Throwing Down the Pizza Gauntlet
If you were to ask Max at any given time of the day what he would like to eat, that he would reply “pizza daddy!” I used to be able fob him off with packaging quiche or frittata as pizza but he’s wised up to that one now. So Friday night in the Down Under house is pizza night and I’m not complaining. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like pizza and with a little help from my 2 year old Sous Chef I am interested to see how close the homemade version gets to the real thing.
The gauntlet I threw down to myself, what sort of idiot throws down their own gauntlets, was to make each member of the house the pizza of their dreams. Max is the only carnivore in the house so I went for a salami, spinach and mushroom pizza. Anna excels herself when it comes to making chocolate disappear so I went for a dark chocolate, pear and hazelnut creation. And for me the pizza that has me coming back for seconds is a little caramelised onion and rosemary potato number that I’ve swiped from our local pizzeria.
I used Felicity Cloake’s “How to Cook The Perfect Pizza” recipe. For someone who has never made their own pizza dough before I can’t emphasise enough how great this recipe is and if you have a food processor it’s remarkably mess free, you literally bung all the ingredients in and let it do its thing (although I must confess that me and Max quite like a bit of mess, Anna less so).
• Prep all of your toppings and have them ready to go, this is where the kids can get involved and pretty up their own pizzas.
• Rubbing a thin layer of olive oil over the pizza base before adding the topping creates a seal that stops the base from getting soggy.
• Use a pizza stone if you have one.
• Track down some 00 flour for a soft, chewy base
• The longer you leave the dough to rise the more flavour it develops – 4 hours will do the trick
• Have a bit of Italian opera on the radio in the background, it adds authenticity and makes the pizza taste better.
• Dust the base with semolina to add a slight crunch and avoid sticking
• Make more dough than you need, it keeps for a fortnight if it’s sealed in an airtight container.
• Overdo the toppings – that’s not how mama used to make it and will result in a soggy base
• Use toppings that will burn, for the chocolate pizza in hindsight I should have added the chocolate and nuts when the base was partially cooked because both will burn if they are cooked too long.
• Undercook your pizza, have your oven on its highest setting with the pizza stone or tray in there until it’s bloody hot.
• Once you’ve worked your dough into the perfect pizza-y circle don’t leave it lying around to dry out, get the toppings on and get it cooked.
The pizzas were a big hit, I always know when I’ve hit the right note because there is a collective silence (crunching and slurping aside) which otherwise doesn’t happen in our house. I think I have a new role in the house, that of Friday night pizza maker and a new name to boot from my little boy “Pizza Daddy”. It’s a lot of fun, costs a fraction of the restaurant prices and tastes pretty darned good. The next gauntlet I have thrown down to myself is to have a pizza party for Max and his besties, with all the littlies decorating their own small pizza, sound slike madness has set in doesn’t it?
Ingredients (Makes 6–8 depending on size)
500g pizza flour
10g fresh yeast (or 7g instant dried, made up as on packet)
½ tsp sugar
320ml warm water
1 tsp salt
Your chosen toppings
Olive oil and semolina flour, to serve
1. Mix the yeast with the sugar and leave for 1 minute. Stir in the water, then add to the flour and mix in a food processor on the lowest speed until it comes together into a soft dough. Add the salt and then turn the speed up slightly and mix for another 4 minutes. Alternatively, mix them together with a wooden spoon, then turn the dough out on to a work surface, add the salt, and knead for 10 minutes.
2. Put the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl and then turn over to coat. Cover with a damp cloth, or cling film, and leave in a warm place for four hours. Then do what I did and watch on in amazement for 4 hours (it was a slow day) as it bloats up to something enormous.
3. Turn the oven to its highest setting and add your pizza stone, terracotta or heavy baking tray.
4. Divide the dough into satsuma-sized pieces and roll into balls on the work surface using the palm of your hand. Dust a work surface with a little flour and semolina flour and put a ball of dough on to it. I cheated with a rolling pin and rolled that sucker until it was paper thin, if you think you handle the whole throwing, spinning and stretching business then good luck to you.
5. Working as quickly as possible add a layer of olive oil to the base and add your toppings. Mine were all sauce-less but a thin layer of Passata would have been my preference. Transfer the base on to the hot surface and cook for about 8 minutes until crisp and golden. Eat it when it’s still hot enough to hurt, just a little.
Do you make your own? What is your dream topping?