During the past few weeks I made quite a number of pizzas, reason being I’m still testing out my oven. I didn’t want to bake before making sure I wasn’t about to burn anything. A couple of friends whom I visited last Saturday are still waiting for a lemon drizzle cake. And this morning, when I actually had some time on my hands, I ran out of sugar, so the cake just has to wait. My mum came over for a short visit though and we made some pizzas for lunch.
Making good pizzas is a sure way of being the most popular person around. OK perhaps it’s not just that but you’ll be close. A few years back, one particular Sunday afternoon was spent baking pizzas for our friends and their little girls. I have never seen the little ones eat so much before – they asked for seconds, as long as their pizza slices where plain tomato with plenty of cheese. The grown-ups opted for a little more. Many moons ago I liked a loaded pizza, but over the years I learnt that the classic Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and a little bit of fresh basil after you take it out of the oven) is always best, especially when making it at home. I must add that I’m partial to chorizo and mushrooms, just because they are two of my favourite things to eat.
I don’t believe you can ever achieve a so-called professional result when using a normal kitchen oven. No one has an oven at home that can be set to around 480°C. So the only option we have is to set it to the maximum temperature possible. Having said that I don’t think that going to a restaurant will necessarily guarantee the most amazing pizza you’ve ever tasted. Making good pizza at home is possible, only not that easy.
To some extent this morning I was still experimenting. I have been doing some reading on the subject and I found three very reliable sources of knowledge: Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily, Daniel Young, that pizza genius, all-round nice guy and brains behind Young & Foodish, and if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty check out Felicity Cloake. I had to do a double take on Giorgio Locatelli’s method for making the dough. He insists on adding milk and sugar which I found quite unusual, but I’m in no position to disagree. On the contrary, I’m intrigued. I must make a note of that and try it. Also he prefers to leave the dough to rise for 24 hours in the fridge. Mr. Young likes the dough to be soft and light, something which I still need to work on. I just can’t quite figure out how to get that texture, though I suspect it must have something to do with giving it a longer time to rest, and a little less baking time. The flour also plays a part. I used ’00’ today which is different than the strong bread flour I usually use. (Here in Malta ’00’ is readily available in my neck of the woods, although I know that bread flour is available from some bread bakers on order.) Giving it extra minutes in the oven makes the dough too crispy.
At this stage I have learnt the following:
- Preheat the oven well to the maximum temperature possible. The oven I have now takes a good 25-30 minutes to reach 240°C. (The extra 10°C Locatelli recommends unfortunately has to be ignored.)
- Top the dough with the tomato sauce and the rest of the toppings just before you put the pizza in the oven.
- Green, red or yellow peppers are a no-no on pizzas. The water content in these makes the end result too soggy.
- Cook the pizzas one by one in the oven. Don’t be tempted to place one on the top shelf and one underneath. All the steam from the pizza on the bottom shelf will seep through the base of the one on the top, making it impossible for the base to crisp up. Incidentally this is also true for cakes. Trust me – it happens!
- If you won’t be bothered with pizza stones, and in my opinion you shouldn’t fret about these, invest in a couple of screens (See photo.) These will ensure that the base is cooked through.
Extra point: I’m not a food snob (I will eat snails) but I cannot bear any beans or peas on mine.
This morning this is what I used for making two pizzas:
- ½ teaspoon dried active yeast
- 200g plain Italian ’00’ flour
- 100g strong bread wholemeal flour
- 1 x 15ml tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 190ml warm water
Preheat the oven to 240°C or to the very maximum marking you have.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, olive oil and salt, and stir until every granule of yeast and salt disappears into the liquid. Add half of the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and continue to mix everything using clean hands.
Tip the dough on a clean well-floured surface and work it well. Cover your hands in flour and you will be fine. Leave the dough to rise on an oiled tray or bowl, making sure to cover it with a damp towel. Leave it to double in size, at least for a couple of hours. (I never bother to leave it in the fridge for 24 hours because I tend to make it on a whim. But please do if you find the time.) Take the dough out of the bowl or tray, divide it in two, and roll each piece onto two pizza screens.
Choose your favourite toppings and cook the pizzas either one at a time or if you have a larger oven, place them side by side, and bake until the cheese has melted and the dough has turned golden. The base should be cooked through and crispy.
I am curious to hear about any recipe which works for you, and keep me posted if you try this one.