Damn, there’s nothing like a good pizza.
And most pizzas you see ARE nothing like a good pizza.
Sorry for the cheesy opener.
It’s true though. The crap served up by most pizza chains is a million miles from a good authentic Italian pizza. I’ve tried to emulate the real thing for quite a while (on and off for 2 years or more) now using different dough recipes and cooking techniques. It’s much trickier than you think.
I recently wrote about the mad-as-a-brush method of cooking a pizza on a BBQ, but it works because your BBQ can reach far higher temperatures than your home oven and when used with a pizza stone, you’re getting close to cooking environment found in the traditional pizza ovens seen in Italy. The second leg of the journey to the perfect pizza is the dough. Get this wrong and nothing else matters.
It was Marcella Hazan that has really got this recipe nailed. Her mantra that you cant rush some things applies so if you are looking for a speedy, food-processed dough then look elsewhere. You need to start preparing this a good 4 hours before you want to eat.
There’s very little I change in this recipe so I’m copying it verbatim below. Any tweaks or comments are in italics..
Basic Pizza Dough – Makes 2 Round Pizza’s About 30 Cm In Diameter
• 1,5 tsp active dry yeast
• 250 ml lukewarm water
• 375 gr plain unbleached flour
• extra virgin olive oil (1 tbsp for the dough, 1 tsp for the bowl and some for the finished pizza)
• 0.5 tsp salt
• a bakers peel (paddle)
Put the yeast into a large bowl and dissolve it completely with about a quarter of the lukewarm water. When dissolved, add a third of the flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Then as you continue to stir, gradually add 1 tbsp of olive oil, the salt, another quarter of the lukewarm water and another third of the flour. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and put in as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable soft, but not too sticky.
Take the dough out of the bowl and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times until it is stretched out to a length of about 25 cm. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance towards you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. Rotate the dough a one-quarter turn, pick it up and slap it down hard, repeating the entire previous operation. Basically you want to end up with a soft and pliable dough. Shape it into a round ball.
Grease the inside of a clean bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside. Cover with clingfilm and put the bowl somewhere quiet and warm so it can rise in peace for about 3 hours. Longer is fine too.
At least 30 minutes before you are ready to pop the pizza into the oven preheat the oven to 230 C/450F.
Sprinkle the baker’s peel generously with cornmeal (I find that mixing the cornmeal with polenta or semolina works really well)
Take the risen dough out of the bowl and divide in half. Unless you can put two pizza’s at one time in your oven, put the other half back in the bowl and cover again until you are ready to use that part.
Flatten the dough as thin as you can opening it out into a circular shape using a rolling pin but finishing with your fingers. Leave the rim somewhat higher then the rest.
When it is the desired shape, put the circle of dough on the – with cornmeal covered – baker’s peel.
Put the topping of your choice on the dough and slide it, jerking the peel sharply away, on to the preheated baking stone.
Bake until the dough becomes coloured a light golden brown. As soon as it’s done drizzle with a little but of olive oil and serve.