A few weeks ago I was watching a TV show which 'goes behind the scenes' of food and cooking, it explores the science of cooking, to be more exact. It was my lucky day, as the topic of the episode dealt with real Neapolitan Pizza. It's one of those things I have hoped to better myself at - homemade pizza - which doesn't necessarily taste like take-out, but also not like the usual homemade pizza, which is more like a big, dense round piece of bread with pizza toppings on it. At least mine turns out like that! Growing up in Europe my taste buds were given the opportunity to develop a love for real Italian pizza. The crust is thin - crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The pizza is not greasy and the toppings are quite different from ours here, in North America. Now don't get me wrong, there is something special about a piece of pepperoni Pizza, we wouldn't be Canadian if we never indulged in one once in a while! But, going back to the original is where I want to go, at least for now. The ingredients are fresher, and so to me, the allure all the greater.
I was super excited to see what it was the science guy would do differently than what I had done with my home made pizza, since pizza dough is pretty much always made up of the same stuff: flour, water, (natural) yeast and salt. Here is where I was introduced to malt syrup. To my delight, my new cook books also use malt syrup in most of their bread recipes (and you can too, just substitute in equal amounts, the sugar or molasses for malt syrup in your bread recipes). I found malt syrup at the Bulk Barn, but it may also be found at health food stores, or perhaps wonderfully amazing stores like Whole Foods.
So malt syrup was the first difference, the second, and probably most significant difference, was the method of preparing the dough. Again, I was happy to discover that my cook books fell in line with the TV show, since the show was about making true Neapolitan pizza, and now I had exact recipes to follow. The procedure for the pizza dough is called the Sponge Method, which in essence is a yeast-starter, or pre-fermenter of yeast. Part of the flour, water, malt syrup and yeast is combined into a smooth, but sticky dough. This is then allowed to ferment for 4 hours at 27 C, or even overnight at a lower temperature. After fermenting, the remainder of the dough is then added, and a second ferment is done for just 30 minutes. At this point the dough is ready to be formed into a pizza shell, then topped and baked right away. No proofing needed!
The third and final difference was the oven used for the pizza. This I can not replicate, as I do not own a stone hearth, but I will pull out my trusty pizza stone. I am wondering if using my barbecue may produce a more authentic flavour? If the rain holds off, I will give it a try.
As I am writing this, my dough is in it's first hour of fermenting. Now I realize all this pre-fermenting sounds like a lot of work, but it some what reminded me of using my crock pot, where I can throw everything in in the morning, and have a nice meal for dinner. I put the ingredients in the bowl, give it a quick stir, and forget about it for 4 hours. I do have this timed perfectly for dinner time, of course - just as with the crock pot. But it would be possible to make the sponge the night before, and then at dinner time, add the remaining dough ingredients, allow it to sit for 3o minutes, then top and pop in the oven. Seriously, how simple is that!?
My toppings are super simple also, as I am making an original Margherita Pizza. All it needs are plum tomatoes, fresh or canned, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves and olive oil. So often it's the simple ingredients without too much fuss that produce the best flavours. And who doesn't love the classic tomato, basil and mozzarella combo!
One last interesting tid bit of information: Authentic Neapolitan pizza, made in Naples, are baked in a stone hearth which is over 1000 F (!) hot, for only 90 seconds! Huh!