Prue Leith’s Margherita Pizza
I’m a bit behind with my Bake Off bakes at the moment. I had to make a birthday cake (dinosaur landscape) and party food for my boy who’s turning six. Whilst I did have time, just about, to attempt the Margherita pizza technical bake from Italian week, I didn’t have the time to write about it until now.
I started with the recipe from the Great British Bake Off website. I didn’t really stick to it, but I did do my best.
For a start, Prue Leith’s recipe uses fresh yeast. I’ve never been able to find fresh yeast in Tesco and, when I asked a local bakery about whether there was any difference between using fresh and dried yeast, they said that they only ever use dried. Dried yeast it was going to be.
I used active yeast, rather than easy bake, and the first thing I did was to mix it with some lukewarm water (taken from the recipe amount) and some sugar. I left it to bloom. It was a bit chilly but not chilly enough to turn the heating on, so I was stuck for a warm place. I left it on the worktop under a light for a while, but that didn’t really work. I left it for ages and it still only had a handful of bubbles on the top when I came back to it. In the end, I put it into the oven and turned the light on. That did the trick. After two cheeky episodes of Home and Away, I was, at last, ready to start.
I sifted 00 grade flour and a pinch of salt into the bowl of the KitchenAid, added my yeast and some olive oil and mixed it all slowly together. I, very, very carefully added water to the mixture until I had a soft dough.
In another departure from Prue Leith’s recipe, I kneaded in the KitchenAid. She had the poor Bake Off contestants doing it all by hand. The recipe requires ten minutes of hand-kneading. I initially gave my mixture five in the mixer, and then another two to make it a bit smoother.
I scraped my dough off the dough hook, put it onto a baking tray and covered it with oiled clingfilm.
At this point, the recipe says that you have to leave the dough in a warm place to prove. I wasn’t going to be able to make the pizza on the day I made the dough. I can’t remember why not. Probably didn’t have the time. Anyway, I’d Googled the question of whether I could leave pizza dough in the fridge overnight and the answer was favourable. Yes, I could leave it in the fridge for a very slow overnight prove and it wouldn’t affect the flavour.
Here’s my dough after a night in the fridge.
For the topping, I did follow Prue’s recipe. I heated extra virgin olive oil in a pan and, while it warmed up, I chopped garlic. There was a lot of garlic in this recipe. Four cloves. I sort of forgot about the oil heating up and, by the time I’d finished chopping, it was a bit hot. I put the garlic into the pan and it sizzled and started to burn. Even though I got the pan off the heat, all I could smell was burned garlic. I wasn’t going to start again. I couldn’t cope with another four cloves of garlic, so I pushed on through the smell and added a can of tomatoes. They weren’t the San Marzano ones stipulated in the recipe. They were from Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range though so, hopefully, they’d be posh enough.
Once the tomatoes had come to the boil, I added lemon juice and a bit of sugar and salt. I turned down the heat and turned back to my dough.
I squashed the dough into a rough circle on the worktop and then made the best pizza shape I could by moving it through my hands like a steering wheel. It never once made it into the air in a pizza chef toss. It would have ended up on the floor.
The next step was to put the dough onto a peel which has been dusted with semolina. Strangely enough, I don’t have a peel. Instead I was going to use a pizza tray.
You can see the problem. It’s got a big lip around the edge. How was my pizza going to get over that into the oven? Jump?
I wasn’t sure whether I had any semolina either. There was something in an unmarked Tupperware pot in the cupboard which I thought might be semolina. It was either semolina or polenta. Whatever it was, I used it to stop my pizza dough sticking to my makeshift peel.
I put the dough onto the tray, spread about half of the tomato sauce onto the top and topped it with chunks torn from a ball of mozzarella. The recipe is confusing about the cheese. It says that you need 125g, but then tells you to top the pizza with half of it and doesn’t tell you what you’re supposed to do with the other half. I used all of it. There didn’t seem to be any point in keeping half.
The recipe says that you bake the pizza on a pizza stone that’s been heating in the oven. The oven is supposed to be set at “Bread Baking” 240°C. I have no idea what “Bread Baking” setting is, or whether my oven has it. There are only a few settings that get that hot. I chose “Top and Bottom Heat”. For my pizza stone, I was using another pizza tray.
So, to get my pizza from one pizza tray to the other I took the hot one out of the oven, sprinkled it with semolina/polenta and, with a combination of shaking, jiggling and swearing, I managed to lift/shove/drop my pizza onto the hot tray. Definitely not what the Bake Off contestants did (although they did have their fair share of disasters).
I put the pizza into the oven for 15 minutes. When it came out, I put some torn basil leaves onto the top and served immediately.
Was it worth it?
I wasn’t immediately transported to the streets of Naples, but it wasn’t a bad pizza. It had a crust and the base was thin enough so that it drooped in the middle (which was what Prue was looking for in the Bake Off pizzas). The crust was a bit on the doughy side, and I think the sauce could have been a tad less garlicky. My husband’s verdict was that it was good for a first attempt and definitely worthwhile. I suppose it all gets a bit easier if you have the right gear. A pizza stone and peel for Christmas then?