Pizza dough

March 25th, 2009 by Stian

Welcome back to this annual blog.

No technology today, unless you consider a stove to be techie.

A friend asked me recently for the recipe for my pizzas. I said it’s quite easy, you just mix it all, but I don’t know what are the measures or anything. I tried to explain it instead…
The recipe is like this.. Don’t get scared, I just like to write a lot:

Wash and dry your hands, they will be your most important tool today. Take of any rings, unless it’s a wedding ring, of course. (The love will sterilize it and kill those bacteria that have gathered underneath).

Find a bowl of proper size, like.. I don’t know.. 3 litres?  It depends on how much pizza dough you’re going to make. I generally just make more than I need and freeze the extra (empty) pizza bases.

Remember that the dough is going to raise to about double the size, so the bowl need to be big enough.

We’re going to do a little trick in case you have a glass or metal bowl like ours. If it’s cold, it will take more time for the dough to raise, so put some water in the kettle, and once it’s hot, fill some of it over in the empty bowl. Leave about a cup of water in the kettle, you will need it later. After a few minutes, empty the bowl and dry it – it should now have a nice temperature.

Fill the bowl about half way up with regular white wheat flour. It will sink a tiny bit once you add the liquid. Also you will need to save some flour for later, as you need it both for adjusting the dough and for baking it out. (Can you say that in English? That’s what the Norwegians say, “bake ut“..)

If you have “Bread flour” that should also do as it’s probably just normal flour with a higher price tag – if you mix in some courser brown flour you can also make good and filling weekday pizzas, but then I don’t recommend the flat Italian style, as they will easily turn stone hard.

Empty one bag of dried yeast into the flour. I just use the Sainsbury’s or Hovis one.

Add a pinch of salt, a tiny bit less than a tea spoon – you can taste the dough later to check how it is.

Mix this around a bit so it’s quite evenly distributed.

Add a ‘mouthful’ (not literally!) of Extra Virgin Olive oil – quite generously in Jamie Oliver style. It’s really good to use olive oil for this as it has a lovely flavour, we use “Filipo Berio” or something like that, but that’s mainly because we get a tray of those little bottles for a good price at Costco.

So you just add oil to the flour, this is to make it smooth, easy to handle and also for the flavour of course. I’m not sure how much it is I add, but it’s a fair amount.. about 50 ml. Don’t worry about the health problems – olive oil is good for you! (at least that’s what they said last week!)

If you don’t have olive oil, you may use sunflower oil or similar, but as it doesn’t really have a good flavour and is not as healthy, don’t add that much, more like a table spoon or two in that case. You can compensate with more cheese (which is of course not healthy either..).

Mix the whole oil-flour mix around using your bare (and dry) hands. They will get sticky, but it’s soo much faster to use your fingers and just massage the whole thing, instead of messing around with utensils..

Now for the water.  As always with yeast, there’s the temperature issue. Luckily we’re using dried yeast, and it’s already mixed in, so it’s not too sensitive, but let’s do it as they taught me in school. Or roughly like that, as they didn’t have those posh kettles back then, and we had to first mix the fresh yeast with sugar to wake it up.

Put a cup or two of fresh water to boil in a kettle, or use what you saved from earlier. In an empty cup, fill it about 60% with fresh, cold water. Now, you are to add some of the hot kettle water to the cup to get the water to mix at about 35-40 degrees Celcius. I find that I need about 20% of the cup with hot water – but I’ve not verified this with equations or measurements..

To test the temp I just splash some of the water on the inside of the forearm – the sensitive skin there is quite good in sensing temperature. When the water is so that it’s neither warm nor cold, and you can barely feel it – then you have found the golden spot.  If you are not sure, rather have it too cold than too warm – although because you’re going to mix it with the cold flour it should also work fine with up to 45 degrees, which is probably what you are used to have in the shower.

Now mix in the water with the dough mix, gradually, using your fingers again. (Perhaps this is what gives the pizza its personality!). The key to finding the correct amount of water is like this: When the dough is a bit too liquid and no longer easy to handle, add a bit of flour again to “restore” it. Massage and move it around, once it’s just one big “ball”, that’s the perfect consistency. If you still have flour left sticking to the walls of the bowl, scrape it loose and mix it in again – if the dough is falling apart you need a tiny bit more water. You may then add a tiny pinch of flour as well, it makes it easier to mix.

At this point you do need a fair bit of massaging and turning around so that it’s just one piece, if you don’t do it enough the dough will be dry in one bit and liquid in another, so squize and turn and rotate
- once it’s like a big ball, and you don’t get that much dough sticking to your fingers anymore, you have it.

Now punch the dough flat in the bowl, you don’t need much force, though, or you’ll break the glass bowl! This is your chance to take revenge for the dough not working with you on that flour vs. water mix, but anyway the deal is to get it flat. Now along the edge of the bowl, push away the dough so you get a little ditch between the dough and the bowl – this is so that there will be a bit more space for it to raise.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the top, and then cover the bowl with a dry towel (kind of stretched over the top, not tucked into the dough), and put it “in a warm place”. Now the baking recipes always says this, but never what is a “warm place”. I’ve found – at least in the winter – that it’s good to put the bowl in our cupboard that has the central heating pumps and tanks, that room gets quite nice and warm. Also the top of the boiler can be quite nice and warm, but also a bit dusty and hard to reach..

Now I’m sure in your lovely apartment or house you don’t have such an interesting British and old-fashioned cupboard-central-heating installation, in that case just put the bowl on the kitchen top, away from the window (unless it’s summer!).

Let it raise for at least 45 minutes, up to 1h30. It should be growing to almost the double of the size – so if you got a bowl of the “right” size than it should now be about half-full. Once the dough is reaching the rim, it’s quite ready. It’s quite OK if it grows above the rim, because of the towel it won’t fall out. (Unless you used some kind of super yeast!)

Now at first it might not look like it’s growing a lot, specially if your bowl is cold. Don’t worry, check back in 30 minutes.

Sometimes with me it doesn’t grow that much. I don’t know why this varies, but it could be the yeast is in a bad mood or something. Anyway it still grows some, like 50%, and I’ve found that it still turns out OK. The dough will always raise a tiny bit more in the oven.

Meanwhile, go and turn on your oven, turn it at 300 degrees Celcius or whatever is the maximum. Yes, really, to the max! It’s just going to be in there for a few minutes.  Don’t turn on the “Fan cleaning” function though, not that hot!

I’ve found that contrary to what the pros say, it works fine with the fan instead of that rectangle thingie (upper/lower heat), but don’t use the grill!Just make sure your oven actually heats – our oven for some reason have a few settings where there’s only the light on, I don’t understand why they have those, it’s quite annoying to find your oven cold when you are ready to stuff that pizza in..
This is a nice time slot for the chef to open that bottle of fine ale.

So let’s assume that some time has passed, you have had a look at the bowl and it has raised “some”. What you do next is to find some space, I believe a kitchen top would be perfect if it’s big, but in our house we just do it on the kitchen table. Make sure it’s clean (but not clean as with these anti-bacterial sprays they are making commercials about – I don’t want to eat that!) and dry – otherwise the flour would stick.

Wash and dry your hands as well.

Now you need to sprinkle some flour over your work area – this is to avoid your dough sticking to the table. Put some flour in your hands and rub them – the explanation is the same here – to avoid the dough
sticking to you.

Just hold the dough bowl upside down over the work area – if it’s perfect the dough will just fall out – but in some cases you get a stringy airy thingie left in the bowl – just scrape it out as well with your fingers.

Now kind of roll the dough around on the table, turning it now and then. It doesn’t matter if it’s a perfect ball – in fact in the end we want it to be more like a long, fat stripe.

Don’t squeeze the dough too much, not much lovely massaging this time, it would puff out the air we have waited for the yeast to produce. (In fact it’s carbon dioxide, like in a soda. The yeast also produces alcohol, but sadly this will just evaporate.)

Now we’ll need to split the dough into a good size for our base. If the dough is in a stripe, and as thick as a male fist, than you need about the length of that fist as well.  You don’t need to cut it using a knife, just tear it apart with your hands. Try to get even sizes, it’s more fun to have 2 big pizzas than 2 normal pizzas and one very tiny one, or 3 tiny ones (for 3 varieties)!

Work with one of the bases at a time, sprinkle a bit of flour on the table and on the dough, and use that baking roller thingie (what’s it called? Norway: “kjevle” – Mexico: “mau mau”).

If you don’t have one of those rollers – don’t despair – you may use the old student trick of finding an empty (or if you’re lucky: unopened) bottle of wine, wash the bottle with hot water, but don’t remove the label. (There’s glue underneath the paper, glue doesn’t taste good).

Make sure the roller is dry (specially if it’s a bottle), then sprinkle some flour on this again. I guess you know the drill by know – and yes – you may use some of that excess flour you already have on your table and probably most of your kitchen floor.

Now roll the dough out – it doesn’t matter too much about the shape as long as it will fit your baking tray. If you don’t have a flat baking tray, you can do like us, just cover a grill tray with aluminium foil, fold it around the edges. As we’ve used olive oil in our dough you generally don’t need any greasing as when you bake a cake – if anything just sprinkle a bit of flour on the tray.

For the actual rolling, now and then rotate the dough so that you’re stretching it in all directions. If it gets too thick in the edges – just rotate it again and roll it flat. If you get holes, that’s OK, you can take dough from the edges or another dough ball and patch it – just roll a few times to merge it. If you get too many holes or you make it too thin, just collapse it and start again. You can add a bit more dough from the unrolled balls, or just make the pizza smaller.

Turn the base and roll a few times on the other side as well – when lifting be careful so you don’t break it. If you’re lucky you’ll have a wonderful dough that’s easy to lift, however I don’t think it’s possible to do that spinning on the finger trick unless you had used the whole bottle of olive oil..

Now that pizza base is in a reasonable size and shape, even if it doesn’t look like a pizza shape, just put it on the tray, it will still taste delicious.

Here comes the choice of Italian or American style. If you want the flat Italian style, puncture the dough by stabbing it repeatedly with a fork. Again a chance to get out some aggression if the dough has not been cooperating with you, and also this avoids the dough blowing up like a pita in the oven.

If you want more like the American style, you don’t need to puncture it that much, and also you might want to roll up a bit thicker edges – for the Italian you don’t need a special edge at all. If you do the edges, just push them down a bit on the inside so they’ll stay.

Pop it in the oven, for about 3 minutes or so. It should be in the middle of the oven, or at about 60% from the bottom. (I don’t say “middle shelf” – as some ovens have the top shelf in the middle of the oven!). You’ll probably see it raise. If it raises like a balloon, you should take it out, otherwise the upper crust is going to be very crunchy and break like a cracker.

Otherwise, you’ll need to take it out just as it has got some colour, and before it gets too hard. It should now be like a nan bread – just not as thick and without the garlic.

In fact, if you would like to do your own rolled nan kebab (no: “rullekebab”), this is the bread you need.

Now you have the pizza base out, you’ll pop in your next one. Oh, you didn’t start rolling it out in those three minutes? This is when the production line is rolling and you need the extra manpower!

Let the base rest for a bit on a flat surface, then fill it with your pizza sauce (how to make the sauce can be another post, if you don’t want to wait, you can just use some ready made pizza sauce from the shops).

You don’t need that thick layer, and it’s OK if there’s patches uncovered. Try to cover out on towards the edges though, to avoid the pizza getting too dry. Now for the cheese – sprinkle grated cheddar and other lovely cheese all over (like that goat cheese!) – it’s not to be a thick layer like on a bad school dinner, just some big dots all over, about a handful or two.

The cheese goes underneath the rest of the filling, so that the filling can get baked as well. The classical Norwegian “Saturday pizza” on the other hand is to fill the thick pizza dough (without the pre-baking first) with this kind of bolognese sauce of mince and onion – champion mushrooms from a tin if you’re exotic, and then covering it like with a lid using loads of very bad, tasteless and rubber-like cheese, in Norway marketed under the describing name “Gulost” (“yellow cheese”). This technique doesn’t work well with the kind of pizzas we’re baking here – as the filling is generally uncooked and needs to be exposed to the hot oven.

Fill the pizza with slices and stripes of your favourite vegetables, for the meat eater pizza (as you have several pizzas in the making) you can also add any kind of meat, last time we used a nice 21-days aged rump steak cut in stripes and quickly fried with salt and pepper (this is good with peppers and mushrooms), but you could also use slices of pepperoni (good with everything, in particular sliced black olives), ham (good with mushroom and pineapple), and so on. Chicken on the other hand tend to taste little on pizza, unless you have first marinated it in a Nando sauce or something.

I’m still surprised by how little vegetables is needed, I always end up cutting too much. You don’t need to fully cover the pizza, don’t stack the veggies, and leave some room for pieces of cheese to melt. Use thin slices – in particular for wet vegetables like tomatoes.

Again just pop the whole thing into the oven, again in the middle, this time it probably needs 4-5 minutes depending on how much stuff you have, check back often! It’s finished if the cheese is melted and looks fine, and/or if the edge of the pizza looks/feels like it’s getting a bit crunchy.

Take it out, let it rest for a bit while you pop the next one in, try to vary the filling so you’ll get different pizzas, like 3-4 different things on each is a nice.

Slice the pizza and dig in! You’ll have some running back and forth to pick up the remaining pizzas, but that’s part of the fun for the diners as well, as the surprises will just keep coming!

If you have one of those fan ovens you can cheat and put the pizza down to the lower shelf for its last minute while the new one sneaks in on the top – but don’t forget it – it’s almost done!

Now, enjoy your pizzas!

The trick about the hot oven and the pre-baking I learned from various pizza parties with my friends Lasse and Jenny in Trondheim, and the trick about the olive oil in the dough Ove and I got simply by asking a pizza baker “How do you make the dough so smooth” one night we were drunk and ordering some take away.

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