The week has all been leading up to one thing for me, Pizza.
Although i did have a short stint as a Pizzaiolo back in 2005, i never learnt how to make the pizza dough, only the stretching, topping and cooking, so this was my chance to complete the circle. I will say now that the last week has been one of the most enjoyable learning experiences of my life. Apart from some first day nerves when i began to panic that my teacher may be some crazed kitchen animal who would take exception to my trainers and beard, (both of which were expressly forbidden in the handout i was given at induction) the week has been fantastic. Everyone was friendly we had a great teacher and i am left with the feeling that i have a real grasp on the basics of bread baking, oh and a full freezer and a really large belly!
Pizza is one of those universal things, it combines all the important food groups, bread, vegetables, dairy and preferably some meat too. Hence i believe it deserves a full explanation.
Please see my step by step guide to making pizza.
1.Gather your ingredients, 500g strong white flour, 340g cold water, 10g salt and 5g fresh yeast
2. Add the fresh yeast and salt to the water and begin to dissolve (it does not have to fully dissolve just enough to help the process). Then add to the bowl of flour.
3. Using your hands, or if you have a dough scraper begin to slowly mix all the ingredients together. The idea is to incorporate all the flour and water together so that it begins to form a messy ball. The best method is to slowly fold the ingredients together from the outside in, in a circular motion, it helps if you keep moving the bowl as you go.
4. Once it has come together into the sticky ball seen above it is time to rest. Cover and leave for around 45 minutes.
5. After the dough has rested it is time to begin kneading. This is a more gentle process than i imagined. We are essentially folding and rotating the dough until it becomes stronger and ‘springy’ to the touch. The dough will be sticky so put some flour on the work top and your hands and gently fold the dough in half, rotate 90 degrees and fold again, keep repeating this process until you reach the desired consistency (springy). It should be approx a 5 minute process. It is important not to over work the dough, however a longer resting period after this process will help remedy over worked dough.
6. At this point you have a choice you can either ferment the dough for one hour at room temp and then refrigerate overnight, or leave it out at room temp for 3 hours, or even freeze it. (you could then defrost overnight allowing it to ferment at the same time) The longer the dough ferments the more flavour and structure it can develop. Beware you can over-ferment, leaving the dough unworkable. If it is a very warm room/day perhaps better to leave for longer in the fridge or shorter period at room temp.
Either way wrap the dough and put to one side.
*SEE POINT 9 RE: OVEN
7. Once the dough is fermented you can begin to divide and shape the dough ready for stretching and topping. First divide the dough into the desired size. This recipe makes at least 3 12″ pizzas but you can play around with sizes depending on your oven/pizza stone. To give you an idea 150g dough stretches to a approx 9″ thin crust pizza, the larger the pizza the harder it is to handle so smaller is probably best until you master getting it into the oven.
Flouring the bench take your weighed dough and pinch a corner and fold into the centre (this is not an exact science the idea is to pre shape the dough into a ball to help in the final process), turn the dough 90 degrees and fold corner into the middle repeat until you have gone a full 360. Then cupping your hands drag the dough towards you, turn and repeat a total of 4 times. The dough should now have formed itself into a mini ball, (the underside will not be perfectly smooth).
8. One more rest for 30 minutes and it is ready to be stretched, topped and cooked. The resting is an important part as it allows the dough to regain its lightness after each handling.
9. Well before you are ready to start stretching your dough you should have your oven cranked up to full heat, ideally with a pizza stone inside. If not you can use bricks or a slab of marble/granite, just beware it is liable to crack due to the heat! Anything that you can put in your oven to help retain heat is also useful as pizza is best cooked at as higher temp as possible. If you have a cast iron pan just stick it in the bottom of the oven, the heat it retains will help counter act what you lose when you open the oven door to slide the pizza in. An oven thermometer is also useful as oven thermostats tend to be inaccurate.
At this stage all your ingredients should be lined up and ready to go.
If you are using fresh mozzarella, buffalo, or cows, be sure to dry it on some paper towels first, the large amount of moisture they contain will make the pizza soggy.
Also if you are putting fresh basil on your pizza, either bury it under the cheese or better still add after the pizza is out of the oven.
Do not over sauce the pizza as this well increase the chance of it sticking to you board or oven and ripping leaving you pizzaless.
10. I did record a video of this but am having trouble importing so for now you will have to make do with an explanation.
You can drop a piece of dough into some flour, remove and place on your bench. using your fingertip gently mark a crust all the way round the edge.
You then need to pick the dough up and rest it on your knuckles and begin to stretch, as you rotate the dough on you knuckles gravity should begin to help and the dough will start to stretch as in the picture, remember depending how much dough you portioned will govern the size of the pizza, do not try to stretch too thin.
once you have the size of dough you want place onto a well floured surface ready to slide into the oven. Ideally a pizza peel, but you can use a wooden board or even the bottom of a baking tray. The thinner the edge the easier to get in your oven.
The key here is a well floured peel and speed. If your pizza base begins to stick you can try to get more flour underneath but it becomes very tricky once it starts to stick. A quick flick on you peel will tell you if it is stuck or not, the whole pizza should be free to move. Lightly add sauce and any toppings, again be careful a spot of spilt sauce on the peel in the wrong place will spell disaster. Once your are loaded up and sure your pizza is free to slide off it’s over to the oven.
You need a quick push-pull motion to deposit the pie into the oven, and your there!
As you can see, there is very little difference between the pizza made in class and the one at home. The charring seen on the crust of the class pizza is only achieved at 500F plus, but the texture of my home pizza was excellent. Very crispy crust with good rise and as you can see the stone really helps colour and flavour the base.
Have fun trying at home and send me pictures of your results…….