Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Slice Of Heaven

Some are born to paint masterpieces or compose symphonies. It's in their blood, encoded on their DNA. Similarly, I think my husband was born knowing how to make pizza. He is Italian and arguably they invented it. It is also said that they invented concrete but that's not what this post is about......

I have tried to make pizza dough a few times, and I have made other yeasty doughs for bread or crumpets with reasonable success, but I relinquish pizza dough to the Department of David (DOD). He just has that thing...a special way with it.

Last year we decided that the addition of a wood fired pizza oven would be a good investment in our hobby of gathering our friends and family around with food and drink and conviviality. And it has proven to be hugely successful.

As I write, we have just wrapped up a day with some of our best friends, wine and pizza, sitting in the sun, between the pizza oven and the vegetable garden. It would not take to much imagination to believe that you were actually in Italy.... just sublime!

But down to business... Please don't be put off or intimidated by making your own dough. It is really quite simple, and low on the effort and skill scales. We tend to make larger amounts and divide it up into usable portions. I place it in my beloved and trusty zip lock bags and freeze it so that we have it on hand anytime we want, with out much planning in advance. You could even roll out the dough and top it so that all you have to do is bake it in a hot oven for a few minutes! Imagine doing in that instead of dialing! (please note: frozen and thawed dough won't be quite as light as fresh dough, but the result is still pretty good in my opinion)

Once you try this you will be rewarded by a far superior product than the local takeaway place can provide. And you will be amazed at how cheap it is to make. Add that to the rewarding feeling of making something from scratch and you will be reluctant to ever get take out pizza again.

First we should talk about flour. We use bakers flour, also known as strong flour. This means it has a higher gluten content than your normal plain flour. Gluten is the protein found in flour and provides the elasticity in the dough that traps the tiny air bubbles that the growing yeast produces, making our bread light and fluffy.
You can use plain flour if you don't have bakers flour handy, it will still be a good result.

We also roll our dough out on a sprinkling of fine polenta or semolina, both of which are granular and make it easier to transfer the dough in and out of the oven. It stops the dough sticking and also gives the crust a very nice crispy crunch.

When it come to the yeast, we find that the dried yeast is the most reliable and readily available. You can use fresh yeast if you want, but it needs to be dissolved in water first. You can skip this step with dried yeast. The other thing about fresh yeast is that it is difficult to source in small quantities and you can not be sure of its viability until you dissolve it and wait around to see if it develops. The dried yeast in air tight sachets springs to life as soon as it hits water and starch it lives off in the flour.
But on to the recipe everyone wants!

Pizza Dough

500gm flour

7g of dried yeast

2 pinches of salt

1 pinch sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

enough water to form dough


In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt & sugar. Mix well and form a well in the centre. Add oil and a small amount of water to the well and with a fork or your fingers, beginning to combine flour from the edges until it's more water is required. gradually add water until all of the flour forms a dough. turn dough ball out onto floured surface and knead with the heel of your hand, stretching the dough as you go, folding back, and turning 90 degrees after each knead. Sprinkle with more flour, as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky, and bounces back when dented with your knuckle.

Return to the mixing bowl you used, and smear with a little olive oil over the surface of the dough. cover with a loose piece of plastic. I like to save dry cleaners plastic for this. You could use a plastic shopping bag as well, or just plain old cling film. We also cover the whole thing with a cloth. Place in a warm place to allow the yeast to 'prove' and the dough will rise. It will at least double in size.

Dough after a couple of hours in a
warm room
Dough freshly kneaded

We like to prepare our dough the night before or at least the morning of the day we intend to use it. The longer you let it prove the better. I also like to knock the dough back at least once. 'Knocking back' is taking the dough after the first rising, and kneading the air out of it, kneading for a minute or so, back into a ball, and returning it for a further rising. This makes the starch, (which is the yeasts' food) more available to the yeast and results in a better end product.

Before we make the pizzas, we roll the dough into small balls, ready for use.

We have found that making smaller individual pizzas more successful than larger ones as they cook through in a shorter amount of time and are crispier. Roll the dough balls in coarse durum wheat semolina or polenta to prevent sticking to surfaces.

Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature it goes to. If you can, invest in a pizza stone or a stone or clay plate. If you don't have anything like this, a metal tray will be fine. Place the trays or stones into the oven so that they heat up with the oven.

Getting the oven heated up. The casserole dish
contains a leg of lamb which we slow roasted for
5 hours and ate for our main course.

Place the dough on a small chopping board or edgeless flat tray sprinkled with a little polenta or semolina. Top your rolled dough with whatever toppings are your preference. Slide the pizza from the board on to the hot oven tray while it's still in the oven.  The grainy polenta or semolina will act like tiny ball bearings and the dough should roll straight off the board and on to the tray.

We think that sparsely topped pizzas with no more than 3 or 4 ingredients are the best and most authentic. If you pile the dough up with ingredients, it will be soggy and heavy.

Pizzas cooking on fire brick or terracotta tiles

Cook until golden brown around the edges. Remove and serve.

Our Toppings

These have become our stock standard toppings that we prepare in advance and are favourites of our guests and ourselves. But please use your imagination and make sure you let me know what your favourite pizza topping is.

Caramelized onions: finely sliced red onions, in olive oil, bay leaf, fresh rosemary & thyme sprigs, splash of balsamic vinegar. Cook on a very low heat in a saute pan for at least 40 minutes.

We use these as an alternative base to tomato, or as a topping.

Roasted capsicums: flame scorched on the skin until blackened and then removed from skin and sliced.

Soft bocconcini mozzarella cheese

Finely sliced prosciutto (parma ham)

Chorizo sausage

Tomato pasata (bottled sieved tomato) : used as a base on the rolled dough

Dressed leaves of baby spinach or rocket (arugula)  to scatter over cooked pizzas

Parmigiano cheese to sprinkle over after cooking

Please write any questions you have in the comments below. I am more than happy to answer any queries, or if you need some advice on my instructions. I would also like to hear what your favourite pizza toppings are, or combinations of toppings, whether it's something you've made yourself or eaten from a pizza restaurant.

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  1. Here to tell you the best pizza I have ever had....I am Italian and I lived in Europe!!!!! Its so yummy!

  2. just came across your blog! you have some great insights on your posts! wow that pizza looks AMAZING! yumm!

  3. Annie,

    Great post Annie! This pizza looks amazing!

  4. Thank you so much. Your words are lovelyand very encouraging! Xxx

  5. Looks fabulous, I just found you on twitter so looking forward to reading you!

  6. Oh oh oh ! Anne, I can barely, and I do mean barely, wait to try this!, life is good so I won't waste a moment being jealous of your wood-fired pizza oven...but in the interest of full disclosure, it DOES have me drooling!