Thursday, June 12, 2014

14. Simple Pizza Base Recipe

Since posting my original recipe back in 2012 there has been an ongoing process of extensive testing involving seeing 'what I can get away with' in eliminating complexity and effort.  (Laziness and distraction are hard taskmasters.)  I am down to commencing this process about 90 minutes before pizza cooking time.

So here is the 'stripped down' version of my former recipe (a lot less recognisable as originating as the Forno Bravo 'Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe'):


1kg box                 Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour 
650ml                   Warm water (65% hydration)
1/2 tablespoon (15gm)   Salt
1 tablespoon (6gm)      Active Dry Yeast
1 splash                Olive Oil
couple handfulls        Plain Flour


Mixer with dough hook
Pizza Trays (8")
Rolling Pin
Dough Roller Docker (confused? click here)
Lightly floured flat surface

  1. Put dry ingredients in bowl of the mixer.
  2. Mix well.
  3. Turn the mixer to low and add the water gradually - you need all of it.
  4. Run the mixer on medium for maybe 5 minutes, then on slow for a minute or two.
  5. Make a big ball of the dough, splash on some olive oil, rubbing it around to coat the whole ball.
  6. Put the ball back in the mixing bowl, cover with Gladwrap (Saran wrap?) and put it in a warm place until doubled.
  7. Wait 1-2 hours.  (If it gets really big, push the air out with your fist.)
  8. When you are ready to cook, lightly flour a flat surface.
  9. Tear off a 3/4 fist-sized chunk (for 8" pizzas).
    (You may need to experiment to find your preferred size.)
  10. Make it into a ball.  (If you are fussy, choose a smooth part of the ball, and stretch it downwards by rubbing the palms downwards, then pinch the remains together at the bottom.)
  11. Roll the ball out on the floured surface using the rolling pin. Thin is good
  12. Put the rolled out dough on a pizza tray and roll with the dough roller docker to perforate the surface.
  13. Add toppings, then cook.
By the way, stuff all the 'this topping, that topping' stuff.  Just raid the fridge and remember, 'everything savoury tastes better on pizza'.

...Geoff the Lazy Chef

Saturday, May 12, 2012

13. Pizza Base Recipe

(NOTE:  This is a very effective recipe. However, it has been superseded by the simpler recipe posted here.)

Having undertaken extensive experimentation, testing and possibly some extra pounds around the stomach region, here is the recipe I am now using.  It is based on the Forno Bravo 'Authentic Vera Pizza Napoletana Dough Recipe', which is very good, but let's face it, a recipe can always be improved (or at least made more convenient and with locally available ingredients).


1kg box                 Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour* 
650ml                   Water (65% hydration)
1/2 tablespoon (15gm)   Salt
1 tablespoon (6gm)      Active Dry Yeast
1 splash                Olive Oil
couple handfulls        Plain Flour


Mixer with dough hook (optional)
Large Bowl (diameter about 30cm/12")
Baking Tray/Baking Sheet/Cookie Pan (large)
Baking Paper/Parchment
Rolling Pin
Dough Roller Docker (confused? click here)

  1. Mix dry ingredients then add the water - you need all of it.
  2. Use a mixer with a dough hook - add water slowly, run slowly for 2 minutes, faster for 5 minutes, then slowly again for 2 minutes.
    (OR  Mix by hand for about 10 minutes - this is not for the faint hearted.)
    (Apparently you can also do this step in a bread machine.)
  3. Make a big ball of the dough, splash on some olive oil, rubbing it around to coat the whole ball.
  4. Put the ball in a bowl in a warm place until doubled (1 - 2 hours).
  5. Punch out air. Tear off 3/4 fist-sized chunks (for 8" pizzas) and form into balls.
    (You may need to experiment to find your preferred size.)
  6. To form a ball, choose a smooth part of the ball, and stretch it downwards by rubbing the palms downwards.  Pinch the remains together at the bottom.
  7. Put the balls pinched end down on oven paper well spaced on a large oven tray.
  8. Spray on olive oil.
  9. Store in the oven - rest for about an hour. (Too long and they run together, so if you are storing them longer, refrigerate.) 
  10. When you are ready to cook, roll them out on a bed of loose plain flour, and put on pizza tray or other surface and add toppings. Don't forget to use the dough roller docker to perforate the surface.
By the way, stuff all the 'this topping, that topping' stuff.  Just raid the fridge and remember, 'everything savoury tastes better on pizza'.

...Geoff the Chef

* Here is an interesting article about the protein/gluten content of Australian Lighthouse Bread & Pizza Plain Flour vs Italian Tipo 00 flour.  It is probably also relevant elsewhere.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

12. Loving the Pizza Oven (Cracks and All)

I thought I'd post an update on the clay pizza oven.  As usual, the proof is in the eating, and the eating is great!

I mentioned experimenting with various cooking methods in the previous post.  The pizza-on-pizza-tray-on-a-bed-of-coals method has been very successful.  If there are a lot of coals, banking them around the outside results in the top burning before the base is cooked, so I have started to put most coals under the pizza tray, with less pushed into the corners.  This is working well so far.

The Steel Peel in Action
It would seem to be obvious that a timber pizza peel (or shovel) would burn when in frequent contact with hot coals, but I didn't predict it.  My parents were on-hand when this happened, and bought a 'pizza oven warming gift' of a steel peel which has been excellent.  It is from Barbeques Galore in Australia.  (Link to the product.)  The handle may not be long enough for igloo-shaped doors, but is perfect for my oven.

Although I did a patch up with leftover clay, the crack has returned.  It does not take much imagination to see the crack (which starts on one side of the door, goes around the back of the oven, and terminates on the other side of the door) as being like a boiled egg that has been cracked prior to taking off the top.  I am learning to live with it.  No extra heat or smoke escapes through the narrow gap, which is the priority.  As the oven is Mark I it also seems to be OK to have some rustic charm.

...Geoff the pizza chef

Sunday, May 29, 2011

11. First Pizza & Great Satisfaction

Homemade Pizza Peel
My wife noticed that I had gone quiet about the clay pizza oven; it having been my obsession for the last few months.  She decided that we would cook pizzas the next day, and we did.

(My enthusiasm had waned due to mixed performance with bread and large cracks.)

I started the day with another trip to the Dump Shop for materials.  This time to make a pizza peel (or shovel).  I found a perfect piece of laminated timber, cut it to shape, and added a eucalyptus stick for a rustic handle.  I used a hand sander to thin out the front edge into a blunt blade.  The peel performed well, but needs some more work to thin out the 'blade'.

Patching the Crack
I planned to start cooking at 5pm.  I set a medium-sized fire at about 3pm, lit it at 3:30, added sticks and hardwood logs no bigger than my wrists, and worked up to a full base of coals about an inch thick by 5:30.  At that time I stopped adding timber, and waited half-an-hour for the contents to burn down to coals.

While the oven was heating I patched up the cracks using some clay and sand (probably 50:50) that I had left handy in a bucket.  At full heat the clay dried and blended in.  It is now as if there had never been a huge gaping crack.  (I know, I exaggerate.)

At 5:30 I made the pizza dough, using the recipe in an early edition of Simply No Knead Breadmaking by Carol and Ken Bates - a practical, classic Australian home bakers' 'how to'.  This dough is only slightly moist and very easy to handle.

The Very First Pizza - Garlic
Starting at about 6pm, I cooked 8- to 9-inch diameter pizzas using a number of methods, including:

  1. Garlic pizzas on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on the floor.
  2. Pizzas with few toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays.
  3. Pizzas with few toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on a bed of hot coals.
  4. Pizzas with lots of toppings on 9-inch aluminium pizza trays on hot coals.
  5. Garlic pizza directly on the brick floor.
  6. Pizza with lots of toppings directly on the brick floor.

One With The Lot
All of the pizzas were great to eat.  The tops cooked well, and rapidly using all methods.  However, when the pizza trays were on the floor of the oven (at around 400 degrees celsius) the bases were pale and did not cook well relative to the speed at which the tops and edges cooked.  The bases cooked best on trays on a bed of coals, and also when cooked directly on the brick floor.  Cooking directly on the floor was fine with garlic only, but a messy job when toppings were added.  The winner is cooking on pizza trays on a bed of coals.  I am sure I will continue to experiment.

...Geoff the L-plater oven chef
Cooking on the Bricks

Saturday, May 21, 2011

10. Firing The Oven

Firing the Oven
Apparently it is important to dry out the clay thoroughly at low temperatures gradually increasing to pizza-cooking temperatures.  Thanks to 'david s' at the Forno Bravo forums, I now know why the top layer of clay formed cracks.  Scary cracks.  I once had a crack on my windscreen that started small.  Eventually the windscreen needed to be replaced.  And the cracks in the windscreen were nothing on the cracks in the oven.

The Crack, Not Big Enough for a Matchstick
I sort of went through a process of firing the oven - after the first fire, I set fires a few more times.  And the crack continued to grow.

Crack a Week Later, With Matchstick
For Mark II, apparently firing (also known as 'curing') the oven properly involves paper fires, then briquette (heat bead) fires, then stick fires, then log fires.  David s suggested 20 kilograms of briquettes.  This might be 10 times the 10 or so hours I had in fires.  Also, my enthusiasm for fire overtook caution, so my fires started pretty big.  Firing can be accompanied by weeks of air drying.  It did take about 3 weeks to work up to pizzas, but mostly due to a temporary loss of confidence (in proportion with the growth of the crack).

Spuds in Foil Among the Coals
Another alternative may be to dry each layer in turn.  I wondered why Simon Brookes emptied out sand and fired the first layer.  I did not have confidence that the first layer would stand up.  Hence the need to add more layers before emptying the sand.

Spuds Ready For Eating
Along the way I tried to cook a couple of french sticks, which failed due to insufficient heat.  I rescued them in sufficient time to put them in the inside oven and cook them successfully, but this was a failure for the oven.  Later that day, after a lot more briquettes, I roasted whole potatoes in foil to great success.

...Geoff (still) the pyro
Shiny 9-inch Pizza Trays

At about this time I also took delivery of a dozen shiny 9-inch aluminium pizza trays.

Friday, May 6, 2011

9. Remove Sand & Initial Fire

Ready to Fire
Another major milestone was removing the sand and lighting the first fire.

The sand came out easily. It was a bit damp, or maybe just felt pretty cold. Inside the newspaper lining was not completely dry, but not wet either - it was cold to the touch, like the sand. Some of the newspaper came away, but most of it stuck to the clay, so I left it for the flames to address.
Sand Removed

I built a small fire just inside the doorway. When attempted further in, it did not want to stay lit. It is certainly difficult to keep a small fire alight.

The fire burnt for about 2 1/2 hours. The top and sides became warm to the touch, and too warm to touch just above the doorway. The back was only just warm. Due to the thickness there I put bricks in the doorway when I stopped feeding the fire, to reflect the head from the coals back to the back wall. About 20 minutes later the back wall was quite warm.
Fire Underway

I am not sure whether the clay needs to be left any longer, but I am leaving it a week out of caution, and while I wait for delivery of my 9-inch pizza trays (ordered on eBay).

...Geoff the Pyro

Bricks to Reflect Heat to Back Wall

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

8. Mix & Lay 3rd Layer

Mixing Thumb-sized Chunks of Clay
After the second batch we were pretty enthusiastic about doing the final batch.  I think we got a bit cocky, and as a result we went with a much too liquid-y mix for this layer - but more of that later.

We again used the power drill and paint stirrer.  We started with the 40-50 litre bucket, but broke it part-way through and swapped to a 20 litre bucket.  The quantities below are for a 40-50 litre bucket unless specified otherwise.

The rough quantities for this batch were:

First Batch: (good)
1/3 bucket of lumpy freshly dug clay
1/3 full of water
Mixing in the Barrow
(Used the same approach as the previous batch - just mixing for a long time using the drill and paint stirrer.)

Second Batch: (fail)
1/4 bucket of broken up clay
1/2 full of water
(This one was probably a fail.  I broke up the clay first, then mixed for a shorter time using drill and paint stirrer.  There was a lot of clay left in the bottom of the bucket when I poured it into the barrow - this was probably mostly water.  We blame this batch for making this layer too wet.) 

More Mixing in the Barrow
Third Batch: (excellent)
1/2 bucket of water
Lots of clay broken up and dropped in a piece at a time - probably more than half a 40-50 litre bucket of lumpy clay
(After the second batch it was obvious we needed to get this right as the barrow had very wet contents and only limited clay.  Bob broke clay into thumb-sized pieces, as we did when we were puddling, and I continuously stirred with the drill and paint stirrer.  I tested the clay content by inventing 'the glove method' by dipping my hand in and removing it and seeing how much clay coated it.  With this batch the clay was one to two millimetres thick on my hand and very viscous.)

This were put in the barrow with ultimately about half a barrow of sand - this was added gradually to thicken the mix.

Pizza Oven Bandaged Up
This mix failed the drop test.  The result smushed and broke apart on impact.  By now we were over this part of the project, and we pressed on with the overly-wet mix.  If you have built a castle at the beach in the zone where waves are regularly inundating the base of your castle you will be familiar with the saturated sand you put onto the castle.  It resists shaping and tends to slide down the edges of the castle.  This is what we worked with. (Although I might have exaggerated a little.)

Like the wet sand at the beach, our mix wanted to 'slump' down on the steep sides of the oven, but sat well on the top. Bob came up with a solution to the slumping - adding a cardboard 'bandage' around the entire girth of the oven.  This did a good job of holding the clay up while it dried.

...Geoff the Sand Castle Builder