I absolutely love pizza. It is definitely one of my favourite meals. I was in my teens when I first started making my own pizza, and over the years I’ve experimented with using pastry, scone dough and the traditional bread dough as the base; the bread base is definitely the best. Homemade pizza is really fun to make and can be a great thing to do when you have people over, especially if you get them involved in the pizza-topping process. I love pizza enough to be quite happy whether it’s shop-bought, take-away or homemade, though there are definitely advantages to homemade pizza. You know exactly what goes into it, you can choose your own toppings and even customise the toppings to suit each person’s tastes, you can pile on as much or as little topping and cheese as you want, and you can go tomato sauce- or cheese-less without anyone giving you funny looks as you order your pizza (that’s not just crazy talk - I do know at least one person who doesn’t like cheese, even on pizza). The process of making the dough isn’t as long or as complicated as you might think. Depending on how warm the place where you leave the dough to rise is, each rising should only take half an hour to an hour, so if you want pizza on a Saturday night, for example, start making the dough mid-afternoon and it should be ready for you to top and bake by five or six in the evening. The bread base recipe I use is adapted from The Australian Women’s Weekly Great Italian Food cookbook. All the cup measurements below were made using a 250 ml mug. Apologies for the quality of the final photos – it was late and we were hungry, so there wasn’t an awful lot of patience for the idea of playing around with food styling and light before we ate these pizzas. This makes enough dough for two 12-inch diameter pizza pans. My favourite topping combos are ham (well, just about anything with ham is good in my book), olives, mushrooms and artichokes, or spinach and ricotta. I’d love to hear your favourite topping combo in the comments below this post (especially as I’m always on the lookout for delicious new ideas when it comes to pizza toppings).
What you’ll need:
2 3/4 cups plain flour
1 package fast-action yeast (each package usually contains 7 grams of yeast)
1 teaspoon olive oil (I use extra-virgin, though straight olive oil should be fine)
1 cup warm water (I make this right before adding it in a jug before measuring it into the cup, and usually mix roughly equal quantities of just-boiled water with cold tap water and then adjust the temperature by adding more hot or cold until it feels warm but not too hot – just below comfortable bath temperature!)
Tomato sauce to top the pizzas with (I usually mix together roughly equal quantities of tomato sauce and tomato paste, and then add more of either to taste; if it is too thick, add a tiny bit of water)
Freshly ground pepper and dried herbs of choice (I usually like oregano and/or basil)
Pizza toppings and cheese of choice (check out this web page, and scroll down to the bottom of the page, for a pretty extensive list of popular pizza toppings)
What to do:
1. Sift the flour into a bowl, and add and mix in the salt and yeast. Add the olive oil and water to the flour and mix together with a wooden spoon (or other stirring utensil). Towards the end you might just need to dive in with your hands to work all the flour into the dough.
2. Turn the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for about five minutes. If you don’t know how to knead, the action you want is a bit like massaging, though don’t dwell too long on the thought of massaging the dough – that just sounds too weird. Try to keep the flour to a minimum as most of what you sprinkle the surface and your hands with will end up in the dough.
3. Put the kneaded (not massaged!) dough back into the bowl and cover with a clean, damp tea towel and put in a warm place to rise. As I mentioned above, this should take about half an hour to an hour, depending on how warm it is. By the end of this time, the dough should be about double the size it was before rising. I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine this step as I have no accompanying photo…
4. Tip the dough back out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead again for about five minutes. Brush each pizza pan with oil (I used extra virgin olive oil because that’s what I had, but other oils should be fine). Divide the dough in half, and then roll out each half and line each pizza pan with dough, trimming around the edges if necessary. If you’ve rolled the dough to thin and have holes in your pizza base, just fill them with spare bits of dough. I can’t seem to be consistent with how thick my pizza bases are, so sometimes end up with spare dough that I shape into a roll, loaf or plait and leave to rise with the pizza bases, and then bake into bread. Once you’ve lined the pizza pans with dough, cover each pan with a clean, damp tea towel and leave somewhere warm again to rise, for about half an hour to an hour. By the end of this time, the dough will look quite spongy as you can (hopefully) see in the photo below.
5. When the bases have risen, pre-heat the oven to gas mark six and position the shelves in either the middle or just above the middle of the oven, whilst you finish preparing the pizzas. To prepare the pizzas, spread some of the tomato sauce onto each base with the back of a spoon or a spatula (if you use a knife be extra careful, as sometimes they catch on the dough base and pierce it) and then sprinkle pepper and herbs over the tomato sauce. Top each pizza with your favourite toppings and cheese (though not too thick as that may stop the dough base from cooking properly), and then bake for about 25-30 minutes until cooked. Then eat and enjoy!