Making homemade spelt pizza is an utter joy, once you know how to ‘Do It Right’. It’s about three years since my first highly unsuccessful attempt to make a spelt pizza, and about 7 years since I first tried homemade pizzas, so I now fully understand all of the details required to make a light, crispy, delicious spelt pizza base, without causing utter carnage in the kitchen, spilling toppings all over the place or ending up with uncooked bases. In this post I’m going to tell you how to make perfect spelt pizzas, every time.
This all appears at a time when I’ve gone all ‘Bella Italia’, feeling a surge of passionate loyalty for our mediterranean cousins down there. Since writing this blog, I’ve taken on a deeper understanding of Italian food, I feel as though I’ve begun to understand the soul behind Italian food. I don’t have any personal connections to Italy, but I feel like I’ve begun to utterly understand their food. Just a few weeks ago I was extolling the virtues of passion, simplicity and great ingredients in Italian cooking.
Combined with my ongoing development of the beautiful grain that is spelt and recipes surrounding it, I’ve engaged in making what must be the quintessential Italian culinary export, pizza, this time made with spelt flour. Over the last few years I’ve carried out a few experiments with spelt pizza bases, experience both the joy of success and the pain of making a spelt pizza which was so awful it was more like a biscuit made of stone. I’m here to share my knowledge, so you don’t have to experience the same world of pain.
Cooking with Spelt.
The truth is that making things with spelt isn’t very difficult. It’s a lovely grain and works exactly the same way as wheat, it doesn’t need special treatment and it wants to be your friend, all you have to do is be careful with how much liquid you use. It will make lovely, light, soft breads and doughs which all feel easier to digest and simply nicer to consume, if you give spelt some love and it will pay you back in dividends.
I normally try to avoid being overly prescriptive when I talk about my recipes, because I don’t want to scare people off by having strong opinions and telling you what to do. Of course, bearing strong opinions in life is no bad thing and opens up more philosophical debate, however that’s a different conversation altogether. However in the context of Italian food, I suddenly feel awash with strong feelings and opinions about the specifics of how you should make spelt pizza, because it’s these details that are going to be the difference between joyous, unbounded success and bitter disappointment. So listen very carefully and take note.
I’ve failed, so you don’t have to.
I’ve had an unhappy history making homemade pizzas. It’s been a process littered with soggy bases, biscuit-like tough edges, uncooked dough and tackling extreme difficulty in moving the bloody things around once they’re loaded up with toppings and ready for the oven. After several test runs of making these spelt pizza bases, I’ve finally come up with a failsafe way of making great pizza at home. What I’m going to tell you doesn’t leave any gaps in knowledge, nor does it leave you standing there, wondering how the hell you are going to get a fully laden pizza on wafer thin, floppy dough, onto your pizza stone in the oven.
This recipe for making spelt pizza is going to guide you as if you were a newborn child, just taking your first fledgling steps into the world. There are three key points which will make or break your efforts. Now listen carefully.
Yes, you do need specific equipment. I’m going to be partisan about this and say don’t bother trying unless you have a pizza stone. From my own personal experience of making pizza, this is the one item that will transform your pizza making efforts into professional, restaurant level meals. Prior to having one of these I always had soggy bases in the middle, never managing to successfully cook a pizza all the way through. I personally have a ProCook Pizza Stone which is fantastic and utterly indispensable. And it costs less than a takeaway pizza. I have heard people talk of using paving slabs and such like, which I’m sure would work well, all you need to ensure is that you have a large piece of stone which you can fit in your oven.
The oven needs to be very, very hot. The pizza stone, which remains in the oven at all times, needs to be very very hot. The oven should be pre-heated for at least 30 minutes before cooking, up to an hour. You need every part of your oven and pizza stone to be at the highest temperature your oven will go to. Absolutely bursting with heat. A quick ten minutes of heating until the light goes out simply will not do as this won’t get the pizza stone up to temperature. You see, that stone is going to do most of the cooking, so a long pre-heat will load that stone with lots and lots of heat energy, which will flow into the base of the pizza that’s placed on top, giving you a beautifully evenly cooked, cripsy base.
I can fully sympathise with the desire to load a pizza up into a mountainous pile of mixed toppings, fulfilling a latent desire to create a spectacular mount vesuvius style pizza. Sadly, lots of toppings or lashings of pizza sauce will simply erode the base’s cooking speed, increasing the chances of a soggy, uncooked base. Great Italian pizzas are not burdened with piles and piles of toppings, but with delicately scattered flavours. If you want to ensure success, keep it simple and make a margherita, then explore more toppings from there.
Beyond those three points, I’d say you can do what you want. It’s up to you to experiment. What about stuffed crusts? How about mini pizzas, or half and half toppings.
Spelt Pizza Top Tips:
What is wood fired pizza?For years I wondered, how do you fire a pizza with wood? That doesn’t make sense? Yeah, I’m a bit slow sometimes. Wood fired pizza means that it’s cooked in an oven which is heated by burning wood. Specifically a stone oven, which is basically a small stone igloo, with a flat stone base and a chimney at the top. Wood is burned in this oven, heating it to somewhere around 400ºC, at which point the pizza is placed on that stone floor and cooks in about 90 seconds due to the extreme heat. Domestic ovens only go up to about Gas Mark 9 or so, which is somewhere around 250ºC, which is why restaurant style spelt pizzas are tricky to make at home, also why the pizza stone is such an important part of the process.
Spelt Pizza Bases: A Guide to Perfect Pizza
By Gavin Wren
Makes 3 x 12″ thin crust pizzas
Uses a rolling pin, baking paper and a pizza stone.
325g spelt flour (white, wholemeal or mixed)
Half a 7g sachet of fast acting yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
160ml warm water
Meanwhile, sieve your flour and salt into a mixing bowl and stir them through. Add all of your liquid to the flour and mix it all together with one hand, using the other hand to hold the bowl. Spelt doughs are very, very sticky, it is worth keeping a bowl scraper or spatula to hand, so that you can scrape the dough off of your ‘mixing’ hand. Turn it out onto the surface and knead it a few times. If your dough is dry and there is not all coming together, then add 1 tbsp of warm water and continue mixing/kneading. If it is incredibly stick and wet, then dust it with flour and continue mixing and kneading.
Once it is a smooth ball of dough, place it in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place (25ºC or so) for 60-90 minutes. It should turn into a large, light ball of dough.
Now place your pizza stone in the oven and pre-heat it to it’s highest temperature, making sure you turn it on between 30-60 minutes before you want to cook.
Once your dough has risen considerably, place it on a lightly floured surface and knead it just a couple of times. Divide it into three pieces.
Place one piece on a floured surface, you may need to rub flour into your rolling pin as well to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll the dough into a thin pizza base which is only 2mm thick. You really want to get it very, very thin. Regularly check that it hasn’t stuck to the surface and add more flour if needs be. It will shrink back very slightly when when you stop rolling it, so make it slightly larger than you think it needs to be.
Take a square of baking paper slightly larger than your base. Lift the pizza base onto the baking paper and make sure it’s laying nice and flat.
Now add your pizza sauce, not too much, you just want a delicate covering. Add your mozzarella and other toppings. I would suggest that you don’t go wild here. Pizza tastes amazing with few toppings, so a plain margherita with mozzarella, parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil is the best way to truly enjoy the amazing spelt pizza bases you’ve created here.
Once topped and ready for the oven, lift the baking paper up, with the pizza on top and slide it all onto your pizza stone in the oven, baking paper included. Cook for 8-10 minutes until nicely browned on the edges.
Be ready to scatter with basil leaves when serving, and why not make a bottle of olio di peperoncino to go with it all?