No no, I have not suddenly decided to leave T! This is so not what this is all about!
Allow me, for just a moment, to wax all Lady-Gagaesque. Oh all right, maybe I would cook and eat the steak instead of making a dress, but still – over the past year, I have been having what I can only call a love affair with bread.
Which is for someone who really ought to stay away from too many carbs, is notably a case of bad romance. But rather than
set the bed on fire torch the bread, I have dealt with it by feeding most of the bread to T and assorted friends, and only having a little. Because, really, what sort of life is it if you don’t even try what you bake? (And what sort of life is it if you don’t bake at all?!) So in the end, I live within the best of both worlds – I can bake, he can eat, and I don’t overdo bread-eating. Usually.
In the case of this pizza however, T had to share equally. Because, you know, some things are just entirely too good not to have – and had I made two, I imagine we would have both finished one each easily. I need not sing hallelujah for the pear and blue cheese pairing, nor for the addition of red onion and olive oil-and-balsamic-herb wash for this, for they need it not. These are all classics, and as such, worthy of many repetitions because they never fail. No, what made this special is the crust – thin, crunchy, light-as-air and crispy on the outside: the very epitome of what I have always loved about good pizza. Just when I had thought homemade pizza-making could not be improved, there is was, yet another revelation, bringing me into higher reaches of pizza heaven.
It all began with being lazy. Because I am, you know, and make no secret of it. So while I wanted to learn to bake real breads, and was willing to put in the effort for the learning curve, if there are better and easier way to make something, I am always very interested in trying them. Like the adventures with no-knead bread (including the original spectacular failure!). And, this – this being the other recently popular method for artisan-style bread for home bakers, the so-called bread-in-five (minutes a day), which is another variation of the no-knead method (allowing time and moisture to develop the gluten instead of pounding the dough like a sumo wrestler), but with the added caveat of it being very wet dough, and stored in the refrigerator to make it less sticky and more manageable.
I would not say that five-minutes-a-day is an absolute claim, because really, that excludes the resting of the bread, preheating of oven, and other such things (as many critics have claimed), but it is true that it is five minutes of actual effort a day if all you are making is a loaf of bread from pre-prepared dough. And well, as such the claim is true enough – after the initial mixing and such, of course – but that is hardly laborous either.
The method for dough handling outlined on their site (I will go over it in short in a bit) works brilliantly well. As you can see from the neat and smooth ball of dough on the next photo, the gluten is well-developed and the dough is both, elastic and very relaxed – both very desirable attributes more or less regardless of what you are baking.
Before we go any further, I cannot make any claims as to what quality of loaf the method produces, because I have not tried to make a loaf using this dough yet. All I have made so far has been a small focaccia on the same day I mixed the dough (post-mandatory-refrigeration), and a pizza this morning for lunch. Although I can attest that it does hold its shape once shaped into a ball despite very high hydration % (very wet dough), probably due to well-developed gluten after the refrigerated maturing of dough.
Bread experimentation forthcoming, I have to give this method (at its very basic master recipe adjusted to bread flour) two thumbs up for making flatbread that is incredibly crispy and light, with a moist and airy interior. And the dough is a joy to work with, for someone as clumsy with dough-stretching as me (I make zero claims on my pizza-tossing ability as I imagine it’d end up draped on the overhead lights if I tried – that, or stuck in my hair) – the dough stretches easily, does not resist much, and does not stick nearly as much as you’d think when you initially mix it. Well… you do need to flour your hands, but that’s it really.
So what does the method for dough-making entail?
The principle is very simple. You mix a high-hydration dough, you allow it to rise to maximum rise (about 2 hours with regular yeast), and then you place it in the refrigerator and cut off and use as much as you want over the next fourteen days (2 weeks). All the dough requires before baking is a minimal shaping with floured hands and 30-40 minute rest before going in a hot oven onto a pizza stone or into a cast-iron pan or pot.
The master recipe is listed here, but it is in American measures. I have converted the recipe to metric and then used bread flour, of which I used proportionally less to same volume of water as advised on the site:
- 3 cups (710ml) barely-warm water
- 1.5 tablespoons dry yeast (this came to just under 1 packet (50g) of Swedish yeast)
- 1.5 tablespoons coarse salt (I used coarse sea salt)
- 6.5 cups (2lb) = 910g all-purpose flour. I had adjusted this to ~850g bread flour (which absorbs slightly more water)
Mix, cover, allow to rise for 2 hours, and place in refrigerator covered (but allowing a bit of air to escape so don’t screw a lid on tight) for 3 hours to 14 days. The site recommends using a plastic bucket with a snap lid and a tiny hole in the top to vent the air. I used a large stainless-steel bowl and covered it with plastic wrap which gets around the danger of blowing-up from gas pressure very well.
To use, sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit of flour, stretch up the amount of dough you want to use grabbing it by that floured bit, and scizzor it off. Drop dough onto a floured board, and pre-shape into a boule in the classical manner of tucking ends under.
To make the pizza or focaccia base, in my experience the use of rolling pin only makes the dough too tough. So, I had allowed the dough ball to rest for about 15-20 minutes, then I placed a piece of baking parchment onto a board, preheated my oven with my trusty huge cast-iron shallow casserole bottom in it to 225C, and stretched the dough gently with well-floured hands. Then dropped it onto the baking parchment without any flouring. Why? Because a tiny bit of sticking to the parchment helps prevent it shrinking (See that stuck bit on the right? Like that.), and because it comes right unstuck during baking – and keeps your cast iron pan clean as a bonus!
The rest, so to speak, is history. While the crust is resting a few more minutes, cut up your favorite toppings – or whatever happened to be in the fridge (in my case, a bag of pears, a leftover quarter of a red onion, and a small chunk of blue cheese), brush the pizza crust with a bit of olive oil (or leftover dipping oil mixed with balsamic vinegar and herbs in my case), and top it.
Slide onto a pizza stone, or if you are like me, pull out the hot cast iron casserole, and slide the baking parchment with the pizza into it. Turn oven to 250C and broiler (top grill) on, and bake for a few minutes until done. Ovens and distance from the broiler will vary, so watch your pizza – half a minute and it may char beyond what you want it to be!
Take it out and cool on the rack for a few minutes (few = not many here!), before cutting it apart and serving, and regretting that you did not make two or three.
And if you are like me and live with sugar sensitivity – eat, but enjoy in moderation. Complete deprivation never did anyone any good.
Submitted to the lovely baked-goods showcase at Yeastspotting.