This culinary adventure began with a simple idea. At some point over the weekend, I knew I would want pizza. I had no idea when the mood would strike, nor what my circumstances would be when it did.
Would it be in the morning? Are pizza places open in the morning?
What about the afternoon? Do I really want to be that guy stood in a takeaway on a Saturday afternoon, making small talk and inventing a party I was going to so they wouldn’t figure out I was going to eat two pizzas alone while watching Criminal Minds?
I could get the urge in the evening, but that has its own concerns. Most evenings I settle into quite a routine:
- I throw on something casual (PJs or sweats)
- Take my socks off (because that is the ultimate sign that your day has finished. When your bare feet hit the floor, you know it’s over)
- Light my oil burner (because I like my flat to smell like a tropical paradise)
- Grab myself a cup of tea
- Become Batman
What if I feel myself sinking into my sofa, ready to allow laziness and the hypnotic lights of my TV to guide me towards slumber? What if the people of Gotham find that they need a hero? Suddenly, I feel a rumbling in my stomach. I would have to frantically scavenge in my fridge, only to find that I have nothing in which would satisfy this craving. I can’t do that to the citizens.
I would be forced to put on outside clothes and venture into the town center. I would be required to push through the throngs of drunken revellers beginning their night, only to arrive at the place where many of their nights would end.
This was an unacceptable series of possible outcomes. I knew I would want pizza and I knew there was only one reasonable solution. So on Wednesday evening, I made pizza dough.
Making pizza dough is a simple and cathartic exercise. I really don’t understand why more people don’t do it. It’s flour, water, yeast, salt and sugar. You can probably get a bit more complicated if you want (I raided my spice drawer for a few added bits), but essentially it’s a load of stuff you already own.
The only drawback to making your own dough is time. The actual act of creation itself takes about half an hour, including cleaning up. It’s the proofing and extra kneading that means that it requires forethought.
This is why I began the effort on Wednesday.
If you’re willing to plan ahead slightly, you are in for a real treat. Imagine having your significant other round, you’re both discussing what to have for tea (dinner) and you settle on pizza. Instead of arguing over where to order from, what to have on it, etc; you just stand up, go into the kitchen and rustle up an Italian classic. It even takes less time to assemble and cook than most takeaways, leaving you with more time to bask in the smug glow of your partner’s awe inspired gaze.
Let’s get started.
Before you start grabbing ingredients, you need to put on some music. You’re creating a piece of gastronomical art here today, it needs a soundtrack. I opted for some classic Ratpack; Dean Martin all the way. Just so I could sing “That’s Amore” (almost word for word) while choosing herbs and pouring olive oil. God, I felt so Italian.
With the music chosen, now we cook.
Ingredients (This will make enough dough for two decent sized pizzas):
- About 500g of plain flour (most recipes call for “00” flour, but I could not be bothered to find that so I just used strong bread flour)
- Yeast (If you have those sachets, use one. If you have a can of it like I do, about one teaspoon should do it)
- 1 dessert-spoon of salt (I used coarse sea salt, but use whatever you want. Throw in some pink Himalayan sea salt if the mood takes you)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar (I used date sugar because it was all I had, but you can use brown, white, castor, not icing sugar because that’s ridiculous)
- About 350ml of tepid water (lukewarm, room temperature whatever you call it, just make sure it’s not boiling or freezing. It’s to make the yeast work, in case you were wondering)
- Some spices (I had fennel seeds and sage to hand, so I ground them and threw them in. They’re not necessary, but they add a little something extra)
- Olive oil (not sure how to elaborate on this one…)
- More flour (believe me, you will need it)
Quick word of warning: You may get messy. Your kitchen may get messy. Your taps may get messy. Maybe your pets, who knows?
Method (I use this term loosely):
- Sift the flour into a large bowl, throw in the salt and herbs, give it a quick mix and then make a well in the middle of it all.
- Put the yeast and sugar in with the water and stir it until it’s all dissolved.
- Pour a little bit of the yeasty, sugary water in the well you made.
- You know have a choice. Spoon or hands? You can keep your distance from your creation or you can throw caution to the wind and dive right on in. I’m a diver, it’s how I roll.
- Mix the flour and water together, adding a bit more when necessary. You will need to use all of the water mixture so you will probably need more flour.
- When it’s all stuck together in a big, doughy ball you will have to get your hands messy. You are going to have to grab hold of it and give it a good knead. Seriously squash it, you want it all mixed and pressed together.
- Spread some flour on your countertop and put your dough on there. Don’t wash the bowl though. You will need it.
- Kneading is basically: flatten, fold, roll, squash, repeat. Just keep doing that over and over again for about 20 minutes. Seriously, grab it, squash it, punch it, powerslam it, who cares?
- If you want to know if it’s time to stop kneading, take a smallish bit (about a golf ball) and stretch it out. If it goes incredibly thin without breaking, time to move on. If not, I’d suggest “Little Ole Wine Drinker, Me” while you give it another five minutes of controlled violence. In case you were wondering, it’s something to do with gluten strands. I am not 100% sure about this.
- Once it’s fully kneaded, pour a little olive oil into your mixing bowl. You need enough to make sure that the inside of the bowl is nice and coated.
- Put your dough in, cover the top with clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm. Somewhere near your boiler or something, not in an oven.
Well done, you’ve just made dough. It’s not difficult, but the payoff will be extraordinary. Quick tip: If you’re struggling to get the dough of your hands, grab some flour and rub your hands together. The flour absorbs the moisture and makes it fall off.
Now, pour yourself a glass of wine or open up a Birra Moretti, Hell you can make yourself a Martini (or, in my case an Old Fashioned). You’ve just made the first steps towards an awesome meal. You deserve it!
Next time, we top this bad boy…