JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pizza dough

Pizza dough is one of those things that always cause me to get out dozens of recipe books, and, even then, I'm not satisfied. Last night, I made the best pizza dough ever, so I need to write it down. It came from the green River Cafe book, and, as so often with the River Cafe recipes, it didn't work as instructed, but, luckily, I was able to rescue it. This is a more sophisticated recipe than most, and has a little rye flour in it, to give it an edge.

Step 1: Mix four teaspoons of dried yeast (the sort that comes in a tin, not an instant sachet) with 125ml warm water (as a rough guide, two thirds from the cold tap, one third from the kettle, don't obsess). When the yeast has dissolved, add 150g rye flour. The instructions say to leave this for half an hour to form a sponge, but there's no chance of that with so little water, all you'll get is a hard ball. So I added more water, probably about the same amount again. Basically, you want the mixture to be loose. It will grow, so make sure you're doing this in a big bowl or mixing jug.

Step 2: When the mixture has frothed, which will take at least half an hour, and maybe more if there's a draft, or it's not very warm, you make the dough. In your mixer bowl, measure 500g plain flour (I used soft pasta flour for this, you really don't have to use hard bread flour), one tablespoon of salt (I use Maldon salt for everything), four tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of milk, and 250g warm water (same rough guide as in step one). Then add your sponge, and mix with a dough hook. When it's kneaded, remove the hook and leave in a warm place to rise. It will need at least two hours. We went to the cinema at this point (Music and Lyrics, very funny), and came back three hours later.

Step 3: Knock back the dough, and leave to rise for another 40 minutes. (We did not do this, because we were hungry. The dough was good, two rises is counsel of perfection, and not always possible; bread dough is very accommodating).

Step 4: Divide the dough into four, roll into balls (flour the worktops an your hands), they will be about the size of cricket balls. Then roll these out using a rolling pin (although, actually, the pizza chef at Pizzeria Mama Mia in South Parade, Oxford, spins them on his fingers, then pinches out little bits to fill in any holes - fascinating watching him, if you sit at the small table by the kitchen window, Alfred, then aged about eight, and I were mesmerised).

Add your toppings, then put in a hot oven.

Lucius, Lettice and Alfred all swirled theirs with tomato sauce, then added a variety of delicacies - Parma ham, mushrooms, cheeses, etc. I had pizza bianca, with a scraping of onion which had been slowly stewed in olive oil, topped with a few pine nuts, some capers, and sultanas soaked in hot saffron water. Then I topped the lot with a pile of peppery winter salad leaves from the greenhouse (lots of rocket, a little mizuna, that sort of thing). Fantastic. And it was good fun, too.

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