Attention: The stuff I'm writing about in this post is a lot easier to understand than it may seem at first. Don't be intimidated by trying to learn it. If you make an attempt, you'll find that this stuff is very easy to understand, and you'll always be glad you took less than an hour of your time to try to understand these things.
If you're new at making pizza and you want to do it right, the first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the notation system called bakers' percentages, then buy a kitchen scale. If you don't do these things, you may not want to bother coming back to this blog because you and I won't be speaking the same language (and because I refuse to teach you how to make bad, inconsistent pizza).
Why is this stuff so important?
Because baking is more of a science than an art. If you do things the right way, using the right equipment, everything will be much easier than doing it how you've probably always done it before.
Despite what you've probably been taught, volumetric measurements (measuring cups) are pretty much useless in baking. Volumetric measurements are horribly imprecise, especially with flour, which is by far the most heavily used ingredient in baking. Consequently, real bakers do not measure ingredients volumetrically. Instead, they measure ingredients by weight, using bakers' percentages.
Measuring by volume is not an option when using bakers' percentages, mostly because it is impossible to translate flour volumes to flour weights (and vice versa). If you measure one level cup of flour, the weight of the flour might be anything from 4 oz to 5.5 oz. Regardless of how carefully you attempt to measure a cup of flour the same way every time, every level cup of flour will contain at least a slightly different amount of flour than almost every other level cup of flour. And there's nothing you can do about it (except buy a scale and measure your flour by weight). What this means is that when you measure flour volumetrically, you might as well just use handfuls of flour as an alternative to measuring cups, because each of these techniques will result in imprecise measurements and inconsistent products.
Aside from that, here's why professional bakers and pizza-makers measure by weight, using bakers' percentages: 1) It's precise; 2) The results can be accurately reproduced by others; 3) Every dough formula can be adjusted to make a batch of any size; and 4) Bakers' percentages are the fundamental language of baking.
It is important to note that not all dough ingredients can be measured by weight when you make small batches of pizza dough at home because some ingredients just don't weigh enough to be accurately measured by kitchen scales. Salt, sugar, and yeast are the main ingredients that are usually too small to be measured by weight. But flour and water should always be measured by weight. Oil can usually be measured by weight, as well.
Before you continue reading this post, take a few minutes to read the basics of bakers' percentages.
To try to help you understand bakers' percentages, I will now express an actual dough formula that I use regularly, and then I'll tell you what it means. Here's my New York pizza dough formula, expressed in bakers' percentages:
100% All Trumps hi gluten flour
0.6% Active dry yeast (ADY)
If we were using the above formula to make a batch of dough, we would need to know one more figure before we could calculate how much of every ingredient to use. The one figure we need to know is how much flour will be used in our batch of dough, because the quantity of every other ingredient is based on the quantity of the flour we decide to use.
So let's say we're going to use 100 lbs of flour. "100 lbs of flour" is an important number here because every other figure is based partly on this number.
Because flour is always expressed as "100%," the first line of the formula doesn't really tell you anything (except what kind of flour to use). However, every line below that is very important.
When I read "60% Water," that's telling me my water measurement should be 60% of the total flour weight. So because my total flour weight is 100 lbs, "60% Water" means to use 60% of 100 lbs. That's 60 lbs of water.
I based this example on 100 lbs of flour because it makes the math very easy to understand.
So when you apply that method to every line in the formula, the formula expression tells us that we need to use:
100% of 100 lbs (1.0 x 100) = 100 lbs of flour
60% of 100 lbs (0.6 x 100) = 60 lbs of water
0.6% of 100 lbs (0.006 x 100) = 0.6 lbs of ADY
1.5% of 100 lbs (0.015 x 100) = 1.5 lbs of salt
1.58% of 100 lbs (0.0158 x 100) = 1.58 lbs of oil
Now that's a huge batch of dough, even for a pizzeria. It would take a monster mixer to mix a batch of dough that big. So what if our mixer was only big enough to make a batch of dough based on 40 lbs of flour (which is about 40 times larger than the typical home-sized batch)?
Here's how we would work that out.
100% of 40 lbs (1.0 x 40) = 40 lbs of flour
60% of 40 lbs (0.6 x 40) = 24 lbs of water
0.6% of 40 lbs (0.006 x 40) = 3.84 oz of ADY
1.5% of 40 lbs (0.015 x 40) = 9.6 oz of salt
1.58% of 40 lbs (0.0158 x 40) = 10.11 oz of oil
OK, so let's get real. You're not going to make 65 lbs of dough at home. So if you want to mix enough dough to make three 14" NY style pizzas, how much of each ingredient do you need to use?
First you need to know how much dough you'll need for each pizza. For a 14" NY style pizza, I use about 12.32 oz of dough. This is for a pizza that requires 0.08 oz of dough per square inch. (That's very thin, and it is very appropriate for NY style pizza.)
If one pizza requires 12.32 oz of dough, then you'll have to make about 37 oz of dough to have enough dough for three 14" pizzas.
To help me figure out how much of each ingredient I need to use for each batch of dough, I utilize dough calculating spreadsheets that I created for myself. Fortunately you can do this without creating your own spreadsheets. Just mess around with the dough calculator at pizzamaking.com.
Using my dough calculator, I have found that this batch of dough requires the following quantities of ingredients:
Flour (100%): 22.61 oz
Water (60%): 13.56 oz
ADY (0.6%): 0.14 oz (1.36 tsp)
Salt (1.5%): 0.34 oz (1.97 tsp)
Oil (1.58%): 0.36 oz (2.25 tsp)
Is this making any more sense?
This post is currently kind of a draft. I'll review it later and attempt to make appropriate changes and additions.