Caputo Criscito Lievito Naturale and Caputo Viola 00 Flour

criscito1A 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.

pizzeriametroBIGInstead 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].


Caputo Gluten Free Pizza Flour

pizz - 1The true test of any gluten free pizza is whether it is as palatable cold as it is hot. What might pass as acceptable straight out of the oven can be very different the following day. Slimy is the adjective I’d use to describe the sensation of swallowing GF pizza — until now, that is. Before I get to the Caputo experience, here’s what I’ve tried so far in my search for an acceptable GF pizza.

Pizza Express

I ordered some pizzas from this chain, who offer a gf option with any topping. These crusts are clearly industrially produced pre-formed bases, supplied to restaurants to use on request. They’re not particularly brilliant. Quality is acceptable hot, not so great cold. An expensive option, in excess of £10 per (not very big) pizza. I haven’t tried Dominos, who only offer a limited selection with a GF base, but I suspect similar outcomes.

Bob’ Red Mill81xOpErAmoL._SL1500_The first home-made GF pizza crust mix I used was Bob’s Red Mill (Amazon), which is a blend of brown rice flour, potato starch, millet, sorghum, tapioca, and potato flours with both xanthan and guar gum. These kinds of blends are hard to reproduce at home, as they require you to have a cupboard full of different flours. This mix makes a very wet dough (the recipe on the packet calls for eggs as well as water and oil), which is hard to work with: you basically have to push it into a baking tin with your fingers. I was very disappointed in the result, both hot and cold. It took a lot of cooking (much more than a standard bread base) and the texture was very gummy.


I moved on to try teff flour as a main ingredient (again, from Amazon), and this was fairly successful, making for a crisper pizza crust with a decent flavour. It was like pizza made with wholemeal flour, which might actually appeal to some people. It was definitely edible and not unpleasant cold, though not brilliant.

(I tried combining a bit of teff flour with some of the Bob’s Red Mill mix, with disastrous results. I pre-cooked the crusts for five minutes to avoid undercooking them, but they were quite nasty and I ended up throwing one whole base and most of the one finished pizza I made in the bin.)

Pre-made bases

ProductsUSA_ Pizza CrustIn most supermarkets, you can find Schär pre-cooked bases (on the small side), which are okay, but nothing special, and no good cold. They come in a vacuum sealed bag, which means they keep indefinitely, I guess, but they’re only average (as, to be fair, are most pre-cooked crusts).

The better pre-made option was a raw dough (chiller section) in the French supermarket Auchan. This was pretty good, though again on the small side, and required five minutes pre-cooking before you put the topping on.

It’s a characteristic of GF (so-called) dough that it requires more time to cook than wheat-based options.

Which brings me to…


pizz - 1 (1)By a weird coincidence (or is it?), the people from whom I buy my 25kg sacks of Caputo (blue) pizza flour emailed me the other day with news of a new product, Caputo Fiore Glut.

Well, I couldn’t get to the laptop to order quickly enough. My main reason for optimism is that Caputo is an Italian product aimed at professionals. The recipe on the (1kg) pack is for the entire pack, for example, and the instructions on the web site suggest making the dough balls in advance and keeping them in the “walk in cooler”. I didn’t think Caputo would put their name on anything less than the best product you can get. Caputo are the Apple of pizza flour. Or something.

The first surprising thing about this flour mix is that the recipe calls for 800 ml of water per kilo of flour. Regular blue Caputo uses a ratio of 65% water to flour for a pizza base (depending on humidity, you might add a bit more or less). 80% water suggested this would be a very wet dough, but it was not. In fact, I added a little extra water and it could have taken more. I didn’t use the whole kilogram, but enough (300g) for a couple of 30cm pizzas.

pizz - 2The mix* consists of Rice starch, rice flour, potato starch, soy flour, sugar, both guar and xanthan gum (your gluten substitutes) and fibre. There are no eggs required in the recipe, just water, yeast, salt, and a bit of oil.

The second surprise was that the dough rose quite quickly. I didn’t have time for a long rise, so I added a couple of tsp yeast, and it rose at the same rate as the regular wheat dough I made at the same time. In contrast, the dough made with Teff flour certainly fermented when left, but didn’t noticeably rise, even when left for several hours. The Caputo GF dough was slightly harder to work with than Caputo Blue, obviously not as stretchy, and harder to move onto the peel. The greatest challenge with GF pizza dough is to keep the shape regular, but I don’t worry too much about that — as you can see. I rolled the second one directly onto a peel, which made it much easier to handle.

I cooked the two pizzas on my stone on the barbecue, sliding from the peel using cornmeal to prevent sticking. They cooked more or less as quickly as a regular base.

The results were crisp, with a good inner texture of air pockets, and while not as tasty as a base made with Blue, they were pretty damn close. I send love and kisses to the whole Caputo family with gratitude.pizz - 3

And, just for the hell of it, I tried a slice cold that had been in the fridge overnight, and it was absolutely fine. No gagging on the claggy, slimy, gummy texture.

Five stars to Caputo.

*As a bonus feature, according to the specs, this flour features hardly any insect cuticle or rodent hair.

The quick and dirty no-cook pizza sauce

pizza-1Readers of The Pizza Bible will know that there is within it an excellent no-cook pizza sauce recipe. If you have the time and the ingredients, it’s definitely worth making.

Some of the time, however, I find I haven’t quite got around to it, and I need to improvise something quickly. This one is quick and easy, but also makes a great sauce. You need:

  • 1/2 a small (350g) jar of Cirio Passata Rustica
  • 1/2 a jar of Sacla sun dried tomato paste
  • Pinch of salt
  • Squirt/glug of olive oil
  • generous pinch of marjoram or oregano

Add everything to a small bowl and then stir it around quickly with a spoon. And that’s it. You need a couple of generous dessert spoonfuls per pizza.

The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani

photograph_copyright__2014_by_sara_remington.jpg__800x600_q85_crop“11-Time World Pizza Champ” is not something that would normally impress me much. Competitions are bunk, but I read about this online and saw some illustrations and was intrigued enough to add it to my Amazon wish list. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I ordered it. I’ve been given a few pizza books over the years, and there are some decent ideas in them, though I find it’s the quality of the food photography within that has the biggest influence on whether I want to try a recipe or style.

The Pizza Bible has excellent photography, and almost every page makes you want to try something – even atrocities I’d normally dismiss like the Chicago deep dish, though maybe not the cheese and lard pizza.

Bible implies a certain comprehensiveness, and I think that’s the case here. The book covers pizza styles from all over the United States and Italy, but also Barcelona, Dublin, Greece, Munich etc. There’s also a section for wrapped and rolled pizza, calzone, and so on. The pizza sausage roll is especially intriguing (flatten the sausage meat over the whole of a disc of dough and then roll it like a Swiss roll before cooking), and looks like a great lunch-box staple. I also like the look of the Pizza Romana (pictured), which is a giant slab of pizza with a variety of toppings, leading you through a meal from starter to dessert.

I chuckled at first over the idea of making your own sausage, but while I wouldn’t ever go as far as buying the attachment for my Kitchen Aid and some wraps, idea grows in your mind until you decide to try it.

I’ve always been fairly lazy about my pizza, though in comparison with someone who just orders junk pizza from Domino’s or buys supermarket ready-made ones, obviously not. But I’m not trying to win a world championship. I do buy Caputo pizza flour (excellent), but I don’t make my dough 24 or 48 hours in advance. Instead, I bung in a tablespoon of instant yeast and sit it in a warm place to rise in about an hour. Even this, of course, is more than most people do to prepare pizza, and people are generally very complimentary about my crusts, notwithstanding the quick’n’dirty preparation method. I haven’t got a wood-fired pizza oven in the back garden (though I’d have one if I won the lotto), but I do cook pizza on a slab of granite in my gas barbecue, and (in winter) I use a Ferrari electric pizza cooker, which does a decent enough job if you use it right. I’ve also got one of those Uuni wood pellet ovens, but I’ve been disappointed in the results and don’t use it (ought to get rid of it really). As for the sauce and the cheese, I generally just spread sundried tomato paste and use grated mozzarella from the supermarket. And family tradition dictates the use of a repertoire of toppings, including the divisive pineapple as well as olives, chorizo, bacon, peppers, and sometimes exotica like avocado, fig, or banana.

But this weekend, I went for the full Pizza Bible experience. I started the dough (with a tiny amount of yeast) on Thursday night, left it in the fridge, then knocked it back on Friday and divided it into three balls, which were again refrigerated until two hours before use on Saturday (my house is generally on the cool side, so two hours was needed to reach ‘room temperature’). I made the ‘New York-New Jersey’ (no-cook) tomato sauce using the best ingredients I could find on this side of the pond, and even prepared garlic oil. And then the sausage. Once you read the Bible, and realise how this ‘home-made sausage’ works without skins, it makes perfect sense.

Instead of pork mince, I bought some sausage meat from Waitrose (opted for the Gourmet variety, which already had black pepper and nutmeg in it), which I then mixed with other spices, including crushed fennel seeds, star anise (because I couldn’t find regular anise seeds), and chilli, as well as honey. What you do with this is take small amounts and flatten it into discs which you put on your pizza. So it’s not sliced sausage, but works just as well, if not better. It’s just a little messier and, if you’re squeamish about raw meat, might put you off. To test the flavour, I cooked a few samples in a frying pan: as soon as you taste it, you’re totally sold. The recipe in the Bible uses 900g of pork, but I halved the quantities, which still leaves you with more than enough sausage. I divided it into four balls and froze three of them.

My other toppings included chorizo and another kind of Italian sausage, which was probably overkill for the first weekend, but you can never have too much variety with pizza.

Pizza making is always a bit of a production line or military operation, and I’ve enough experience to be able to skip those parts of the Bible, but the author does take you through the steps: you get everything lined up and prepared in little bowls etc. in advance, like a television chef who has someone else to clean up after them.

Again, being lazy, I generally roll out my dough to flatten it, though I do sometimes hand stretch. Following the Bible religiously, I tried to hand-stretch this time, which does preserve more of the airiness of the 48-hour dough. This was not entirely successful, not because I’m bad at it, but because my dough balls were on a sheet of baking parchment that turned out not to be the non-stick kind, and so they lost a bit of integrity in the traumatic transfer to the work surface. So I part hand-stretched and part rolled out.

I did three different toppings: one with the home-made honey-spiced sausage and the home-made sauce; one with Calabrian salami; and one with chorizo. I also used a different type of mozzarella this time, the Galbani cooking mozzarella.

The results were interesting. The first pizza, the one with the home-made sausage, tasted so much better than the other two (with pre-packed slices or sausage) that I was actually a little disappointed in them and wished I’d made more with the home-made. I was also less keen on the Galbani mozzarella than I thought I’d be. I’ll probably go back to the Waitrose grated next time. Also, the recipe in the book used a lot more cheese than I usually do, so I’ll cut back next time. My wife wasn’t keen on the garlic oil (which was drizzled onto the pizza after cooking), but she never does like the taste of raw garlic (she’s French).

I’d give this first outing 7/10 (for the first) and 6/10 for the others. There’s room for improvement, but one thing I know: there’s no turning back from this sausage.

The pizza


Summer’s here* and the time is right for barbecuing pizza.

In my greedy dreams of lottery winning extravagance, I have a proper wood-burning pizza oven in the back yard, maybe six or seven of them, but in reality I’ll never be able to justify the expense or afford one.

And in reality, nobody who isn’t running an actual restaurant really needs one.

I’ve got a Weber gas barbecue. I like a gas barbecue because you can light it and be cooking within 10 minutes and so you use it more often. It’s great for cooking things like salmon and other smelly foods without stinking out the kitchen. And if you want smoke, there are loads of solutions, like the wood wrappings or even a grilling plank. A gas barbecue is not a thing that you’ll only use on the very occasional sunny day.

For pizza, you just need a stone. The Weber stone I have is a 1cm thick circle of granite. It just fits onto my rectangular grill. After the dough has proved, you light it up, lower the lid, and let it warm up while you prepare the pizza.

I use Caputo pizza flour, which is available in red and blue varieties. The blue makes for a crispier crust; the red makes a crust that is still crispy, but also has enough softness for a satisfying chew. For three family-sized pizzas, I use 450g of this flour, which needs water to the tune of 65% the weight of the flour. That’s about 293 ml or 293g of water. For pizza, I just use warm tap water, or filtered water slightly warmed in the microwave. You need a sachet of instant yeast (or 2 teaspoons), 1.5 teaspoons of salt, and a teaspoon of sugar.

I put the salt and sugar on one side of the flour and the yeast on the other. I add the water and then mix the dough with a dough hook on my mixer for 5-10 minutes. When it’s nice and stretchy, I pour in a little olive oil, just to stop it sticking to the sides of the bowl. I then cover it in cling film and put the dough in a warm place for about an hour, though 45 minutes is usually long enough on a warm day.

When the dough has risen, it’s time to light the barbecue and let the stone warm up.

Now you gently knock back the sough, divide it into three balls, and set two aside. They will continue to rise a bit. If you have the time, it’s a good idea to wait 15 minutes at this stage to let some air pockets appear in the first dough ball.

Now, sprinkle flour on the side and roll it out. Have a pizza peel ready. I sprinkle flour and/or semolina and/or cornmeal on the peel, which helps the pizza to slide off. Flatten your dough ball with a rolling pin and stretch it out into a circle that’s as big as your peel or just smaller than your pizza stone. You can also stretch it by hand.

Put the stretched dough circle on the peel. Now spread on about 2 generous spoonfulls of tomato sauce. I generally do either one of the following: use unadulterated sundried tomato paste, or a mixture of passata and sundried tomato paste. You don’t want anything too watery. Some people swear by fresh basil: I don’t. I don’t even like it. I think the best herb to sprinkle on at this stage is dried marjoram. Dried, because it has a better flavour.

Now comes the cheese. Yes, you can get expensive little balls of buffalo mozzarella, but for a more reasonable price, a packet of grated mozzarella. 250g for three pizzas: don’t go overboard. Mozzarella is a satisfyingly melty cheese, but has no real flavour. For flavour, mix with a little grated gruyere. Waitrose sell it already grated; nobody else does. You don’t need much, but it really improves the overall flavour.

Now top the cheese with your choice of toppings. I use thin slices of pepper, (sometimes) fresh tomato, pineapple (wife and kids insist), (sometimes) sliced shallot or onion, sliced black olives ( half the pizza only because kids don’t like them), slices of bacon, ham, chorizo, pepperoni, anchovies (fresh from the deli counter is less salty than from a jar), etc. Bacon is better than ham, unless the ham has a really strong flavour. The trick is: not too much of anything, and vary as much as you can within your budget.

You might consider a drizzle of olive oil, but it’s not compulsory.

By now, the pizza stone is hot and the barbecue should be around 200 degrees C. It can get hotter, but doesn’t really need to. Slide the first pizza onto the stone and close the lid. While it’s cooking, get the second pizza ready.

To ring the changes, the middle pizza is a tarte flambée, with (half fat) creme fraiche and more gruyere than mozzarella. Bacon and onion/shallots is all you really need, though you can add other toppings. Slices or dices of (pre-cooked) potato is good, and leave off the pineapple.

The first pizza should be done within ten minutes. The second and third should take less time, as the barbecue gets hotter. Be careful with the third, because the base can burn if you leave it as long as ten minutes.

As you slice it, you’ll get a satisfying crunchy sound. The top will be perfectly cooked, the bottom crispy and (especially with the red Caputo) each slice will be good and chewy.


First test: G3 Ferrari Pizza Cooker (updated)

UPDATE: 28 November 2013

I’ve had the Ferrari a year now and I’ve gone through a few phases of ownership. Quite pleased with it at first, then a bit disappointed for a time, now I’ve warmed to it again. The key to success is what you do with the dough. I’ve discovered that preparing the pizza in advance and sliding it onto the Ferrari is not necessary. Read on.

Over the months, I’ve come to understand the correct method of using it. I don’t think you really need a pizza peel (as mentioned below) if you use this method. First of all, you let the Ferrari warm up for 5-10 minutes. I set it to “2” and leave it while I knock back the dough and prepare balls ready for rolling out. Then, roll out the first pizza round, keeping it just smaller than the width of the Ferrari. Now you lift the lid.

Place the rolled out dough directly on the hot Ferrari stone and leave it there, with the lid up while you add the toppings. Spread on the tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever else you’re putting on. Don’t burn yourself on the element in the lid, so work quickly and with care. This achieves two things. First of all, the base starts cooking from underneath while you sort out the toppings. Secondly, it allows the temperature of the top element to reduce and the pilot light to come on again. Once the toppings are complete, put the lid down, turn up the temperature to “3” and put the timer on the five minutes.

While the first pizza of a session might need a few extra minutes, by the second one, the temperature is such that the 5 minutes cooking time (with the base getting that bit longer while you assemble the toppings) is perfect. The good news is, even if you leave a pizza ten minutes by mistake, the pilot will go out and it won’t burn. By the way, when you lift the lid and start the second pizza, turn the temperature down to “2” temporarily to ensure that when you turn it back up to “3” it comes straight back on.

======================================================== Original Post:

In the warmer months, I cook my pizza on my gas barbecue, using the granite pizza stone Weber sell for the purpose. This is a great way to cook pizza if you can’t afford one of those fancy pants wood-fired garden ovens (which would be my first purchase on winning the lotto). The barbecue gets good and hot, and the base is crispy, with no soggy bottom.

But once the nights start drawing in, the clocks go back and the weather gets bad (though it’s bad all the time these days), it’s time to bring the pizza-making indoors. Usually, I face a few months of disappointing pizza. Even though my oven has a “pizza” mode, with top and bottom heat, it doesn’t ever really get hot enough, and the pizza comes out with a soft base, or (if you leave it in long enough to crisp the base), burnt on the top.

I have tried the old frying pan method, and this works, but is messy and can set off every smoke alarm in the house.

So when I saw the G3 Ferrari Pizza Cooker on the interwebs, I was very excited, and my wife immediately offered to get one for my birthday. (Yeah, turn that around and make it a man offering to buy his wife a domestic appliance for her birthday!)

So we’ve got kids’ parties coming up and we decided to get it early and have a practice, which you can see in the video above.

This is not as effective as cooking pizza on a barbecue, nor as good as a proper wood-fired oven, but in the winter months, or when the weather’s too bad for a barbecue, this is a better option than a domestic oven on anything other than the pyrolysis setting.

Note that you will need a pizza peel to get your pie onto the Ferrari, and these are not “supplied” as the manual appears to state. The manual is in a variety of languages, but the accompanying recipe booklet is in Italian. But if you’re buying one of these, you already know how to make pizza.

This was the first time I’d used it, and there was a slight whiff of factory coating, which meant that the first pizza was a bit tainted. The following morning I made camembert flatbreads quite successfully, and the factory taint was gone.

One thing to watch out for is the red pilot light. I guess as a safety feature, this cuts out when the oven reaches a certain temperature, but you need it to be ON when you put your pizza in so that the top element is working. So the oven gets pre-heated to get the stone hot, but then you have to open the lid to get the light to come on. I’m not yet used to its ways and found it a bit of a pain this first time. You can see in a couple of shots in the video that the light was out at certain points. I was a bit nonplussed to see that it immediately got steam condensation on its inside.

The timer lasts for five minutes, which is not long enough with the pilot light out. So sometimes you have to get it to come on and then re-set the timer. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but so far it means that the advertised “5 minutes” cooking time is a bit of a stretch. For me, the length of time is less important than the finished result. What you want is a crispy base and a cooked topping. Five minutes or ten minutes, makes no difference to me. One benefit of the pilot light system is that, if you forget you have a pizza on the go (which I am almost bound to do), it probably won’t burn to a crisp.

You’re advised to avoid spilling toppings onto the stone, which has a porous texture. Personally, I think that for things to be working as they should, your stone should be thoroughly seasoned, and you’ll never keep it perfectly clean. So I wasn’t worried about getting anything on it. Just scrape it off after. In the video above I was using Sainsbury’s sundried tomato paste, which is a lot more liquid than the stuff I usually buy in Waitrose. This led to the slightly oily looking pizza that emerges in the video.