red-goodeness

(Revised post on 21/12/11, 06/10/13, 11/10/13)

Just like the perfect storm, perfect home-made pizza requires just the right set of variables to align. I haven’t got there yet - but one day I will… maybe the answer’s simple: a trip to Italy is needed.

Anyway, I’ve been playing with a list and plan to keep refining this over the next few years until such time as it’s perfect!

1. Go Woodfired!
Surprise surprise. I tried for 10 years with a conventional oven only to learn that a clay or brick oven at twice that temperature is the only way to go. Do this one thing and you will get a 500% improvement in your pizza.

2. Fresh is the best - especially the tomato. sauce…
Kinda speaks for itself - dough, sauce, cheese, toppings - buy fresh, prepare just before use. Make your dough and sauce from scratch - it’s easy and the pay-off is huge. Both sauce and rolled out bases will freeze (my sauce recipe is great for pasta too), but they are never as good as fresh. I know I said the sauce freezes well before, its fine, but just, well not perfect - and that’s what we’re after here.

- Sauce perfection. When tomatoes are in season and cheap then try this. Grab a few Kilos of tomatoes (as many as you can afford as you’ll be using this sauce for lots of other things and it will freeze well)… Blanche the tomatoes and plunge into cold water in the sink. Remove the skins. Then using your finger tips puncture the seed chambers and squeeze out the seeds - you only want the flesh.

Chuck a good few glugs of olive oil into a big saucepan and add a whole clove of chopped garlic. Sizzle the garlic for a few seconds (don’t brown it or burn it) then chuck in the tomatoes along with a couple of whole sprigs of Basil. Season well and simmer for about an hour. What you’re aiming for is a heavily reduced sauce - keep going to your own taste. When you’re happy, run a wand through the sauce just to break up some of the stringy bits… as these can cause a bit of mouth burn if you run into one mid-ravenous scoff later on! Let it cool and you’re good to go.

I find that fresh tomatoes generally give a lighter, fresher sauce which we like. Also consider adding a bunch of cherry tomatoes if they’re on special or cheap - they add a deeper flavour.

- Sauce near perfection… repeat as above but using good italian tinned tomatoes instead - I find around 3 cans gives enough sauce for 6-8 pizzas. This sauce is richer and can be a bit sweeter.

Some people do add a little sugar to the sauce. In Italy I gather that this is frowned on! If you don’t believe me (and want a good laugh) read the comments here.

3. Topping sympathy
Simple one this, don’t overdo it. If you’re making thin crust pizza (the only option imho) you don’t need handsfull of mozzarella and buckets of toppings - go easy.

4. Heat - Touch, Feel & Breathe
My hypothesis is that there are 3 kinds of heat happening in a pizza oven. Now these probably won’t stand up to any scrutiny by a Physics teacher but here’s my commonsense thinking…

Firstly conductive heat - the dough in contact with the oven - and you ought to cook directly on the oven floor for the right crispiness.
Secondly ambient heat - the air temperature;
Thirdly the radiant heat - created by the wood fire itself (embers and flames).

In an open Pizza Oven (ie with no door) you need a well soaked (fully heated up) oven - each will be different - for mine it’s about an hour, hour and a half; you need it hot hot hot, and you need to keep a fire going - with flames. You need to get these 3 heat types working well together for perfect pizza and I’ve found this tricky. Trial and error is the only way.

If the oven floor is too hot you’ll burn the base and undercook the top (probably most common scenario this one). If this is the case you can cook using a metal heat deflector (a pizza tray will do the trick) for all or part of the 2-3 minutes in the oven. Also if the topping is a bit underdone, pick up the pie on your paddle and hold it up in the top part of the oven for 10 or 15 seconds - this is the hottest part and will toast the top if you need it.

5. Dough - Wet, Rest  & Semolina
I like my dough slighty wet to the touch. You can flour it up to stop it sticking. My unproven theory on this apart from the fact that it’s easier to roll is that it creates more steam, more quickly when it hits the floor of the searing oven. I’ve read that about 62% water should be added - for 500 grams thats 310ml water - and it seems about right. This creates that lovely crispy outside and soft inside.

For the dough, I use Italian Tip 00 flour that is usually labelled for pizza. Note - the 00 relates to the fineness of the flour - not how strong it is (ie how much protein or gluten it contains). Go here for a more in depth explanation. So you need 11-12% flour i.e. flour clearly indicated for bread or pizza. If you’re feeling especially keen then try and find this flour - a brand called Caputo. My family is convinced this makes the very best bases we’ve tasted (and they’re the best critics of pizza I know).

Ok, so dough is just tepid water, yeast, flour and salt. Mix it, get it on the bench and knead it well, then…Rest the dough for as long as you can, ideally overnight - it makes it more plastic and stretchy without tearing (yes you can get impressive throwing action when you rest the dough) and it seems less likely to burn. The only way that a Pizzaiola can do this to dough is because it has rested overnight. If you must use your dough quickly it will still work - just use warm water to get the yeast going quickly. I just use standard dried bread yeast from the supermarket.

The last dough inspiration (thanks to Dave from Perth) is to add about 7% Semolia - it REALLY works too - if you like that lovely crunchy AND chewy consistency when cooked. I also use semolina to ‘flour-up’ the pizza paddle as the pie heads into the oven. If yo don’t believe me, then make a batch of dough with and without it. It really is quite different!

Oh, and 500g of flour will give you 4 nice thin crust pizzas.

6. Post Oven Trimmings
Can add a lot - a sprinkle of freshly ripped basil or rocket, prosciutto, a twist of pepper. If you can resist diving straight in, which is tough - let me tell you, a lot of value can be added at this point.

7. Scoff Immediately
Not one that troubles my household this one.
From table to hand to mouth within two minutes - the only way. It’s why for me delivery pizza - even gourmet thin crust, never lives up to expectations (apart from costing three times what it does at home).

That’s it for now - any feedback greatly appreciated, tell me what you think makes a perfect pizza - I want this list to get better!


4 Responses to “7 rules for the perfect home-made pizza”

  1. Sergio says:

    Greetings,
    I came across your website looking for sites on how to build my own portable wood brick oven. I love cooking and especially pizza, I have been working on a whole wheat pizza recipe and I thought if I could create a portable wbo, I could sell my pizza at the farmers market using the fresh produce at the market and make a fresh healthy pizza. I was looking at your steps, do you have any advice for a true novice, I’m not much of a builder but I like trying to do things myself, especially when it comes to saving money. Any help would be greatly appreciated, even a list of materials. Thanks for the site and the photos.

    Cheers,

    Sergio

  2. admin says:

    Hi Sergio, I’ll try and get to the materials list at some stage soon. The farmers market idea is great, been thinking of that myself… this oven though is unsuitable for that. I think you need a trailer-based solution. Send me some pics when you get there. Cheers
    Simon

  3. dave says:

    We’ve found that adding about 7% semolina flour to the dough gives it a delightful crunchiness while still maintaining a soft centre. I would call this the 8th rule. Also always cook with the base directly on the oven floor. Pizzas cooked on trays tend to trap moisture between the base and the tray leaving you with a soggy base. The metal tray also tends to suck heat away from the floor because of the extra mass in the metal tray resulting in the oven losing temp faster and the pizzas take longer to cook.

  4. admin says:

    Semolina flour, OK, I’ll try that - sounds interesting. I found the ninth rule (see the New York Times post . Leave the dough for 24 hours - i tried it this weekend and seriously I think its the best dough I’ve made so far. Letting it work overnight seems to make it more plastic. But the main thing is that it tastes great - crispy AND chewy. Thanks for your comments, once again Dave.

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