There have been some astoundingly diverse variations on a theme when it comes to pizza. Some toppings that make the mind boggle, and bases that range from the pre-made frisbee like ones (better to eat the box they come in than eat the actual base) to celebrity chef creations that run from using crumpets and naan breads to tortilla wraps and scones. I suppose it’s using these kinds of bases that puts pizza onto the list when politicians and health experts include it in the list of ‘fast food’ that they cite when bemoaning the state of the country’s health. Fast food, or rather eating it to frequently, is certainly in the frame, but I do find it an odd phrase. Nothing faster than an apple for a quick snack. And pizza, when made properly, is anything but fast. Waiting for dough to rise, and for sauces to reduce and thicken can take hours. It’s something to make when you’ve got a bit of spare time and you want to spend it pottering in the kitchen. Although it can take a while to actually make, most of that time is waiting for these things to happen and you can certainly be getting on with other things, or (shhh, don’t tell my kids who think I’m hard at work, slaving over a hot stove) curled up with the radio on and a good book to hand.
So let’s start with the base. I know dough isn’t fancy or exotic, but I’ve long held the belief that every cook should at least be able to make a loaf (even if it’s only in a breadmaker). I’ve looked at various recipes but I keep coming back to the idea that a plain loaf dough makes a good pizza base, with the added bonus that, if you double it, you can have enough dough left over to make a loaf of bread for the next day.
- 900g Strong bread flour
- 14g (2 sachets) of yeast
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 500g warm water (not to hot or it’ll kill the yeast – you should be able to dip your little finger into it comfortably).
This is enough for 2 large pizzas and 1 x 1lb loaf. If you just want the pizzas, half the ingredients. Measure out the flour into a large bowl and add all the other ingredients, except the water, making sure you keep the yeast and the salt separated. Add 450g of the water and mix it all together, either in a mixer with a dough hook, or by hand. If it’s dry, add a little more water at a time. As I’m sure you’ve heard, different flours absorb water at different rates, so it’s impossible to give an exact amount here. Once it’s all amalgamated, turn it out and knead it for about 10 minutes (or use a dough hook for 5 minutes) then put it into an oiled bowl, cover it with cling film and leave to double in size in a warm place ( 45 minutes to an hour should do).
I put mine beside my tumble dryer as it’s always quite warm beside it when it’s going.
Once it’s risen, take it out of the bowl and ‘knock it back’ i.e. punch it a few times and let the air out of it. It should be about the same size as when you started. Cut it into half and put one half back into the bowl (this is your loaf) and cut the remaining half into quarters. Take a rolling pin and roll each piece out cover 2 lightly oiled large baking sheets. Place the dough into them, stretching it into the corners to cover it. It’ll spring back a bit, but that’s okay. Leave it aside while you deal with the toppings.
I did cheat a tiny bit here. You can, by all means, make a wonderful tomato sauce from scratch. Or you can use a couple of spoonfulls from a jar of good, pre-made pasta sauce. Or…………………….a couple of squirts from a tube a sun-dried double concentrated tomato paste is perfectly acceptable here. Seriously, would I lie to you? Anyway, that’s what I did and it tasted great. It was the first time I’ve ever done it, and it was in the nature of an experiment, but it worked so hey, what’s not to like?
Purists will tell you that Mozzarella is the only cheese that’s acceptable. But just as I am fussy about my bases, I’m a bit more adventurous with my topping. To some people putting pineapple on a pizza is an abomination. I love it. Onions, peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos ……………..bring ’em on. And the cheese? Whatever turns you on, baby. Goats cheese and red onion is a favourite topping. Rocket and blue cheese? Yup, I’m up for that as well. I noticed a big jar of artichoke hearts the other day in a shop and I wondered how they’d stand up to the pizza experiment. What I used this time was………..cubed fresh pineapple, mushrooms, a yellow pepper; onions and cherry tomatoes.
The cheese was mature cheddar and an Italian hard cheese (like parmesan, but suitable for vegetarians as it’s not made with animal rennet) grated over. So grate your cheese over the tomato paste, add your toppings, grate a little more cheese over that and it’s ready for the oven.
Pre-heat your oven to it’s highest temperature. Mine manages an eye-watering 260C, so if yours is 240C or 220C it’ll take a bit longer to cook (but only a couple of minutes, so keep an eye on it). It should only take 10 minutes, tops.
And what about the rest of the dough? While the pizzas are cooking you should shape it and slash it and place it on a lightly greased baking tray. Lightly scatter a wee bit of flour over the top.
When the pizzas come out of the oven, drop the temp 20 degrees and put the loaf in for roughly 30 mins (hmm, just about enough time to scoff the pizzas 😀 ). It’s ready when you can tap the base and it sounds hollow.