Friday, 9 August 2013

Easy Pizza Dough

Finally! A pizza dough recipe that has actually been successful! Words cannot describe how thrilled I was to find a recipe that gave me a thick, slightly spongy pizza crust upon which I could pile tomatoes and cheese to my heart's content. There were practically tears of joy streaming down my face.

I've said before that doughs have never been my strong suit. On the long, loonng journey to this perfect pizza base I encountered many that were sub par to say the least. All too often my hopes of a springy dough would be crushed by an unrisen lump that baked to a tomato topped rock in the oven. You know what I'm talking about. But my family still ate the results. Troopers.

I've made this recipe twice now. I'm staying with my brother and his girlfriend at the moment, and thought a rewarding pizza at the end of a hard day's toil in the garden would be just the thing we needed. I'd noticed that they had 'dried yeast' as well as 'easy blend yeast', I've only ever come across the easy blend kind before, and now I suspect that's why my doughs have rarely ever been successful - I've been using the wrong kind. Dried yeast is the kind that you have to 'reactivate' in warm water before mixing in with flour and any other ingredients. I was doubtful, but I thought I'd give it ago. I'm so glad I did. This recipe gives a thick, chewy, delicious crust that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It's not too thick, but it's substantial enough to rival chain pizza bases and to triumph over shop bought any day. this recipe is easy, quick, and dare I say it - fool proof.

The pizzas we had for tea were so good that my brother suggested I make them again the next day for lunch when my Aunt came to visit (hi, Aunty Chris!). I call them fool proof because, even though I ran out of time (woke up late) and didn't give the dough enough time to rise properly, amazingly, the pizzas came out fine. Wonderful, in fact. I actually think I preferred the dough this way; the first time I made this recipe I allowed the dough time to rise properly, the end results were really really good, but the second 'semi' rise yielded a slightly thinner, less airy crust, that better matched the proportion of toppings. You can decide how you make yours, both were great.

I urge you to try home made pizzas at least once. The satisfaction of knowing exactly what went into them is enormous, and they are totally customisable, round, rectangular, or completely skew-whiff, they are your own and carry that rustic charm that restaurants aim for, but can never truly create en mass. These bases are versatile, and will carry any toppings you want; I made one of ours margarita with a homemade tomato sauce, and one was topped with courgettes, potatoes, goat's cheese, rocket and caramelised onions (highly recommended!) Once you make your own you'll never look back!

Pizza Dough
Makes 2 medium bases

600g strong white bread flour
2 tsp active dried yeast
375ml warm water
pinch of sugar
1tsp salt
3tbsp olive oil

1. Whisk the yeast and sugar into the warm water, set aside for 5-10 minutes, until frothy.
2. Add the salt to the flour, then make a well in the center and pour in the olive oil and frothy yeast/water mixture. Mix with your hand or a wooden spoon until combined in a sticky dough and turn out onto a floured work surface.
3. Knead the dough, adding more flour if you need it to stop the dough sticking to your bench or your hands. Knead until smooth and very elastic, about 6-10 minutes. A piece of dough pulled gently should spring back when you let it go.
4. Place in an oiled bowl and give the dough a few turns to cover the dough in oil, this prevents a skin forming while the dough is rising. Cover the bowl in clingfilm or a tea towel and leave to rest in a sunny spot for at least half an hour, or until risen slightly. Here is where you determine the thickness and sponginess of your end result. A longer rising time will mean more air bubbles and a thicker, but more airy dough. On my second making after half an hour the dough had barely risen at all, but I decided to stick with it, top it and stick it in the oven and the end result was probably the best pizza base I've ever made.
5. Preheat your oven to 220 degrees or gas mark 8. Once risen (or semi-risen) turn the dough out onto a floured surface and give it a few punches down to remove any large air bubble. Stretch the dough to fit your baking tray/pizza pan with your fingers. If you don't have a baking sheet specifically designed for pizzas (they have little holes in the bottom to ensure even cooking and a slightly crispy base) just put your pizza bases onto a metal cooling rack that is on top of a baking tray. This allows the air to circulate underneath, while the baking tray will catch and spills.
6. Top your pizza bases with whatever you want, then bake for 5 minutes at gas mark 8, then reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees, or gas mark 6, and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden and your toppings and crust are cooked through.

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