Wow – it’s been awhile! I’ve been on holiday (to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Crieff, Olda Scotia), and to be frank, in recovery from the trials and travails of my most recent quest for Good Enough, which caused marital stress and involved accusations of insanity-above-and-beyond-the-norm. I’ve had to have a wee rest before revisiting it in my write-up, in order to let the trauma fade.
“Why?”, you ask.
All I can say is “D’oh!”
For my next assault on Blumenthal’s Perfection, I chose to do “The Perfect Pizza”. It looked pretty simple, as it didn’t seem to call for anything truly beyond the pale in terms of ingredients or techniques. I also had all of the equipement on hand, barring a pressure cooker, which I’ve been lusting after anyway. I figured it would be a doddle. And it would have been, had I not lost my mind.
Each chapter in Heston Blumenthal’s book “In Search of Total Perfection” not only gives the recipe for the perfect “whatever”, but also details the factors that Heston took into account when devising the recipe. For “The Perfect Pizza”, Heston traveled to Naples where he tried out San Marzano tomatoes, found out about the perfect pizza flour, temperatures in the average Neapolitan commercial pizza oven, and also tested the local water’s PH and hardness/softness. After he gives you this prologue (which you also see in the television program), he gets down to the recipe.
I shouldn’t have read the prologue.
The problem is that Heston calls for a specific sort of flour – Double Zero Pizza Flour. And, of course, I couldn’t find that flour on the supermarket shelves of Dubai (I tried Organic Foods and Cafe, Waitrose, and the Gourmet Station in the rebuilt Oasis Centre). As an alternative to this pizza flour, he calls for a flour with a protein content of at least 12%.
Since I couldn’t find exactly what Heston wanted (and was unsure of my ability to attain perfection without said flour), I decided to make dough with three different types of flour to see if there was really a difference. I chose to use some organic pasta flour, organic strong white bread flour, and the Homepride All-Purpose flour that I had in my pantry. So, three types of dough for a taste test. Not so bad, eh?
Then I lost it. Since Heston had noted that the local water in Naples was quite soft, and also had a relatively neutral PH of 7.2, I started wondering if our Dubai tap water (which is largely the product of desalination plants, has an unknown PH, and probably leans towards the hard side of water classification) would do the trick. I decided that more experimentation should happen, and bought a bottle of Evian (PH 7.3) and a bottle of New Zealand “Cool Blue” water (PH 6.9). I was going to make dough using each of the flours, both bottled waters and Dubai tap water, then do a taste test before going on to the actual making of the Perfect Pizza.
For those of you doing the math at home, that’s 9 different dough variations.
Thankfully, Heston recommends the use of a mixer with a dough hook to make the pizza dough. Of course, had he not done this (and instead gone with the traditional forty minutes of hand kneading), I probably wouldn’t have turned Villa GoodEnough into the Pizza Dough Testing Lab. As it happens, I have a KitchenAid stand mixer, with dough hook, which my Uncle Rick gave to us as a wedding present. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing, although it has earned itself the sobriquet of “The Butter Churn”, mostly because I get distracted when I’m using it to whip cream, usually right before a dinner party is due to start. After being sent on many, many last minute trips to the grocery store for more cream, my husband has now started buying additional cream pre-emptively, and not telling me about its existence until the first cry of “Oh f***ing h*ll, I made f**ing butter again!” is sung out.
Back to the dough. As I said, because I couldn’t find the right kind of pizza flour, and because I wanted to test out the effects of different water PHs (because I read Heston’s bloody prologue and was lead astray), I was looking at making nine different types of dough. To do this, you need to make a “pre-ferment” of each dough type first. Here’s the mise-en-place:
To make the pre-ferment, you first mix together flour, water, and malt syrup. Incidentally, the extremely-specific-about-ingredients-to-the-point-of-obsessive-nit-picking Heston fell over on the malt syrup. When we were at the grocery store, we discovered that there were about five different types of malt syrup on offer, made, variously, with barley, brown rice, corn, and combinations thereof. Heston was unspecific about the type of malt syrup. Heston! What were you thinking?!? I feared that my perfect pizza dough would be completely screwed up by buying the wrong type of malt syrup, and entertained the idea of buying all of the different malt syrups and doing further dough testing. That would have increased my dough yield to 45 different combinations, which would have been achievable, in my mind. My husband, perhaps suspecting these thoughts were going through my head, immediately thrust the barley malt syrup into the cart and dragged me out of the supermarket aisle. For this, I thank him.
So, I measured out flour:
Then water (to which I added the malt syrup):
And mixed them together in my KitchenAid for the prescribed amount of time:
I did this nine times, each with a different combination of flour and water, ending up with nine pre-ferments in labelled bowls:
Those of you who’ve been paying attention will have noticed that there’s nothing yet in the pre-ferment that would cause it to, well, ferment. Happily, Heston doesn’t want the dough to catch wild yeast from the air (because that would be quite chancy, I surmise). Instead, the combination of flour, water, and malt syrup needs to rest for 10-60 minutes before additional ingredients (yeast and salt) are added. This is so flavour can develop, which is also the reason for the pre-ferment itself. This worked out nicely for me, as when I was done with the ninth batch of pre-ferment, the first bit had already been resting for around an hour, and thus was ready for the addition of yeast and salt.
I measured out the yeast and salt (there were four different brands of yeast in the store, but I read the labels carefully and they all contained the same ingredients, so I decided that I didn’t need to experiment with yeast and could just buy one brand):
I poured the yeast and flour into my trusty KitchenAid, added the flour/water/malt syrup mix and mixed it as per the recipe instructions. I got quite a rhythm going here, and at the end carefully tucked nine different pre-ferments into the fridge for an overnight rest:
That night, rather unusually for me, I had problems sleeping. It irked me that I couldn’t find the appropriate pizza flour here in Dubai, because Heston really stresses that it makes a major difference to the pizza. I felt like I had let Heston, and the cause down. I rolled over different options in my mind, then, finally (after a certain amount of complaining from my darling husband on account of the tossing and turning) had an epiphany. Since at that point, I sat up and shouted out something like “I am GENIUS!”, my sleepy, grumpy husband didn’t greet my brilliance with the adulation that it deserved. He didn’t even ask what I had figured out, and used words that I shall not repeat here as he bid me once again to go to sleep. Happily, I did.
Read “The Perfect Pizza (part two) – The Day of the D’oh” here.