So, to start a new life. In less than two weeks I officially become an Old Age Pensioner and the microbakery becomes history. Big party to plan. Once that’s out of the way, finish my second book and run more bread courses.
Just when I think I can unpack my deckchair I get a call from these people who want to set up a pizza restaurant using sourdough bases and flatbreads. At the moment we are tiptoeing around each other to see if I have a role in their plans – what do I think my value is as a sourdough specialist versus what they think they can gain by using me. But anyway we got off to a good start with a weekend baking course I just ran for the four partners and their prospective head chef.
So I’m working on pizza bases. I’ve always used a Carol Field recipe I converted to sourdough years ago and not really given the subject much more thought. Now I discover the formula is probably skewed by a confusion over US and Metric cups. Even worse, I’ve often abused my pizza dough, shaping and baking after a couple of hours fermentation. Now it has to be centre stage.
I’m very excited by my first attempt at doing things properly:
Erin, one of our faithful American bread customers, lent me a copy of The Cheese Board: Collective Works ISBN 1-58008-419-2 at least a year ago and every time I try to give it back she insists I hang onto it a bit longer. She must have seen this coming. The Cheese Board is a co-op that’s been running in Berkley, California since 1967 which is amazing in itself and the book is a history of the collective with sections on, bread, pastries and pizza. Much of it is sourdough including their pizza base which I’ve been itching to try.
As ever, the first task is to convert US cups into usable metric weights. If I got it right, the first thing that strikes you is the high hydration – 78.2% (no oil in this one). The weights are a bit confusing – 930g dough is supposed to make 3×10″ pizzas. 31og is a lot of dough for a 10″ pizza. Anyway, I mixed the dough and kneaded it with just enough flour to stop it sticking and let it ferment on the counter top for about nine hours. (I hadn’t intended this but found myself in Chester having lunch .) Divided the dough (840g) into four, rounded the pieces, put then in an oiled dough box in the fridge overnight.
I was brave. I formed the base by tossing the dough on the backs of my hands to stretch it. With the high hydration it stretched all too easily and the dough decided (not me) it was going to be considerably bigger than 10″. By the time I had it on a baking sheet and stretched out the edges it had become a rounded rectangle about 13″x11″. Proved it for 30 minutes.
The Cheese Board have a novel (to me) way of building their pizza toppings. No tomato sauce. Their basic method is a layer of mozzarella, a layer or two of the principal ingredients (in this case sliced onions tossed in sundried tomato pesto topped with thin slices of courgette and butternut squash), a second layer of mozzarella topped with feta.
They’ve also developed a novel way for the homebaker to approximate a professionally baked pizza. You place a pizza stone on the floor of the oven (I used four quarry tiles), and have a rack a third of the way up the oven and one two thirds up. Long preheating to 230C.
For a first attempt I followed their method almost exactly (hence the over-baking). The assembled pizza on the baking sheet goes on the lower rack for 8 minutes, then goes up to the higher rack (at this point, if you were baking more than one, the second pizza would go on the lower rack) for a further 8 minutes. It is then slid off the baking sheet directly onto the baking stone for 4 minutes.
Finally the edges of the cooked pizza is brushed with garlic olive oil and the top sprinkled with parsley.
I have to say, apart from the over-baking which was all my fault, it was pretty good – the crust was thin, crisp and browned underneath, although it was very thin you can see that it rose and the cornicione has puffed up nicely (the odd angle is because it overhung the quarry tiles). Excellent topping. I might even get good at this.