One can’t be the owner of a woodfired oven and not have attempted pizza! Once you go woodfired, I am afraid it firmly cements you into the mold of official pizza snob. No more Domino’s or Pizza Hut for you ever again!
We used to frequent a pizza/pasta place near our house, but no more. Alas, it just never rises to the occasion and you walk away feeling all critical and bloated, and need to drink a few litres of water overnight to rehydrate from the ‘pretend ham’ and ‘pretend cheese’ gastronomic meltdown.
Since owning our woodfired oven, we have tried many different types of pizza bases, and have finally settled on one recipe. I like my pizza bases thin and crisp – let’s face it, I don’t want to feel like I have just devoured a soft pillow, and I want to try as many different slices as possible. But it does all come down to personal preference.
The dough recipe we use comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Making Classic Breads with the Cutting-edge Techniques of a Bread Master. This is a fabulous book if you are after authentic, crusty, artisan bread recipes.
For pizza, we diverge from our normal use of stone ground bio dynamic flour (from Powlett Hill, near Clunes, VIC) to a finer grade Organic plain flour (it has more of that evil stuff starting with a ‘G’ aka Gluten – and for pizza dough, it’s just not the same without it).
With the toppings I have learnt one very important rule – don’t over crowd your pizzas with too many flavours. Keep it to a rule of 4, and more sparse you are with the toppings, the more you will appreciate the dough, toppings, crust and ingredients.
As we have become true pizza snobs, the whole notion of takeaway pizza has become a bit of a farce – or fast food for that matter. Good things take time. Great things take a whole day (or even longer). These days, if I feel like pizza it is a day long labour of love making dough, lighting fires, getting the oven to the right temperature and a whole lot of running around with dough on boards. If friends come over, Tom is lucky to get a slice, and is run off his feet. But it is totally worth it (says me sitting down with a nice glass of Sav blanc in my hand…).
Here’s our favourite dough recipe. It makes 6 dinner plate-sized pizza crusts. This dough can be made and kept in the fridge or even freezer until you are ready to use it. We make double the recipe if we are having 12 or so people around for dinner.
- 4 1/2 cups of unbleached, high gluten, organic flour – chilled (yes, chilled)
- 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 3/4 cups ice cold water (yes…chilled)
- Cornmeal or semolina
What you will need
- Large mixing bowl
- Spare flour
- Bench space (for kneading), or a mixer with a dough hook
- Pizza baking stone or wood fired oven
- Pizza paddle/board (optional)
- Pizza cutter
What to do
Make the dough
- Mix the flour, salt and yeast together
- Stir in the oil, and keep stirring in water until all of the flour is absorbed
- If mixing by hand, use a metal spoon, and mix the flour vigorously, rotating the bowl at the same time, or, if using a mixer, knead for 5-7 minutes (this develops the gluten)
- When it’s right, you will have a sticky dough, that clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom
- Prepare a tray with baking paper, and spay some oil onto this
- Sprinkle some flour on the counter, and place the dough on top, and cut the dough into 6 equal portions
- Sprinkle flour over the dough and then lift each piece gently into a ball
- Transfer the dough onto the tray, and then mist gently with oil spray
- Cover the dough with a food grade plastic bag
Rest the dough
- Put the dough into the refrigerator overnight (you can keep this up to 3 days). If you want to keep the dough even longer, put them at this stage into a freezer bag (and they can store in the freezer for up to 3 months). Transfer them to the fridge the day before you plan to use them
On pizza day
- On the day you wish to use the dough, remove them from the refrigerator only 2 hours before you need them
- Dust the counter, and then place a dough ball on the counter
- Sprinkle the dough with flour, then gently press it into 2cm thick, 10 cm in diameter rounds
- Sprinkle again with flour and a light mist of oil, and rest again for 2 hours
45 mins before making pizza (if using a pizza stone/conventional oven)
- Place a baking stone at mid level in the oven. Crank up the heat as high as it will go (that is about 250 degrees C in most conventional ovens)
- Generously dust a pizza paddle or pan with cornmeal or semolina so the dough will slide off when you put it in the oven
- Flour your hands, and then lift the dough onto the paddle/pan
- Carefully stretch the dough as much as you can (it is very springy) – continually shaping it until it’s expanded out
- If you are game, you can toss it like they do in the pizza shops (but I have only ever ended up looking silly at this point)
- The final sized pizza should be about 20cms wide
Use the less-is-more principle. In the past I used to throw everything onto a pizza, but I have learnt to really appreciate a few toppings. Plus, it’s too hard to handle a pizza that is heavy with toppings, and the base doesn’t always cook so well.
I will devote a page to pizza toppings, as there is a whole wonderful world of experimentation for you here.
Cooking the pizza
- Slide the pizza onto the stone, or into the wood-fired oven (test with some dough first to ensure it doesn’t burn – best temp is between 300-400 degrees C)
- Wait for 2 mins, and if necessary, turn the pizza around
- Cook for another 3 mins
- If the base is too brown, let the oven cool slightly before continuing
- When using a woodfired oven, if the cheese hasn’t gone golden, I slide the paddle under the pizza, and then old the pizza closer to the roof of the oven (like using a grill function)
- Remove the pizza and place on a wooden board
- Cut and devour!