I know what you’re thinking. Your reaction to this picture is, "that’s a bizarre shape for a pizza!"
I admit. I struggled with the dough. It behaved atrociously, and no matter what I did, it rebelled. No amount of coaxing or cajoling could turn it round or rectangular. It wouldn’t budge. I think it was a miracle I managed to make it stay open so I could quickly shove in the toppings before it went berserk on me again. This pizza dough – made from scratch – was wet, sticky and unwieldy. I was tempted to chuck it.
Then someone whispered in my ear that people were starving elsewhere so decided against it. With all the patience I could harness, I caressed it with pizza sauce, sprinkled it generously with thinly sliced green peppers, mushrooms, salami/prosciutto, dressed it up with mozzarella and then dribbled a few drops of hot pepper sauce.
What happened after that? This pizza was a true, certified gourmet delight. Mouth watering – and I’m not exaggerating!
When it came out of the oven, I set it on the table while I prepared a green salad. When I sank my teeth into it, my taste buds were suddenly energized. It was oozing with taste, I forgot that infamous struggle earlier. Think of a pizza baked in a makeshift brick or stone oven at the back of a country home in an old Italian countryside. Yes, it tasted that way. To use an oft-repeated phrase – it was to die for!
Home, home on the range. What an accidentally delicious pizza that landed on my plate!
I can think of at least three good reasons why this pizza came out a winner:
- I added some sourdough starter. They say using a small amount of sourdough starter injects it with extra flavor. It is certainly much, much better than store-bought pizzas. You know how some commercial pizzas taste like cardboard?
- The dough recipe was a combination of semolina, rye and all-purpose flour.
- The baking stone and the high heat
While this pizza deserved flying colors for taste and flavor, I suspect that the sourdough starter may have contributed to the dough being unmanageable. Was high hydration the culprit (my starter is 100% hydration)? Should I reduce the amount of water when using a starter?
Second, I’m not exactly sure that setting the oven temperature at 475 degrees (F) is a good idea. Some experts say that the baking stone combined with high heat will yield the ideal crust. I have my doubts. I’d much rather set the oven at 350 degrees and bake it for an additional 7-10 minutes – for a total baking time of 20 minutes. Broiling the pizza for two minutes on high is also a good idea. Most of the recipes I’ve come across recommend 475 degrees for 8-10 minutes, depending on the crust’s thickness. Next time I’ll pre-heat the oven at that temperature and then reduce the heat to 350 as soon as the pizza goes in.
The first pizza dough had rye, semolina and all-purpose unbleached flours. The second one had organic bread flour and all-purpose unbleached. I used my starter in both cases. The first pizza with the three flours was a lot more flavorful. The semolina gives the crust a nutty taste with excellent crunchiness.
Now that I’ve learned to make pizza dough from scratch, it’s going to be hard for me to buy commercial pizza again. As soon as I find the right blend to make the dough more pliable, I’ll make batches and freeze them (they will hold well in the freezer for up to two weeks).
Here’s a tip from the experts: less is more. This means don’t smother your pizza with pizza sauce and use more than 3-4 toppings (cheese and sauce excluded). They say there must be a good balance of the sauce, cheese and toppings. Let the cheese and toppings come out in their full flavor, without one encroaching on the other.
Other possible combinations: chopped spinach with goat cheese, basil leaves and spicy sausage, grilled eggplant, asparagus and palm hearts.
How about just cheese? Whatever your heart desires. But be a convert to "pizza from scratch."