Saturday was D-Day, Dough-Day to be clear, we didn't venture to Normandy. The aim was simple, to try a variety of dough recipes with a view to finding our favourite. We were sticking to classic Neapolitan pizzas which happen to be both our personal favourites and notoriously difficult to perfect. The dough has fewer ingredients typically than New York, or square pan Sicilian styles, but the higher temperatures required in cooking mean there's a fine line when aiming for a charred exterior but soft chewy cornicione - or crust to you and me.
I'm an engineer by background and the geek in me took over as I insisted on minimising the variations between each pizza so we could be sure that all we were testing was the dough. Each pizza was formed from the same flour (not Caputo Tippo 00, which I know I'd be marked down for in Naples, but Stoate's Organic Stoneground Strong White flour - I've got a 25kg sack of the stuff which I really should use up before ordering another). The same toppings were used, this was classic Neapolitan style so it had to be margheritas. The oven was held at the same temperate, well, within the relms of what's possible on a small domestic wood fired oven. We heated Bertha so the temperature of the stone read ~300 °C with a flue temperature of 400 °C. Ideally I'd have liked this higher as traditional Neapolitan ovens tend to run around 500 degrees, however there the heat source is from one side and they have a much more even distribution. In Bertha the fire is directly below the stones, so the bottom of the pizza tends to cook much quicker than the top. As a result, we ended up having to take them out early to avoid burning the base, which means the crusts lack the telltale leopard spot charring typical of Neapolitan pizzas, but you can't have everything… I'm already planning to experiment with the blowtorch to rectify this.
|Margherita was the order of the day
|time to cook
|Bertha in action
Anyway, back to the dough. I ended up trying 4 variations, a sourdough recipe with a strong pedigree, as I believe it's used by Franco Manca, "The Best Pizza Dough Ever" recipe from 101 Cookbooks, which stems from acclaimed baker and author Peter Reinhart. We also tried a no knead recipe from the Slice pizza blog and finally another Peter Reinhart recipe (I'm a bit of a fan) from his Crust and Crumb book, which started with a pre-ferment, poolish or sponge, so was a bit different to the others. Four dough recipes - can't be that hard I thought. Error. Each required several day's preparation along with an elaborate mixing and resting schedule, so out came the note book again. I didn't help myself by selecting mainly US recipes either, how many millilitres of water are in a cup… (well it turns out it depends on your cup, that'd be 236ml for a US one or 250 for a metric one - I worked on the assumption that they're patriotic about their cups in the US, so went with 236).
|my scribbles, complete with pizza stained tasting notes
Pre-ferment / Special Preparation
Active sourdough starter (Clare)
Overnight rest for dough
Olive oil 28g
Room temp rise 8-12h
Refrigerate to prove for 2-4 days
Olive oil: 56g
Poolish: 140g (Flour: 126g, Water: 236g, Yeast 1g)
On to the pizzas themselves, and confusingly in the order we ate them:
Our thoughts: Sweet. Less rise, more 'crumb' texture. Tastes like potato cakes! More caramelised, could work well with blue cheeses and figs.
So there you have it, 4 different dough recipes with some surprisingly different results. I don't believe you can say which is the best, that's too subjective, but what we can say is which was our favourite, and that was the sourdough by quite some margin. It had a far more interesting flavour and added more to the overall taste rather than being just a receptacle for the topping. The dough was also one of the easiest to make too. Guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the recipe from the award winning Franco Manca came out on top, but we learned a lot along the way.
The first pizzas turned out so well we didn't feel the need to repeat the process, so after stuffing ourselves with an extra sourdough pizza we took the spare dough and made some focaccia (mmm… salt and olive oil) and a loaf too: