How to win friends and make pizza

No, this is not about a self-help book. Unless we are talking about the River Cottage bread handbook. The book gives detailed, easy to follow instructions on hand-kneading dough instead of the usual “place ingredients in a Kitchenaid…” Thanks to River Cottage, yeast and I are finally friends.

These days, yeast makes the dough bubble up playfully, and deflate with a faint hiss as I punch it down playfully. During these exchanges, flour and water stretch and meld together, turning from a lumpy mess to a silky, smooth ball.

The pizza dough, based on River Cottage and Leites Culinaria recipes, may have made us BFF (baking-wise).

Even on its first outing, the pizza dough was a no-fuss kinda lass. On one afternoon, while most of Sydney lay in parks or on beaches, basking in the first properly hot, sunny day in Spring, the dough also grew sleek and full of air bubbles. The dough was a little crumbly at first (probably due to the handful of semolina I tossed into the mix), and benefitted from 5 minutes of resting at a couple of points. When the time came to punch down the dough, it had become smooth and pliable, and was ready to be divided into two white satiny lumps.

Under dinner guests’ bemused eyes, I pulled, stretched, and prodded the dough into shape. Topped with home made tomato sauce, torn basil, a pork sausages, mozzarella, my first proper pizza went into the oven for about 10 minutes on its hottest setting. I added a handful of grated pecorino cheese just before the pizza went on the table.

Second time round, I pre-heated the pizza stone for longer. The resulting pizza had a more pronounced crispy base and dark browned, sizzling spots of cheese.

It wasn’t quite that slightly-almost charred taste I love from wood fired pizza ovens, but it was definitely a crispy, thin-based pizza, and almost as good as the pizza from our local ‘cheap and cheerful’ pizzeria. Mr Gander is looking forward to more evenings of pizza at home.

Semolina pizza dough

Recipe from Leites Culinaria.

Ingredients

1/4 cup warm water [120°F (49°C)]
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup room-temperature water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons fine semolina flour
1 cup plus 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon salt

Method

1. In a measuring cup or small bowl, stir together the warm water and the sugar. Sprinkle with the yeast and let stand until it starts to foam, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the room-temperature water and the olive oil to the foaming yeast concoction. Set aside for a moment.

3. In a food processor, combine the semolina and all-purpose flours and the salt. With the motor running, add the yeast mixture in a steady stream and then pulse until the dough comes together in a rough mass, about 12 seconds. (If the dough does not form a ball, sprinkle with 1 to 2 teaspoons of cold water and pulse again until a rough mass forms.) Let the dough rest in the processor bowl for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Process the dough again for 25 to 30 seconds, steadying the top of the food processor with one hand. The dough should be tacky to the touch but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and form it into a smooth ball. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, turn the dough to coat with oil, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size and spongy, about 1 1⁄2 hours.

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, gently punch it down, and shape it into a smooth cylinder. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion into a smooth ball, dusting with flour only if the dough becomes sticky. Cover both balls of dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes before proceeding with your pizza recipe.

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