Whenever I hear someone say something about how they had pizza a week ago, and therefore don't want it that day, I am perplexed. To me, there is no such thing as too much pizza. It's bread, it's melted cheese (usually), it's an ever-changing multitude of toppings. What more could you want in a food? I was always a latent pizza addict, but whilst living in Newcastle my choices were pretty much limited to the major chains. I didn't miss what I'd never had, but my true inner pizza aficionado wasn't awakened till I moved to Sydney, specifically Leichhardt where I fetched up on first moving to the city. On my first night I was introduced to the independent pizza parlour, and the range on offer - prosciutto, chorizo, bocconcini - and the joy of the thin, handspun crust. It was a moment of deep happiness, and as I moved around the inner west I fully explored the range of pizza on offer.
This cost me a fortune. It was time to upgrade to that essential piece of equipment: the pizza stone. If you haven't bought one, run out and do so now. I'll wait. Those electric pizza ovens are merely a pizza stone with a heating element underneath and rather a waste of money, but for the cost of a takeaway pizza a pizza stone will allow you to create endless pizzeria style pizzas at home. For many people, "home made pizza" conjures up images of tinned pineapple, sliced cheese and ham steaks. None of that. After some enjoyable trial and error, I'd now rate my pizzas with some of the best I have tried in Sydney, especially as I have an extra ingredient: the loving hands of someone who truly appreciates the art.
So, to share all I know about making the perfect pizza. Here's the dough recipe we use:
- In a small jug, combine 1 cup warm water, 8g sachet dried yeast and 1 teaspoon white sugar. Stand in a warm place for 10 minutes until mixture is frothy.
- Sift 2½ cups plain flour and ½ teaspoon salt into a large bowl. Blend in yeast mixture to form a soft, sticky dough. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic.
- Place dough in a large, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until dough doubles in size. Knock down dough to remove air. Knead into a smooth ball.
At this stage, you can roll out half the dough to make one pizza - but I usually make a double batch and freeze the dough, divided into four portions each individually wrapped first in baking paper then plastic wrap. Defrosted frozen dough tastes better and bakes into a crisper pizza than fresh dough - and it means a quick dinner if you can just grab a dough ball from the freezer and top it. A word of warning though - take the dough from the freezer about 3-4 hours before required and defrost at room temperature. You cannot defrost the dough in the microwave - it will precook and be useless. Meanwhile, about an hour before cooking, place the pizza stone in the oven and heat to 250°C. Fifteen minutes before cooking, roll out your dough still on it's baking paper (which will go into the oven. It's hard to place pizza directly on the stone - the stone is too hot to touch, pizza is difficult to move, and the dough tends to stick). Use your clean, floured hands to gently stretch it to shape. Just before placing the pizza in the oven, top it. Go nuts here, but can I recommend using the best mozzarella cheese you can afford. Then, it's showtime. Holding the edges of the baking paper taut (having a friend help so you can each hold one side is a good idea), open the oven, slide out the stone on the rack, and place the pizza on the stone as fast as you can - the idea is to avoid losing heat. Cook the pizza for 15 minutes or so - it's done when the edges of the crust are turning golden brown. Now to sample the fruits of your labour! When you divide the pizza, leave any you won't be eating immediately on the stone - the pizza left on the stone will stay hot to the last slice. Sorry this post may have been a little self indulgent but if anyone gives this all a try, please let me know how you get on.