Friday, September 19, 2014

The Perfect Pizza

Years ago, one cold winter night, the husband and I, after strolling through the Christmassy streets and admiring the beautiful lights and decorations, finally paid heed to the gnawing pangs of hunger that only a cold winter night can awaken in a person.
The urgent need to stuff our faces with something hot and filling was mounting and we turned our steps purposefully towards where we would find food.
We walked quickly and entered a pizza restaurant. I wish now, I could recollect the place or name of that restaurant, but all I remember are some details, like the color scheme was red and white, of course, had a 'cave like oven', there was a small table inside that we bagged and placed our order for pizza. 
I could not take my eyes off that 'cave', it was the first time I had seen a wood burning oven and the whole thing was a novel experience to me. 
I was amazed at how deftly the pizza dough was tossed in the air and caught, "dayyum (you know what I mean), look at that, those are mad skills and here I was, feeling proud that I could make round-round fulkas!" 
The expert then shoved the whole pie from 'an oar' in to the oven where the blazing fire baked it to absolute perfection in no time at all.
The terms pizza paddle, pizza stone were alien to me and I  just processed the info in terms that made sense to me.
It took me a while to bake my first pizza. I was over the moon. I stuck to this recipe and never thought of trying anything else.
Why let go of a good thing, right?


Let it go  (I know you just sang that part :) )

There is a difference between good pizza and GREAT pizza.

Last week I tried something new, rather apprehensively. Though baking is not as intimidating to me now, I do not consider it easy.
But how could I not pay heed to something that read so well?
Turns out, this was the Bestest Pizza ever ( according to M as well as Little S)
I was so pleased that a picture of a small pan pizza while baking was posted on the Facebook Page and  I got several requests for the recipe.

The only reason I could not post earlier was ( brace yourself, this is a sob story) the laptop, with all my pictures, crashed. I have no clue why ( of course I got blamed for being careless and not taking backup despite having a back up disk... yada...yada) and I still cherish the fond hope that someone, somewhere will help recover the darn laptop, just long enough for me to rescue my pictures and videos.
And let me add, while the iPad is fine and everything nice, where and how the aitch am I going to upload pictures from my camera? Aitch,  it won't even let me paste a link in the draft post.
Anyhoo, a miserable face and constant cribbing and whining and moping finally gave me access to M's laptop and here I am clicking away, happily.
No picture, I'm afraid, but not too long, I have promised my friends, that I will make pizza for them and I will take pictures then.

In the mean time, here is the source of this fantastic recipe and  my adaptation below.

To make the base
Take 5 cups of flour ( maida)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar or honey
2 cups water - room temp
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp oil

Start with combining flour, yeast* and salt and mix well to combine
If using stand mixer use paddle ( if u don't have a paddle attachment, use the dough hook). On low speed mix the dry ingredients - just to ensure distribution.
Now add the liquid.

*If using regular, active dry yeast, let it bloom in warm water to which sugar is added and then add this to the flour

On the mixer, use low Speed and paddle and mix till the dough absorbs the liquid. There shouldn't be any dry flour  on the sides or bottom.
Takes about a minute
If using hand ( wooden spoon) stir well till the same result is achieved - all liquid is mixed in dry ingredients.

Let the dough stand for 2-4 mins
Now, on the mixer, start on medium-low speed and let it go on for another minute.
If using hand, follow same mixing procedure of mixing with the sturdy wooden spoon.
The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.

Now u need to use your counter top.
Pour some oil on the clean counter top and spread oil in a large circle ( like an ex-large pizza shape)
Now, gently dump the dough on the oily surface and pat it.
Use a stretch and fold method.
This simply means, after you have gently patted the dough into a circle, fold it. First fold on the top and then at the bottom, u should have a rectangular block with round edges.
Fold the round edges over one another.
Cover this dough with a clean  bowl.
Let it stand for 5 minutes.
Repeat the stretch and fold
For 3 more times (total of 4 times).
After every 5 minutes , u will notice how the dough changes. The gluten is working here.
The dough becomes firm.

At this stage, you can divide the dough ( maybe into 2 parts. One to be used now and other frozen for later.
Oil the dough u want to freeze and transfer to a freezer safe bag or container and put it away

After the above, transfer the remaining dough ball to a well oiled bowl ( I used the big Pyrex one) and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Make sure the bowl is big enough to accommodate the doubled dough as it ferments.
Stick this bowl in the fridge and leave it  overnight to ferment slowly. This slow fermentation is the key to a perfect crust.

When u are ready to make the pizza, pull the dough out 90 mins before  you start.
Leave it on the counter top.
Start by preheating the oven to the highest level ( mine goes to 550) so yours should do the same or about 500 at least
I use my pizza stone and that is the best way to make an awesome crust. The stone retains heat very well and that helps the crust.
Keep in mind that the pizza stone needs time to heat thoroughly, I'd say 35-45 mins. 
If you don't have one, use what you normally do.

Do the prep (sauce,chopping veges/ meat, grate cheese) and keep everything at hand.

Once the dough is at room temp, lightly flour the (clean) counter top and lay the dough ball and pat it gently with your finger tips and form a circle.
Now comes the stretching part.
Flour the back if your hands and gently lift the dough onto your balled hand ( think like a boxing stance) now gently turn the dough on your fists and do so along the edges, let gravity do the rest.
Let the dough rest in between if you think it's not panning properly. Letting the dough rest will ensure that it will stretch well after a while and make the dough supple.
If using hands to stretch the dough is difficult or you are just not ready for it, go ahead, lay it on the paddle and stretch it with your hands or even a rolling pin, but be gentle)
Once the dough is even and large, transfer it into a lightly floured paddle ( I do not have one- I use my large wooden cutting board) and even out any unevenness ( ummm.. I know that did not sound right, but I hope you get my point)
Now add sauce. Spread it out carefully, starting at the center and going outward. Leave the border bare.
Add the cheese now (use mozzarella - cheddar  and if u like, sprinkle some Parmesan)
Lay the vegetables over the cheese.

By now the oven and stone are very hot. Be very careful ( I prefer to wear my sunglasses when I work with such a hot oven) and open the oven door.
Lower the paddle and in back and forth motion? Shake the pizza on to the stone.
Close the oven door and leave as it for about 2 mins.
After 2 mins, open the door, carefully, and turn the pizza in a clock wise or anti clockwise, half way,  direction to ensure even cooking.
At this stage, you will notice how the dough has puffed up and has started getting brown.
After you have turned the pizza, let it bake for another minute or 2. This will ensure that  the crust has baked to a nice golden brown and the bottom is also well done .
Pull out the pizza carefully and place it on the chopping board and cut into wedges.
Serve with chilli flakes and grated parm cheese or marinara to give it a pizzeria touch.

I must mention here, I went all out this time and made marinara sauce at home too. For this, I got messaged Shilpa, I remembered having read the recipe on her site as well as on her FB page.
She promptly replied with the recipe ( and also told me that the original came from Pelicano).
I made the sauce as per the recipe and it is a keeper.
The only suggestion my son had was, to use more. That is proof enough.

I got a few questions regarding the recipe (the base) and decided to clarify these as part of the notes

- The pizza stone has to be 'really hot' in order to get the best crust.
- It takes a good 40-45 mins for the stone to heat up and retain that kind of heat. Once I put the dough on the counter top and cut the vegetables, I switch on the oven and leave it, so I get good 50-60 minute heating time (and hence the sunglasses when I open the oven door)
- Yes, you have to set the oven to the highest temperature it will go to
- Does it take just minutes to bake? yes, it does. But do use youe judgement here, you will see the dough bubble and start turning brown, let it turn dark and then change the direction and let it bake some more
- check the bottom of the pizza with a long handled spatula, it should look well done (brown, but not dark!)

That's it for now, folks. I'll be back soon with some pictures.
Enjoy the weekend.
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  1. Glad to see you back in action.. :) Thank you.. I have a pizza pan with holes on them and i use that.. will try pizza stone some time.


  2. Wow, Manasi, what a comeback recipe! I hadn't been checking for a while because you hadn't posted and thought you must be traveling. I am perhaps the world's greatest pizza fan, so this post is a real treat. Can you invite me over and make it for me, please? :)

  3. Really a very nice and easy recipe. I have been making pizza at home from the past couple of months but not actually in this method. Now I am definitely going to try with the recipe that you have mentioned...thank u for the wonderful recipe.....


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