DAMN, my pizza’s good. I mean: fucking awesome. Every week for the past three years I just can’t believe I made it. Every week I make it and eat it with gusto – sometimes with ferocity because it’s so compelling – and I’m always left feeling satiated but ready for more. It’s a visceral, almost carnal experience. Really.
I let the Panasonic SD-253’s dough program do all the boring work, leaving me to manage the dough at its most sensual. It’s warm and fleshy and elastic – just heaven to handle. The program takes 45 minutes and, to be honest, the dough comes out fine after that but I find leaving it to rest for a further 30-45 minutes makes a noticeable difference – makes the result lighter and crispier.
I experimented with different dough recipes and variations of ingredients to see what effect they had. No salt was bad. Sugar doesn’t seem necessary. Nor does milk. I was initially aiming to recreate two types of dough I like most. I hate Dominoes, Pizza Hut and many other chains. But the thin but bready Pizza Express dough I do like. I also like Ligurian pizza dough, which tends to be drier and somehow more like Middle Eastern flat breads. Now I’m settled on:
- 3/4 tsp easy-blend yeast
- 240 g strong white flour
- 2/3 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 160 ml water
The result is distinctive and delicious. The important ratio seems to be 3:2 flour to water, so 300 g of strong white flour works well with 200 ml of water (and 1 tsp of dried yeast, 3/4 tsp of salt and 1.5 tbsp of olive oil). The dough is sticky but the trick seems to be to not fear using strong white flour to handle it. I stretch the dough to roughly shape it then I transfer it to a baking tray and press it into a final shape: a rectangular thin crust. That rests for 15 minutes to roughly double in size before I add sauce and toppings.
The pizza’s always split into at least two different toppings, sometimes three depending on what’s in the larder. The base is always tomato purée mixed with tinned tomatoes and mixed herbs or a Loyd Grossman pasta sauce (whatever needs to be eaten up really, just so long as tomato purée is used extensively for the intensity of flavour – but it’s always spread sparingly). Next comes mozzarella slices for texture and a little grated extra strong cheddar for flavour.
One half of the pizza topping is always blue cheese and chilli. The blue cheese is typically Danish but others work equally as well. The chillies are almost always green jalapeños – occasionally red. The other half of the pizza topping is usually very finely sliced red onion, very finely sliced peppers and some strips of sundried tomatoes. The important thing is to slice the onion and peppers quite fine, so they almost melt during cooking but the flavour is intense. It’s not so hard or fiddly to do and I don’t understand why restaurants can’t do the same. The sundried tomato strips tend to burn a little during cooking and that’s gorgeous.
Alternative toppings include rocket and parmesan (both added after cooking – the cheese flaked with a vegetable peeler). Camembert or Brie is another (it sticks to the teeth but has this delightfully dirty, slightly musty quality to it). Feta, pesto and olives is another. Very finely-sliced red onion is always used because it adds so much flavour.
The pizza’s cooked for 12 minutes at maximum temperature: Gas Mark 8. (I have to turn it halfway through because our oven’s rubbish at distributing heat.) By this point the base is brown and crisped enough and the cheese has melted and is on the verge of crisping up (but is still molten and moist).
The result is a dough that’s incredibly light and crispy but also tender. It has excellent mouthfeel and is a pleasure to masticate. The toppings are TDF.
Most weeks the pizza is excellent. Some weeks it’s like eating while stoned – in fact, I’m often left feeling a little heady, probably in part thanks to the chillies.
UPDATE (Sunday 22 November 2009)
When using 300 g of flour I now use just over a half teaspoon of salt and a single tablespoon of olive oil with most favourable results.
UPDATE (Sunday 28 March 2010)
When using 300 g of flour I now use a half teaspoon of yeast and a half teaspoon of caster sugar and leave the dough to rest for another hour for even more favourable results.
UPDATE (Monday 15 August 2011)
About a year ago I started using more water (180 ml to 240 g of flour), less yeast (under a half teaspoon), less salt (the same amount as the yeast) and some sugar (the same amount as the yeast). This dough is left for a couple of hours to let the yeast work for longer (although it’s still pretty good straight from the mixing). The result is awesome. The dough also makes excellent flat bread when pressed thin and grilled on a very high heat. Better still, our new cooker’s fan oven goes up to 260 C, which means the pizza cooks beautifully and evenly in around eight minutes :D