Paul Hollywood's perfect pizza base recipe (2024)

I have a confession to make. I’ve been rekindling my love of motorbikes lately. It all began for me more than 30 years ago when Igraduated from sitting next to my grandad in his Reliant Robin, which he drove with a motorbike licence because it didn’t qualify as a car, to when I got my very own motorbike (an ER50 Suzuki). And it’s been an off-and-on love affair since.

There’s nothing to beat the speed of a bike. Even if I’ve grown more cautious now as I go past every junction, in case a car doesn’t see me and pulls out, on the bits in between the junctions it’s just a beautiful thing to do. I can’t imagine ever growing out of it.

I’m not quite such a cliché that I’ve got that stereotypical middle-aged male standby, a Harley-Davidson. For me the Ducati Panigale is the prettiest superbike. On the rare days when the weather is kind, I head off to the café near a local garage and meet up with a group of enthusiasts. We’re all silver surfers, ranging in age from 45 to one guy who’s 84.

- The best pizza ovens for your garden

The generic image of bikers is that they’re rough, but it’s just not the case. We come from all walks of life, including accountants, bankers as well as bakers. But once we’ve got our protective gear on – the titanium in the leathers and carbon-fibre back armour that would never have occurred to me three decades ago – the chat turns to bikes and we’re in ourelement.

It’s the details of our bikes that obsess us, and I’m the same way about really good food. Which is why, on a recent trip to Rome, Ifound myself a bit disappointed with the pizzas. The Italians know how to make a motorbike (that Ducati again) and they certainly know how to make a pizza. In the latter case, they’ve taught the world. So when you’re in Italy, you expect the very best, and I can’t really say that on this latest trip anything I tasted quite lived up to that description.

It may be that I have been spoilt by previous visits. I once toured Italy specifically in search of the perfect pizza. Perhaps I could take my Ducati and my silver surfer mates from the garage café and retrace my steps. Our destination would not be Rome, Florence (Fiorentina pizza), Venice (Veneziana) or Naples (Napoletana), but the naval city of LaSpezia in Liguria in the north. Itwas there, in a grubby little place near the docks, that I tasted the perfect pizza.


But, for those unlikely to find themselves in La Spezia in the near future, or too faint-hearted to join me on a superbike pilgrimage out there, here are the secrets of a really good pizza that can be made thousands of miles from Italy. It all comes down to those details. And the key one is the temperature of theoven.

Ideally you are looking at 500F/260C-plus, which is way beyond your standard kitchen oven. That’s why, as Italians know, pizzas are best made in a traditionalwoodoven.

Now, we’ve gone a bit health and safety over wood ovens of late, fearing that the particles the burning wood produces contain carcinogens. When we lived in Cyprus, I used to fire up the outdoor beehive ovens they have there with wood, and then, when they reached the right temperature, take a big bunch of rosemary and brush the inside out, to get rid of any sooty deposits that might attach themselves to the pizza. It had the added benefit of giving the oven, and hence thepizza, a wonderful scent of herbs.Why not try that?

Once you’ve got your wood oven up to the right temperature, my strong advice would be to keep it simple. None of these elaborate full-roast-dinner-on-a-pizza arrangements you can now get that miss the point. Or the so-called “British pizza” that failed to catch on at Jamie Oliver’s Union Jacks mini-chain last year. Or even the latest fad, sweet pizzas, eaten as pudding, and topped with strawberry coulis or limoncello andmascarpone.

So, to make your base, start with 250g of strong white flour, best of all the Italian Tipo 00 variety sold specially for pizza dough.

Mix it with 160ml of water, about 20ml of olive oil (Italian again!) and add 5g of fast-acting yeast and 5g of salt. Blend it all together and then knead it for five minutes.

The best food takes time – another inconvenient but vital detail – so try to leave the dough in a bowl to rise from morning to evening before you plan to use it. When you do, take the wonderful, risen cloud of dough and split it into 120g-150g balls. Again, if you’ve got time, you can leave them for up to three hours in a plastic bag to rise.

Next comes the show-stopping bit. Spread them out, first with your fingers and then with a rolling pin, into 6in or 7in circles until they are the same thickness all over. Now you’re going to throw them in the air, spinning them as they go to make sure the weight works its way out of the centre to the edges. Catch themnot on your fingers – they’ll go through – but on your knuckles. Youwant the dough to be thinner inthe middle and thicker on theedges.

Dust your pizza peel – the long-handled disc used for inserting and removing pizzas from the oven, which you can get easily online – with a 50-50 mix of semolina and flour. Semolina is grittier, makes the pizza slide better and adds an extra crispness.

Now add the topping.

If I’m doing this at home, I go for tomato passata, some olives and buffalo mozzarella. I also like to add a little bit of pouring cream, which blends very well with the mozzarella. Then sprinkle lightly with some dried oregano.

If you are using a wood-fired oven, two or three minutes should be enough. I like my pizzas slightly darker, with a crispier bite, but it’s down to individual taste.

If you are using a conventional oven – most of us probably aren’t yet quite up to depending on an outdoor oven like my beehives in Cyprus – put the dial up to maximum and make sure that it is fully heated before you start. That can take up to 15-20 minutes, so make sure you get the preparations right, or you’ll end up with a soggy bottom that tastes more like a cracker than a pizza.

You’ll need a decent iron or good metal base plate in the conventional oven for the pizza. Again it has to be heated up to the maximum before you start. Or you can use a bake stone to cook the pizza on, again preheated. They all build up the heat to deliver the best result. Ten minutes should be enough to produce something golden, bubbling and delicious.

And here’s a very basic variation that you might like to try. I add a little bit of blue cheese – say, a dolcelatte – to the topping, and then when the cream and cheese have produced what’s starting to look like a jelly, Iadd some best-quality Parma or honey-roasted ham, and put it back in the oven briefly until the corners of the ham start to curl up.

Just to be authentically Italian.

Paul Hollywood's perfect pizza base recipe (1)

Paul Hollywood's perfect pizza base recipe
Total time: 40 minutes

Paul Hollywood's perfect pizza base recipe (2024)
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