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Top 6 expert tips for making & enjoying perfect pizzas at home.

From The Bakehouse @ Mill Cross Retreats where local, seasonal & organic matter

One of our class participant's lovely pizzas fresh out of the oven


Would you like to have some insider tips on making the finest pizzas for your get togethers?

Read on for our Bakehouse @ Mill Cross Retreats expert top tips.


You can join us for a class in The Bakehouse@Mill Cross Retreats.... if you can't wait, read on....

Over the years running our woodfired pizza business, we've made about 30 000 pizzas!

So we have some great insider tips & knowledge to share with you.


Of course we have classes at The Bakehouse where we use organic, local & seasonal ingredients with expert tuition (& you can stay in our lovely self contained, eco-friendly accommodation to make your time extra special) but if if you can't wait to get to one of our friendly classes at Mill Cross Retreats, read on.....


If you have a woodfired or gas pizza oven in your garden, are thinking about getting one OR you just want to use your kitchen oven & a pizza stone to make the very best pizzas at home, here are our top expert tips;


1. Dough

Yes, you can buy dough mix, ready made dough balls or even prepped bases but why would you when you can make the best pizza dough with great ingredients & no additives for a fraction of the price? Plus it's easy & great fun.


Here at The Bakehouse @ Mill Cross Retreats we use organic flour & a slow fermented method with a tiny amount of yeast & making your dough like this will give you a foolproof, crispy, delicious pizza which is about as close to sourdough as you can get without being sourdough.


Bakehouse pizza dough recipe (makes 4)

Digital scales are the easiest to be really accurate

  • 540g flour (you can use either Strong White bread flour, Pizza flour, Caputo flour or 00 grade pasta flour)

We use Doves Farm organic and depending on what type of oven we are using, either 100% 00 grade pasta flour or a 50/50 mix of strong white & 00.

  • 12g fine seasalt

  • 1.5g dried yeast (again, we use Doves Farm organic)

You will really need some micro scales to weigh this tiny amount- these are readily available online

  • About 360g of water


Method

Weigh your flour into the bowl & add your yeast & salt. You will need to weigh in your water (always do this rather than use a measuring jug as these are less accurate)- start with about 350g & add more if needed.


We recommend micro-scales for measuring tiny amounts of yeast


Using either a dough scraper (highly recommended!) or just your hands, start to bring the dough together, then tip out onto a slightly wet surface & kneed until smooth & elastic. This should take about ten minutes. You are looking for a dryish dough, not sticky & wet. Shape it into a round, well sealed ball.



Finished dough ready to be covered & popped in the fridge for 3 days


Pop it into a bowl & cover with a bread bowl cover or clingfilm, making sure it is well sealed.

This goes into your fridge for 3 days.


2. Sauce

No, no, no... homemade sauce does not need sugar in it! Use great quality, preferably organic tinned tomatoes & olive oil & you'll have all the flavour you need. Here's how;


Bakehouse tomato sauce recipe

  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped

  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped or grated with a microplane

  • 1 tin of tomatoes (we use Essential organic chopped)

  • Olive oil (try to use organic if you can)

  • Dried basil


Use good quality organic tomatoes if you can afford them & organic red onions, olive oil & garlic for the best taste!


Method

Using a small, heavy bottomed pan over a low heat, add a very generous glug of olive oil- at least a couple of tablespoons & heat to a low temperature.

Add the finely chopped red onion and cook over the lowest possible heat for at least an hour until it is looking pale brown.

Add the chopped/grated garlic & stir for a few minutes on a low heat.

Add chopped tomatoes & a teaspoon of dried basil and cook on low for another hour or so.

Take off the heat and blitz/blend with a stick blender or food processor.

Check the taste- you may need a little salt.

n.b. this sauce will freeze well & can be used for other dishes such as pasta where you need a good base sauce.


3. Shaping your dough

On the day you'd like to make your pizzas (which should be 3 days after you have made your dough), take the dough out of the freezer about 6 hours before you would like to use it.

Pop it somewhere cool to come up to room temperature. Don't put it in direct sunlight.

After about 4 hours, put it onto your counter & divide into 4 (a dough scraper is great for this) Each one will weigh around 230g.


You can, of course half this size for children's pizzas.


Dough balls ready to cover & rise


Pop a small amount of strong bread flour onto your worktop (just a couple of tablespoons) to dip your hands into. Dip your fingers into it and using the ball of your hand, roll your divided dough in a circle, using your fingers to shape it into a small ball. Repeat for your dough balls & place them with about 15cm between them onto a floured tray or wooden board and cover well with clingfilm to stop them from drying out. Leave them to rise for at least an hour but not in direct sunlight.


If it is especially cold, you can pop them into your oven with just the oven light on as this will help the rise- BUT MAKE SURE THEY ARE WELL COVERED!


Leave them to almost double in size. Taking one at a time, place onto a very well floured surface ( roughly a cup of flour will suffice for 4 dough balls, but have some extra on hand). Very gently, press the centre of the dough ball down, turning it repeatedly working out to the edges and leaving a small edge (which will become your risen crust), until it is about the size of a teaplate.


After you have done all 4, taking one at a time, you are now going to increase them to full size, ready to bake. On a really well floured surface (add more if you need), using the heel of your right hand & the fingers of your left hand whilst continually turning the base, stretch it gently,working diagonally, working it round in circles, leaving a small .5cm/1cm border, which will be slightly more raised than the centre.


You'll be surprised how quickly it gets to about 11"/28cm


Shape the dough balls carefully with your finger tips, then stretch to shape with your hands


It is really important that you don't make any holes in your base so try to keep it even, be gentle with it & do keep it nice & circular.


4. Toppings

Less is definitely more- try not to be tempted to make Mount Vesuvius!


We think 3-5 toppings is about right- here are some of our favourite combinations;

  • Prosciutto (each slice torn into about 5 pieces), olives, mushrooms & artichokes

  • Sun dried (or even better home roasted) tomatoes, olives, mushrooms & artichokes

  • Caramelised red onions, capers, olives, anchovies & flat leaf parsley

  • Roasted peppers (the jarred ones are great), caramelised red onions, pesto, goats cheese

  • Ben's salami, or pepperoni, olives, roasted tomatoes

  • Roasted aubergine, peppers, red onion & courgette

  • Roasted butternut, pinenuts, spinach, sundried tomatoes, blue cheese

We also love small dollops of mascarpone- it's absolutely delicious.

Use two teaspoons to pop about 1/3 of a teaspoon at about 6/7 intervals around your pizza


If you are prepping toppings, make sure everything is thinly sliced -for example, slice your jarred quartered artichoke hearts into about 4 slices or each mushroom in half & then each half into tiny slices & don't overdo the quantities- perhaps allow 7 or 8 of each item (except for olives, capers & other tiny things!).


You will also need some lovely mozzarella- the bulk standard balls in brine, cut into 4 lengthways & then thinly sliced are fine but if you can get buffalo mozzarella or even burrata, please do, as this is the bees knees & will be a real treat. One ball will easily do 3-4 pizzas.


To make up your pizza


First sprinkle a little polenta onto a placing peel. When we cook in bulk, we use a log handled wooden placing peel but if you're making pizzas at home in your woodfired or gas pizza oven or conventional oven, we'd recommend wooden boards as shown below.


Carefully flip the top edge of the pizza base over the backs of your hands- don't be tempted to pick it up by your fingertips as it will stretch too much & possibly even break. Holding it carefully, pop it onto the placing peel, prepared with polenta. You can give it a little reshape now, if you need to.


Take a couple of tablespoons of your cooled sauce and using a flat wooden or soft plastic spatula, spread the sauce gently over the pizza, leaving about 1cm at the edges. If you get sauce on your peel, clean it off straight away.



Now carefully add your toppings- making sure they go to the edge of the sauce and laying them in a neat(ish) pattern. As outlined above, about 7 or 8 of each item. The mozzarella goes on last. Try to work fairly quickly as you don't want the pizza base to go soggy.



Have a basil plant, some rocket, black pepper and oils to add after they are cooked.


5. Cooking

The key to the best pizzas is HOT, HOT, HOT ovens. If you are using a conventional kitchen oven, get it as hot as you can and preheat a pizza stone for about ten minutes. We don't use them as we have a professional Gozney pizza oven but the BBC Good Food site has a decent review if you're keen to know which are the best for you.


If you have a woodfired or gas pizza oven, you will need to get the temperature to at least 400C. I often get asked how I manage to get my oven so hot & there is one answer only- that is good quality, well seasoned, dry wood. We use local ash that we generally get delivered weekly. Please be aware that kiln dried wood is not always environmentally friendly as gash wood is often used to fire the kilns & then it's shipped to the UK!

Try to get local, well seasoned, barn dried wherever you can.


Please don't use any old wood you have lying around- make sure you have well seasoned wood that is kept dry (it won't stay dry if it's in the shed for 6 months!) or briquettes which you can often get from joinery workshops. There are briquette type logs on line and most of the home pizza oven suppliers seem to supply them but they are not a very reasonably priced option!



Pop your pizza in with a neat sliding action, keeping the peel on the oven floor as you shoot your pizza in. If you have a larger capacity oven that will take several pizzas, you will need to work fast with a turning peel to ensure that the edges are evenly browned by the flame, whilst the bases are cooked by the heat of the stone floor or pizza stone.


6. Finishing the process

What could be nicer than your fresh out of the oven pizza, sprinkled with rocket & perhaps a little garlic oil & torn basil leaves? Make sure you have something suitable ready to drink with it- we'd recommend the highly delicious Vintage Roots Elementa Primitivo (organic & vegan) or the equally lovely Vintage Roots Adobe Pinot Noir Reserva (organic & vegan). For a non-alcoholic perfect partner, our locally sourced Luscombe Elderflower Bubbly is unbeatable.





If you would like to learn how to make perfect pizzas with the experts, you could join us at The Bakehouse for a pizza, focaccia & pud workshop; 3.5-4 hours of small group tuition & plety to eat & take home, in our beautiful, easy to reach space surrounded by nature, using the finest local, seasonal & organic ingredients. Click here for details.


You might also choose to stay in our lovely eco-friendly accommodation with woodfired hot tubs, just for couples & make a weekend of it.


At Mill Cross Retreats, whether you stay, cook, create or eat with us, we encourage you to stop, slow down, relax, refresh & recharge. We look forward to welcoming you.






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