Pizza, pizza, pizza!

pizza

The topic of how to make the perfect pizza is huge, and can easily be overwhelming if you are just starting out as a pizza baker. Therefore I will focus on a few basics in this post to get your started, and then dive into more specific pizza-topics later on. If you’re into pizza then the taste of a homemade pizza is always rewarding. But there are several factors that makes the difference between a decent homemade pizza and a mouth watering, perfectly cooked, smoking hot gourmet style pizza with a chewy and crispy crust.

The first thing you must do is turn the temperature on your oven all the way to the max. A traditional wood fired pizza oven is usually hotter than 400C, which is almost twice as hot as a regular oven gets. So you must try and simulate this kind of temperature to get a crust that is as crispy as the real Italian pizzas you can get at gourmet restaurants and in Europe. One way of doing that is by using a pizza stone, also called a baking stone. A pizza stone will absorb the heat from the oven and store it for a long time. Once you place the uncooked pizza on the pizza stone, this heat will transfer rapidly to the uncooked pizza, expanding the dough and making the crust brown and crispy. There are many different types of stone you can use for baking pizza, but I will tell you more about that subject in a later post.

The second thing that will make your pizza amazing is your choice of flour and the way you handle the dough. Real Italian pizzas are made with a flour called Type 00, which contains a higher amount of gluten than most other flours. When kneading a dough, the gluten in flour is what creates the “network” of gluten strands, binding the dough together and making it elastic. Since a pizza dough is always stretched very thinly, the elasticity of the dough is very important. So the more gluten and the more the dough is kneaded, the more stretchy and elastic it will become.

pizza

Handling the dough in a gentle way is another way you can make an even better pizza at home. Using your fingertips instead of a rolling pin to push down the dough will maintain the air in the dough and produce a fluffy and light crust. And stretching the dough with your well-floured hands will make you able to control then thickness of the dough, so you avoid tearing holes in it. It takes a while to master the shaping of pizza dough, but the reward is definitely worth your time and effort.

The last thing to consider when making home made pizza, is the quality of the toppings. One of the  reasons why the taste of commercially made pizzas is usually just average, is that the ingredients they use for toppings are cheap and of relatively low quality. If you take the time making your own pizzas, make sure you also take the time to go shopping for the highest quality of toppings you can find. A gourmet pizza is completely sensory experience than different than a commercialy made one, so spend the time and the money to make it the best you possibly can and you will be amazed just how tasty pizza can be.

The final ingredient you need when making homemade pizzas, is love. Put your love into shaping the dough, the attention to every little detail and love sharing your final result with your friends, family and loved ones. Have fun along the way and start over if you make a mistake. Remember, it’s just dough 😉

Baking with a dolsot (돌솥)

Dolsot bread

For a while I’ve been very interested in baking in various kinds of pot and pans. One of the first methods I used was baking in a Römertopf, a traditional clay baking pot from Germany. The Römertopf is also used in many slow cooked oven dishes, like chicken, beef stew and pork with vegetables. When used for bread baking the Römertopf must be soaked in water for about twenty minutes, to open up the pores in the clay. The Römertopf must then be pre-heated in a cold oven for a while, and finally the the dough is poured into the hot clay pot for the baking.

The challenge with the Römertopf clay baker when baking bread however, is that the bread often sticks to the pot when the bread is done. And because clay is a more porous material than for an example iron or stone, the surface of the pot will slowly change over time as it is being used. Another challenge is that the size of the Römertopf will create a bread that is very flat and typically won’t rise very much, resulting in smaller slices when the bread is being cut.

dolsot bread

Another popular alternative to the Römertopf clay baker is the famous Le Creuset cookware. These are very high quality pots from France and the advantage by using them, is that the dough usually won’t stick to the surface of the pot, as it is very slick. But Le Creuset cookware is very expensive and as the pot has a flat bottom like most other pots, the breads will not get the attractive rounded shape that many bakers love.

It was while I lived on Jeju Island a few years ago that I started experimenting with baking in a dolsot, the traditional Korean pot used for famous dishes such as Bibimbap. At that time I was limited to baking in a small toaster oven, and that limitation started my creative thinking. What could possibly fit that small oven? A dolsot of course! I found a steel dolsot at a small local kitchen shop nearby that just fitted in the toaster oven, heated up the oven and started baking my first dolsot-bread. The bread came out wonderful. With a thick, crispy and brown crust, the dolsot had absorbed the uneven heat from the toaster oven and baked the bread as perfect as in a larger, more expensive oven. From that day on, my favorite way to bake bread has been with a Korean dolsot.