As readers of this blog will know, I have been a home-baked pizza fanatic for a while now. I’ve done lots of experimenting, tried lots of tweaks. Masochists can trace the evolution of my pizza sojourn from its beginnings via the links at the bottom of this post.
While I’m no fan of Masterchef (rave building…but that’s another post), Gary Mehigan and Georgieboy Calombaris are undoubtedly excellent chefs and I do make sure I catch the Friday night ‘Masterclass’ episodes (he lied, trying to suggest he exercised some degree of discrimination, when in fact he hasn’t missed an episode: blame a long-standing trash TV addiction). Last Friday’s class was particularly interesting for me because it featured Gaz and Georgieboy demonstrating home-baked pizza.
Earlier in the week, there had been an ‘Invention Test’ in which the contestants were given one hour to turn out “the best woodfired pizzas in the known universe” – or some such silly hyperbolic Georgism (can someone pleeease dunk his fucking scriptwriter in the deep fryer?).
That’s one hour including making the dough! Errr, pizza dough has yeast in it – and yeasted dough needs a lot longer proofing time than 1 hour! So WTF?
Anyone with half a clue about what constitutes a good pizza knows that no 1 hour dough is gonna cut it as a respectable pizza base, but still we had close-ups on meaty Mehigan, quilty Calombaris and porky Preston going through their usual gurning routine as they savoured the contestants’ pizzas with the connoisseur air of members of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.
The winner, Fiona, did a caramelised onion, pear, prosciutto and walnut pizza that in Naples would have had her carted off to the nearest piazza and put in stocks for a public tomatoing. But OK, the point was to be ‘inventive’ – and we are talking about Masterchef, where it’s all about ‘fine food’ (ie: high-end high-fat high-salt high- expense arty cheffy yuppie restaurant bullshit).
The thing is, a great pizza is far more about the base than the toppings – to which any pizza aficionado will attest. What, then, is the point of a pizza competition in which it is impossible to turn out a half-decent crust in the time allotted? Little to do with good food, much to do with entertainment – and advertising the portable woodfired ovens the contestants baked their pizzas in. But that’s Masterchef…
Anyway, eager to see how Meaty and Quilty would wriggle out of demonstrating the impossible, I took me pew in front of the tele on Friday night with a bottle of red, and settled back for the show.
To cut to the chase, there were three aspects to their demo that would have raised the eyebrows of any experienced pizza cook:
- Their proofing times, which by any standard measure were hopelessly inadequate: 10-15 minutes initially, followed by a final proof of 30 minutes (significantly, Gaz added the disclaimer “or until doubled in size”).
- The excessive quantity of salt in the dough mix – almost triple what I use!
- The baking time: 4-5 minutes @ 250C. I’ve never gotten away with less than 8 minutes, and I top my pizzas more lightly than Gaz and Georgieboy did theirs.
On the plus side, their toppings had me salivating, and I had to admit that their finished pizzas looked quite presentable. That left me shaking my head, feeling quite unsettled.
Perhaps I’d been doing things the hard way? Perhaps their quick and easy method actually worked? Perhaps the pizza gurus I’d ‘discovered’ in my quest for a knockout home pizza were precious traditionalists clinging to outmoded methods?
Only one thing to do: follow their recipes (see here) to the letter and bake their pizzas myself.
I rescaled the dough to 300 gm per pizza, which is the size I like to bake, and cut the salt content by a third – which was still plenty salty enough. And I used instant dry yeast (in my experience, this is just as good in pizza dough as the fresh compressed yeast Gary Mehigan declared superior). These were my only deviations from their recipes. And here are the results:
‘Classic Margherita’ (actually, a true margherita doesn’t have capers, but that touch of Georgieboy’s added a nice tang)
They didn’t look bad. And indeed, the toppings were very good. But as suspected, the dough was well underproved (even though I doubled their final proof period of 30 minutes) and the resulting pizza bases were bready and bland, with a biscuit-like quality to the outer crust, rather than the sort of crisp flavoursome finish and light airy crumb that is characteristic of better doughs.
Surprisingly, their baking times were sufficient – I ended up pushing mine out to 6 minutes, but 5 probably would have sufficed. I can only conclude that underproofed dough requires less baking time than that which is properly leavened.
Verdict: I’m sure that Gaz and Georgieboy are well aware that a quality pizza dough requires a much longer proofing period than they specified in their ‘Masterclass’. No doubt their brief was to demo something quick and easy for their mass audience to try at home. So their pizzas are a compromise. And the end result reflects this.
If you’ve never baked your own pizzas at home, you will probably be less nit-picky than I and may enjoy these. They’re not bad – I was expecting worse. I can promise you, though, there are far better dough recipes around (see links below). They’ll take a lot longer than 1 hour, but once you know how good home-baked pizzas can be, you won’t be settling for the Masterchef compromise.