Peter Gordon: The good oil on pizza dough

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The executive chef of dine by Peter Gordon at SkyCity answers your cuisine questions.

The secret to a good pizza starts with its base. Photo / Supplied
The secret to a good pizza starts with its base. Photo / Supplied

I work for a pizza takeaway place. The other day after making the pizza dough (we make it in a dough mixer), my manager realised he had forgotten to add oil to the flour so discarded the prepared dough and made a new batch. I would like to know how important the oil is in pizza dough. Exactly what role does the oil play?

Thanks, SamFirstly, I have to say I'm a little disappointed that the whole batch of dough was thrown away - instead you could simply have put the dough, at room temperature, back into the mixer with some oil and mixed it in, thereby saving it. Unless you're using a pre-made mix that doesn't allow that to happen. Some people don't add oil to their dough anyway, so it's a matter of preference, but I, like your boss, always add it. I've made bread in the past that I've forgotten to add fat to (oil, butter and occasionally duck fat) and have been able to add it later with no problems. Brioche in fact, one of the most famous "fancy bread" doughs is produced from a solid lump of dough that butter and egg yolks are added to, and they are happily absorbed into the dough.

Oil is added to pizza dough to make it pliable and easily stretched. Oil also allows it to be rolled or pulled thin, stops the base from tearing easily, and makes the "chew" factor quite pleasant.

It also prevents a feeling of dryness in the pizza base, in the same way that butter in biscuits adds richness. However, the ratio of butter to flour in biscuit and cake baking is quite high (in puff pastry it is equal quantities of flour to butter, by weight). In pizza dough it is much less and should be around 2-4 tablespoons of oil to 1kg of flour - just enough to give added benefits without making the dough appear like oily focaccia.

When it comes to oil, you have many choices. In more commercial kitchens it's likely to be canola or sunflower oil, but for me, extra virgin olive oil is the only thing to use. It adds richness and flavour and helps the base colour nicely. I also like to add a teaspoon of sugar per kg of flour (always use strong bread flour, or a mixture of 80 per cent strong flour to 20 per cent semolina). The sugar caramelises in the oven and gives the base a lovely golden hue, as well as the added bonus of a tiny bit of sweetness.

I remember years ago going to a pizzeria in Chelsea, London, where they were serving a thin-crusted pizza the whole of London was talking about. Previous to that time, pizzas had been made mainly by big chains in Britain and the base was thick, doughy, bland and, well, dull.

Thin-based pizzas have, of course, been served in Italy for years but it truly wasn't until the late 80s that they began to find favour in London. Now of course it would be hard to find a thick-based pizza (thankfully) although I have seen some advertised by one of the chains as having a cheese rim - much like a sausage roll outer crust, encasing a ring of cheese stuffing. I have a sneaky feeling it's quite delicious, but if only the cheese being used was really cheese and not some fatty cheese wannabe.

The best pizza I have ever had, it must be said, was in Hokitika. I was travelling around New Zealand with British/Israeli chef and author Yotam Ottolenghi and his partner Karl, and we had an amazing whitebait fritter pizza at Fat Pipi Pizzas. It wasn't the thinnest of bases, and it had cheese and whitebait on it, so in theory it shouldn't have been great. But it was. We were all blown away! Truly fabulous!

* To ask Peter a question, click on the Email Peter link below.

For more of Peter Gordon's food ideas, visit foodhub.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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