REPOST: 25 years in the quest for the perfect pizza

I get lots of requests on social media for some of my recipes so i’m republishing this article which was originally published in True Loaf magazine 10 years ago! If your do the maths then we have been making pizzas on a Saturday night for 25 years!

For the last 15 years or so Saturday night has been pizza night in our house during which time we have been on a quest to produce the perfect pizza base!

Of course what makes the perfect base will entirely depend on what kind of pizza your prefer. Over the years we have eaten our fair share of chain pizza’s – from Pizza hut to Pizza Express (our favourite) and sampled many in restaurants across the world – including some fantastic ones in Italy. Our preferred pizza has a thin and crispy base with a light texture but is firm enough to be picked up and eaten with the fingers rather than with a knife and fork. To reach the Holy Grail of pizzedom we have experimented with a variety of recipes and techniques – the oddest of which involved a Tupperware container of flour and oil and a lot of vigorous shaking – and have used a variety of different fours and yeasts. We have also involved our children in the process (now 14 and 10) who at a very early age quite literally got stuck into the joys of dough making.

So with all this experience behind us and by my reckoning about 700 pizza nights under our belts, what does make the perfect pizza base?

Fresh yeast:

There is no discussion about this ingredient – fresh yeast is absolutely essential to creating a perfect pizza base (and all bread for that matter). Fresh yeast makes the dough rise more and hold more air and when cooked tastes much better than a dough made of dried yeast. However finding a supply of fresh yeast is not always that easy. For years we used a local baker who would sell us a lump on a weekly basis. Then he suddenly announced that EEC rules had stopped him from selling it to us anymore as it was considered a “live” organism. Luckily a neighbouring village bakery is still happy to sell it to us and we have also found that many of the supermarket chains who bake on the premises are happy to give away a small amount.

The right flour combination

Through a series of trail and error experiments our preferred recipe contains a 50/50 mixture of strong white organic bread flour (which we can now source locally from Letheringsett Mill in Norfolk) and an 00 type pasta flour (usually Doves Farm). This mixture produces a light and pliable dough with plenty of elasticity for rolling and stretching.

Extra virgin olive oil:

All doughs need a bit of fat in the mix – for pizza a generous glug of good quality extra virgin olive oil will give a great taste and produce a lovely glossy dough.

Plenty of time:

As all bread makers will tell you can’t make good dough in a rush. To give you an idea we normally start making our dough around 5 on a Saturday evening (we know it’s time when Geoffrey Smith introduces Jazz record request on Radio 3!) and the pizzas are usually served at about 7.30 later that evening. This gives plenty of time for kneading and proving.

A very hot oven:

Unless you are blessed with a commercial pizza oven or even better a wood fired bread oven then you’ll have to make do with the settings on your domestic oven. In winter I usually put the over on low around the time I start making the making the dough which also helps to make the dough rise in the colder weather. Then about half an hour before the pizzas are ready to cook I turn the oven up to it’s highest setting so that it’s scorching hot by the time they go in the oven

Of course these tips are only part of the equation because what goes on to of the base is also crucial to producing a perfect pizza – but that’s another story!

The Pixel Chef perfect pizza recipe

Pizza base

1 ½ ounces / 40 grams of fresh yeast

1 teaspoon of sugar

½ pint/ 250 ml of warm water

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon of sea salt

12ounces/ of strong white bread flour

12 ounces of 00 type pasta flour

4 oiled 12-inch pizza trays

This recipe makes 4 large pizzas or 3 large pizzas and 4 flat garlic breads

Method

Put your oven on a low setting

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water then crumble in the yeast and mix in with your fingers until the yeast has dissolved. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until the mixture starts to bubble and froth (around 10-15 minutes).

While you are waiting for the yeast to work sieve both flours into a larger bowl and add the salt and oil. Rub the mixture through with your fingers and make a well in the centre of the ingredients. Once the yeast is ready pour it into the well in the dry ingredients s and loosely work together with a fork. Once the wet and dry ingredients have started forming a dough (if it looks a bit dry at this stage then add a little more warm water) tip them out onto a well-floured surface and begin kneading. Knead away for a good 10 minutes until you have a nice smooth dough. Put this dough into a large clean bowl oiled (extra virgin again) bowl (oil the top of the dough too) then cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (this is normally about an hour).

After an hour tip the dough back out onto a floured surface and knock back and then knead again briefly. The divide the dough into four equal portions and leave covered for a further 15 minutes so that it has time to rise again. Once the portions are nice and fluffy you are ready to roll and stretch your dough into the trays. If you are making garlic bread as a starter 9 an essential part of Pizza night for us!) then divide one of the portions into four and roll each into a 6-inch long tear shaped bread. Place these on a greased pizza tray, drizzle with oil and slash each 3 times with a pizza wheel and leave while you make the pizzas.

As we don’t have the knack of stretching and spinning the dough in the air like many flashy Italian pizza makers we start by lightly rolling each pizza until it is about 8 inches across then by flipping the dough from hand to hand we gently stretch it until it is about 12 inches across. However if you’re not confident in doing this simply roll the dough out to the size of your tray. Either way once you have reached the desired size lay the base into the tray. Once all your trays are full then you can begin adding the toppings before leaving the completed pizza for another 10-15 minutes for a final chance to rise. When they are ready cook drizzles each with some extra virgin olive oil and then cook in the hot oven for around 10 minutes until the base is golden brown and the toppings bubbling. The garlic bread will take the same time and when these are ready spread with home made garlic butter and add a twist of sea salt.

Top tips for toppings

Tomato base – take two good quality tins of plum tomatoes and put them into a wok or large pan. Break the tomatoes up and then cook on a medium heat until they are nice and thick

Cheese – the balls of mozzarella are far superior the nasty grated yellow stuff!

Other cheeses that work well are dolcelata, Gorgonzola and stringy cheese such as emenental and Gouda. We always like to make a four-cheese pizza with mozzarella a blue cheese a stringy cheese and some Parmesan

Fresh basil – a total must. Add fresh leaves to a cooked pizza too!

Garlic – we add finely chopped garlic to all our pizza.

Something hot! We love to a hot pizza. Our normally has slices a hot salami or choritzo along with pickled jalapenos and a drizzle of hot oil.  

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