Introduction: Pizza Margherita (and a $5 DIY Pizza Oven)

Picture of Pizza Margherita (and a $5 DIY Pizza Oven)

This Instructable will show how to make an at home variation on the classic Neapolitan pizza. We'll be doing it with a dough and sauce recipe that has always been used by my family. In this instructable we'll be making a Pizza Margherita (Basil, tomato, mozzarella). If you've never had it before, be willing to give it a try. This is not a recipe for the typical American pizza, overflowing with toppings, but rather about the balance of few, simple, great quality ingredients.

This is the full recipe for everything for the pizzas, including homemade sauce and dough. In theory- you could skip making your own sauce and supplement it with a good quality, tomato-basil sauce - but I think you'll notice a difference in quality. Likewise, you can skip making your own dough, but it's simple, cheap, and well worth the extra work.

Step 1: The Dough

Picture of The Dough

For the dough, we want a crust that will be crispy, strong, and will puff up in the hot oven. We'll need the following ingredients for the pizza:

1.5 Tablespoons of Honey
1 Teaspoons of Kosher Salt
1 Tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 Cup of warm water
2 Cups of Flour (Bread flour preferred, AP acceptable)
1 package of Active instant yeast

First, start by combing the salt, yeast, and about 3/4 of the flour in a mixing bowl. In the photos, I'm using a stand mixer to do the mixing and kneading for me, but this can easily be done by hand as well.

Slowly add the warm water and combine. For yeast, the water should be at about 115 degrees. The best way to determine this temperature without a thermometer is to keep your hands under the running water while it heats up. The water should be hot enough where it doesn't burn (and you can keep your hands under it), but still warm enough. Lukewarm water will cause the yeast to not activate, and too hot will kill the yeast.

After adding the water, add the honey and oil and continue to mix until fully combined. At this stage, add in the remaining flour set aside from earlier. Depending on a number of factors (most often humidity) you may need to either add a bit more additional flour, or not all of what remains.

At this point, you'll be either ready to knead the dough with your hands or run with a dough hook for 8-10 minutes. After fully kneading, oil the mixing bowl that it was in and let sit, covered, for approximately one hour. 

Step 2: Shaping the Dough

Picture of Shaping the Dough

After proofing for an hour the dough will have doubled in size. Remove the dough from its container and lightly knead (this is called the punch-down) to redistribute the carbon dioxide released by the yeast. Separate the dough into two pieces and form the first into a ball by rolling on a lightly floured surface. Now it's time to choose your own adventure: will you:

A.) Be adventurous and authentic and toss by hand.
B.) Do it the easy way with a rolling pin.

Here's the scoop (or slice).
Tossing by hand isn't just for show; there's a logic to it. By slowly pushing the dough into a larger circle, stretching by hand, and tossing, you're creating a bit of horizontal thickness gradient. By tossing, you'll end up with a center that is thin and crispy, and a crust that will have a bit extra dough. 

However- if you choose to use a rolling pin, you'll end up with a dough that has a consistent thickness. While it will still taste great, the pizza's texture won't be quite right for a Neapolitan pie.

So, instructions on both:

A. Toss by hand

After forming the dough into a ball, begin to press out on your floured surface. It will take a bit of spinning, prodding, and pushing, but you'll eventually get to a state where you can lift it and begin to lightly stretch it and let it hang off your hands. When it begins to widen a bit, you're ready to lightly toss in a circular motion. The trick is to try and catch the dough with your hands in a fist shape. If you make a whole, no big deal, just press the dough back together and try again.

B. The Rolling Pin

Alright, you made your choice, who am I to second guess it? Roll the dough out to about an 11" diameter and get ready to top.

Step 3: The Sauce

Picture of The Sauce

If you're going to make your own sauce, great. Homemade sauce is infinitely better than the jarred stuff, and you'll have much more control over what goes in based on what you like. This simple marinara sauce will be:

1 14 Oz. Can of Tomatoes (do you have fresh tomatoes? Great! Use them and 1 TB of tomato paste instead)
3 Cloves of minced garlic
Small handful of basil
1/4 Cup finely grated parmeggiano-reggiano (a bit untraditional)
1 Teaspoon of dried oregano
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon of sugar
Salt/Pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients (all, except for only 1/2 of the basil) and cook over a medium heat for approximately one hour. You should then be able to crush the tomatoes using a wooden spoon against the side of the pan. Blend or drop in a food processor if you prefer a super smooth consistency.  Finish with a chiffonade of the remaining basil, along with any other additional touches to taste.

Step 4: The Toppings

Picture of The Toppings

This modified pizza margherita will be simply:

Tomato sauce previously made
Small handful of freshly torn mozzarella cheese
Small handful of basil
1 garlic clove, lightly minced
salt and pepper
light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

This is the classic (with garlic). Do you want something else? Go for it- just remember that this pizza is all about a balance of ingredients.

Step 5: The Pizza Oven and Baking

Picture of The Pizza Oven and Baking

So if you have a pizza stone- great. If you don't, here's how you can make your own brick over in under $5.

You'll need either 2- 12" pieces of UNGLAZED Ceramic quarry tile or 8 pieces of 6" tiles. Again- they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BE UNGLAZED. I purchased mine several years ago from a very well known chain (big box) hardware store for 50 cents a piece. That's $4+ tax for the whole thing.

I'm also using a paddle because I apparently make lots of pizza. If you don't have one,  use the back of a cookie sheet- you'll be fine.

We want to arrange the tile in the oven in two layers. The base layer will create the amazing crust we want, while the top will help increase the temperature within the pizza's area by creating radiant heat from the stones above. It will also aid in getting a beautiful, lightly burned top crust.

Place the stones into the oven while it is cold and bring up to the highest temperature possible... 500 Degree F is mine. I let the over preheat for about 45 minutes to get the stones very hot. Make sure your paddle is well floured to easily slide the pizza into the oven.

Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes.

Step 6: Finishing Up and Variations

Picture of Finishing Up and Variations

After removing from the oven, enjoy immediately. 

With my second pizza from the remaining dough, I did the same base but added cooked italian sausage and a bit of fontina cheese. 

Add anything you like- but always remember with this pizza to not overdo it. For the last time, this pizza is about balance. Use whatever is good fresh, remembering that simple will always be better.



NHLavalanche (author)2011-08-22

Thank you all for your great comments, tips, and suggestions. The making of a pizza is a seriously debated and fought after topic and there's much to learn from some of the fantastic comments here. For anyone looking for an additional, extensive breakdown of ingredients used in classic pizza making, take a look at (if you have an hour to kill on reading about authentic pizza at home).

stacy.diebold made it! (author)2015-01-26

it's a wonderful recipe I tweeked it some for my family but they loved it. I'm fixing to make it again, I used two stones from Pampered Chef they worked very well., thanks a bunch

tony.gilnett (author)2014-10-30

Use Corn meal or semolina flour instead of flour it works like all bearings. Much better than flour.

susanchen2011 (author)2012-07-06

It makes me drool.

lorielle (author)2011-08-21

Nice idea! What also works well are kiln shelves, 1/4 or 1/2 ". It's a less expensive solution than commercial pizza stones. Check for local clay/pottery supply centers. This would not be economical if you had to ship the shelves, though.

JimInstructs (author)lorielle2012-05-06

Great suggestion! They're certainly unglazed, free of moisture, and made for high heat. Thanks!

hairybaroque (author)2011-08-21

45 minutes @ 500º F? For two pizzas? Definitely gets my "Let's Not Save the Planet - just yet" Black Award for 2011! Seriously, I learnt a lot from this 'ible: you can probably use just the top stones to crisp those things like instant pizzas you're supposed to put in the microwave and then enjoy the soggy result …

I tell you what if you want to "save the planet" live like you want everyone else to, live move into a cave don't use any oil or electricity and forgo all modern conveniences. when you and all the save the planet brigade have done that then I will consider it. meanwhile I love pizza and this is a great way to make it at home and still get it similar to a wood oven.

That's a really pathetic reply. Nobody is asking anyone to live in a cave or eat a stick, but there are small things people can do to reduce the amount of energy used in everyday tasks. Perhaps running an oven for 45 mins at full heat with nothing in it is a bit unnecessary and wasteful, perhaps there are quicker ways to heat up the stones.

If they were put on the stove top for example, with a metal diffuser underneath perhaps they would heat up quicker using conduction, than with just ambient heat inside the oven. I would guess that 5 mins on the stove top would use less energy than 45 in an oven. Might crack the stones, would need some testing to see if it is actually more efficient... just a suggestion.

But PLEASE, It is not about either enjoying cooking OR eating sticks and live in caves. But perhaps we can think about how we can reduce WASTE of energy if there are more efficient processes we can use.

goeddiegogogo is part of the "This is what I heard from Hollywood, so I will complain about it", crowd.

You seriously need to find out how much energy is used by a single cargo vessel on the ocean, or how much power is required to melt all those cans you have been recycling, do you know what a carbon heating rod is?

All the ovens in the United States do not come even close to the above, goeddiegogogo.

Thanks for your insight Darthgarlic. Nice name :)

Did you actually read what was said above? I am not suggesting anybody reduce their standard of living, or stop enjoying their instructable stonebaked pizza, so i don't really understand what the fuss is about...

I was talking about a way to do EXACTLY the same thing, using a little bit less energy. Is that something you need to get upset about, or is that infringing your right as an American oven owner to do whatever you want?

You can go on blaming 'The Man' and his ships and for that reason you should leave your oven on all day, i mean, why not? Recycling a can uses energy, so why shouldn't you waste as much as you want?

unfortunately most that argue "lets save the planet" are putting us in an either or situation. Saving the planet is as a very wise man once put it the ultimate in human arrogance the only thing we have that would do anything on a planetary scale are nukes running the oven once a week like this does nothing at all to comment that this is bad for the planet is to show a great deal of human hubris.

saving the planet aside, it doesn't make sense to preheat the oven for that long. Once it's reached 500F, it isn't going to get hotter. There is a thermostat and a temperature limit for a reason.

Aurumgirl (author)hairybaroque2011-08-26

Listen, all cooking requires energy, and pizzas are always cooked at very high heat. Even your microwave, "save-the-planet-style" cooking sucks up fossil fuel. And all things end, everyone dies, everything dies. So you nuke your cardboard with soy/msg toppings that will help Monsanto "save the earth" wink wink, and I'll follow this batch of tips, warm up my kitchen in the cold coming days, and enjoy some excellent pizza that's as close to the way my ancestors made it as can be made possible through modern conveniences, okay? Somehow I like my prospects for "improved quality of life" a bit better--but to each his/her own.

Spokehedz (author)hairybaroque2011-08-21

The planet will be fine... It's the humans that are going to be removed once it all goes to pot. But the planet won't even notice what's going on. Think of all the bacteria that are killed on your body on a daily basis and then think of humans as that. The planet gets too hot/cold and we all die off--and then the planet resets and maybe something like the flour beetles will get a chance to have 'rule' over the planet.

Also, do most of my pizza making in the winter when the house is colder anyway and you'll be recycling the energy sort of back into the house. When I need pizza in the summer?

I do it outside on the grill.

Also, I keep these things in there 24/7 as it dosen't seem to take any longer to heat up my oven or affect any other cooking times. I just place them on the bottom of the oven and they are just there.

Kinnishian (author)hairybaroque2011-08-21

Solution, eat more pizza in the winter. This is a bigger concern if you run AC (probably makes 1 unit of waste heat into 4 units of waste heat when you count cooling the extra heat). But I wouldn't kill the guy for this- though in general it would be nice if ovens were more properly insulated so it takes less to maintain there heat (for baking bread, for pizzas, for everything an oven is awesome at).

ImHungryAgain (author)2011-11-30

This is an excellant idea and plays off another I saw for cooking meat using the fabulous benefits of radiant heat to cook more evenly and OPTIMIZING the heat generated by your oven. It will actually use a bit LESS energy to keep the stones hot vs. the regular oven walls that bounce the heat around your food in an uneven manner.

You can use a large terra cotta planter (unglazed ofcourse) sitting on a tile or the planter base bowl thing you put under it to catch water when using for a plant). Turn it upside down so it rests on the tile or planter base and you now have a true brickoven replica for whatever will fit within the planter. A 14" diameter pot fits in my oven.

BTW: Make your terra cotta-brick oven stones/cookware resistant to food splatters cooking onto it by using cooking oil on a paper towel and rubbing all over the inside of the pot before heating it in the oven.

kanderson22 (author)2011-11-27

I can't actually believe this debate. Seriously people? I'm in the eat a stick camp.

I love this frugal and creative idea.

um you have to pre heat to cook it properly you can't cook by slowly warming it up it has to be hot when you put it in.

that's true. If you read my comment properly, I said that once the oven is preheated (ie REACHES 500F) then it doesn't need to heat PAST THAT. It will only waste energy MAINTAINING TEMPERATURE, not get hotter.

um if your oven is working correctly it won't go past that and depending on how big the bricks are it might take that long to get to 500 degrees and there is very little waste on a good oven maintaining the heat unless you open the door a lot.

alincoln2 (author)2011-10-12

Thank you! Bravo for short and simple and perfectly put.

rpb (author)2011-09-14

Great instructable, thanks.

Any idea if all tiles are safe to cook with, or could some "unglazed quarry tiles" outgas something nasty, or in general not be "food-grade"?

Also, that's an *awful* lot of salt in your dough recipe. According to Wolfram Alpha you've got 120% of the recommended maximum daily salt/sodium amount in *each* of your two pizza bases! (Plus extra from cheese, sauce, *sausage*, etc.) Yikes!

For my dough I generally use around 1 tsp to 1.25 tsp salt to 600g (3+ cups) of flour.

Looks delicious, though! 8-S

peterpit (author)2011-08-27

I really enjoyed this crust except that it was too salty. Great texture and quick proof time. I recommend cutting the salt in half.

abnor (author)2011-08-24

fantastic pics!

soundmotor (author)2011-08-24

I make scratch dough and bake in a standard oven. It is good but always missing that "something". I will try some of your techniques and appreciate you sharing them.

randyjabel (author)2011-08-22

What works really well on your paddle, or "spit" as it's called in the pizzeria, is corn meal. Corn meal acts as "pizza wheels", enabling the raw crust to slide right off, and then for turning it if you decide to do so. It also adds that extra pizzeria-style texture to your crust. Awesome!

t.rohner (author)2011-08-22

Excellent Instructable.

"sarkasm on"
Of course, we old hippies know for at least 30 years, that conserving energy makes sense. We got some good laughs for it...
But since i would kill for a good pizza, there are better (less deadly) ways to conserve energy...
"sarkasm off"

I use a pizza stone in my little electric oven. I heat it up to 300°C / 570°F, which is the maximum of my oven.
While heating up, i use upper and lower heat. While baking, i use lower heat and convection. This way, i get a crisp crust without burning the toppings.
In my setup, i don't need the upper tiles, except if i wanted a bigger thermal mass.

In my wood fired pizza oven, i like to have the oven floor around 340°C / 644°F. While heating up, the temperature can go over 550°C / 1022°F, which is the upper limit of my IR-thermometer.
With 2.5 metric tons, we don't need to talk about thermal mass here...

Some things, i changed on my hunt for a perfect Margherita.

Use only a pinch of yeast for the dough and give it 4-6 hours to rise. If it doubles too early for your timing, refrigerate it.
(I only use flour, water, salt, olive oil and yeast. Makes perfect Grissinis from leftover dough as well.)

For the cheese, i use a "pizza/gratin-mix" (it's a mix of mozzarella and Greyerz cheese here) as a base and then some Taleggio. This knocks your socks off.

After reading the pizza book from Peter Reinhart, i started to experiment with uncooked tomatoe sauces.

What i do now:
I lightly sautee some finely cut onion and garlic in olive oil. When the onions are glassy, i add the liquid part of the canned tomatoes.(I let the liquids drip out in a sieve before)
I add some tomatoe puree and let most of the liquids evaporate. When this cooled down a little, i add the canned tomatoes, herbs, spices and salt. In the end, i add a very small amount of ground fresh lemon skin and some lemon juice. This adds a wonderful freshness to the sauce.

I add cut basil leaves only after baking, they loose most of the aroma in the oven.

I also want to second the author.
It's important not to overload this type of pizza. The crust should be in the range <= 1/6" thick when backed.
It's intended to be a pizza, not a stew on bread.

I have some pizza-related instructables as well...

This is how it looked like last saturday...

PatriotsRiot (author)2011-08-21

Best reply ever award!! Eat a stick....hahaha.

W6LSN (author)2011-08-21

"...remembering that simple will always be better"  I agree 100%

Family favorite is Smoked salmon (even the kids that normally detest seafood) see recipe at my blog:

again, great article!

W6LSN (author)2011-08-21

When cooking inside (electric) I allow oven to heat @500 - 550F for two cycles... in other words allow thermostat to turn off the elements two times (initial heat, then one more) and It's ready to go.

I cook on the gas grill outside in summer; Even winter sometimes if I want to add wood chip flavor. With all burners on HIGH  I can get well over 600F.

In both cases, I turn the heat down once pizzas are in place. This is because family prefers slightly thicker crust and it burns before it cooks through at the higher temps.

Lots of ideas at my blog -> search for "pizza" This is overall an Excellent article!!

btsmay (author)2011-08-21

I have pizza stones, a round one and an oblong one. Could I just use the oblong one on the top rack instead of buying tiles?

jholsinger (author)2011-08-21

What ever pizza dough you use home made or buy it from the store or I've even heard you can buy from your local pizza guys but I've also heard you don't have to buy a really high cost pizza stone because a terracotta floor tile is the very same thing and WAAAAYYYYYY !!!!!! Cheaper plus I've heard for buying a so called real pizza stone the darn things stick so some time's you over pay for little or nothing and other times you really can get better for less just a thought

Lindie (author)2011-08-21

This looks wonderful! Have to try it.

Exocetid (author)2011-08-21

If you have a gas oven, you can put the tile(s) right on the bottom panel, they will protect the crust from the metal and flames underneath. Then, put the upper tile(s) on the bottom rack. This will make a "mini-oven" right at the heat source. Now, take your IR thermometer, which I know you have as any serious science-chef does, and use it to determine when the bottom tile(s) are at their max. This will happen long before the whole oven gets there.

askjerry (author)2011-08-21

1) Brilliant.

2) Now I'm hungry for pizza.

3) Sending this to my friends and daughter.

Thumbs up! - Jerry

paulbeard (author)2011-08-21

Just used my gas grill and pizza stone last night (with home made dough and a no-cook sauce, as I discovered I was out of prepared sauce). Was thinking of how to get the same heat over the top as I do from the bottom. Either making a frame (w angle irons?) to hold quarry tiles as you do here, or possibly permanently mounting them in the grill's lid come to mind as options.

spark master (author)2011-08-21

I have used firebricks (or true red clay) for years to line my house oven. I also scooped up about 10 pizza "stones" when they were no longer the rage and sold off as discontinued in a thrift store.

Using full thickness bricks takes about 20-30 minute preheat. For thin pie set oven to highest it goes, (550 in American Made Gas Fired Ovens).

dough should be aged at least 5 hours in refrigerator (cut to size first then left as ball or flattened into disc, rubbed with OOil), I prefer 8 hours.

This relaxes the gluten so it stretches easily, dough should be a very wet one as shown in this recipe.

sauces in MOST pizzerias are not cooked at all, they are canned crushed tomato with a few small number of spices. A fast sprinkle of Oregano and cheese (parmesano reggiano cause it is cheap), then mozzerella and that is it (unless you want specialty stuff).

My Ggrandmother from Sicily never ever put Mozzerrella on her pie , but would dot it with bits of it for children and grand children.

For an Italian American kid of th e50's/60's this was a fancy version of opening the sauce pot and dipping a good piece of eyetalian bread in it. In my home that would warrant a wack. If you want bread and sauce USE A SPOON, cuz dad would flip if the bread blob fell in and it landed on his pasta.

Oh and you can line your gas grill with the same bricks and make pies!

I have made Apple and Pear pies on my webber rgill using this method!

Great Instructable

chin chin

puskarich (author)2011-08-21

If you have 2 pizza stones, should you put both in to create the upper and bottom layers like you did with the tiles?

danny6114 (author)2011-08-21

I like to use a little corn meal on my peel to facilitate transfer to the stone. Alton Brown uses his favorite peel this way, and he named it "Emma"!

ZackBlack (author)2011-08-20

There is a third option other than tossing or rolling:

You roll out the dough to about half of the size that you want then let grab the edges and stretch it out to the proper size.

The thickness isn't as consistent as tossing but you end up with a similar effect without making a mess on your ceiling :)

NHLavalanche (author)ZackBlack2011-08-20

Good point! Sometimes I'll do this when I'm a bit too lazy too toss the dough.

wilgubeast (author)2011-08-19

This looks delicious. I LOVE the pizza stone idea. It makes sense. That might even make a good stand-alone Instructable.

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