Recounting MaMa Florence…and Pizza!

From the end of May through the beginning of June, we took a vacation to Florence. My first trip to Italy was going to be filled with Medici and Tuscany but the one thing I was most looking forward to was a pizza making class at MaMa Florence. That region of the country isn’t known for its pizza, but I couldn’t resist the experience of learning to bake in Italy! I mean, come on!

And it almost didn’t happen. They had a class minimum of three students and the one day I had available didn’t fill. Needless to say, I was disappointed. But the folks at MaMa Florence worked hard and found two more people at the very last minute. So, June 1st found me spending the day with two American ex-pats, our food market guide, Elena, and an amazing chef/instructor, Silvia. We shopped for ingredients and learned not only their style of pizza (which is much more like what you’d find in southern Italy) but also Coccoli (fried pizza dough), yogurt pudding, and fried zucchini flowers! The hands-on instruction in dough handling alone was well worth the price of admission!

I’ll probably write something about the rest of the dishes we made but right now it’s all about the pizza.

THE RECIPE

Makes 2 medium-sized pizzas with a crisp crust

500 g all purpose flour
250 g water
12.5 g instant yeast
(The recipe originally calls for instant-activated yeast in cube form but I use Saf Instant Yeast instead. Do as you will.)
1 tbsp salt

MAKE THE DOUGH

In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the water, warm but not hot enough to kill the yeast, around 95º F. Blend all ingredients well, using your hands to make sure everything is blended and the flour is completely hydrated. Knead the dough slightly in the bowl.

Flour work surface, turn the blended dough out onto it, continue kneading for a few minutes. Keep kneading the dough until it reaches an elastic, firm consistency. The dough shouldn’t be too tough. If you take a sharp knife and slice into it, you should see that the dough has gas pockets developing. That means you’re on your way to a good pizza dough. Knead for a bit longer, until you feel the dough take on that elastic texture. You can add some water if the dough feels too dry, or add more flour if it’s too wet. Do these in moderation, though.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a moistened kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place in your kitchen, away from drafts or colder temperatures. Exposing the dough to a draft will cause a skin to form on it and dry it out. Colder temperatures slow down the yeast and impede the rise.

(At this point in the class, we oiled up 12″x9″ trays to to bake the pizza in. At home I’ve done this and I’ve also gone the more traditional route of using a round pizza pan or baking directly on my pizza stone. The choice is yours because this dough works with all of them.)

After the dough has doubled in size (approximately, over an hour), divide it into two equal sized balls. You can weigh them out to about 200 grams each or just eye-ball them for size.

Preheat the oven to 375º.

If you’re using the trays, each one gets a ball of dough. Roll out the the dough using your hands; it should cover the entire surface of the tray. Set them aside in a warm place to rise for another 15 minutes.

(If you’re using a pizza pan or baking directly onto your pizza stone, chances are you’ll only be able to bake one pizza at a time, shape one dough ball into a round, and cover the other with plastic wrap to avoid drying out.)

Cook the pizza in your preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until the pizza begins to turn golden brown. As soon as the pizza begins to brown both on top and on the bottom, remove from heat, prepare with assorted toppings, and put back into the oven for another 5-8 minutes. Remove from the oven, slice it up, and enjoy!

PREPARE THE TOPPINGS

(In class we made Margherita Pizza, but you can make any variation you desire.)

40 g tomato pulp (either rustic-style or smoother puree, as per your preference)
20 g cubed fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
2-4 fresh basil leaves, julienned or shredded basil salt, as needed

Pour a generous amount of the tomato sauce or pulp directly onto the surface of the precooked piza dough base. Lightly adjust to taste with salt and sprinkle the surface with diced mozzarella. Place into preheated oven and allow to complete the cooking process. You should be on the lookout for a crunchy crust, and nice, evenly-melted cheese.

Remove pizzas from the oven and sprinkle the basil over the top. Slice it up and enjoy!

(Below are images of my first attempt at making this recipe after we returned home. Give me a bit of time to figure out how to do my process shots.)

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