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One of the challenges of making home made pizza is to get both the base and the topping cooked correctly. It’s all too easy to end up with an undercooked base or a carbonised topping. A solution I like is to pre-bake the bases, and I recently came across a very good recipe, courtesy of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, which I have adapted below. The mix of ingredients make for a very good flavour, which is further enhanced by the very long and slow rises which I have used.

As it happened, the Fresh from the Oven challenge for June, hosted by Anita at Slice of My Life, was for Pita breads. I realised that both the dough and the method for these was very similar to the one I use for pizza bases, so I decided to include both in one recipe. I have never been very inspired by Pita breads in the past, but as with Bagels, I discovered that the home made variety are definitely far superior to the ones you find in the shops.

I start the dough 24 hours before I am going to bake. Of course you could curtail this and just do a conventional first rise of an hour or two, followed by a shorter second rise, before rolling and baking the breads. If you follow my approach, you will find that the dough is lighter and fluffier than you may be used to after each of its rises. This will not adversely affect the final result; far from it!

The Fresh From the Oven round up will be published by Claire at Purely Food on the 1st of July 2012. Many thanks to her and Anita for providing yet another fun challenge.

Ingredients

Makes 4 pizza bases or 10 pita breads

  • 375g strong white flour
  • 125g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 10g fine salt
  • 10g fresh yeast or 5g quick action yeast
  • 310g warm water
  • 40g olive oil

Start the evening before you plan to bake the pizza bases.

Mix the two flours and the salt in a bowl. If using the quick action yeast, stir that in too. If using the fresh yeast, dissolve it in the warm water. Add the water and the oil to the bowl and stir until everything is well combined.

Turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface and work or knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put a half teaspoon of oil in the bowl and turn the dough over in it to coat it all over. Cover the bowl with plastic and leave overnight to rise in the fridge or a cool room.

The next morning, scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently. If making pizza bases, divide it into 4 equal pieces of about 215g, if making pitas make 10 pieces of about 85g. (I actually used half the dough to make 2 pizza bases and the other half to make 5 pitas).

Form each piece into a ball. Pour a couple of tablespoons of oil into a roasting tray and turn the dough balls over in this. Cover with clingfilm and put back in the fridge until the evening.

About half an hour before you want to start forming the bread, take the dough out of the fridge, and leave it to come back to room temperature. Put your baking stone or a heavy baking tray in the oven and preheat it to its highest temperature (in my oven this was 250C).

Form the pizza bases or pitas just before baking. Lightly flour your work surface. As the balls will probably be very puffy and misshapen by now, flatten them out gently and reshape into balls. Then roll them out thinly, making a disk about 23cm across for the pizza bases, or an oval about 20 x 12cm for the pitas (or a circle if you prefer). Keep lifting and turning the dough as you roll, and use a little more flour if needed to stop them sticking.

It’s easier to get the pizza bases onto the baking stone if you fold them in half. Put them on the stone, then unfold them and press them out towards the edges of the stone, taking care not to burn yourself. For the pitas simply put them on the stone. You should be able to get 2 or 3 on at once.

Bake for about 3 minutes until they are just beginning to colour and there are no obvious raw patches on the surface (I’ll willingly confess that I left mine in a bit long). Both the pizza bases and the pitas will puff up, the pizza bases particularly so. Once out of the oven, gently press the pizza bases flat, covering your hands to protect them from escaping steam. Don’t worry if they crack a little; this won’t be apparent once the pizzas are topped. There’s no need to flatten the pitas.

Both the pizza bases and pitta breads freeze well, and also defrost very quickly.

Making a Pizza

The important thing with a pizza is not to overload it with toppings. For the tomato layer I would simply use a few tablespoons of passata, perhaps with a little chopped oregano. The base should look like it’s been painted with tomato, no more. Then put on some small chunks of mozarella. The dry block kind is better here, as the kind that is sold in liquid will weep into the pizza and spoil it. Add a small amount of some other toppings, like ham, thinly sliced mushrooms or onions, olives and so on. Drizzle with olive oil and grind some black pepper over the top.

Bake the pizzas on a baking stone or tray preheated at your oven’s highest temperature They should only need 3 to 5 minutes.

The picture below is of my attempt to recreate the delicious Valentine Warner Fennel pizza which I had at Pizza express. First I spread the pizza base thinly with passata. Then I scattered over a pinch of fennel seeds and chilli flakes which I had ground together in a mortar and pestle. Then I added some chopped block mozarella and four or five thin slices of Tuscan fennel salami. (I also added a few tomato segments, and some olives, although these were not in the original). After baking, I topped it with some finely sliced fennel which had been tossed in a lemon dressing. There should have been rocket too, but I discovered at the last minute that we didn’t have any (an unheard of event in our house!). Modesty prevents me agreeing with my partner’s verdict that my version was better than the original, but it was certainly delicious.