A biga or poolish is a form of bread starter or pre-ferment. Not exactly a true sourdough, it’s a way of developing complexity of flavour and a light, open texture, and still requires some planning ahead.
Since my problems with eczema* started, I’ve been experimenting with longer fermentation times for my pizza crusts. You should do this anyway, of course, but a busy life and a packed TV schedule make it too easy to opt for the lazy option of making a quick dough with 10g of instant yeast. Anyway, Saturday night pizza is sacrosanct, and it currently the only wheat-based thing I eat in a normal week.
Caputo Criscito is a means of making a long-rise dough without the need for a biga. It’s essentially dormant “ancient mother yeast”, which is reactivated in a dough by the addition of a small amount of live or instant yeast. So for a 48-hour dough, I added 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast; for a 24-hour dough I used 1/2 a teaspoon, though I could probably have gotten away with less.
Caputo sell their Criscito in a 1kg bag (it’s mixed with 00 flour), and recommend 30g per kilo of flour in a recipe. So for my 450g Saturday night pizza dough, I added a tablespoon, which worked out at 15g.
My first attempt was made with the last bit of Caputo Blue flour in the cupboard. I made the dough and left it in the fridge from Thursday night to around noon on Saturday. Then I left it out at room temperature for the early part of Saturday afternoon, before making up 3 dough balls, which I left for a couple of hours. Room temperature in our house is currently around 18°C, because we haven’t got the heating on yet and haven’t lit a fire.
The resulting dough was beautifully stretchy and cooked to an open, airy texture. I stretched it into rounds that were almost transparent in places. My wife loves thin crusts, but the cooked crust still had a structure of air bubbles, crunched when you bit into it and yet remained chewy. It was probably the best pizza dough I’d ever made.
Until this week.
Instead of my usual Caputo Blue, my latest 25kg bag of pizza flour is Caputo Viola (more like Lilac), a flour designed for long-rise doughs such as the tradition Roman Pizza a Metro (pizza by the metre). I obviously don’t have the means to make pizza a metro. Although I do have a rectangular barbecue stone in France that would allow for a slightly longer pizza, a longer peel or “pizza shovel” would cost about £60.
The recipe for dough made with Caputo Viola uses the whole 25kg bag (!), but I think it requires about 62% water to flour, as opposed to the 65% of Caputo Blue. In the event, I added a bit more water to make a quite wet dough.
I forgot to make it Thursday night (doh), so I made it Friday night with a little extra yeast, as I said above. Early Saturday afternoon, I divided it up into three balls, which by early evening were very well risen.
Again, this dough stretched out easily, and cooked (on the barbecue stone) to absolute perfection. The crust was crispy and chewy and put every single restaurant pizza I’ve eaten to shame. But it was also, far and away, the best crust I’ve ever made.
The only problem, for us in the UK, is getting hold of this stuff without breaking the bank. I bought mine from a vendor on Amazon, and just to buy Criscito on its own will set you back £12.09 for a 1kg bag… plus £16 delivery. I bought the Caputo Viola and Criscito in a package for £41.66, plus £26.10 delivery to the UK. This seems outrageously expensive, but if I set myself up as a Caputo distributor and used, say, Parcelforce 48 as a dispatch service, it would cost around £40 to send a 25kg parcel. So £26 is not so bad, after all. Worth it? Well, if you’re as obsessed as me, you simply cannot buy better flour in the UK.
*The eczema is currently under control, with just a hint, now and then, of itchiness on my left thigh [touches wood].