There really are only three simple things that go into making a great pizza: a good dough (base & crust), a fantastic sauce topping and then the toppings themselves. Simple right? No, definitely not simple. Well at least not necessarily so.
Of course it is pretty hard to make a bad pizza. Mix cheese, bread and tomatoes with anything and try to get it wrong right (which is why a dessert chocolate covered pizza is one of the few examples of badness)? But to make the perfect pizza, now that is something. And to strive for perfection you have to boil it back to the basics and look at every aspect of a dish – this is a Heston Blumenthal recipe after all.
So there is no better way to both perfect your pizza and achieve perfection than by making thesimple yet elegant Margherita pizza. The triumvirate of tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella are a match made in heaven in terms of flavour combinations. They are also of such simple simplicity that there is nowhere to hide with a Margherita pizza.
And of course there is no better place to look for the perfect Margherita pizza recipe than in Naples – the home and birthplace of this pizza classic. The famous Neapolitian Margherita Pizza is served with a simple sauce of San Marzano tomato (any Italian will swear by this special variety of plant that is grown in the volcanically rich soils around Mt Vesuvius and tastes particularly delicious once canned), Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (buffalo mozzarella from the Campania region) and a sprinkling of fresh basil. All cooked in a seriously hot wood fired oven for no longer than 90 seconds (so as not to ruin the basil and to achieve the perfect crust).
These three quality ingredients are not always available to the home cook, not to mention access to a pizza oven! So this recipe creates maximum depth of flavour using easy to find ingredients and teaches you the key aspect of creating the right heat, perfect complex bread flavoured dough and lip smacking delicious tomatoes sauce – skills you can take to make any pizza!
Heston Blumenthal’s Perfect Marherita Pizza
Ingredients (makes 12 small pizzas):
Pizza dough pre-ferment:
- 115g bread flour (high protein 12%)
- 65g cold water
- 1/2 tsp malt syrup
- 2.5g yeast
- 1/3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/3 tsp salt
- 350g bread flour (high protein 12%)
- 195g cold water
- 1/2 tsp malt syrup
- 7g yeast
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 2kg small vine tomatoes
- 10 garlic cloves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 10 bay leaves
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp castor sugar
- salt & pepper
- 500g buffalo mozzarella
- 200g fresh basil
Margherita Pizza Method:
The same steps are followed in making the pre-ferment dough and the main dough mixture. The only difference is the quantities and the fact that you make the pre-ferment dough 24 hours in advance.
So for the pre-ferment dough mix the flour, water and malt syrup together and knead for 4 minutes in a mixing machine (or 10 minutes by hand). Leave for 15 minutes to rest.
Then put back on the mixer and add the salt, olive oil and yeast and mix for another 4 minutes (or 10 minutes by hand). Rub oil over the pre-ferment dough and cover up with a tea towel. Leave the pre-ferment dough to rise for 24 hours. Follow the same steps the next day with the normal dough mixture.
Once you have mixed all of the ingredients and kneaded for a combined time of 8 minutes (or 20 minutes by hand) with a fifteen minute rest in-between then add the pre-ferment dough that has been left to sit for 24 hours and mix for a further 4 minutes in a mixing machine (or 10 minutes by hand).
Sprinkle the dough and bench in flour and roll the dough into a regular tube about 1 ft in length. With a knife divide the tube into 12 even pieces.
Form into dough balls by placing one of the 12 pieces onto a floured bench and with your hand formed into a dome over the top of it (as seen in image 4). With all of your fingers and thumb touching the bench along with the dough ball gentle roll your hand in a circular motion. This will form the dough into very even circles. Lightly dust the 12 dough balls in flour and leave to rest for 2 hours. Make sure you leave a bit of space between the balls when you rest them as they will double in size as they rest.
Do not EVER roll the dough out with a rolling pin, as this will roll the out the fine air bubbles in the pizza dough that you have just spent the last 30 hours or so painstakingly forming. Pizza bases should only ever be formed by using your hands by gently using your palms to ease the already circular dough into about 1/2 cm thickness. Or if you are an expert you can use the throwing method. But only at your own risk! Make sure you dust the bench and pizza dough liberally with flour as you form the pizza base.
1. Remove the vine/stem from the tomatoes and set aside. Do not throw them out as these will be used later on in the recipe. Vines contain pretty much all of the smell of the tomato so are a great addition to any tomato sauce to enhance the tomatoey smell and flavour.
2. Remove the tomato skins by cutting the eye of the stems out of the tomato and soaking in hot water for 1 minute. The skins should peel of easily after that.
3. Halve the tomatoes (or quarter if you are using medium sized ones) and scoop out the seeds into a pot. Simmer the seeds for 20-30 minutes and then strain the seeds from their membranes – use a spoon to help separate the membrane from the seed. You will now have an intensely concentrated tomato sauce.
4. Place the half of the scooped out halves/quarters (approx 1kg) on an oven tray and lightly drizzle in olive oil. Place some garlic slivers, a bay leaf, basil leaf and a sprig of thyme into each tomate half. Sprinkle over some salt, pepper and a little castor sugar and place into a pre-heated oven at 110°C. Cook/dehydrate in the oven for 4 hours.
5. With the other half of the halved/quartered and scooped out tomatoes (approx 1kg) lightly salt and place in a sieve over a bowl to drain for 5 minutes. This is so some of the water comes out of the tomatoes so when you add both the tomatoes and their water to a pressure cooker in the next step you won’t have to add any water to stop it sticking to the pot and thus diluting the flavour.
6. Place the sieved tomatoes along with their water into a pressure cooker (use a pot if you don’t have one – but a pressure cooker will give better results). Add the separated sauce from the tomato seeds from step 3 and cook under pressure for 12 minutes (or 20 minutes in a pot). This emulates the canning process of tomatoes, which are used in the famous Neapolitan pizza.
7. Pour the slightly cooled pressure cooked sauce into a sealer bag along with the tomato vine stems and leave for at least an hour to infuse or overnight if you can.
Cooking a Pizza in an Home Oven
A proper wood fired pizza oven reaches about 500°C and provides an amazingly even temperature all around ensuring the that pizza dough gets nice and crisp on the bottom and beautifully caramelized on top – all in under 90 seconds so the basil doesn’t get ruined!
So how do you achieve similar results in an home oven where temperature are less than half that, and more importantly, the heat is really uneven throughout the oven. Many people use pizza stones in order to absorb some of the heat from the oven and help cook the base m0re quickly. But the reality is that pizza stones just do not work that well.
The answer lies in a solid cast iron frying pan – one of which you absolutely must own, being relatively cheap to buy, great for cooking with (they hold onto heat brilliantly) and really easy to clean (better than non-stick).
To get the even heat required turn your oven onto its hottest grill setting and heat the cast iron frying pan on the stovetop for about 20 minutes until it is really hot (don’t burn yourself – you may need a tea towel or oven mitt).
Once the oven and cast iron pan are hot enough place the assembled pizza – with the pressure cooked tomato sauce (sans vines), scattered oven dried tomatoes (with the herbs and garlic removed), buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves – on the bottom of the cast iron pan (so that it is upside down) and place it straight into the oven.
The pizza should take about 2.5 minutes to cook which is pretty good. Also make sure that you haven’t made the pizza base larger than the size of your cast iron pan.
If this isn’t the best tasting homemade pizza you have ever tried then I implore you to share your recipe! And while you may not want to make this recipe every time you make a pizza at home – it does take days to make after all – you can easily adapt the recipe to make sure you know that a good dough, delicious tomato sauce and hot, even heat are the most important aspects of a great tasting pizza. The rest is just the endless mix of ingredients you can throw on top to make life endlessly interesting!