I don’t want to say we planned our accommodation in Rome earlier this year around Gabriele Bonci’s Pizzarium, but I will say that his tiny hole-in-the-wall pizzeria was directly opposite our metro stop and only two blocks from the apartment we rented for five days. After watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover where Bourdain explores Rome in just over 30 hours, packing in the best places to eat, stay and visit, I was obsessed with getting some of Bonci’s Roman-style ‘Pizza al taglio’ (pizza by the cut). And I don’t really want to admit to going to the same place over and over again when the Eternal City is overflowing with amazing places to eat, but…we did manage to eat our way through almost all varieties of pizza available, and it certainly took more than a couple of visits to do so.
Some of my favs were potato pizza (carbs on carbs, yes please), ricotta and courgette with freshly ground nutmeg, and a spring themed asparagus with eggs and lemon. Look out over the coming weeks for posts featuring these toppings. But really, the most amazing, crunchy, soft, chewy and delicious part of any of them was the incredible crust. When we returned to New Zealand I bought Bonci’s book, aptly titled Pizza, and we have been happily crafting dough for the past six months.
They say good things take time and this is no exception. You ideally need a whole weekend to make the dough and that’s assuming the starters were already happily bubbling away, well fed over the past 7-10 days. But don’t mistake time for effort, this is a softly, softly approach, a little kneading here, leaving it proof in a warm spot there, it simply requires a little back-planning (one our fav pastimes here in product development) so that you get the end product on time. I’ve been keeping my starters on my desk at work so I can feed them every second day, I even took them home for the long weekend to keep them active. They are my little (ugly) dough babies.
Last week we made two doughs: a wholegrain using the rye flour starter, and a mostly white with a little wholegrain using the yoghurt starter. Both were delicious, the wholegrain was definitely a little firmer to work with and not quite as lofty, but so flavoursome and I felt pretty smug eating my healthy and delicious pizza. The recipes below are my versions of Bonci’s creations, adapted for local ingredients and climate.
I follow the seven stages as outlined in Bonci’s book, and they never fail me: Mixing, First Rising, Folding, Second Rising, Dividing, Stretching, and (finally!) Cooking. I’ve tried with dried yeast and with natural (starter), and well as doing it all on the same day and being more diligent and starting a day or two in advance. All pizzas are delicious, although if you can use natural yeast and retard the dough in the fridge at least overnight, then the flavour and texture are definitely better.
Makes dough for 4 pizzasYoghurt starter
¼ cup plain organic yoghurt
¾ cup bread flour
½ cup room temperature water
Rye Flour starter
3 tbsp rye flour
Enough room temperature water to make a paste with the consistency of sour cream
2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole grain spelt flour
450-500ml room temperature water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
75g starter (see above),
4g active dried yeast
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole-grain spelt flour
400-450ml room temperature water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
50g starter (see above)
2g active dried yeast
MethodThe method for each starter is the same:
Mix all ingredients together in a glass jar. Cover with muslin and leave to ferment for 1 week, adding another tablespoon each of flour and water every day.
Once the starter is active and bubbling (7-10 days), it needs to be refreshed every 2 days if stored at room temp, or every 5 days if stored in the refrigerator.
To refresh the starter, mix equal parts (by weight) of starter, flour and water together.
If you’re using natural yeast (starter) then prepare the starter by refreshing it – mix equal parts starter, water and flour together 1-2 hours before you start making dough. Leave it to sit at room temperature. It should become bubbly, it can then be added to the dough with the water. Measure out the required quantity of starter from this, and store the rest in the fridge for another time.
Place flour in a large mixing bowl. If using instant yeast, mix with the flour, then add water and mix with a wooden spoon. You need enough water to create a soft dough that can be mixed with the wooden spoon. Add the salt and olive oil and mix until the dough is soft and elastic.
Generously oil a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the dough to do its first rising in a draft-free place at room temperature.
After 1-2 hours, the dough should be smooth.
The next step is to fold the dough, to incorporate more air into it. Generously flour your work surface and tip the dough out onto it. Using just your fingertips and gentle pressure, press the dough out into a rough rectangle.
Take the bottom edge of the rectangle and stretch it slightly towards yourself. Fold it into the middle of the rectangle to create a pocket in the dough. Do the same with the top edge of the rectangle, sealing the seam to the dough in the centre. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Do this once more, and then turn the dough over, seam side down and cover with the tea towel. Repeat this process three times in 1 hour. By the end of the process the dough will be puffy and smooth.
Again, generously oil your bowl and place the dough back into it for its second rising. Make sure the top surface of the dough is also well oiled, and cover with the tea towel. Now, if you have time, place the dough into bottom of your fridge for 12-24 hours. This retards the dough, creating a better flavour. If you don’t have time, leave the dough to rise in a draft-free place at room temp for a couple of hours, until doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the fridge (if it was in there) and leave for 15-20 minutes to get up to room temp. Turn out onto a floured work surface and cut into four equal portions. Try not to handle the dough too much, simply fold each portion (as above) one final time and leave with the seam side down, covered, on the work surface for a further 1 ½ hours until it doubles in size.
Preheat the oven to 250°C on Bake. Preheat pizza stone if using, otherwise oil a pan.
Flour the work surface again, take one of the portions of dough and press it out with your fingertips, roughly shaping to fit you pan or stone. Again, use a light touch and be gentle with the dough. Stretch the dough out using gentle pressure from the butt of one hand and using the other hand to pull half the dough over your arm. Repeat with each side. Lay the dough onto the heated piazza stone or oiled pan.
Once the dough is stretched and laid out into the pan, apply toppings and bake until golden brown and well–risen. Roughly 20-25 minutes depending on the toppings.