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Saturday 30 November 2013

Home-Made Pizza... From Scratch (ish)

As a long-time pizza lover, I've always wondered what it would be like to make it from scratch. I've tried lots of 'almost' options, such as putting tomato purée and cheese atop pittas, but they're never quite the authentic pizza experience. Ready-made pizza bases are available in some supermarkets, but that's still only 'almost from scratch'. What I really wanted was to make up some raw dough, pile on the toppings, and then watch as it rises and cooks in my oven.

On one of my whims one weekend, I suggested to my girlfriend that we make pizzas using some Ciabatta flour I had in my cupboards (somewhat past its use-by date but, hey...) and the last few dribbles in a tube of tomato purée. All we needed was some Mozarella and then whatever our hearts desired to scatter upon the top. For me, that's an easy choice - Pepperoni, or some variation on the spiced meat theme. My girlfriend tends to be a bit more adventurous...

The most interesting thing to note in this is that different flour mixes - that is to say, the same type of bread, but mixes from different sources - have different preparation/kneading/rising requirements and working with them tends to be a very different experience. The Waitrose stuff, despite being past its prime, worked out well, so we followed up with a second round of home-made pizza, this time using Wright's Ciabatta mix for comparison, and in an attempt to rectify the one obvious problem we had the first time round.

  • 500g bag Ciabatta flour (Waitrose the first time, used Wright's the second)
  • Plain Flour (to coat a work-surface for kneading)
  • Tomato Purée
  • Grated Mozzarella
  • Toppings!
Preparation Time: approx 15 minutes (plus rising time) to prepare the dough, then about 12 minutes to cook

Tools Required:
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Baking Tray or Biscuit Tray
  • Rolling Pin (if you wish)
The Process:
As mentioned, the two versions of Ciabatta bread mix had rather different preparation instructions. The best bet, always, is to simply follow the instructions on the pack. If it has a subsection of instructions for making rolls, that's probably the set to follow, since you'll very likely want to divide the dough.

The Waitrose version needed to be mixed, kneaded, set aside to rise (I believe about 50 minutes was recommended, the idea being that the dough should virtually double in size), then kneaded some more before getting it ready to bake. The Wright's version only instructed one round of kneading - prior to rising - and ended up slightly stickier and more difficult to work with, even after being left to rise. Both wanted to be smeared with olive oil for that authentic crust. It's not absolutely necessary for a pizza, but it's certainly worth trying.

The first time, we cut the dough in half and each half became a pizza base. The second time, we cut the dough in half, then divided one of those halves again to make smaller, thinner bases, and used the remaining half to bake a Ciabatta loaf. On both occasions, tomato purée was squeezed onto the dough, spread out, then coated generously (much more generously that a ready-made supermarket pizza, I should add) with Mozzarella.

My topping, in both cases, was sliced German peppered salami - whole slices the first time, then chopped up pieces the second. My girlfriend first went with peach segments, even more Mozzarella (pretty much the remainder of the bag, since we bought ready-grated) and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, then chose tomato and basil the second time.

The Results:
It's just possible that the second round of kneading for the Waitrose flour mix - since it required a floured work surface - is what helped dry the dough out and make it less sticky to work with. The Wrights mix recommends doing all the kneading in one hit, so it's taking on less extra flour. It's also possible that we added just a bit too much water, because the quantity listed in the instructions didn't seem to be enough at the initial mixing stage...

Either way, the first attempt worked out well, but the central part of both the pizzas hadn't cooked especially well, despite the edges of mine being slightly burnt (largely because mine was on the middle shelf, and so one edge was right up against the fan, and I didn't think to turn it!). Where it rose, it rose very well, and the result was a nice, light and very tasty base... but it was basically deep pan, and even the cheese overload on the Peach & Balsamic Drizzle pizza wasn't quite enough to support a deep pan pizza... Hence the reduced quantity of dough the second time around.

While I don't have photos of the second attempt, I can honestly say they weren't as elegant. The stickier dough was tricky to work with - my one attempt to use a rolling pin very nearly destroyed my pizza base entirely - and neither could be called 'round'. Weirdly, the thinner base didn't have a great effect on how well cooked it was at the end, but I'd certainly say it was more thoroughly cooked.

The interesting thing to note is that dough can be frozen, so one could mix up an entire bag of flour, divide it into two, three or four pieces, then store some of it away to make home-made pizza some other time, without all the waiting around and kneading.

Making this almost from scratch was certainly a rewarding experience, and it's one I'm keen to repeat in future... If only because the toppings are limited only by my imagination and, if I put my mind to it, I can imagine pizza with something other than pepperoni/salami.

...Though it probably won't stop me visiting my favourite pizza restaurant from time to time...

Whole slices of German peppered salami
Peach in a great sea of Mozzarella, with a balsamic drizzle

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