This article was written for a UK audience – we will soon publish this article in American English for the US audience, with links to US vendors for some of the essentials you are going to need.
Although pizza dough is just flour, salt and water with a little leavening agent – if you use plain flour, table salt, cold freshly drawn tap water and an old dog end of yeast the chances are your product will be rubbish. If you use stringy cheap as cheese tinned tomatoes, expect a stringy sauce the will slop sauce over your best shirt, and get between your teeth. If you use bad cheese, it won’t become suddendly wonderful after baking. No – resolve to use pretty good or the best ingredients, if you can afford them, because them the success of the end result is dependent upon you developing your pizzailo skills, and you can’t blame the ingredients. Using the same ingredients again and again means you get a chance to hone your skills without experimental variation scuppering the learning process. As a matter of principle, you should also tour your region’s best pizzerias sampling many pizzas with family, friends and work colleagues because its all about the journey – and there’s no better form of learning than social eating. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their ingedients and watch their processes and skills, let them show off!
The Water – Draw the tap water into a jug or pan the night before, and let is stand overnight (loosely covered) to allow any dissolved chlorine to escape – then use a cheap kitchen thermometer and some boiled water to bring the water temperature up to 26-28ºC
The Salt – Get some unrefined sea salt. I use ground Sel de Guerande from Le Paludier. It is already fairly well ground so dissolves in water quickly. I tend to add it dry after I’ve begun to mix the dough, without issues. Table salt has all sorts of nasty additives as you’ll have read about in our blog post “The Salt of the Earth“.
The Flour – I used to think flour was flour was flour. Well – it isn’t. There are more varieties of wheat flour available than there are countries in the world, and many more grain species than wheat. It is safest to do what the Italians do which is to start with Caputo Blue “00” flour (it comes in 1kg and 25kg bags) which is relatively “soft” and will give you an elastic dough, and learn to do good pizza with that. The move on to Caputo Red and others. I think good starting points also include Barillo “00” and other Italian “00” flours.
The Yeast – Of course it would be nice if we all made sourdough pizza bases. I bake 50 loaves of bread every other Friday, including mostly sourdough. But when I’m cooking up pizza from scratch even I do not reach the heady heights of homebrew sourdough pizza bases. Just use Doves Farm Quick Yeast – it should be £1.50-3.50. It works really well – you need about 1 teaspoon per kilo of flour. We are not all Franco Mancy, but they are.
The Tomatoes are also all important. Buy some tinned San Marzano tomatoes. These are sweet saucy sauce tomatoes that melt into instant pizza sauce when squeezed through your fingers. San Marzano tomatoes are grown near the base of Vesuvius near Napoli and are an essential component to creating the best pizza that you can. Very good Italian tomatoes are an alternative – but please do try these before you resort to that. I’ll leave you to choose the cheese. Good luck!