If you visit this blog often, you know by now that AK is a hard core chicken and meat eater. He doesn’t believe in vegetables. As a result, I’m always making pizzas that are overloaded with ham, salami, pepperoni and cheese. But sometimes, I have an intense craving for a simple tomato and basil pizza. If I can add on some baby spinach or rocket or zucchini, that’s an added bonus. But sometimes, just sometimes, the most simple pizza is my favourite!
This post is not about the step-by-step process, but more about a variation and some new things I learned.
I decided to try a new recipe, by Emma at A Beautiful Mess. She’s got some fantastic recipe ideas!
Here’s what I used:
(she says she gets a 14″ pizza that is neither thin nor thick crust, more like hand-tossed; I got a 12″ and an 8″ thin pizza out of this quantity).
1-1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp dry active yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1/ tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
Here’s how I made it:
I combined the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a wide, deep bowl. In another small bowl, I poured the warm water and stirred in the sugar. Sprinkled the yeast on it and set it aside for a few minutes.
Slowly, I added the yeast-sugar-water and olive oil to the flour, mixing with my hands till well combined. The dough was very soft and sticky.
In earlier times, I just mixed the dough with the hand beater+dough hook but this time I mixed it by hand. Then I lifted it out of the bowl and kneaded it on the counter, for almost 10 mins. The stickiness subsided a little and the dough came together really well. It was smooth and almost silky.
Then I rolled it into a big ball and placed it in a greased glass bowl, covered it with a plate and wrapped it up in a couple of towels, leaving it alone for about 2 hours rest and rise.
What I learned:
- Since I’ve been reading up on bread making recently, I discovered that kneading is of utmost importance. 10 minutes on average is a good time. Your kneading arm might hurt with the strain but don’t skip it. It releases and aligns the gluten in the flour and helps it become airy and soft rather than dense.
- If the dough hasn’t approximately doubled in size, your yeast has failed to activate. Which happened to me. So I ditched that dough and made a fresh lot. Instead of sending off the ruined dough to the garbage bin, I salvaged it, and will talk about that in the next post.
- For some reason, the dough seems to rise better in a glass/ ceramic bowl rather than a metal one. I haven’t figured the science behind that one, but you might want to use that piece of info!
The Pizza Stone
So apparently I’ve been using the Stone all wrong. No wonder it took me 50 minutes plus of baking time to get the pizza ready and even then it wasn’t done well. The stone helps the pizza to bake evenly and if baking directly on the stone, it absorbs the excess moisture. Here’s what I learned about using the stone and followed as closely as possible:
- The oven rack should be placed at the lowest position. Using only the bottom coil (bake setting) at about 250 C, the stone should be pre-heated. Place the stone in the cold (not yet on) oven, turn on the oven and let the stone pre-heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour (the earlier post will show you that I spread out the dough on the cold stone and then put it in to bake)
- The pizza should ideally be baked directly on the pre-heated stone. For this the pizza should be stretched and rolled on a floured counter, lifted with a wooden pizza paddle (like this) and slid on and off the stone. The paddle is like an over-sized spatula, which fits the whole pizza on it,making it easy to lift without breaking. Since I had neither bought a paddle or fashioned one DIY style, I chose to spread out the pizzas on 2 pie tins and placed those on the hot stone alternatively.
- If the bottom of the pizza isn’t floured enough, it will stick to the counter and stone. Some people like to use cornmeal/ makki atta to avoid the raw flour taste.
- The pizza must always be lifted off the stone before cutting, to avoid damaging the stone.
- Since the stone is porous, detergent must never be used on it else it will absorb it. Use plain water and a hard brush to scrub it clean before and after each use and store inside the oven when not in use.
- If you don’t have access to a pizza/ bread stone (which is often over-priced in the home & kitchen stores), simply find a piece of marble/ granite/ terracota tile which will fit inside your oven, or have it cut to size. Ideal thickness should be about 1/2 inch and it MUST be a raw piece with no glaze/ polish etc because that sometimes has lead in it.
- If you can’t get your hands on that either, just make the pizza without it in a nonstick cake pan/ cookie tray and in a pre-heated oven on the lowest rack! No harm done!
Assembling & Baking the Pizza
My entire life, I’ve been assembling home-made pizza the same way, whether I used store-bought base or made the dough from scratch. And this was ingrained in me by the “bakery pizza” we had growing up, before Dominoes and Pizza Hut and then more authentic Italian restaurants came in. The order was always base, sauce, toppings, cheese and seasoning (herbs & pepper).
Now I realised that ideally, the cheese should go below the toppings! It makes all the difference. See for yourself. Below is the pizza made old style, where everything looks like one big mass, as opposed to the tomato pizza picture on top.
So back to the process, once the dough had risen, I punched it down and stretched it out into 2 rounds to fit my 2 pie tins. I baked them individually, placed on the pre-heated stone, for about 5-6 minutes each. I pulled them out, added the sauce, cheese and toppings and baked for another 12-15 minutes until golden. And the tomato pizza was the best one I had made. Ever.