Sunday, 12 April 2009

How to make a pizza locally

Thanks to Paco, who has done some detective work, I now know what Obama's continent-crossing pizza looked like. OK, the photo in question at that last link is from a different pizza parlour, but it shows the sort of deep pan pizza that the migrating chef in question was asked to make.

I took one look at that deep dish pizza and went "bleah". I now understand why the yanks refer to these things as "pizza pies". I'd simply remove the first word and call it a pie. And a yucky looking one at that.

I made pizza last night. It was a spur of the moment thing, so the dough did not have all day to rise, as it should. However, here is how I do it:

  • 15 grams of yeast
  • 10 grams salt
  • 500 grams flour
  • 320 grams warm water
  • 50 grams olive oil
Question - Why have I done all these measurements in grams, rather than mls for the water and oil?

Answer - That's because weighing them is much more accurate than measuring in a jug. You are much more likely to get a dough of the perfect consistency if you weight rather than measure. This recipe is from the book Dough - do yourself a favour and buy it.

Question - Does that mean I need some electric scales?

Answer - Yes. Go spend 70 bucks, or whatever they cost, on electric scales. They are vital to getting it right.

Question - do the scales come with batteries?

Answer - how should I know?

I use a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook to make the dough.

Question - what if I can't afford $600 for a Kitchenaid mixer?

Answer - get ready to have forearms like Charles Atlas, because you will have to knead the dough by hand.

Question - can I use a breadmaker to do the mixing?

Answer - I've never had a breadmaker - that is what the Kitchenaid is for. I'm not going to stop you trying.

You can get all fancy if you like a rub the yeast into the flour in advance and all that sort of thing, but I just tip all the ingredients into the bowl and let it knead for 10 minutes. When the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, it is getting there.

Question - should I knead at high speed or low speed?

Answer - how fast can you knead by hand? Not very fast. The mixer does not need to be set to 11 to knead it properly. You will know the dough is done when you can stretch it and it bounces back to its original shape like elastic. If you have never seen this before, trust me - it does happen. It should be like Mr Fantastic in the Fantastic Four.

Question - what if my dough is not elastic?

Answer - frankly, it will be easier to roll out into a circle, because the bloody stuff won't keep contracting each time you roll it out. Don't sweat it - it's only a pizza, and you are not cooking for the President. But if you are cooking for Kevin Rudd, maybe you should sweat it. He's sure to notice, and will yell loudly and swear if the dough is not just right.

This is enough to make 3 thin crust pizzas, assuming you have large pizza stones upon which to cook the pizza.

Question - can I use this dough to make just one thick crust pizza?

Answer - yes. But if you want a thick crust pizza, I suggest you give up now and call Pizza Hut, or one of those other companies that specialises in making awful pizza.

Here comes the fun part.

I told you to use 500 grams of flour. I didn't tell you what sort of flour to use though.

The Italian shops around here sell Tipoo 00 flour, which is supposed to be the best thing for pizza dough. It also costs 3 times as much as normal flour. I don't bother with it, because we like a completely different type of crust in this household.

My mix is usually 50% white flour, 40% wholemeal flour and 10% semolina. The semolina gives it crunchiness, and the wholemeal gives it body. So if you want a fat, soft, doughy pizza base, go away now, pick up your phone and call Dominos. You are wasting your time reading any further.

I have experimented with this mix quite a bit. The pizzas last night had more wholemeal than usual simply because I ran out of white flour.

Question - can I use 100% wholemeal?

Answer - yes, but it tastes like cardboard. Man invented white flour for a reason. Don't be afraid of it, you luddite.

Question - should I used coarse or fine semolina?

Answer - use whatever your shop sells you. I have used both. I use what I can get.

Question - can I add more semolina?

Answer - no. For this mix, use no more than 1/4 cup of semolina. The dough becomes "sandy" if you add too much.

Question - can I use something other than olive oil?

Answer - what am I? Jamie Oliver? We are making Italian pizza. Do you think the Italians would use something else, like fish oil? Use your noggin. No, scrap that. Go ring Eagle Boys Pizza and have them deliver something. Get your eyeballs off my recipe.

15 grams of yeast by the way works out to 1.5 tablespoons - I measured that last night.

Question - should I use fresh or packet yeast?

Answer - use whatever your shop will sell you. I have hunted high and low for fresh yeast, and have been unable to find it anywhere locally. I keep a 280gm tin of instant yeast in the freezer - that works well enough most of the time. I also keep all my flour in the freezer.

Question - why do you keep your flour in the freezer?

Answer - because I like to sprinkle frozen flour on my ice cream. No, you knucklehead - it's because we are plagued by moths that eat flour and leave eggs and webby nests in our flour. Neither moth eggs or moths can survive in our freezer.

Once the dough has kneaded sufficiently, turn it out and divide it into three blobs. I have a big sheet of fancy plastic of some sort that is great for rolling out pastry - I flour the sheet lightly, then put the blobs on that, because they don't stick much. Spread the blobs of dough out, because they will expand. Cover and allow to rise.

Question - what should I cover them with?

Answer - a tea towel will do.

Question - how long should they rise for?

Answer - in summer, that's been as short as 20 minutes. Yesterday, it was cool, so I sat them on the stove top and turned the oven on to 100 degrees. That warmed up the vicinity a bit, but it still took them over an hour to reach a decent size. Time is a factor of temperature. Make the dough, go blog or something, then pop in and have a look every now and then.

Question - I'm hungry. Do they really need to rise for that long?

Answer - no. I have gone straight from making the dough to cooking it when famished. You won't get the full flavour and texture of great dough, but you will get food in your stomach. What is more important - avoiding starvation or having some extra bubbles in your dough?

Question - what do I put on top?

Answer - less is more. I like a thin smear of tomato sauce, some bits of torn up mozzarella and basil and nothing more. A pizza in my opinion should not drip. Bits of it should not fall off the sides of the crust. Great trails of molten cheese should not be draped over every bit of furniture. But that is a personal thing. If you want to ladle the contents of your fridge on top, go for it - but just remember this. The more you add to the top, the soggier your base will be. If you want a crunchy base with bite, keep the topping thin.

This is probably not the way the Italians would favour it. I have eaten a lot of "street pizza" in Italy, where they sell rectangular slabs of pizza from shop fronts. They fold it over and serve it in a sheet of paper, so you can eat it without it dripping everywhere. The base, by necessity, needs to be flexible enough to bend without tearing, so it has to be a bit soggy. I just don't like it that way. I like to be able to hold it by the edge and the point does not droop.

A tasty pizza, I have found, does not rely on lashings of ingredients. You reach a point where more ingredients fail to add any more flavour - an economist would describe this as the "marginal propensity to tickle your tastebuds". You can still have lots of different toppings - just use them sparsely. Don't mound them up. As a rule of thumb, you should always be able to see the red tomato sauce under your ingredients. If you have dumped them on an inch thick, scrap off 3/4 of an inch of topping. If you are feeling hungry for meat, go eat a thick steak. This is a pizza, not a steak with dough under it.

Now, for the tomato sauce.

You can buy a jar of this stuff in the supermarket if you want. That's cheap and easy, but if you are going to the trouble of making your own dough (instead of grabbing a pizza base from the freezer at the supermarket, or just picking up the phone and ordering one), then you might as well go to the trouble of making your own sauce.

The next step from buying a jar of sauce is to buy two tins of tomatoes and make sauce from them.

Buy whole tomatoes, not chopped ones. The beauty of using tinned tomatoes is that you can keep a few tins in the cupboard and always have the ingredients on hand for pizza. They last a long time - if you are like my mother, and ignore use-by dates, they will last until the next ice age.

Open the tin and drain the tomatoes. Let all the water go down the plug - it's just water, sugar and red colouring. Ignore it. Let it go. You are not wasting anything.

Get a strainer. Put on an old shirt. You might also want to stand on the lawn to do this. Put a tomato in your hand and squeeze it, squeezing out all the excess water. Sure as eggs, some of the water and seeds will squirt out and land on your shirt, so put on an old shirt. Some will also end up spraying all over the kitchen, which is why it is a good idea to go outside and do it.

Do that for two tins of about 440gm.

You will now be lefty with a sorry amount of tomato. You started with two big tins of tomato, and now you have barely any left. That sounds wasteful, but that's just the way it is. Tomatoes contain a lot of water. That water has to go.

Question - how much should I squeeze?

Answer - the more water you leave in the tomato, the greater the risk you run of soggy pizza. Don't worry - you do not need masses of tomato to make a tasty pizza. Regardless of how much water you squeeze out, you are not removing flavour from the tomato. You might lose a small amount of flavour with the water, but the bulk is in the flesh.

Throw the tomato into a blender along with a good pinch of salt, a dash of sugar, a small glug of good balsamic vinegar, a dash of olive oil, a handful of oregano and as much garlic as you can handle - I will happily throw in 4 to 6 cloves of garlic - it is up to you. Do not blend it too much - it does not matter if it is chunky. This is home made pizza, not factory made pizza. Blobs of tomato add to the rustic aura.

Question - you talk about "glugs" and "dashes". How much is that exactly?

Answer - here, you have to trust your taste buds. It is your pizza after all. You may think you have screwed it up entirely, but I wouldn't bother too much. The tomato flavour is only one amongst many on the pizza, so even if it tastes a bit odd on its own, it may turn out to be magnificent when combined with other ingredients on the pizza. If it is a total disaster when cooked, throw the pizza out and order one from Pizza Hut.

I once had dinner in a very good restaurant where we ordered a bottle of sticky to go with dessert. The wine came first, it was opened and we tried it. None of us liked it. The sommelier came over and tried it and said, "Yes, it tastes odd, but wait until you have tried it with food". So we sat on it until the cheese and desserts arrived.

With food, it was magnificent. On its own, it was terrible. Think about that when you are tasting your sauce. Do not bother about making something that tastes perfect on its own.

That was an important lesson to me. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time trying to get the tomato base to taste how I thought it should taste - but I was tasting it in isolation. I found that later on, when combined with cheese and ham and other ingredients, the whole did not taste as I thought it should. For that reason, do not add too much sugar. A dash - like half a teaspoon - may be more than enough. You just need a hint of sweetness, not an overpowering amount.

The thing I hate about the jars of sauce that you can buy is that they are full of sugar. If you open a jar and taste it, you think "yum, nice and tasty", but they bugger a pizza completely if you ask me - they just have too much sugar for a good pizza. You are eating it as a main course, not a dessert.

That's why I also like a dash of good balsamic vinegar - I like the tartness. But each to their own.

As for oregano, I have a mat of it growing in the garden - it's grown to about 1 metre by 1 metre. I cut of 3 or 4 stalks, strip the leaves and throw them in the blender. Oregano is a personal taste thing - I think it is one of the key ingredients to a pizza, so I recommend throwing in heaps. However, you can throw in too much. You will simply have to make a few dozen pizzas to find out the right amount for you.

Don't forget the salt. Forget this nonsense about heart disease. A store bought pizza is loaded with salt, because it provides flavour. Ever wondered why you need to drink a lot of fluid when eating at a pizza parlour? You are eating a salt lick with toppings.

Then there is the ultimate way to make tomato sauce.

We've recently found that we can buy packets of vine ripened small tomatoes - they are bigger than a grape tomato, but smaller than a golf ball. You need 20-24 of them for 3 pizzas. This method produces expensive tomato sauce - it will cost three or four times that of tinned tomatoes.

Turn the over to 100 degrees.

Find an oven tray - for me, that means getting down on my knees and searching through a badly organised cupboard full of pots and pans.

Cut the tomatoes in half and plonk them on the tray, skin side down (ie, cut side up - the flat side should be pointing up).

Sprinkle them with salt and castor sugar. Yes, you need a reasonable amount of sugar. Not too much, but a good sprinkle. Don't you hate recipes like this? How much is a "good sprinkle"? I have no idea.

If you want to get very fancy, top each tomato with a bit of sliced garlic and torn basil. You can even scoop out the seeds if you are being super fancy and put garlic and basil into the scooped out shell. I don't bother usually, but I am going to try that next time. You can thank Heston Blumenthal for that.

Let them slowly dry for a few hours. You really want to remove most of that water. I didn't remove enough water the other night, and after I smushed them, I had to put them on the stove top to boil more water away.

It's a good idea to start this a few hours before the dough. Then, when you make the dough, you can let it rest and rise on top of a nice warm stove.

Mush the tomatoes in a blender with garlic, oregano etc. Because they still have skins, they will not mush to a smooth sauce - if you care about these things, remove the skins before putting the tomatoes in the oven. Personally, I like the skins. They give it a rustic, non-store bought look.

The rest is up to you and your oven.

Here is a tip about ovens. If your oven is useless and pathetic like mine, and will not heat beyond 200 degrees, then you need to be really meagre with your toppings. Your oven will not get hot enough to cook the pizza properly, and the more you load it up with, the harder it will be to cook.

Question - should I buy a proper pizza oven?

Answer - in this economic climate? Are you mad? If your name is Woin Swan and you are trying to stimulate things, go right ahead.

And that is it. How to make pizza without flying someone 860 miles to your house.

I am thinking about trying a different way of cooking them next time - this is another Heston Blumenthal idea. I am going to put an upside down cast iron frying pan under the grill and let it heat for 20 minutes. I'll then make the pizza on a flat board and slide it onto the bottom of the super hot frying pan and slide it back under the grill for 3 minutes. According to Heston, that is the best way to get the required heat in a domestic kitchen - a pizza should ideally cook in 3 minutes, which requires heat of supa nova proportions. This pizza will be smaller than my usual creations, since the bottom of my only cast iron pan is smaller than the pizza stones that I normally use - but does it really matter if I am making small pizzas rather than large?

Now it's time to think about lunch.


kae said...

Hi BoaB
When I visit at some future date, will you make me pizza?
I've only got as far as the crust (thin and crispy), and I love it already.

I hate doughy, thick, bread-like crusts. I used to make the ex and I pizzas from scratch in Melbourne. I hate the thick crust pizzas, with the sprayed on top. Yuck. Too homogenous.

WV: stene
they can't even spell it!

M said...

Finally I have worked out your next career move. You know I was thinking politician but really those skeletons...

Anyway, now I'm thinking cookbook writer. GUYS would actually read your cookbooks and if you put a section explaining which beer to drink with which recipe and how much should be drunk while cooking as well as while eating then I think you have a winner.

Margo's Maid said...

Excellent work, BOAB.

One of these weekends we ought to have an online cook-off - recipes of our choice - with instructions and photos as proof of our outstanding work.

Steve of Ferny Hills said...

Thanks Boab

And I thought I was the only one who liked thin and crispy. IMO doughy bases are an abomination whose fans (and those who like Hawaiians and Aussie pizzas) should be punished severely by God!

I cook pizzas on a 400x400 mm (16") floor tile at 180C. I have been a little disappointed with the result. I'll try cranking up the heat a bit (a lot!).