Pizza Margherita

‘Pizza??’ you ask. ‘Pizza??? But I thought you were tasked to make the technical challenges on the Great British Bake Off. Isn’t that just cakes, biscuits and desserts?’

Normally, yes it is, dear reader, but for the first time ever, GBBO featured Italian week, and we were tasked to make the perfect pizza margherita.

The recipe uses a specific type of tomato for its base as well as a specific flour for the dough. Interestingly, though, it doesn’t specify any particular type of mozzarella.

The recipe seems like it would be simple, but between the pizza peel, getting the dough stuck on the pizza peel, and the use of a pizza stone, I actually wasn’t that confident. My parents make pizza all the time but that sort of made me even less confident- because I always just leave my step-dad to do it all.

Prue was very precise about how the pizza should look:

  1. Each slice must have a certain amount of ‘droop’ in the centre and a firm but thin crust
  2. The mozzarella should be applied in large enough chunks to ensure the pizza resembles somewhat the Italian flag
  3. The basil must be applied fresh, after the pizza has already been cooked

Mine certainly wasn’t 100% perfect, but I was happy with it:

Margherita Pizza

For the dough  

10g fresh yeast

pinch of caster sugar

115ml lukewarm water

200g ‘00’ flour, plus extra for dusting

½ tsp fine salt

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing

semolina, for dusting

 

For the tomato sauce

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil – this seemed to me like way, way too much oil. The tomatoes were swimming in it – I would never ever cook with that much oil. Even 2T would have been decadent with such a small amount of tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped
400g can San Marzano tomatoes – I couldn’t find San Marzano so I just used the fanciest passata I could find in Sainsbury’s

juice of ½ lemon

½ tsp caster sugar

pinch of salt

 

For the topping

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

125g ball Mozzarella

6 fresh basil leaves

 

Step 1 – For the dough, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Mix the yeast to a thin cream with the sugar and 1 tbsp of the water. For me, mixing this much yeast with such a small amount of water made it into a super thick paste – not a thin cream at all – so I would suggest using slightly more water so it can combine more smoothly into the flour mixture.

Step 2 – Pour into the well. Add the olive oil to the well then add enough water to make a soft dough.

Step 3 – Knead for 10 minutes by hand until smooth. I may have used my Kitchen Aid…

Step 4 – Place the dough on a large baking tray and cover with oiled clingfilm. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. I hadn’t read this before I’d already oiled a clean bowl to prove the dough in, so I just continued with my bowl rather than a baking sheet with oiled clingfilm (I’ve never needed to oil clingfilm before, though I did have issues with my clingfilm sticking on the prove for this bake). I was a little skeptical that the dough would prove to double its size in just 45 minutes but it really did – which is nice, as it means you can actually use this recipe to make a pizza for dinner in about an hour. 

Step 5 – For the tomato sauce, heat the (much more reasonable amount of) olive oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 mins on a low heat until softened but not coloured. (Watch this one closely – the garlic can brown so fast alone in a pan with such a quantity of oil). Add the tomatoes and using the back of a wooden spoon, squash the tomatoes as much as you can. Unless you’re using passata, in which case just enjoy the ease of not having to smush anything…

Step 6 – Bring to the boil and add the lemon juice, sugar and salt. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 mins until reduced to a sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and add more seasoning if necessary.

Step 7 – Heat the oven to Bread Baking 240C and place the pizza stone in the oven. Please note here ! ALWAYS put your pizza stone into a cold oven. It musn’t be put cold into a hot oven or it will almost certainly crack! Knock back the dough and shape on a lightly floured surface, then toss into a 30cm round. Avoid pressing or squashing the edge of the dough as that stops it from forming a crust. I mean. This is just silly. Who can actually throw their pizza dough so hard and so evenly that it spins evenly and uses centrifugal forces just perfectly to widen the dough in a perfect circle?? Other than a full time Italian pizza chef/grandma?? Not me (and not Adam!) although we gave it a go. In the end, I angrily got out my rolling pin, so I don’t really have an excuse as to why my pizza was so square, other than I got worried about reshaping it completely and risk knocking all of the air out.

Step 8 – Place the dough on a peel, dusted with semolina. Brush the dough with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Spread 3 tbsp of the tomato sauce (you won’t need all the tomato sauce) over the dough and top with half of the mozzarella. I thought the sauce looked weirdly thin so I put on about 5T (still leaving plenty of sauce left over) and the sauce definitely thickened up and looked like better coverage once it came out of the oven. Also, I chopped my mozzarella into even slices then halved those, but judging by how Prue’s pizza looked on the show, with the perfect white of the mozzarella against the red tomato backdrop, I think I should have left the mozzarella in slices, unhalved.

Step 9 – Just before placing the pizza on the stone, sprinkle the stone with semolina. Transfer the pizza onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 12-15 mins until the crust is blistered and the cheese is bubbling. I didn’t bother buying the pizza peel for this as it seemed like a waste but I did invest in a brand new, super thin, non-stick (cookie) baking sheet which, dusted in semolina, provided an ideal method of transferring the pizza from the counter top to oven.

Step 10 – Remove for the oven and top with basil leaves before serving.I

I’m sure you’re all wondering – well, so how was the droop? Well… some slices were better than others. Let’s start with the positive news:

Pizza Margherita

But I also had this experience with another slice…

Pizza Margherita

Look how thick that slice is in the point, from the centre of the pizza! Yikes! I think that was just an anomalous slice, though. Most of the rest of the pizza was lovely, thin and crispy.

I would definitely use both the dough and tomato sauce recipe again – I’ve never made such a simple tomato sauce; I normally end up throwing in oregano or onion or something extra but I actually loved the simplicity of this. It tasted so wholesome and natural.

Pizza Margherita

There’s no excuse for me not making more pizzas now, too. I’ll have to introduce you all to my family’s Thai Chicken Pizza at some point…

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