Nearly everyone loves pizza, but rather than it being a uniquely unifying dish that somehow pleases everyone, it is its flexibility that allows for it to be transformed in to something to suit almost all tastes that makes it so successful (even dislikers of cheese or tomato need not be left out). They are also very cheap to make, you can make enough dough for ten pizzas from one 80p bag of flour. Once my interest in cooking grew, the idea of being able to make my very own pizza seemed so appealing but at the same time so distant, as the ‘unknown’ of making dough from scratch deceived me in to thinking it would be too difficult. I remember the excitement I felt when my old housemate Matt (with whom I shared an intimate food bond) returned from our local pub with news that the chef would let us have some real dough left over from the day. I fear this perceived difficulty is a common myth and makes many resort to using (and then giving up on) the miserable pre-cooked bases available in supermarkets, whose badness actually perpetuates the myth that it must be extremely difficult to do a good job with. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Pizza Hut and Dominos are behind those awful supermarket packaged bases, creating a constructed quality gap between ‘make your own’ pizzas, and their superior £15+ factory babies that cost them 87p to make.
You need to start making the dough 2 to 2 ½ hours before making the actual pizza so plan for this, it’s not difficult. I would add half an hour to that when estimating dinner time, to allow for the actual pizza making and cooking after the dough has risen. Although I like to present every recipe as a single portion quantity, I always make enough for two because of the time and planning it takes, and either leave some dough for the next day, or part cook then freeze one base for later use. Once opened, fresh mozzarella only keeps for one night in the fridge and as I sometimes only use half per pizza, this is another reason that I make two pizzas per dough session.
As with every recipe, you should experiment until you get what you want. The quantities here are for a large average pizza, a thinner pizza would require a smaller proportion of softer dough. I’ve found pizza dough (perhaps all dough) to be particularly sensitive to slight inaccuracies in the liquid to flour ratio, however it’s good to experience the difference as you may prefer a softer more flexible dough to a firmer dough, or vice versa. I’ve suggested 110ml of water as a starting point, when you are confident at handling dough of this consistency, try a further 5-10ml the next time, or work from a 2:3 water to flour ratio. It is more likely that you’ll end up with a very even base if you have a drier, firmer dough, however, a stiffer dough can be hard to knead and even harder to roll out due its greater elasticity. The more you knead, the more uniform the blend of the dough will become, and again the more even the resulting base shall be. An even base may not be your intention though!
When you add the yeast to the warm water, it should dissolve and a foam should start to rise to the surface. As this takes a few minutes, get this started first then you can get the rest of your ingredients and equipment out of the cupboards and prepared for use, while you are waiting. Do not put the salt in until after, because it will kill the yeast, as will water that is too hot. Important: Cover your yeast! Yeast ain’t happy under a bright light so keep it in a dark place while it’s activating. Make sure your bowl is totally opaque, or even just prepare the yeast in a mug and cover with a saucer for best possible results.
Let the dough rise at room temperature. Punch down the dough before rolling to press out the air. Keep turning the base or rolling in different directions for a round base.
I use fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for topping. I tend to spread the tomato sauce on the dough then partially cook the pizza before adding the mozzarella, because it cooks far quicker (as do some other ingredients). Fresh mozzarella can also create a lot of liquid, so squeeze the ball over the sink beforehand.
To make the tomato sauce you need to remove the tomatoes from their skins by blanching them. With a knife, make a surface cut that runs all the way around the tomato, boil some water and submerge the tomatoes for around ten seconds. Remove them and peel with your fingers. The tomato should still be firm, if you leave the tomatoes in the water for too long they will begin to cook and soften, and more of the tomato will pull away with the skin. Some tomatoes can be more stubborn that others! Make sure you remove the tough middle from each tomato. Simmer the sauce to reduce the liquid so that the dough doesn’t get too wet, so start this while the dough is still rising, and also turn on the oven. If the sauce does not have enough flavour, add tomato puree, small amounts at a time.
110 ml warm water
Pinch of sugar
1 ¼ tsp yeast
– Beat ’til cloudy then leave for ten minutes in the dark
– Yeast should foam
175g strong white bread flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
Tbsp olive oil
– Mix in bowl then knead on a clean floured work surface or pastry board for up to 8 minutes, return to bowl, cover and leave to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours
– Dough unkneaded, lightly kneaded, thoroughly kneaded
2-3 blanched & blended / finely chopped tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
1 clove grated / crushed garlic
– Roll out the dough, transfer to a tray sprinkled with coarse semolina or plain flour and stretch further by hand
– Add the tomato sauce, oven 220 degrees for 8-10 minutes
½-1 sliced fresh mozzarella ball
Pinch coarse salt
Pinch ground black pepper
– Oven for another 3-5 minutes
Handful basil leaves
If you are in search of more of a takeaway type creation, I would recommend using dried grated mozzarella combined with a little grated cheddar, this does not need the shorter cooking time of fresh mozzarella so add to the pizza at the beginning before you first place it in the oven. Don’t overload your pizza, many ingredients give off liquid, and the whole base could become soaked. I know many of you will want the takeaway experience, but a successful pizza is about balance! “Cheese should be an ingredient, not a layer” – André D.
More pizza recipes to come…