Topping the pizza charts
Want to master the art of pizza making? Anooska Tucker-Evans asks pizza world champion Johnny Di Francesco for tips and tricks.
WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT PIZZA?
IT’S all about the dough for owner of Melbourne’s 400 Gradi restaurant and 2014 winner of Italy’s World Pizza Championships, Johnny Di Francesco.
“The perfect pizza is something where the dough is soft, pliable, very easy to fold,” he says. “It should have a beautiful crust around the rim, which is full of air — nice and puffed. What I’m describing is the Neapolitan pizza.”
Flours have a W strength guide referring to how much water they absorb. Flours with a rating of W280-370 are classified as strong flours, ideal for pizza, as they can hold up to about 75 per cent of their weight in water. The higher the W rating, the longer your dough will take to rise.
Di Francesco has created his own flour blend, but recommends home cooks use Le 5 Stagioni flour, available at specialty grocers.
Di Francesco is a fan of fresh yeast, but says dried can be used. It’s a matter of altering the proportion.
“We only use one gram (of fresh yeast) per kilo of flour — very, very little yeast,” he says. “If you’re going to use dried yeast, you cut the amount by a third because it’s three times the strength of fresh yeast.”
This is one of the most important but also most overlooked ingredients in a great pizza dough.
Di Francesco finds water with a pH of 7 to be ideal and imports his from Naples, but says filtered water is great and bottled water is fine. It’s important the water doesn’t have chlorine or too many mineral salts as it will inhibit leavening. Water testing kits are available at hardware stores.
Di Francesco says there is no such thing as a quick-rise pizza dough.
Dough should be left to ferment for at least 24 hours and if it’s not, it can lead to the diner feeling bloated or sick.
“If you allow your dough to only rest for two hours or 10 hours, the yeast activates and it makes the dough rise, but what happens is you’re missing out on one of the most important parts of the dough-rising process, which is called the maturing of the dough,” he says. “If you don’t allow your dough to mature and only rise, what happens when you eat the pizza is the dough then begins to mature in your stomach, and that is when you start getting all that bloating.”
He recommends letting dough ferment at 18C or below for 24-30 hours.
No matter what toppings you add, it’s important to get the best quality you can buy.
Cow’s milk fior di latte cheese is most popular for pizzas, but buffalo mozzarella, taleggio, gorgonzola and scamorza can also be used.
And whatever you use, keep it simple.
This is where personal preferences come in.
For those who like the traditional Neapolitan soft base, pizza is generally cooked in a 400C-470C wood-fired oven, while cooking at a lower temperature for slightly longer develops a crispier base. But home cooks don’t need a wood-fired oven for great results.
“If you’re going to use a domestic, electric oven, I would recommend just buying a really cheap pizza stone,” Di Francesco says.
“You put the stone in the oven, preheat it and make it as hot as possible. Then you transfer the pizza from a chopping board or small paddle on to the stone without a tray or anything so you’re cooking directly on the stone. It’s the same technique as if you were cooking in a wood-fired oven. The only difference you’ll get is the temperature (which will be about 230-250C), but you’re still going to get a really good pizza.”