Tuesday 13 March 2012

Homemade Delicious Pizza

The final pizza

Great pizza needs to be cooked at a very high temperature for as little time as possible. This crisps and chars the dough, without drying it out into a biscuit. Your home oven is not capable (by default) of the high temperatures required to do this, however it’s still possible to make great pizza that’s compatible with the high carb, low fat, medium protein requirements of a post-workout meal.

Before I go any further, if you’re interested in making your own pizza you have to read Jeff Varasano’s incredible NY pizza recipe. My own efforts are highly inspired by it, though admittedly my results are not on the same level. I’ve only just begun on the journey of the perfect pizza and whilst the results are delicious, I have a lot to learn. However, the great thing about making pizza is that it tastes great from the very first time you do it.

Making the dough

Ingredients

  • yeast 4g
  • sugar 3g
  • salt 10g
  • strong white flour 500g
  • water 400g.
  • large sealed container

Overview

The making of the dough is split up into three bits. First I make the batter and let that develop for about an hour. I then knead the dough for about five minutes before shaping it and placing it into a sealed, oiled container. The container stays in the fridge for a good few days.

The batter

In a jug mix up a 4g of yeast with of 3g of sugar in a jug with 400g of warm (not hot - it’ll kill the yeast) water.

Yeast is mixed

Mix this in and let it sit for a few minutes until the yeast start to bubble, like in the below photo.

Bubbling - it's alive

Whilst you’re waiting for the yeast to bubble, in a large mixing bowl mix 420g of flour with the 10g of salt. I save the other 80g of flour for kneading in the next stage. When the yeast starts to bubble mix it into the flour and salt and stir it together until you have a sticky mess like this.

Sticky flour batter

Now walk away and do something else for about an hour. When you return you should have something like this – notice how it’s all risen. It’s now time to knead this sticky mess.

Risen

Kneading

Dump the flour out onto a clean bench and get to work kneading it. This is messy work. You’ll want to use the 80g of flour that you saved from the last step here. I like to keep to specific quantities because I eat this meal as part of a nutritional plan. It’s really easy to go over on the carbs by adding in loads of extra flour at the kneading stage. If you’re not bothered about this, then just use as much flour as you need. (forgive the pun)

Kneading

Kneading bread is quite straight forward, you add some flour, push it, turn it and press it. If the dough is sticky, add more flour and if not keep pushing, turning and pressing. Here’s a video of how I knead my dough. Riveting stuff.

When you’re all done you should have a nice smooth(ish) half sphere of dough. Place this into a large oiled container that you can seal and crack it in the fridge. Ideally this needs to be for between three to five days, but you can get away with a bare minimum of 24 hours. This allows the dough to go through a ‘cold rise’. This retards the fermentation so that a more robust flavour is developed in the dough.

Kneaded dough

Cold rise

Here’s the same dough after four days in the fridge. See the air bubbles that are forming in the dough? This isn’t ideal; I put too much yeast into my mix when I made this.

Four days later.

Have a look at how the dough is developing from underneath. Nom, that’s going to taste delicious. The yellow/green is the extra virgin olive oil, it’s not “mank

From underneath

On the day of cooking

On the day that you’re going to eat the pizza, the dough needs to come out of the fridge about three hours before you want to shape it. Don’t take it out too early or it’ll start rising as it warms up. It needs to be room temperature when you shape it.

Sauce

Pizza sauce is wildly subjective, you might like my sauce and you might not. Either way I like to make my sauce just before we make the pizza. Here’s how I make mine.

Ingredients

The sauce

  • 600g of fresh tomatoes - not tinned, never ever tinned.
  • olive oil
  • onion
  • garlic
  • carrot
  • marjoram
  • basil
  • salt
  • pepper

Overview

Very gently sweat off onion, garlic and carrot in a pan. When the contents of the pan are making salivate add in the freshly chopped tomatoes, seasoning and herbs. Cover and let the tomatoes break down. When they’re all broken down to a thick constancy let the mixture loose some of it’s moisture.

Warm pan and chop.

Take a pan and pop it onto the lowest heat that you can. Add some good extra virgin olive oil into the, not too much and not too little. Because it’s extra virgin you want it to heat very, very gently. Too high a heat and you’ll bork the oil. You’ll know when the oil is warm because you should smell the fragrance of the oil ( which is on the lowest heat possible - did I mention that?)

Whilst the oil is gently warming use this time to finely chop the onion and garlic and carrot.

Chopped

When you can smell the warm oil from the pan add your chopped veggies into it, with a pinch of salt. A little gentle sizzle should begin. If your sizzle is heavy remove the pan from the heat. The goal here is to allow the onion, garlic and carrot to soften and impart their flavour with the oil.

Whilst you’re waiting for that to happen chop your tomatoes up. Watch your fingers.

When the onions are transparent add in the marjoram, basil and a few pinches of salt and a dash of pepper.

The pan

Break it down.

Stir the herbs in and after thirty seconds add the chopped tomatoes then put the lid to the pan. Let the contents break down on that low, low heat. Keep an eye on the contents and if there is any hint it’s sticking to the bottom, add a little bit of water.

The pan with everything in

After five mins you should have something looking nice and rustic like this.

Sauce is almost done

Mash it up a little bit to get rid of the larger pieces of tomato.

Sauce is nearly almost done

If there is any excess moisture allow it to sit on the heat without a lid to get rid of the moisture. You want the mixture to be quite thick, like in the below video. The background music you can hear is leaves by deathrowradio. It’s a great ambient album.

When your sauce reaches this stage put it in a tub and put it to one side. You are about thirty minutes away from delicious pizza nom. If you haven’t already done so put your oven onto the highest setting it will go to. Do that now before you do anything else.

The Base.

Your dough should now be at room temperature and it’s ready to make your two bases (this entire recipe is for two). Notice that the dough has started to rise again.

Dough is ready

Chop the dough into two and place on two oiled baking trays. I don’t do pizza stones because I find that the inexpensive baking trays do just as well.

Split the dough

At this stage the dough should have a nice coating of oil on it. This will help crisp the dough when you cook it and also prevent the base from sticking. if you find the dough is too oily and slippery to work with then use a little bit of flour to give it some “grip” to the baking tray.

Shaping the base

Pizza is meant to be round, however my baking trays are squareish, so I make squareish pizza. Shape may be important, but it is not as important as the next step, for which you should not use a rolling pin. Use your hands, they are by far the best baking tool you have and they now come with “you can feel stuff with your fingers technology®”

You want to shape the dough by pushing (not pressing) it into place, gently stretching it and forming it into the shape you want. This helps preserve the air pockets inside which add to your pizza’s character. Here’s a quick video of my technique at dough shaping. Unfortunately there is no elaborate dough spinning.

When you’re done you should have something that resembles the below picture.

Ready for takeoff

Toppings

If you haven’t already done so, put your oven on the highest temperature it will go to.

With toppings you can use whatever floats your boat. Below you can see some of our favourites. I’m a chopped salami, ham, mushroom and onion guy, where as Jo likes to keep her salami intact and remove the excess fat.

Toppings are chopped

Whatever you’re into make sure it’s ready to be put into the base as soon as you’ve put your pizza sauce on the base.

If at this point your oven has not reached it’s highest temperature then hold off putting the sauce on until it has.

Adding the Sauce

Now that your oven has reached it’s highest temperature take a spoon and dump a heap of sauce onto the base. It’s important that you act quickly because you want to get the pizza sauce on, toppings on and into the oven in as little time as possible. You don’t want the moisture from the sauce to start leeching into the base making it soggy. Unless of course you like a soggy base.

On with the sauce

Spread it about with the back of the spoon until you’ve evenly spread the sauce. Keep repeating this until the whole base is covered.

Sauce is on

Adding the toppings

You can do this however you want, but in general you want to make sure that nothing is going to burn when it’s in the high heat of your oven. First I add my mushrooms.

Mushrooms onto the pizza base

Then my onions. By putting the veggies on the bottom they get a chance to impart their flavours without burning in the high heat.

Onions onto the pizza base

I then add the meat and then finally the mozzarella. As soon as the last bit of cheese was placed on this pizza it was put into the blazing heat of the oven.

Meat and mozzerella on the pizza base

Cooking the pizza

You want to cook your pizza in as hot as temperature as you can get for as short a time as possible. In a home oven the best I’ve managed is about ten mins. This will give you something like this.

Cooked pizza ready for serving

Don’t keep opening the oven door and letting the heat out. You will likely have to turn the pizzas once, but do it as quickly as possible to retain the high heat.

I’m seriously considering building a brick oven in the garden for pizza and other bread baking escapades. This would undoubtedly take my baking to the next level.

Eating it

It tasted delicious.

The final pizza

Other Stuff

00 Flour

Some folks are adamant that you should use 00 (double zero) flour for pizza, as this is how it’s done in Italy. I have tried 00 and whilst it is better, it’s not worth the extra expense to me. The only place I can get 00 is a speciality food store in Newcastle. It costs £3(ish) whereas I can get 1.5kg of generic brand strong white flour for £0.59p at the local supermarket. So whilst I may break out the 00 on special occasions, for the most meals I use strong white flour.

Total cost of this pizza

If you don’t count the toppings, for two pizzas the cost is …

Ingredient Amount (g) Cost (£)
    £2.19
White Flour 500 0.20
Tomatoes 600 1.00
Mozzarella 200 0.99

I haven’t counted the onion, garlic, carrot and herbs in this because we’ve always got them, so for two large delicious pizzas we’re paying £2.19p, that’s less than £1.10p per pizza. Not bad. Try getting two pizzas for that price in a restaurant.

Pizza as post workout food

If you’re with cool white flour as part of a post workout meal then this recipe does make ideal post workout when your topping is a lean meat. Here’s the nutritional breakdown for one plain cheese and tomato pizza as made above.

Ingredient Amount (g) Protein (g) Carbohydrate (g) Fat (g) Cals
    49 190 28 1,204
White Flour 250 29 181 4 869
Oil 5 0 0 5 45
Tomato 200 2 8 0 36
Mozzarella 100 18 1 19 254

If we’re talking about clean food, then I’d argue this qualifies. It’s all made from raw ingredients and there are no additives or preservatives. I haven’t used copious amounts of sugar to boost flavour and one pizza has no more than 5g of salt in it. If you were conscious of that level of salt you can always drop it down - you’re in control which is the beauty of making food for yourself. You don’t even have to eat the full pizza, save half for your next post workout meal.

If you find the protein in the above is a little low, top it with 100g of shredded chicken breast. Either way this is an ideal post-workout meal for a Lean Gains approach.

So is this delicious homemade pizza suitable for post workout? I say yes. Is other mass produced made additive laced frozen pizza? I say no – I wouldn’t thank you for one.

Practice makes perfect

I’ve only been making pizza for a year and I’ve got a long way to go before I can reach the standard of Jeff Varasano, but it’s one of the tastiest journeys I’m currently on. You should almost certainly embark on the journey to perfect pizza yourself.