I love pizza. I could eat pizza every day if I was allowed. It’s everything I love all wrapped into one handful of food. Bread, cheese, sauces, meat, herbs, everything. It’s got to be the first fast food, I’m sure. The thought of making it myself has always come with a little stress, or a resignation that it’s “homemade” it’ll be good, but not great. Heck, I’m no pizza maker, although my first job at 14 years old was at a Pizza Hut, where everything was laid out like an assembly line, cheap pre-cut meat in plastic bags, frozen grated cheese. Plus the customers weren’t connoisseurs, they were simply hungry. The only thing fresh about it was the attitude you’d get. No, for me, the thought of making pizza, the likes of pizza I’ve eaten in Italy scared me. But I don’t like being scared, by anything. Period. I must find a way to conquer this fear. I must get to the bottom of what it takes to make the perfect pizza. As I mulled this thought over and over, for many years, it always comes down to one thing. Dough. The right or wrong dough can screw up any chance of making a great pizza. It would be chewy, or too doughy, or rubbery or fall apart. Should I add things to the dough? Olive oil perhaps? Mineral water from Italy? Should I use salt that was hand picked in Sicily? No. Great pizza dough should be made from basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast and a little salt. That’s it. But it can’t be, it sounds too simple, too easy to screw up. Heck I’ve got a bag of flour, I’m sure every basic kitchen does. But is it the right flour? I’d bet it isn’t. In my research I found what is purported to be “The best flour for making Napolitano style Pizza”. It’ s “Tipo 00” flour, double zero referring to the fineness of the ground flour, but this flour comes from the mother land, it can’t be wrong. The brand name mentioned in my research is Antico Molino Caputo, from Naples. Okay, so I’ve got the right flour, water, active yeast. Now what? What I need now is a wood burning oven that can reach temperatures of 800°F. Sure, no problem, right? Wrong, I don’t have that. I’ve got a simple oven, like most people. It can get to 500° F. max. What can I do in my simple kitchen to pull off this perfect pizza dough? I need a baking stone. A simple piece of unglazed tile (made for the task). A $20.00 item. Some say a trip to the hardware store to pick up a piece of unglazed terracotta brick will also do the trick. This baking stone must heat up for a minimum of forty five minutes at the ovens highest baking temperature, in order to bake your dough quickly and crisply from the bottom up. As for the preparation, you’ve got to give yourself time. Make the dough at noon, if you want to eat it for dinner. You want it to rise, for about two hours, then you’ll make your dough balls, which will become the individual pizzas and then let them rest for at least another hour, to an hour and a half. Another very important tip is NOT to use a rolling pin to form your pizza. You will squeeze out all the air and your dough will become flat. You will also need a Pizza peel, which is basically a large spatula with a long handle, that you will assemble the pizza on and slide it into and out of the oven without burning your arms. But most importantly you will need the “Tipo 00” flour. Since I was planning on making a bunch of pizzas, I got a bunch of ingredients. We also needed a basic tomato sauce, so of course the “Salsa Finta” was made. A jar of San Marzano tomatoes works perfectly. I’ve also got some fresh basil, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, shallot, dried Italian chili peppers, buffalo mozzarella, Fontina, capers, prosciutto. Of course you can use anything your heart desires, but I was going for the real deal Holyfield. Pardon the boxing reference, I digress. On to the preparation.
INGREDIENTS: For 4 medium sized Pizzas
For the dough:
(The reason I put the weight is because measuring these baking ingredients by weight is much more accurate and in this recipe accuracy is super important)
4 cups or 500gr or Antico Molino Caputo “Tipo 00” flour
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons water (65% hydration)
2 teaspoons or 10gr of salt
1/2 teaspoon or 3gr of dry active yeast
A NOTE ABOUT THE YEAST:
In some kitchens and environments the yeast rises really slow or barely for some people. In colder months this has happened to me as well, leaving me confused as to why. I have finally solved this by making sure that I use warm water (not hot) in all of my preparation. I place the yeast in a bowl with a 1/2 cup of very warm water, reserving the remaining cup for the dough. I stir the yeast and warm water well and wait 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes even adding a pinch of sugar to it. This actually brings the yeast culture to life and activates it. You will see the mixture bubbling and begin to foam in the bowl. That is when I add it to the flour.
2 cups of Salsa Finta, San Marzano tomatoes (whole, peeled or pureed) or your whatever your favorite tomato sauce is.
1 large ball of fresh buffalo mozzarella (Strain first), 1/4 lb of Italian Fontina
1 shallot, thinly sliced
fresh oregano, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme
3 thin slices of imported Prosciutto (If you can’t get Italian, get Canadian)
capers (strained), dried Italian red pepper (chili peppers)
extra virgin olive oil
wood burning pizza oven – or – baking stone
accurate measuring cups or food scale
You will need a large mixing bowl and a couple measuring cups.
The most important ingredient, “00” flour. This brand is Antico Molino Caputo “00”
Four cups of the flour go into the bowl.
Two teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast go into the bowl.
You will need 1 1/2 cup of water, plus 2 tablespoons of water.
Into the bowl you will first pour half of the water.
Start mixing the ingredients by hand in the bowl. The dough will start sticking to itself.
Add the rest of the water and continue mixing thoroughly as the dough comes to shape.
Once mixed the ball stops sticking to the bowl, you can cover this with a damp cloth and set aside for one and a half to two hours. It should rise by double its size.
After the dough has risen, punch it in the middle, releasing the air gap. Then divide the ball into three equal sized balls. Each piece needs to be shaped into a ball gently, stretch the top of the ball down and around the rest of the ball, until the outer layer wraps around the other side. Pinch the two ends together to make a smooth ball with the tight outer skin.
Place the balls of dough on a flour dusted tray where it can rest. Dust the tops with flour and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. This will prevent them from drying out. Let them rest for another hour until they become soft and elastic. If you won’t get to them that soon, you can put them into a refrigerator.
Use this time to preheat your oven and baking stone. Remember, preheat the stone and oven together, do not place the stone into a hot oven or the stone can crack. You will place the stone on the bottom rack and turn up the heat to 500f.
Now that the time has passed, take your pizza peel, and dust lightly with flour. You should also dust your hands with flour before handling the dough balls. You will take the dough and begin spreading it out by hand, stretching and turning like a wheel until it is roughly a round shape, the size of your pizza peel. You want the pizza to be thin as possible without breaking. Place it on the floured pizza peel.
Next you will take about two spoons of the tomato sauce of your choice. I used our “Salsa Finta“.
Spread the sauce out evenly.
Take the strained buffalo mozzarella and cut a few slices.
Break the slices of buffalo mozzarella and evenly distribute. You do not want to cover the pizza completely, for that go to Domino’s.
Take a handful of the fresh capers and sprinkle around evenly.
Dried wild mountain oregano and peperoncini a treccia.
I sprinkle a little oregano and peperoncini on top and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, then it’s into the oven for roughly ten minutes. This is something to do by eye, as temperatures vary from opening and closing the oven. You want the outside crust brown, not burned.
Voila! Out of the oven, nicely melted cheese, bubbly sauce and thin crispy crust. Dare I say, perfect even.
This second version doesn’t use the “Salsa Finta”. I use a base of extra virgin olive oil drizzled onto the dough. I slice the Fontina into small pieces and evenly distribute. I do not over do the toppings. It is important for the toppings not to become overwhelming.
I sprinkle fresh rosemary leaves, fresh thyme leaves, one half of a shallot, sliced thinly.
I top that with the two slices of prosciutto.
Into the oven that goes. No more than 10 minutes in the oven, keeping an eye on the brownness of the crust.
The finished pie is perfectly crispy and flavorful.