Monday, 7 May 2012

Flour and water, pizza and bread

Flour and water
Bread making, and a lot of baking in general makes great use of simple ingredients, and often ones that you have stored up in the cupboard. It does take a little longer than going to the shop and buying a loaf, but the results are often far better, and you can personalise each recipe to exactly how you want it. There is also nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread wafting around the house, and that first buttered slice while still hot is immense. 
I’ve always loved the idea of getting into baking bread regularly, but never managed to get around to it for one reason or another. Recently, quite by accident, I made my first loaf since I was at primary school by using the tail end of some pizza dough.
Following the recipe for Jamie OIiver’s pizza dough one night, I ended up with loads of the dough left over. More out of interest that intent, I kneaded some olives into it and threw it into the oven. After roughly guessing the oven temperatures and heat, I eventually pulled out the cooked dough and hey presto - bread! It basically looked like a cooked slug, with little shape, but once cut open and smeared with butter it was lovely. 
Since then I have got a bit of a baking bug, and every time I make pizza, I always make enough extra dough for a couple of loaves on the side.  
The price of a takeaway pizza at the moment is quite frankly shocking, with a large one being around £16.00. I often have a craving for a big, dirty pizza, but with a bit of planning ahead, making it yourself is really easy and much cheaper. You always seem to have to wait about 45 minutes for a delivery, but once the dough is made and proved, you can roll and cook a pizza at home in a fraction of that time. I like to make the dough and sauce the night before, so it’s all ready to go when I want it. 

Once you know how to make the dough, you can be as creative as you like with the sauce and toppings. I find that keeping to a couple of ingredients is better than pilling on a bit of everything, and also that a tower of toppings will not cook evenly, so moderation is best. 
For the dough:
Makes 2-3 large pizzas
500g strong bread flour or ‘00’ pasta flour
50g uncooked polenta
325ml warm water
1 sachet quick action yeast
glug of extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp caster sugar
large pinch of salt
For the tomato sauce:
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 shallot
2 garlic cloves
1 red chilli
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato puree 
2 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
salt and pepper
A selection of cheese and toppings of your choice. For this post I went for buffalo mozzarella, parma ham, mushrooms, red onion, chilli and rosemary.

To make the dough, mix the flour, polenta and salt in a large mixing bowl.
In a jug, measure out the warm water, and stir in the yeast, sugar and oil. 
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, then knead everything together with you hands. Knead it really well for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour or water if necessary, until you have an elastic ball of dough that springs back when you poke it with a finger.
Give your mixing bowl a quick clean and place the dough back in it. Add a very small amount of olive oil and coat the outside of the dough - this will help it not stick to the sides as it rises. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave near to the oven, or in a warm place, until it has doubled in size (about 1 1/2 - 2 hours). 
While the dough is rising, make the tomato sauce. Soften the shallot, garlic and chilli in a large frying pan, then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano and sugar. Season and bring to the boil before letting reduce on a medium heat, stirring often, until it has thickened up. Allow to cool.
Once the dough has risen for the first time, break it into balls for the amount of pizzas that you are making - 200-250g will make a large pizza. Knead the balls a little and then place each one in a separate smaller bowl which will allow them to rise again by double. Add another small coating of oil, cover and leave these for another hour. This may all seem like a bit of a faff, but it makes the rolling of the dough so much easier when you come to it. 
After the portioned dough has risen again, roll each dough ball out to the size that you like it. I prefer a thinner pizza that will crispen in the oven and that has more room for toppings.   Wrap the rolled dough around the rolling pin and transfer to a sheet of greaseproof paper.
Pre-heat your oven to 230ºC.
The pizzas are all ready to be topped now, so spread a thin layer of your sauce on first before adding your cheese and other toppings. 

To cook, place your pizzas and greaseproof paper directly onto the shelf of the really hot oven. Cooking times vary on the thickness of the pizza and amount of toppings, but should be done in 6-10 minutes. Just keep checking every couple of minutes until everything is to your liking - I prefer my cheese starting to brown and the edges nice and crisp.

They are ready to serve as soon as they come out, but at this point you can also add things like rocket, sprinkled hard cheese such as parmesan or pecorino, and a drizzle of olive oil. 
As well as being great for a night in, they are also useful when cooking for lots of people, or getting bored kids involved. 
The above dough recipe can also be used to make fresh white bread. It is really simple, and a good starting point if you are interested in making bread. The finished loaf is delicious and soft, and impossible not to eat whilst still warm. It tastes like a basic white bread, but you can make it more interesting by adding various ingredients before you bake it. For this recipe I have made an onion, garlic and thyme bread.

Makes 1 very large loaf.
1 pizza dough batch from the recipe above
3 medium onions, sliced
5 garlic cloves, skins on
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC
Firstly, make your dough as instructed above and allow it to rise for the first time.
Meanwhile, roast your sliced onion, garlic cloves and thyme in the olive oil in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the onion is soft, do do not allow it to get crispy. When cooked, drain on kitchen paper and allow to cool before peeling the skins from the garlic and roughly chopping. 
Turn the oven up to 220ºC
When the dough has risen, instead of separating into balls for pizza, leave as a whole. At this point, knead the chopped roasted vegetables into the dough, adding a little more flour if it appears too greasy. Now stretch the dough into a flat, rectangular shape, and then fold in the corners tightly to make a round ball. Turn the dough over - this fold is the base that the loaf will sit on. 
You can now use your hands to shape the loaf to how you want it. Remember that it is going to rise again, so try and keep the dough in as tight a shape as possible. Place on a floured baking tray, cover loosely with cling film and allow to rise by 50 percent.
When risen again it is ready to bake. Place in the middle of the hot oven, and throw a small glass of water in the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake for 20 minutes, before reducing the heat of the oven to 190ºC for 25-30 minutes. 
Once baked, leave to cool slightly before digging in with lashings of butter. 
This bread keeps really well for a few days providing that it is kept wrapped up. 
I’ve made this bread a few times, and although it’s great for ease, I now want to experiment with more complicated bread recipes. I recently bought Dan Lepard’s excellent new book Short and Sweet, which contains a wide range of bread recipes, along with loads of other baked goods. His style of writing and the layout of the book is really easy to understand, and I cannot wait to get started with some more advanced bread making. 
If making your own bread seems like a bit too much work, or you don’t have time, then I would thoroughly recommend bread bought from these two bakeries:
The Flour Station - Supplying restaurants and delis, as well as having their own market stalls, they produce really lovely artisan bread and pastries. Their Tortano Crown potato bread is amazing.
The Spence Bakery - This tiny little Stoke Newington bakery sells out of bread nearly every day. I always try and get one of their multiseed loaves when I’m nearby, but every loaf (and sausage roll) we’ve tried from them has been delicious.

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