I am very fortunate to have in my kitchen in the farmhouse a fabulous wood burning oven, so for me to make good pizzas at home is not so difficult.
I am well aware that the average kitchen is not so equipped, so I have been experimenting with a standard fan oven to see how to achieve the desired crispy pizza. The key to success involves a trip to your builders suppliers to buy some refractory or fire bricks. These are the bricks that are used to line fire places and traditional ovens. You will not need many, just enough to line a shelf of your oven. Even though I have the wood burning oven, lining the floor with fire bricks has improved hugely the quality of pizzas and breads that I bake.
It is possible to buy online bread stones which will do a similar job, but without buying several and trying them out I cannot vouch for their effectiveness. Having said that, the pros and cons seem to me to be that; the fire bricks are usually 3 cm thick, which will hold the heat better than something thinner, and so cook the pizza quicker and give a crisper result, but to get the bricks to fit your oven you might have to trim some of them. The fire stones come in a neat size and shape, but are generally thinner, so may not give you such a crisp pizza.
The fire bricks or pizza stones act in a similar way to the thick base of pans – they hold and evenly distribute the heat. When you put your pizza or loaf on the hot bricks, there will be enough heat already in them to start cooking it straight away, and hence you get a crisper result.
The bricks or baking stone need to be put into a cold oven and then heated up, and when you have finished baking leave them in the oven to cool down slowly.
If they cool too rapidly they are likely to crack. In a fan assisted oven heat it to 250 C which is the maximum in mine. At his temperature the pizzas will only take about 7 minutes to cook, so bear this in mind and either remind yourself with a timer, or don’t wander off. This is important when you have guests who can distract you. You can tell that I am speaking from experience here.
The other key to creating an authentic style crisp pizza is to go light on the toppings especially the wet ingredients. Remember the toppings are there to flavour the bread rather than the bread being a raft for lots of heavy cheese and salami. Also getting the pizza onto the bricks is not so easy and when it is heavy with toppings it is much more likely to break.
For novices I can recommend using one of those silicon sheets. Lay the pizza base on the sheet, add toppings and then put the whole thing on the bricks.
For the pizza base, I use a standard white bread dough –
500 gms strong white bread flour
15 gms fresh yeast or 7 gms dried
300 ml tepid water
1 tablespoon / 15 ml olive oil
1 tablespoon / 15 ml sea salt
I make my dough in a bread machine – simply put all the ingredients in the machine, the order is not important, put it onto the dough programme, and leave it to it.
If you don’t have one then making it by hand is not complicated.
Sieve the flour into a bowl or onto a board and make a well in the centre.
Measure the water in a jug and add to it the salt, yeast and oil. Stir to mix.
Pour the water mix into the well in the flour and bit by bit mix with the flour.
If you have a dough hook attachment for you mixer you can use this.
Turn the dough onto a floured board if it is not already on one, and knead to mix well for about five minutes.
Put into a bowl that will leave room for growth, cover with cling film, put in a warm draft free place for about an hour or until it has doubled in size.
The dough made in the machine and the hand made are snow at the same stage.
Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for a couple of minutes. It will lose some of its volume, but don’t worry.
It is now ready to be rolled into pizzas. The size is up to you. If you are feeling up to it you can have go at the twirlIng method used by the professionals. I am rubbish at it, so can offer no advice, I use a rolling pin pastry style and plenty of flour on the work surface to stop it sticking.
So to toppings.This is where creativity and imagination can be used, although the choices are much more often down to what is in the store cupboard or in season.
The simplest is to brush the rolled dough with olive oil and then sprinkle with salt.
Add chopped or crushed garlic and you have the best ever garlic bread.
The oil with fresh herbs especially rocket, rosemary or basil. Try the herbs with grated lemon zest to add extra zing.
The topping above is yellow and red peppers stewed in olive oil with garlic and chorizo.
I make Passata in the summer from tomatoes, garlic and courgettes and this is perfect base on pizzas for either seafood, or the Neopolitan mix of black olives, capers, chilli and chopped garlic.
Now we start with the cheese. I love Globe Artichokes sliced thinly and stewed in oil, put onto the pizza base and strewn with grated salty Parmesan.
A new favourite since the visit to Naples is smoked mozerella and chilli. Here with Parma ham and mushrooms.
A smearing of tomato, then thin shavings of Pecorino, and fresh Asparagus.
The options are endless and yours to choose. Have fun with them.