keeps his pizza dough simple: 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp active dry yeast, 1 cup warm water, 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp sea salt and 2 tbsp olive oil. To develop the yeast, add it to warm water, along with the sugar, mixing it all together and then let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then, add the flour into the standard mixer with a dough hook, followed by a touch of salt and the yeast-water. Start slow, letting the dough hook knead the dough gently, and then add in a little bit of olive oil. Knead it with your hands so that it comes together in the end, but do not overwork the dough.
Dough needs to rise in a dry, warm place. Hughes drizzles olive oil in a bowl to keep the dough from sticking before covering it with a towel and letting rise for an hour. (Pro tip #2: leave your dough in the fridge to rise overnight.)
From here, there isn’t really a secret — just start rolling it out. Hughes begins in the middle of the dough and works his way out. If the dough tears a little here and there, just fold it over as if it never happened.
How to make the perfect thin-crust pizza
If you prefer your pizza with a thin crust, Hughes recommends using bread flour to avoid a dry or soggy crust.
Any tricks to making a thick, doughy crust?
Now, if a thick pizza crust is more your thing, use all-purpose unbleached flour instead. It will make it crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
Okay, now what?
Hughes recommends baking your pie on a pizza stone — but in a pinch, a baking sheet or skillet works, too. Heat the pizza stone in the oven first, so that it’s warm when you place the dough over top.
He calls this as “the only tricky part” of making a pizza: transferring your rolled-out dough onto the pizza stone. Drizzle olive oil on the stone first to keep it from sticking, and then quickly lift and place the dough on the surface.
Then, it’s time for toppings! Hughes opts for a tomato sauce base, crushed tomatoes, olives, red peppers, and then cheese (specifically, fresh mozzarella), followed by pepperoni and a crack of fresh pepper — of course, be as creative as possible for a pizza that best suits your palette. However, if you’re using a grated mozzarella, Hughes suggests not overdoing it.
How do you set your oven to cook the perfect pizza?
You want your oven to be really hot. Traditional pizza ovens operate anywhere between 600-900F, and cook pizzas in about a minute! At home, baking at 425-450F for 20-25 minutes should do the trick.