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Twenty years ago I started my rocky relationship with dough. For some reason I like to do things the hard way. Never having produced a loaf in my life, I embarked on mastering sourdough bread and making my own natural yeast starter. With my digital thermometer, proofing baskets and imported strong Canadian flour, I was practically ready to start my own bakery. Sadly, my result was a bucket of murky black slop that made my flat smell like a brewery. Deflated but tenacious, I BOUGHT yeast and tried again. My rocky loaves were more akin to weapons than a sandwich ingredient. The light bulb finally came on after attending on an intensive course at Andrew Whiteley’s ‘Bread matters’ school in Cumbria. We spent three days making dough and breads of all types. Before our bread was baked in his enormous wood-burning oven, Andrew made us identify our bread with paper tags. Later we would ascertain which of the sad little cow patties were ours. It was humbling yet empowering way to learn. My Einstein moment was this:
soft light sticky dough = airy bubbly bread
heavy dry dough = solid heavy loaves
long rise=more air bubbles and taste
The key is to not get hung on measuring stuff, just add enough flour to the dough so that you can mix or knead it together. After mixing into a ball, oil your hands to work with it. Even if its sticky, try to preservere so the you don’t add too much flour.
Pizza, of course, was the next inevitable step in my dough mastery. Ever since I read the NY Times ‘no knead’ pizza recipe I have been infatuated with finding the best method. There are millions of different pizza dough recipes but it doesn’t go far off, yeast, water, flour, salt and olive oil. The flour you use can produce an entirely different result. Strong bread or plain flour makes a heavier dough and ’00’ (finely milled Italian flour) results in something softer. If you like ultra-thin crisp pizza, then mixing olive oil into the dough will impart that brittle texture. Personally, I like the Napoli-style; bubbly soft with a crisp crust, not too-thin and not too-thick. The ‘no knead’ pizza recipe was too liquid to work with but it did lead me down another road- letting dough rise in the refrigerator. No one has time to make dough after work and then let it rise, so this was pure genius to me. I knead the dough first and use ’00’ flour with salt, and a tiny amount of dry yeast mixed with warm water. My Kitchen Aid mixer does the work (food processors will also work with a dough hook) and then I whack it in the fridge. When I want to use it over three days, I take out the portion I want, let it come to room temperature and then make pizzas. Any oven can be used but using a pizza stone gets crisper results. Here is the recipe with my favorite toppings:
Refrigerator dough pizza
preparation time 30 minutes
cooking time 5 minutes
makes 4 pizzas
500g/1 lb 2 oz ’00’ flour, plus extra for finishing dough
400ml/1 3/4 cups warm water
1/4 teaspoon dried active yeast (not fast acting)
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil for greasing hands, dough and bowl
In a large mixing bowl or bowl of an electric standing mixer, place the flour and salt. Fill a measuring jug with the warm water. It should be ‘hand hot,’ so that it’s not too hot to put your finger in but also not too luke-warm. Add the yeast, mix and wait about 5 minutes or so for little chunks to float up to the top. This is important because it means the yeast is working. Sometimes instant yeast can go off and its infuriating to discover later. Always be sure and test it. Fit the dough hook attachment to your standing mixer. Turn the motor on and slowly pour in the liquid. If it doesn’t come together as a ball, then pour in a quarter cup more of flour. It should pull away completely at the bottom and whirl around in a ball. If it doesn’t slowly add a little flour at a time until it does. Let it knead for 5-7 minutes and then oil your hands with oil to take out. Oil a medium bowl to hold the dough and also place more all over it. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you want to use it take out the portion you want and let it double in size at room temperature. It should still be covered with plastic wrap and the surface of the dough should be oiled. The temperature of your kitchen will determine how quickly it rises. During the summer it may only take a couple of hours but the winter may take 4-5. If you have a cold drafty kitchen then turn on the oven for 1 minute, turn off and then place the bowl inside to rise.
Test the yeast first to see if it’s active. Little bits will float to the top. Here is the dough after kneading and finally after its risen to room temperature and doubled in size.
Pizza with Italian sausage, pickled peppers, and sweet onions
makes 4 pizzas
1 recipe refrigerator dough doubled in size and at room temperature
semolina flour or polenta for dusting
2 X 400ml tins whole peeled plum tomatoes
3 cloves garlic finely sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrate)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
500g/1 lb 2oz Italian or other pork sausages
16 peppadew, or sweet pickled cherry peppers sliced
4 handfuls of grated mozzarella and asiago cheese or whatever you have
2 sweet white or red onions thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
Turn your oven on to the highest temperature it will go. If you have a pizza stone place it at the bottom of your oven. While its heating make your sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and saute until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and break up a bit with a spoon. Sprinkle in the dried oregano and a teaspoon of salt as well. Simmer on medium high heat until all the liquid has gone, about 10 minutes. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until using. (It works best to make pizzas with cold sauce). Remove the sausage from the casings and pan-fry in a non-stick frying pan with a tiny bit of oil. When its browned a bit, remove from heat.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Roll out one using a floured surface and rolling pin. Spread a teaspoon or so of the semolina on the pizza peel or you can use a thin baking sheet. Place the dough on top and make sure it can move around. Spread a thin layer of the sauce on, a handful of cheese, some sausage, a small handful of peppers, onions and then finish with a sprinkle of oregano. Slide this onto the pizza stone and cook for 4-5 minutes until crisp on bottom. You can make all four pizzas in two average-sized cookie pans by using half the dough in each. Place a little semolina on the base and roll out the dough to fit both. Add your toppings and then cook for 10 minutes on the middle rack of your oven.