It’s been a rough week down at the old Pizza Home. On Saturday, I forgot to put yeast in my dough, and then blamed the lack of a rise on the temperature in the house until it was too late. It was only when I pulled the first pizza from the oven and bit into the comatose crust that I realised what I’d done.
Fortunately, I’d been curious enough about the Northern Dough Company’s frozen offering that I’d bought a pack. So, come whiskey wednesday, I gave it a try. I’d left it in the fridge to defrost overnight, and then I left it at room temperature, or at least near the woodburner, for a couple of hours.
The appearance of the dough balls was uninspiring. Inert lumps the colour of plasticine when you’ve blended all the colours together. They’d not appreciably changed shape or size since coming out of the fridge. It was déja vu all over again.
Hand stretching was a non-starter. The texture was also more like plasticine than not. So I used a rolling pin and made a 30cm round. It didn’t even liven up in the hot oven, instead catching on the edges, and emerging from the oven with a texture not unlike the dough I’d forgotten to put yeast into. It reminded me a bit of those pancake-like tarte flambée crusts you can buy in French supermarkets.
All in all, the worst week for pizza since the local Domino’s opened.
This is a three-stage dessert pizza, and you can prepare most of it in advance, finishing off in the oven just before serving. Top tip: you’re going to want to wait for this to cool a little before you attempt to eat it.
I started by rolling out the dough ball quite thinly to a 30 cm round, and placed it on one of those perforated circular pizza oven trays. I then docked the base and cooked it in a 200°C oven for about 8-10 minutes, until it was still pale but just cooked.
Allow to cool.
Meanwhile, peel the pears and slice them quite thickly. Poach the slices in about 300ml water with 100g caster sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. You want them just soft, not mushy. Carefully remove the slices from the poaching water to drain and set aside.
Put about half a standard tub of mascarpone in a small bowl, add a tbsp of caster sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla and mix vigorously to make a spreadable vanilla cream.
Spread the cream generously on the cooled pizza base and then spread the pear slices evenly over the top.
Break up the chocolate into small pieces and spread them over the pear slices.
The crumble topping (made with butter, flour and sugar, as in a standard fruit crumble) is added later.
To serve hot, slide the pear pizza into a hot oven and keep turning until the edges of the crust are starting to brown and the cream is bubbling. I’m using a back yard wood-fired oven, so this bit is fast. In a kitchen oven, it will take longer and you will only have to turn it if it’s not cooking evenly.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle over the crumble topping. Return to the oven until the topping is starting to brown.
This sweet pizza will be scalding hot and the toppings very slippery, but let it cool for a couple of minutes and it holds together perfectly well.
The new Brandi Carlile album, In These Silent Days, is very good, and feels as if it might be her best yet, even better than her breakthrough. It’s impossible to categorise other than as “singer/songwriter” and it takes in a lot of styles. Occasionally you can hear (or I should say, even I who know nothing can hear) Joni Mitchell among other influences, but Carlile is her own thing, because only she has that incredible voice. Also out this month, and also worth a listen: Alvarado by The Wild Feathers.
We watched Season 2 of Ted Lasso without the surprise element, but there was still delight. It’s a remarkable thing: an experiment in the effects of kindness and friendship. The only fly in the ointment, a kind of cartoonish villain, whose hair turned from black to almost white in the course of the season. I watched, as usual, through a veil of tears.
Various British TV programmes named after street addresses have been on. The one about the nazis, which was quite good, and the one about the murdered child, which generates more of a sigh. Too often, when women are given prominent roles in British-made series, they are playing the part of a nervous, hysterical, or paranoid wife/mother. One of the refreshing things about Ted Lasso was the feeling that this was not the case. It is possible to create shows in which women are something other than prostitutes or half-crazed, but all too often the default position is that it’s a bunch of men who for some reason are on their own, apart from when they’re being moaned at by their hysterical wives or serviced by a sex worker.
I think, after my second back yard pizza making season with it, that I’ve cracked the use of the One oven by Alfa Forni. It takes between 45 minutes and an hour to get the oven floor to the right temperature. This does not require a whole lot of wood: maybe the equivalent of a single chunky firewood log, cut into smaller pieces. Then you add a small log between each pizza to maintain the temperature. The trick is to be totally relaxed. Cook a pizza, share it with the family, then prep the next one. All of which means there are 10 or 15 minutes between each pizza. I’m not saying you couldn’t go faster; it’s just that there’s usually no need to. When cooking, you have to watch it like a hawk, and definitely don’t do what I did a couple of weeks ago, and wander off and forget there’s a pizza in the oven. Or tonight, when I put a chicken in after the pizzas to roast, and completely forgot about it. Luckily, the natural drop in the oven’s temperature (and the fact that I’d wrapped it in foil after 15 minutes) meant that it wasn’t even slightly ruined.
I bought a new Mac: an M1 Macbook Air, paying extra for a bigger hard drive and more RAM than the standard. My previous machine was bought in early 2014. It’s long in the tooth. Plus, I spilt coffee on the keyboard during lockdown and it has never been the same. It has lost all four of its feet. And one of its speakers is borked. I decided that, given that I might be a mere five years or so from retirement, I ought to get one now so as to get more useful life out of it. The thing about getting a new Mac: Apple make the process of transferring over all your stuff so easy that you end up feeling as if you’re still on the old computer. I had to enter a few passwords (including my Apple ID a few too many times), and there are about five apps I use that have to make use of the Rosetta on-the-fly code translation from Intel to ARM. Otherwise, the transition was painless. Meanwhile, to connect a projector via HDMI or an SD card from my system camera, it’s welcome to dongle town. But does it feel faster? It does. The launching of applications and the rendering of windows is super-quick. I don’t process much video or audio these days, so the best test I could do was to open a Timeline 3D file and get it to render the (very large) timeline, which was full of hi-res images. The comparison is below.
It’s been about a year since, with heart-in-mouth, I electronically transferred a wodge of money to a complete stranger and bought my Alfa ONE backyard pizza oven. I’d been thinking about it for a long, long time, and during Lockdown #1, I asked myself, if not now, when? I really wanted to have one in the garden in France, but Brexit has thrown my retirement plans into doubt, and the truth is that Saturday night is pizza night, whichever country I’m in. I tracked my first attempts here and further progress in this post, but now I’ve had it a year, it’s time for a proper review.
I had been considering a slightly larger model, which was reduced in a sale and was therefore about the same price as the ONE. I think that was the Ciao, which can do two pizzas at once and comes on a base with wheels. This was a genuine dilemma, but in the end I doubted whether I’d ever be in a position to cook two pizzas at once. My production line is not quite that efficient, and I don’t have that much space in terms of preparation area. So I went for the ONE, even though I slightly worried that its diminutive size would make it less effective.
What do you get for your money? It weighs 55kg, which is about the weight of a small adult human. It can be lifted, but it’s more of a two person lift. It comes with feet, but any base/surface is going to cost you extra. I bought a small stainless steel table from Amazon, which is fine, though it’s not the outdoor kitchen of my dreams. Other than that, you get the oven, which is stainless steel and comes in an attractive hammered copper finish. It has a stone floor and an insulated domed roof, with a removable chimney and baffle. There’s a lift-off door and a fire grate, and you get a small pizza peel which I’ve not bothered to use. I use the peel I was already using, but I bought a turning/lifting peel, which I’m still mastering. I have not yet managed to get a suitable wire brush to clean the oven floor (I’m improvising). My main problem there is lack of space, so I can’t have anything with too long a handle.
All this previously documented and linked above. Photos on those earlier posts too. The video above shows some of the pizzas being made, though you’ll have to excuse the one-handed pretend dough stretching and pizza turning. I’m really much better at it with two hands. Also, because I was doing it one handed, and close to a naked flame a lot of the time, I did vertical video and then had to crop, which is not ideal.
Apart from the turning peel, the essential items are an infra-red thermometer for measuring the temperature of the oven floor, and a set of sturdy heat proof gloves, such as you use with a woodburning stove. You’ll also need to give some consideration to the wood you use, and learn to plan ahead.
The air temperature in the oven gets very hot very fast. But the floor takes longer. I said in an earlier post that it takes at least 30 minutes, but actually it’s more like 45. It really is worth waiting for the floor temperature to get up because it makes a huge difference to the quality of your bases. It’s also sensible to let the flames die down so that the pizza cooks in the (considerable) residual heat. This might slow down your pizza nights as you add a bit more fuel now and then and wait for the flames to die down. I think this is one of the side effects of the smaller size.
In terms of wood, most of the kiln dried stuff you can buy commercially is, unfortunately, ash. Ash is a bit shit: doesn’t burn very hot. What you want is oak and birch, and you sometimes get this as part of a delivery, but it’s the luck of the draw. I buy my wood from Certainly Wood: it’s kiln dried, so there’s no burning of low quality wet wood around here, because it’s bad for the environment. Certainly Wood offer a couple of products of interest to the back yard cook. You can get a supply for smaller-cut logs, and you can also get apple wood logs for extra flavour. The smaller cut logs save a lot of time with the hand axe. More importantly, they’re much more suitable as kindling for the very efficient Scandinavian woodburning stove we have in the house.
But here’s a tip if you want to get the temperature really high in your oven and you’re struggling with ash: coffee logs. You get 16 of these in a bag, and, once you’ve lit your fire with regular wood, you just need about three of the coffee logs to get the oven hot enough for three pizzas and (if required) a roast chicken. And we’re talking hot. Not to mention the warm feeling you get burning a recycled product of the vast coffee industry.
That’s really the amazing thing about the ONE. Yes, the fire is small, and the space you have to work in within the dome is cramped (getting those coffee logs in can be a bit of a faff), but it’s incredibly fuel efficient. The equivalent of a couple of standard logs – or three coffee logs – is enough for my traditional three family pizzas. And afterwards, you can chuck in a spatchcocked chicken or small roasting joint, and cook it ready for the next day. The chicken I do for 30 minutes in total, turning it around after 15 minutes. It doesn’t burn, but it cooks brilliantly. And then, if you felt so inclined, you could bake some kind of tart or custard in the remaining residual heat. As an alternative to barbecuing, you could fire it up and cook some chicken pieces, or fish, and roast some Mediterranean vegetables. It really uses very little fuel.
Once I learned to be patient with the heating up, my pizza game was lifted up a notch. All I need now is for my grown up daughters to stop living, ridiculously, away from home – or at least to be around on a Saturday night. The old black magic.
While I still have a lot to learn, things have been improving on the pizza and other fronts, as I’ve fired up the oven a few times. The gallery below shows some of my efforts.
It takes about half an hour for the floor of the oven to get hot enough. This is actually a reasonable amount of time, if you plan your day right. Light the fire, get it going, and then start getting your shit together in the kitchen. There are also a range of things you can use the oven for at different temperatures, so with a well-planned campaign, you could get a lot done. And the amazing thing is, the Alfa oven seems to be really efficient, so that you can get an awful lot done with what is essentially one hardwood log.
When the oven is at its hottest, obviously, is when you want to cook pizza. As it cools, you could cook some chicken pieces – or even a spatchcocked chicken – for lunch the following day. As it cools further, a loaf of bread or some rolls. And finally, as if that wasn’t enough, you could cook a quiche or a custard (prepare the blind-baked base in advance, obvs.).
I noticed that some of the pros lift the pizza up towards the end of the cooking, raising it to the top part of the oven. The tool they use for this is a pizza turning peel, which is different from the one you use to shove the pizza into the oven. It’s a small, round paddle, which allows you to expose more of the base to direct heat. Of course, while standard pizza peels are available at a range of prices, these speciality peels tend to come in more expensive. I found one on Amazon for £79, which is, well, a bit much. And then there’s the Alfa Accessory kit, which I don’t know how much it costs, but it might be about £140 for a set of four tools. *sigh* Not in my immediate future after blowing the bank on the oven itself.
But my pizzas are getting better. I’ve been pretty pleased with them, and the person in my household who has actual taste buds reports that they taste great, with pleasant smoky notes. Here’s the gallery:
It wasn’t even pizza that made me realise that I’d grown up in pizza ignorance.
We were in Alsace, it was the early 90s, and we were driving haphazardly down through the Route des Vins, though not in a van. We were in a red Ford Fiesta. We stopped in one of those picturesque villages and went in to an Auberge for a late lunch. Or was it an early supper? So much that I don’t remember.
There was a garden, a terrace d’été, and there was an oven.
So much, as I said, that I don’t remember. The name of the village, for one. There are a lot of picturesque villages in Alsace. A few summers ago, it felt as if we might have found it, the place. There was a wall, and behind the wall a garden, and on the wall a sign. Was this the place? It was all closed up and we haven’t been back since.
They were serving tarte flambée, aka flammkuchen, the speciality of the region. A thin dough base, a layer of crème fraiche, onions and lardons. Not necessarily any cheese, and if cheese, gruyère. But the principle was there. An outdoor woodfired oven, a peel, a slide, and oh my. An oven so hot that the tarte cooked in a minute or two. The chef pouring sweat as she met the enormous demand.
Later we went to a local restaurant that served pizza au feu de bois.
And you see vans driving around, woodfired ovens in the back, serving pizza on the street.
My pizza ignorance was such that I hadn’t known about the feu de bois.
Domestic solutions for the need for extreme heat include a tabletop electric oven, or the cast iron frying pan method, or the stone in the barbecue.
I’ve always done pretty well using the barbecue stone, but I’ve always preferred a gas barbecue, so no flavour was imparted by the fire.
I’ve had a hankering, a yen, for the backyard pizza oven for decades now, but various things stopped me. People build them, don’t they, but I’m not a practical man. Various shades of rustic don’t appeal to me. I’ve tried compromises, with disappointing results (you get what you pay for). I like technology. And it was when I saw the Alfa pizza oven range that I knew I’d met my match.
But they’re expensive of course, and quite large. Even the smallest of the range, until quite recently, was capable of cooking two pizzas at a time. And then, not long ago, Alfa introduced the ONE oven. A compact size, with room for only one pizza at a time, but operating on the same principle: a stone cooking floor, a fire, and an insulated dome of hammered stainless steel.
The day I ordered it, I was vaccilating between ordering an on-sale Ciao oven or the ONE. Both were a similar price, but the Ciao is over 90cm wide, 64cm deep, and weighs in at 80kg. It can do two pizzas at a time, or 4kg of bread, catering for 8-18 people.
Which is really twice the number of people I’m ever likely to be cooking for, bar the rare summer occasion.
So I went for the ONE, which is just 73cm wide, 55cm deep, and 54kg. One pizza at a time, but still capable of reaching 500ºC in five minutes.
It’s still a beast. 54kg is the weight of a compact person, but it’s a lot less flexible and cooperative than a person, so it was a monster to manoeuvre. Skinned knuckles and cricked necks live to tell the tale. There were no assembly instructions with it, but it wasn’t too hard to work out.
You get a small short-handled peel, and a door, both of which needed their handles putting on. There’s a stainless steel firebox. Then there’s the chimney and it’s baffle at the top. All stainless steel surfaces were covered with a protective film. So it was really a matter of screwing on the handles and peeling off the film. And then lugging it about disposing of the enormous quantity of cardboard.
I’ve got it installed, now, on a stainless steel table in the garden, and I’m hoping that this cheap made-in-China flatpack table will be able to support its weight.
I’d reached a certain level in my pizza making, but now it’s time for a few steps backwards before I can go forward again.
I fired it up on the first night we had without rain to experiment. The oven reached 500º with astonishing speed. But of course, the air temperature is one thing; the floor temperature is what you need to worry about. I’ve had many a disappointing soggy pizza base in restaurants that hadn’t let their oven floor get hot enough.
I’m not sure about the supplied firebox. They don’t seem to use them in the larger ovens, and surely the floor would get hotter with the coals on top of it? They don’t even use it in the illustrations in the User Manual. I may need to experiment with both ways. The firebox needs to be moved to one side once lit, but it still gets in the way a bit when you’re sliding pizza in and out.
The other thing I’m ignorant about is the door. Does it go on while the pizza is cooking? Or does it help the oven stay hot? Or what? I think maybe it depends what you’re cooking, but I think better pizza results are achieved with the door off. More experimentation needed. Certainly the manual indicates that you regulate temperature with the door. New skills to learn.
So that first night, not knowing what I was doing, I made a few mistakes. The oven floor definitely wasn’t hot enough. Putting the door on probably didn’t help. I found the turn halfway through cooking difficult (at this stage I didn’t have the work table, so I was having to lean down, which was awkward). One of the pizzas had a base stretched to transparency, which did not survive the process. They all looked okay, but I’d have complained if they were served to me in a restaurant.
The next thing I tried was peshwari naan, and this went really well. I let the oven get hotter, left the door off, and was working at the proper height. Sliding the first naan in, with trepidation, I worried again that it wasn’t hot enough. Nothing much seemed to be happening. Then, after about 30 seconds, the butter on the top started to sizzle. And then the air bubbles appeared. The Eagle had landed. The second naan was even more exciting, blowing up like a puffball before my eyes.
The next thing I tried was some salmon fillets, which I cooked in lemon and butter with salt and pepper, all in a foil tray in the wood oven. Not bad.
All of which was just the build up to the first Saturday night pizza of the new era. I hoped I’d made my mistakes and that this would be my best pizza ever, but no. Lots of things went against me, including not knowing how to use the oven properly.
But also, in these lockdown times, I’m struggling to find my usual dried yeast. The one I’m using for the duration has been giving disappointing results for weeks now. My crusts have been sub-par for a couple of months.
And I think I need to get myself an infrared thermometer to measure the oven floor temperature, because it’s clearly not hot enough. The success of the naan misled me, but naan doesn’t have a topping (it does have a filling though), and while my pizza tops are getting thoroughly cooked, the dough underneath them remains nasty. I made four pizza yesterday, and maybe the 3rd and 4th were okay (I’ve had worse).
Today I’m going to try to make a loaf of bread. If it stops raining.
A biga or poolish is a form of bread starter or pre-ferment. Not exactly a true sourdough, it’s a way of developing complexity of flavour and a light, open texture, and still requires some planning ahead.
Since my problems with eczema* started, I’ve been experimenting with longer fermentation times for my pizza crusts. You should do this anyway, of course, but a busy life and a packed TV schedule make it too easy to opt for the lazy option of making a quick dough with 10g of instant yeast. Anyway, Saturday night pizza is sacrosanct, and it currently the only wheat-based thing I eat in a normal week.
Caputo Criscito is a means of making a long-rise dough without the need for a biga. It’s essentially dormant “ancient mother yeast”, which is reactivated in a dough by the addition of a small amount of live or instant yeast. So for a 48-hour dough, I added 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast; for a 24-hour dough I used 1/2 a teaspoon, though I could probably have gotten away with less.
Caputo sell their Criscito in a 1kg bag (it’s mixed with 00 flour), and recommend 30g per kilo of flour in a recipe. So for my 450g Saturday night pizza dough, I added a tablespoon, which worked out at 15g.
My first attempt was made with the last bit of Caputo Blue flour in the cupboard. I made the dough and left it in the fridge from Thursday night to around noon on Saturday. Then I left it out at room temperature for the early part of Saturday afternoon, before making up 3 dough balls, which I left for a couple of hours. Room temperature in our house is currently around 18°C, because we haven’t got the heating on yet and haven’t lit a fire.
The resulting dough was beautifully stretchy and cooked to an open, airy texture. I stretched it into rounds that were almost transparent in places. My wife loves thin crusts, but the cooked crust still had a structure of air bubbles, crunched when you bit into it and yet remained chewy. It was probably the best pizza dough I’d ever made.
Until this week.
Instead of my usual Caputo Blue, my latest 25kg bag of pizza flour is Caputo Viola (more like Lilac), a flour designed for long-rise doughs such as the tradition Roman Pizza a Metro (pizza by the metre). I obviously don’t have the means to make pizza a metro. Although I do have a rectangular barbecue stone in France that would allow for a slightly longer pizza, a longer peel or “pizza shovel” would cost about £60.
The recipe for dough made with Caputo Viola uses the whole 25kg bag (!), but I think it requires about 62% water to flour, as opposed to the 65% of Caputo Blue. In the event, I added a bit more water to make a quite wet dough.
I forgot to make it Thursday night (doh), so I made it Friday night with a little extra yeast, as I said above. Early Saturday afternoon, I divided it up into three balls, which by early evening were very well risen.
Again, this dough stretched out easily, and cooked (on the barbecue stone) to absolute perfection. The crust was crispy and chewy and put every single restaurant pizza I’ve eaten to shame. But it was also, far and away, the best crust I’ve ever made.
The only problem, for us in the UK, is getting hold of this stuff without breaking the bank. I bought mine from a vendor on Amazon, and just to buy Criscito on its own will set you back £12.09 for a 1kg bag… plus £16 delivery. I bought the Caputo Viola and Criscito in a package for £41.66, plus £26.10 delivery to the UK. This seems outrageously expensive, but if I set myself up as a Caputo distributor and used, say, Parcelforce 48 as a dispatch service, it would cost around £40 to send a 25kg parcel. So £26 is not so bad, after all. Worth it? Well, if you’re as obsessed as me, you simply cannot buy better flour in the UK.
*The eczema is currently under control, with just a hint, now and then, of itchiness on my left thigh [touches wood].
The true test of any gluten free pizza is whether it is as palatable cold as it is hot. What might pass as acceptable straight out of the oven can be very different the following day. Slimy is the adjective I’d use to describe the sensation of swallowing GF pizza — until now, that is. Before I get to the Caputo experience, here’s what I’ve tried so far in my search for an acceptable GF pizza.
I ordered some pizzas from this chain, who offer a gf option with any topping. These crusts are clearly industrially produced pre-formed bases, supplied to restaurants to use on request. They’re not particularly brilliant. Quality is acceptable hot, not so great cold. An expensive option, in excess of £10 per (not very big) pizza. I haven’t tried Dominos, who only offer a limited selection with a GF base, but I suspect similar outcomes.
Bob’ Red MillThe first home-made GF pizza crust mix I used was Bob’s Red Mill (Amazon), which is a blend of brown rice flour, potato starch, millet, sorghum, tapioca, and potato flours with both xanthan and guar gum. These kinds of blends are hard to reproduce at home, as they require you to have a cupboard full of different flours. This mix makes a very wet dough (the recipe on the packet calls for eggs as well as water and oil), which is hard to work with: you basically have to push it into a baking tin with your fingers. I was very disappointed in the result, both hot and cold. It took a lot of cooking (much more than a standard bread base) and the texture was very gummy.
I moved on to try teff flour as a main ingredient (again, from Amazon), and this was fairly successful, making for a crisper pizza crust with a decent flavour. It was like pizza made with wholemeal flour, which might actually appeal to some people. It was definitely edible and not unpleasant cold, though not brilliant.
(I tried combining a bit of teff flour with some of the Bob’s Red Mill mix, with disastrous results. I pre-cooked the crusts for five minutes to avoid undercooking them, but they were quite nasty and I ended up throwing one whole base and most of the one finished pizza I made in the bin.)
In most supermarkets, you can find Schär pre-cooked bases (on the small side), which are okay, but nothing special, and no good cold. They come in a vacuum sealed bag, which means they keep indefinitely, I guess, but they’re only average (as, to be fair, are most pre-cooked crusts).
The better pre-made option was a raw dough (chiller section) in the French supermarket Auchan. This was pretty good, though again on the small side, and required five minutes pre-cooking before you put the topping on.
It’s a characteristic of GF (so-called) dough that it requires more time to cook than wheat-based options.
Which brings me to…
By a weird coincidence (or is it?), the people from whom I buy my 25kg sacks of Caputo (blue) pizza flour emailed me the other day with news of a new product, Caputo Fiore Glut.
Well, I couldn’t get to the laptop to order quickly enough. My main reason for optimism is that Caputo is an Italian product aimed at professionals. The recipe on the (1kg) pack is for the entire pack, for example, and the instructions on the web site suggest making the dough balls in advance and keeping them in the “walk in cooler”. I didn’t think Caputo would put their name on anything less than the best product you can get. Caputo are the Apple of pizza flour. Or something.
The first surprising thing about this flour mix is that the recipe calls for 800 ml of water per kilo of flour. Regular blue Caputo uses a ratio of 65% water to flour for a pizza base (depending on humidity, you might add a bit more or less). 80% water suggested this would be a very wet dough, but it was not. In fact, I added a little extra water and it could have taken more. I didn’t use the whole kilogram, but enough (300g) for a couple of 30cm pizzas.
The mix* consists of Rice starch, rice flour, potato starch, soy flour, sugar, both guar and xanthan gum (your gluten substitutes) and fibre. There are no eggs required in the recipe, just water, yeast, salt, and a bit of oil.
The second surprise was that the dough rose quite quickly. I didn’t have time for a long rise, so I added a couple of tsp yeast, and it rose at the same rate as the regular wheat dough I made at the same time. In contrast, the dough made with Teff flour certainly fermented when left, but didn’t noticeably rise, even when left for several hours. The Caputo GF dough was slightly harder to work with than Caputo Blue, obviously not as stretchy, and harder to move onto the peel. The greatest challenge with GF pizza dough is to keep the shape regular, but I don’t worry too much about that — as you can see. I rolled the second one directly onto a peel, which made it much easier to handle.
I cooked the two pizzas on my stone on the barbecue, sliding from the peel using cornmeal to prevent sticking. They cooked more or less as quickly as a regular base.
The results were crisp, with a good inner texture of air pockets, and while not as tasty as a base made with Blue, they were pretty damn close. I send love and kisses to the whole Caputo family with gratitude.
And, just for the hell of it, I tried a slice cold that had been in the fridge overnight, and it was absolutely fine. No gagging on the claggy, slimy, gummy texture.
Five stars to Caputo.
*As a bonus feature, according to the specs, this flour features hardly any insect cuticle or rodent hair.
“11-Time World Pizza Champ” is not something that would normally impress me much. Competitions are bunk, but I read about this online and saw some illustrations and was intrigued enough to add it to my Amazon wish list. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I ordered it. I’ve been given a few pizza books over the years, and there are some decent ideas in them, though I find it’s the quality of the food photography within that has the biggest influence on whether I want to try a recipe or style.
The Pizza Bible has excellent photography, and almost every page makes you want to try something – even atrocities I’d normally dismiss like the Chicago deep dish, though maybe not the cheese and lard pizza.
Bible implies a certain comprehensiveness, and I think that’s the case here. The book covers pizza styles from all over the United States and Italy, but also Barcelona, Dublin, Greece, Munich etc. There’s also a section for wrapped and rolled pizza, calzone, and so on. The pizza sausage roll is especially intriguing (flatten the sausage meat over the whole of a disc of dough and then roll it like a Swiss roll before cooking), and looks like a great lunch-box staple. I also like the look of the Pizza Romana (pictured), which is a giant slab of pizza with a variety of toppings, leading you through a meal from starter to dessert.
I chuckled at first over the idea of making your own sausage, but while I wouldn’t ever go as far as buying the attachment for my Kitchen Aid and some wraps, idea grows in your mind until you decide to try it.
I’ve always been fairly lazy about my pizza, though in comparison with someone who just orders junk pizza from Domino’s or buys supermarket ready-made ones, obviously not. But I’m not trying to win a world championship. I do buy Caputo pizza flour (excellent), but I don’t make my dough 24 or 48 hours in advance. Instead, I bung in a tablespoon of instant yeast and sit it in a warm place to rise in about an hour. Even this, of course, is more than most people do to prepare pizza, and people are generally very complimentary about my crusts, notwithstanding the quick’n’dirty preparation method. I haven’t got a wood-fired pizza oven in the back garden (though I’d have one if I won the lotto), but I do cook pizza on a slab of granite in my gas barbecue, and (in winter) I use a Ferrari electric pizza cooker, which does a decent enough job if you use it right. I’ve also got one of those Uuni wood pellet ovens, but I’ve been disappointed in the results and don’t use it (ought to get rid of it really). As for the sauce and the cheese, I generally just spread sundried tomato paste and use grated mozzarella from the supermarket. And family tradition dictates the use of a repertoire of toppings, including the divisive pineapple as well as olives, chorizo, bacon, peppers, and sometimes exotica like avocado, fig, or banana.
But this weekend, I went for the full Pizza Bible experience. I started the dough (with a tiny amount of yeast) on Thursday night, left it in the fridge, then knocked it back on Friday and divided it into three balls, which were again refrigerated until two hours before use on Saturday (my house is generally on the cool side, so two hours was needed to reach ‘room temperature’). I made the ‘New York-New Jersey’ (no-cook) tomato sauce using the best ingredients I could find on this side of the pond, and even prepared garlic oil. And then the sausage. Once you read the Bible, and realise how this ‘home-made sausage’ works without skins, it makes perfect sense.
Instead of pork mince, I bought some sausage meat from Waitrose (opted for the Gourmet variety, which already had black pepper and nutmeg in it), which I then mixed with other spices, including crushed fennel seeds, star anise (because I couldn’t find regular anise seeds), and chilli, as well as honey. What you do with this is take small amounts and flatten it into discs which you put on your pizza. So it’s not sliced sausage, but works just as well, if not better. It’s just a little messier and, if you’re squeamish about raw meat, might put you off. To test the flavour, I cooked a few samples in a frying pan: as soon as you taste it, you’re totally sold. The recipe in the Bible uses 900g of pork, but I halved the quantities, which still leaves you with more than enough sausage. I divided it into four balls and froze three of them.
My other toppings included chorizo and another kind of Italian sausage, which was probably overkill for the first weekend, but you can never have too much variety with pizza.
Pizza making is always a bit of a production line or military operation, and I’ve enough experience to be able to skip those parts of the Bible, but the author does take you through the steps: you get everything lined up and prepared in little bowls etc. in advance, like a television chef who has someone else to clean up after them.
Again, being lazy, I generally roll out my dough to flatten it, though I do sometimes hand stretch. Following the Bible religiously, I tried to hand-stretch this time, which does preserve more of the airiness of the 48-hour dough. This was not entirely successful, not because I’m bad at it, but because my dough balls were on a sheet of baking parchment that turned out not to be the non-stick kind, and so they lost a bit of integrity in the traumatic transfer to the work surface. So I part hand-stretched and part rolled out.
I did three different toppings: one with the home-made honey-spiced sausage and the home-made sauce; one with Calabrian salami; and one with chorizo. I also used a different type of mozzarella this time, the Galbani cooking mozzarella.
The results were interesting. The first pizza, the one with the home-made sausage, tasted so much better than the other two (with pre-packed slices or sausage) that I was actually a little disappointed in them and wished I’d made more with the home-made. I was also less keen on the Galbani mozzarella than I thought I’d be. I’ll probably go back to the Waitrose grated next time. Also, the recipe in the book used a lot more cheese than I usually do, so I’ll cut back next time. My wife wasn’t keen on the garlic oil (which was drizzled onto the pizza after cooking), but she never does like the taste of raw garlic (she’s French).
I’d give this first outing 7/10 (for the first) and 6/10 for the others. There’s room for improvement, but one thing I know: there’s no turning back from this sausage.