The Pizza Dough That Changed My Life

Pizza 2Most of this recipe and the shaping technique which accompanies it is taken from Nancy Silverton’s The Mozza Cookbook. I have also just finished reading the profoundly inspiration homage to pizza, American Pie, by top US bread writer Peter Reinhart. On his advice, I rest the dough between mixing it and kneading it and have added the optional extra stage of leaving the dough to ferment overnight in the fridge, however with or without these extra steps, this dough recipe is amazing.

It has changed my life. This is not an understatement.

I have eaten and made more pizza than I could ever remember and this is, hands down, the best ever home oven pizza dough I have come across. It requires a few specific rising stages that you will probably need to set an alarm for, though none of them actually take more than a few seconds to do.

It will also require you to heat your oven on its highest possible heat for at least an hour (environmentalists look away now). This might seem excessive to some, but to me, for this quality of pizza out of my home oven, it is a very small price to pay. I follow neither Nancy Silverton’s nor Peter Reinhart’s advice on where to position your pizza in the oven, instead going with the recommendation of Heston Blumenthal that you should cook your pizza at the very top of the oven, as close to the grill element as possible, where the heat rises. This position has yielded the best results for me.

PizzaFinal caveat – you can only cook one pizza at a time, else the temperature of the oven will drop and the quality of the pizza will suffer greatly. To feed two or three people I haven’t really found this a problem. We just eat one while the oven heats back up again and have a little rest in between each round, but for more people, you might need to serve something else to keep the ravenous hoards at bay.

I have made this both with and without a pizza stone and although it is definitely better and easier with a pizza stone, when I used to make it on just a preheated baking sheet it was still the best home pizza I had ever had.

Pizza Dough

The centre of the pizza is thin and crisp and the edges (the cornicione as I have learnt from Peter Reinhart) are puffed, crunchy, chewy and delicious. This contrast is achieved with specific shaping, so if you want to recreate this shape – and I seriously suggest that you do! – follow these instructions carefully. I use a Thermomix to knead this dough, but I’m sure a pair of strong arms could do just as good a job.

Makes two large pizzas

  • 310g lukewarm water (much hotter than body temperature will start to kill the yeast)
  • 8g fresh yeast (or 1/2 tsp active dry yeast)
  • 370g strong bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons of flaky sea salt (I used Maldon), plus more for sprinkling on the crust
  • oil for coating the bowl
  • semolina or cornmeal to stop the dough sticking to the stone
  • pizza sauce (see recipe below)
  • toppings, as desired

Add the water and yeast to the mixer and leave for a few minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Add all the other ingredients except the salt to the mixer and mix on a low speed until all the ingredients are fully combined. (At this point Peter Reinhart recommends leaving the dough to rest for 5 minutes to improve the flavour and allow the flour to fully hydrate.) Add the salt and knead for a further 8 minutes. Adding the salt later in the kneading process gives the dough more lift, as salt reduces the action of the yeast. Check the dough isn’t too wet – the dough should be quite sticky, but should have pulled away from the sides of the mixer. If it hasn’t, add a little more flour and mix again for a minute. If it doesn’t seem sticky at all, add a little water to achieve the correct consistency.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and imagining the dough has four corners, fold each corner of the dough into the centre. Grease the inside of a bowl large enough for the dough to rise in and turn the dough into the bowl, folded corners down. Turn the dough to coat it in the oil. Cover with plastic film.

Optional Peter Reinhart Step: If you want to skip this step, you will still have mind-blowingly amazing pizza, but I include it here for the obsessive pizza perfectionists among us. Leave the dough for 30 minutes at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge and leave overnight. Remove from the fridge two and a half hours before you plan to bake the dough and continue with the recipe below.

Leave to rise in the bowl for 45 minutes. When the time has elapsed, turn the dough gently out onto a floured surface and, imagining again that the dough has four corners, fold each corner of the dough into the centre. Turn over so the folded edges face down and place back in the bowl. This folding technique adds bigger air bubbles to your dough and makes the crumb lighter. Recover with plastic film and leave for a further 45 minutes.

At this point, put a baking stone or the heaviest baking tray you have in the oven as close to the top as you can while still leaving room for the pizza to rise as it bakes. Turn the oven to its maximum temperature.

Turn the dough out again onto the floured work surface and slice in two with a serrated knife. Form each piece of the dough into a tight ball by tucking the bottom edges under, all the way round, deflating the dough as you shape. Use flour as needed to stop the dough sticking to your hands. Put the dough balls back on the floured work surface and cover with a tea towel. Leave to rise for a further 1 hour.

When the dough is ready, place one ball on a well floured work surface. Using your fingers, gently press the dough flat, working from the centre outward, leaving a 2cm ring around the edge of the dough that is not deflated – it is this airy rim that will puff up beautifully in the oven, so do not be tempted to roll out the dough with a rolling pin. You may need to flour the dough a little so you can shape it properly. This dough is pretty fragile, so do not be tempted to try and practise your pizza spinning technique! You can gently lift up one side of the dough at a time and use gravity to help you flatten out the middle, but be careful and the dough can rip doing this.

When you’re happy with how the dough looks, lift it carefully onto something flat (I use the flat bottom of a glass platter) with semolina or cornmeal sprinkled on it to stop the dough sticking. Spray or brush the rim of the pizza with oil and sprinkle it with salt. Spread the sauce on the pizza, taking care not to cover the rim with sauce. Add whatever toppings you desire.

To get the pizza on the preheated stone or baking tray, I take the stone out of the oven, so the oven door is open for the least amount of time and the heat loss is minimised. Leopold then holds onto the glass platter close to the stone, tilting it down, while I gently pull the pizza onto the stone. I have done this successfully by myself, but it’s much easier with two people. If you have a pizza peel or a better way to get the pizza onto the stone, by all means employ it now, but this is my low-tech way of doing it. If the pizza bunches up or becomes misshapen, you can gently rearrange it on the stone, but try not to tear the dough.

UPDATE: Thank you Dan Lepard! An article by the baking aficionado informed me that a stiff piece of cardboard makes an excellent stand-in for a pizza peel. It definitely does! It slides right off the cardboard (as long as no part of it is stuck, so check this) meaning you no longer need to take the stone out of the oven – just open the door, place the edge of the cardboard on the stone and gently shove the pizza onto the stone. It also be used to remove the pizza from the oven.

Bake until everything looks golden and bubbly – about 10 minutes. Remove the pizza and stone from the oven and transfer the pizza a serving platter (or see update above). Return the stone to heat up again if you are making more pizzas (brush or scrape off any extra semolina/cornmeal on the stone before returning it to the oven, else it will burn and smoke).

ENJOY THE BEST HOME-MADE PIZZA OF YOUR LIFE!!

Note: In Nancy Silverton’s recipe, she first makes a sponge by dissolving the yeast in 210g water, then adding 180g flour and the rye flour. After an hour and a half, she adds the rest of flour and water and the other ingredients (except the salt) and continues with the recipe above. I have made the recipe both with and without this step and can’t really I say I noticed much difference, but I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Pizza Sauce

On both Peter Reinhart and Nancy Silverton’s recommendations I use a very quick-to-make uncooked pizza sauce. The sauce gets a brief cook the hot oven, leaving the tomato flavours bright and fruity.

  • one tin of whole, quality tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of garlic (or more!)
  • 1 tbsp wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1-2 tsp quality dried oregano
  • fresh basil if you have it
  • lots of salt and pepper

Blend all the ingredients together with a stick blender. Taste the sauce – it should be highly flavoured as you will only be spreading a little amount over the pizza and it will be cooked somewhat in the oven.

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