I’m sure that many would upchuck at the thought of baked bean pizza but take my word for it, it is awesome. The boffins over at Heinz were obviously on to something when they came up with the frozen one.
These days my kids go wild for my own homemade version. It’s not complicated and any baked beans will do. Spread over your tomato sauce or just tomato paste if you prefer, and top with cheese. The bulk of the cheese is simply cheddar of one sort or another but you can finish it off with a little mozzarella if you like. Sprinkle some mixed herbs over if you like and voila!
So if it’s not baked bean pizza, what’s your favourite?
Several people have asked for my pizza recipe and while I often jot it onto a piece of paper for them, posting the ‘official’ version here might reassure them that ‘it really is that simple’. It certainly can be simple if you want it to be but there is a whole Interwebthingy strewn with debate, research, long versions, short versions, hints, tips and recipes from the pure and simple to the cluttered, chaotic and downright unnecessary. If you’re looking for a tomato sauce recipe, you won’t find it in this post but I will certainly cover it soon…
This is my version of a simple dough which is identical to so many out there. It was a starting point for experimentation, trial and error and my own search for great tasting pizza. I’m not saying it’s great by any high gluten stretch of the imagination and I’m not saying there aren’t better recipes out there but it’s a quick and simple version that could whet your appetite and launch you on your own quest for the Holy Grail of pizza.
The short way down
1 cup of plain flour
8 tbsp of warm water
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
Mix and knead for several minutes. Oil the inside of a bowl with a little olive oil or spray. Drop the ball of dough in and cover with Glad wrap or a damp cloth and leave somewhere warm. Leave to rise for a couple of hours or until it nearly doubles in size.
Punch the dough down in the centre and roll out on to a floured surface while the oven heats up to about 240° C. Add your tomato sauce and favourite toppings and bake for about 10 t0 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Once your dough is rolled out to the required size and thickness, transfer to a tray or other flat surface covered with semolina or cornmeal. This will enable the topped and finished pizza to easily slide off when you transfer it to the oven.
The long way ’round
For those partial to the convoluted, the following might satisfy your appetite. It’s the same simple recipe, just long-winded.
Flour – Strong baker’s flour is best but I often use the super-cheap supermarket homebrand. You can also buy specific bread and pizza flour such as the Anchor brand (for those of us in Australia) but generally, a strong, high protein, plain flour is what you’re after. High protein means higher elasticity and a better rise. Get King Arthur Bread flour if you can find it.
Salt – Good old fashioned table salt. A possibly interesting variation might be to use rock salt for an added crunchy suprise but until I find the salt shaker empty, I might just leave the rock for other recipes and emergencies.
Olive oil – I add a tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water and sometimes drizzle lightly over simple pizzas. A drop or two should be used to line the bowl to prevent sticking during the rise. The spray version is quite handy for this.
Water – 8 tablespoons of warm water should be a guide but 9 shouldn’t harm. If the dough isn’t slightly sticky add minute quantities and continue kneading. It should pull away from the bowl but just stick the bottom as you knead. Conversely, if it’s too wet, sticking to both hands and the bowl, simply sprinkle small quantities of flour. Apparently, an acceptable dough should stretch nicely without cracking.
Yeast – A level teaspoon of ordinary bakers yeast is sufficient for this recipe but this is one ingredient that you don’t necessarily double up on when making larger quantities. I believe this equates to a sachet of the common brands found in any supermarket. During your quest for the perfect pizza, yeast becomes very important but we’ll talk about that another time.
Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl. I use a hand whisk to disperse thoroughly. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and olive oil.
Use a fork and mix until mostly combined. This saves getting all gooed up. Then again, so does using an electric mixer with dough hooks. Now use a floured hand to knead the dough. I find, as many do, that the kneading process is quite relaxing. It’s also a more socially acceptable means of developing a strong right hand but I digress. This should be done for several minutes before covering and leaving in a warm place to rise. I usually use Glad wrap instead of a traditional damp cloth.
There is much debate concerning ingredients, methods and temperatures etc and the length and size of the dough rise is no exception but if I’m in a hurry, I’ll roll it out whenever I damn please.
Many will say that you must wait until it doubles in size and there are arguments for overnight rising but as this is supposed to be a super simple recipe, leave it until it has risen by about 50-75%, usually between 1 and 2 hours. I have even kept dough covered in the fridge for days before using it and if you find regular kneading a chore, or the size of your kneading arm grows to the embarrassing proportions of Popeye, make up a batch, divide into single pizza balls, rub with olive oil, seal in Glad wrap or sandwich bags and throw in the freezer for a rainy day. Once solid, they can be dropped into a sock to manufacture a formidable weapon against burglars, door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Once your dough has risen enough, dump it out onto a clean floured surface and punch the centre to expel the air. You can use your fist to start spreading the dough outwards. Purists will say you should use just your fingers to manipulate and stretch the dough to the required size and shape but this takes time. Personally, I more often than not use a medium sized empty jam jar. Starting from the middle, gently and evenly roll the dough outwards but avoid rolling the edge. Leaving a slightly thicker rim will result in a lovely crunchy hand hold and prevent hot goey ingredients from sliding off.
Once the dough is just about there or your patience runs out, whichever is sooner, wack the oven on at 240° C. If you are using a stone, then aim for a good 20 minutes or more to heat up properly. I have heard conflicting theories on stone placement, whether it be top or bottom of the oven and it may just have been luck but I have slightly better results by placing the stone at the top of my rather crappy fan-assisted oven. You’ll have to experiment. Keep an eye on it but at this temperature, 10 minutes should do but take it out when the cheese has melted and the crust is golden brown.
If, like me, you catch the pizza-making bug, it will not be long before you begin the quest for the ‘perfect pizza’. However, you need not look much further than Jeff Varasano’s web site. Just ask Google for ‘the perfect pizza recipe’ and Jeff’s site sits in the number one spot. I’ve scanned it numerous times to glean tips but it makes my mouth water in a particularly undignified and wholly Homer-like fashion, every time I visit. I shall have to wear a bib should I ever be lucky enough to visit his recently opened pizzeria in New York!
In the end
The key to making great pizza, in my opinion, is to keep it simple and this recipe is certainly that. By all means experiment with every step until you are satisfied. Get yourself a pizza stone, cook quicker at higher temperatures or for longer on lower, try the top of the oven as well as the lower, add grated Parmesan or mixed herbs to the dough or vary the thickness of crust. All this I will endeavor to cover another time.
All said and done, you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise call Domino’s!