You may have read in one of my previous posts about a rather memorable encounter with Flammkuchen at the Old Biscuit Mill when I was in Cape Town recently. This completely addictive dish involves spreading pizza dough with crème fraiche and then sprinkling with onion, spring onion, smoked ham and a touch of cheese before baking in a blisteringly hot oven. It was possibly a strange choice for Saturday morning breakfast, but it was suitably memorable to bear replication when I returned home to Durban.
So, on my way out of the house to the Avant Gardener’s, with a vague promise of producing dinner for the evening, I remembered some pizza dough that I had made a week or so ago. It is remarkably freezer tolerant, and simply needs to be left out on the counter for an hour or so to be revived for use. A few balls were quickly whisked into a bag, and I was off, with my eyes squarly set on an evening of Flammkuchen. A quick stop off at Woolworths was, however, necessary. Say what you will about dear old WW, where else can one get crème fraiche at 6:30 in the evening?
Once arrived at the AG’s place, we fired up the oven and began the cooking. With the dough rolled out using a bottle of that student favourite, Cheateau Libertas, the crème fraiche and other toppings were liberally applied. I had read online that one could use emmental cheese as a topping in order to complement the sour cream taste, but we opted for plain old mozzarella. It should be noted too that, if cooking this for vegetarians, the ham can be substituted with spinach and/or mushrooms. Not tonight though. It was to be Flammkuchen as the Germans/French/Alsatians intended…
Et voila. With 15 minutes or so at 200 degrees the Flammkuchen emerged from the oven in all their golden glory. With a masterfully prepared side salad, care of the AG, and making use of garden harvested rocket, dinner was served. Delicious.
I used to think that making pizza would be the biggest shlep known to man. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fucked this up a couple of times. It’s like anything though, after a couple of times, once you’ve got the knack, you wonder how you ever didn’t do it yourself. There’s one caveat though. You pretty much have to use proper 00 flour. I’ve made these bases once with normal bread flour, and they reminded me so much of the entirely off-putting “pizzas” we used to get in res that I’ve never done it with anything but 00 since. You can get it at some delis and speciality stores, and it’s worth buying two while you’re at it, because once you’ve made these once, there’s no turning back.
So, you’ve bought your 00, now who do we turn to for a suitable recipe? Jamie Oliver of course. I’m not usually the hugest fan of his, but I found this recipe online and it’s worked so well I’ve never needed another. I make the whole kilo of flour into dough at a time because it freezes exceptionally well. You can get between 10 and 12 bases out of one kg, depending how big you make them. The best part of this is, once you’ve taken one of your – separately wrapped and frozen – globules of potential pizza out and left it to thaw at room temperature for an hour, you can win friends and influence people with a fresh focaccia in mere minutes.
I assume you know how to assemble a pizza once you’ve made the dough. Roll it out, cover with the merest hint of some good napoletana, add cheese and toppings and bake in a fairly hot oven until it bubbles and blisters to mouth-watering doneness.
My personal topping preference is for capers, olives and salami, with a sprinkle of raw rocket once it’s out of the oven – but do what you will. Just remember, pizza toppings are like an edible Rorschach test. So, anchovy lovers, assemble at your own peril. Anyway, the recipe itself follows, but here are my pizza rules. If you use this recipe, you have to follow the rules. If you don’t, you may as well order Debonairs.
1) Pizza is not a topping free for all. A little goes a long way. And yes, cheese is a topping, not a base.
2) Use a decent napoletana sauce for the base. Throw some fresh herbs in while you’re at it. You deserve it.
3) Roll the base out really, really thinly. Once again, this isn’t Debonairs.
4) Get your oven really really hot, and preheat your pan. It’s all about the crisp.
So go on. Make this at least once in your life. Your friends and significant others will thank you.
If you want the full pizza making experience, I suggest some decent wine and music at the ready. I’m going through a Patti Smith and Sauvignon Blanc stage. How can you not love a woman with lyrics like:
It was if someone had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars
‘Cause when he looked up they started to slip.
Then he put his head in the crux of his arm
And he started to drift, drift to the belly of a ship…
The woman is a genius. And goes very well with a dry white wine. Like all the best.
Pizza Dough (Jamie Oliver)
• 1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour
• 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
• 2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
• 1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
• 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 650ml lukewarm water
Sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.
Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required.