#StayHome Pizza stretch goals

If, like me, you’ve attempted countless homemade pizzas and plateaued various times en route to your current level, here are some ideas to try to take your lockdown pies to the next level.

Note: These tips and tricks apply to the pursuit of Napoli style (the best style) pizza rather than Sicilian, New York or Chicago style.


Aim for a high hydration dough

As opposed to 400-500°C commercial pizza ovens, conventional ovens will get up to a max of around 260°C – and in opening and closing the oven door, and adding steam, you will more likely be working with temperatures between 230°C and 250°C.

With this in mind, cooking times will increase from the fabled 90 seconds in restaurants to up to as much as 10 minutes at home. We therefore need to make sure there is still texture and moisture in the base after 10 minutes, which means increasing the hydration of the dough. Restaurants might use a 60% hydration dough, whereas we want to be up at around 70%.

To illustrate this as weight of flour to weight of water: If you wanted enough dough for 2x 300g balls, you’d want to use 350g flour and at least 245g of water in your mix.

Let the dough ferment in bulk for a very long time

Given that the structural integrity of the dough used for the base of a pizza is less important than the structure of a hand-shaped loaf, we can afford to let pizza dough prove for a very long time. This will both create a very bubbly final product, and increase the complexity of the flavour.

Once you’ve mixed the flour, water, salt, olive oil (optional) and yeast / sourdough starter together, given them time to hydrate, and built up a gluten network with kneading / stretching & folding until it’s a smooth, responsive mass, you can cover the dough and keep it in the fridge for as long as 72hrs (no, really).

When the time comes to shape into balls, make sure you retain as much air as you can from its fermented state in the final balls.


Once you’ve let your balls prove at room temperature all day, or overnight (if you’re planning on laying on some kind of brunch pizza bonanza, who knows), your balls should have relaxed, spread, flattened, and the air pockets should be plentiful and obvious.

From here, shaping should be fairly straightforward. The dough should be very stretchy, pliable, and easy to work with. I use my fingertips on the top of the dough (wetted) to prod all of the air to the outer edge of the round. I then use floured fingertips to get to the centre of the dough from underneath and stretch the centre outwards to increase the overall size of the pizza. A 290-300g dough ball should comfortably be able to reach 12 inches in diameter, leaving a chunky aerated ring for the crust.



With this dough, shaping is easy but transferring to the oven once adorned with toppings is not.

My current preferred strategy is to transfer the shaped base before applying any toppings onto a piece of baking paper pretty much the same size as the base, or a tiny bit bigger (smaller than what you see in the photo below – I cut this piece to size after this was taken). This will allow you to transfer to your cooking surface without the paper burning in the oven, or needing to manipulate the dough which would risk stretching it out of shape, or worse, ripping it (we’ve all been there).


Whack your oven onto the absolute hottest temperature it can muster. My oven here in Berlin has a very convenient ‘express pre-heat’ setting that heats the grill element and heats via the fan simultaneously. This is great for pizzas because you want a good amount of heat coming from above for this kind of cooking process.

Feel free to experiment with flicking to the grill setting for a few minutes before sending in the pizza, and revering it to fan directly afterwards, but if that sounds like too much trouble then just set it to max fan and forget it.


I like to have a tray of water in the bottom of the oven for steam. The benefit of this is that you are likely to get more of a spring from your crust as it takes a little longer to harden, and you will get more of a Maillard reaction on the surface of the dough (browning, rather than burning).

The drawback of this is the overall temperature of your oven will be impeded, in my experience by 10-20°C. If this is a dealbreaker for you and your setup, then skip this step.

A strong universal steam-based recommendation, however, is to use a spray bottle / atomiser of water to spray your pizza all over once your pizza is fully topped and completely ready for the oven. It will produce a similar effect as above.

Note: Use a clean atomiser and clean water. If you wouldn’t be comfortable spraying the spray bottle of water straight into your mouth because of hygiene, then it’s not hygienic enough to spray over your pizza.

Cooking surface

The absolute optimum setup is to have a baking stone in the higher part of your oven, and a pizza steel below it upon which you will place your pizza.

I have none of these things. I use the baking tray that came with the oven upturned, so that its slightly domed underside is facing towards the top of the oven.

If you have a pizza peel, you’ve no need to disturb the oven setup once it’s up to temperature, and you can simply slip the pizza on its baking paper onto the tray surface / steel. If, like me, you also don’t have a peel, swiftly remove the tray / steel from the oven, drag the pizza by the baking paper underneath onto the tray / steel, and return it to the oven.


If your oven is well enough lit to monitor how your pizza is getting on, keep it cooking undisturbed until the crust starts to catch at its thinnest, bubbliest bits.

If you’re using the baking stone and pizza steel, your pizza’s base might be fully cooked by this point.

As we’re working at lower temperatures, however, this is highly likely to happen before the base is fully cooked. At this stage, therefore, it’s a good idea to rotate the pizza 180°, remove the baking paper, and optionally drop the tray / steel to a lower shelf to concentrate on getting the base cooked rather than browing the top.

After a maximum of 5 further minutes, your pizza should now be lovely and browned on top, with a snappy base.