Here is an intrusion from the future (February 2010). When I wrote the post below, it was prior to stumbling upon a website that would set my pizza-making on an entirely new course. I’m referring to Jeff Varasano’s rave on sourdough pizzas. Quite simply, my strong conviction now, having tested Varasano’s assertions for myself, is that sourdough pizzas are better than any dry yeast version. The recipe below is fine, so go ahead and try it by all means, but if you want to bake the best, go straight to the following post and do not pass ‘Go’: Sourdough Pizzas – As Good As Home Oven Pizzas Get!
As promised in the previous post, here’s my recipe for DIY pizza. This is the result of a lot of research, trial and error. Over months of systematic tweaking (one change at a time, so the results could be validly compared), I am now satisfied that I am turning out pizzas that are pretty damned good. The benchmark by which I gauge pizza excellence is set by Sandrino’s wood-fired pizzas in Fremantle – the best I have had in Perth.
Mine are not yet quite as good, but they are close – if you can turn out better pizzas than these from a domestic electric oven, PLEASE post your suggestions under Comments. This is not about ego. It’s about sharing the love! And if you love pizza as I do, I know you’ll know exactly what I mean.
OK, on to the recipe.
First, read the following:
Right, are you all sitting comftibold, two-square on your botty? Then I’ll begin….(If you haven’t heard Stanley Unwin’s intro to The Small Faces’ eccentric and wonderful Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album, you’ll be WTF-ing all over the place…see here and here if you require further illumination).
30cm pizza pan
egg flip or bakers’ peel
large mixing bowl
smaller bowl for yeast/water mix
bread-and-butter knife for mixing
Dough Ingredients (for two 30cm pizzas)
1 satchel dry yeast (5gm)
1 cup cold water (yes, cold)
3/4 to 1 1/4 teaspoons salt*
1/2 tablespoon unrefined brown sugar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/4 cups pizza flour, sifted
3/4 cup fine semolina**
1 tablespoon rye flour (processed, not whole-grain)***
milk (as needed – see Method below)
*I use a bit over 1/2 teaspoon of salt, due to my partner’s low-sodium requirements…you do need that much, because salt has an effect on the yeast and contributes to the quality of the dough. If flavour was the sole consideration, I’d use 1 – 1.5 teaspoons of salt.
** I’ve found the semolina keeps the risen dough more flexible and workable than using flour alone.
***Optional, but rye is a natural dough enhancer and adds to the flavour.
Knead by hand for 12 minutes.
Tomato Sauce for Base
1 clove garlic chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
black pepper (freshly ground)
Heat olive oil in frypan over moderate heat. Add garlic, fry for 30 seconds (don’t let it colour), add tomatoes and herbs. Mix, add black pepper (and salt if you want – I leave it out). Cook gently to a thick, spreadable sauce consistency. Leave to cool.
Heat your oven to 230 degrees, with the pizza stone inside on the uppermost shelf. Leave enough room beneath for the pizza to go in on a pizza pan.
Divide dough into two balls. Leave one aside, covered, in bowl.
If you’re experienced in tossing pizzas to shape them, this is your chance to show off. If you’re a mere mortal, don’t use a rolling pin, which tends to iron out all the air from the dough – do it this way:
Flatten the dough out on your bench top, using the heels of your hands and fingers. Work the dough outwards into a circular shape, trying to keep the base even and avoiding any tears or thin patches. If the dough contracts and is hard to work, let it rest for 5-10 minutes, during which the gluten will relax.
When it is about the right size for your pizza pan, sprinkle the pan LIBERALLY with corn meal. Without this, your pizza will stick to the pan while baking. Pick the pizza dough up carefully and place in pan. Gently work the edges to the sides of the pan (or don’t bother if you are not fussy about shape). Make sure you have a raised rim to give the pizza a nice edge.
Add your toppings
Start by smearing olive oil over the base with your fingers, making sure to include the rim, then lightly sprinkle with dried oregano. Now spread the tomato sauce thinly. Then add your toppings. Less is better than more! Don’t overburden your base.
Put pizza (in the pan) on bottom shelf of oven. Bake for 5 minutes.
Now to the tricky part. Quickly remove the pan and slip the pizza off it and on to the stone, using the egg flip to gently free any sticking sections. If you have spread enough corn meal on to your pan, you should be able to ease the pizza over the edge of the pan and shake it on to the stone easily. If not, you might have to bake it a bit longer in the pan before again attempting to transfer it to the stone. (Don’t feel too bad if you stuff up – it’s almost a given that you’ll make a mess of a couple of your first pizzas before you get this step right. They might not look great, but the flavour will still be there).
Bake for another 7 minutes or so on the stone. Timing the baking perfectly is partly a matter of experience and feel. If it is nicely browned on top, that is often the best indication that it’s ready. Bake it too long and the crust will be hard and brittle, too short and the base won’t be cooked through. There is some margin for error here, but it is small. Keep the faith – you will get better with a bit of experience.
The good ol’ margarita (or margherita, if you prefer the Italian spelling) is hard to beat IMO. That is, slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella (pieces distributed over the top, rather than grated), with black pepper ground over the finished pizza and a few fresh basil leaves scattered around.
Another one I love:
Fresh ricotta crumbled over the tomato sauce topping, with mushrooms, pre-fried eggplant slices, red onion slices and pepperoni, with pieces of mozzarella here and there.
Tomato sauce topping, plus pipped olive halves and pepperoni (Mondo Doro hot cacciatore is the best I’ve come across in Perth – IGA stocks the Mondo Doro lines), and mozzarella scattered around (or grated), finished off with fresh-torn basil leaves.
Oh, and I always serve my pizzas with fresh-cut chilli in quality olive oil. I’m salivating all over the keys as I type.
Experiment! Do it YOUR way – this is the beauty of home-made pizzas! You can make them exactly how you want them. And once you’ve got the hang of it, you can expect to turn out something like this (one of my earlier efforts, before sodium content was an issue):
Happy baking! But a warning: once you start turning out masterpieces of your own, you’ll never be able to look a Domino’s, Pizza Hut or Eagle Boys abomination in the eye again – not without feeling compelled to sneer contemptuously at the sorry-looking plastic mutant, anyway.
Best of baking to you!