the slow rise

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I keep writing good with pizza bianca, serve with pizza bianca, eat with pizza bianca in recipe notes for the book. Which is all very well for readers living in Rome, therefore within shouting distance of one of the countless forno daily paddling hot pizza bianca from the gaping mouths of ovens, brushing them with olive oil, strewing them with salt and then slicing them just for you. Less so, much less so, for everyone else. ‘You will just have to do a pizza bianca recipe for the book‘ said my Mum, who is here for the week and being the best baby sitter I could ask for. ‘But I can’t even make bread, never mind pizza bianca and while we’re at it, I can’t write a book, I can’t even write E mails and I hate my hair and all my clothes’  I said in a grown up way.

Then I read a recipe in a book I received for my birthday. A book about pizza by a maestro, the so-called Michelangelo of Pizza (although I don’t think he was the one who coined that immodest soubriquet, he prefers Re or king) a man of broad shoulders and impressive hands; Gabriele Bonci.

I can I told Laura as I paid for a bag of 0f Mulino Marino flour from her Emporio delle spezie. I can I told myself as I weighed out the ingredients. I can I muttered as I mixed the flour with the yeast, the salt, the water and then a dram of extra virgin olive oil. I can’t I thought as I surveyed the wet, sticky, mass clinging like particularly adhesive putty to my spoon, my fingers and the sides of my tin bowl. I covered it hastily with clean cloth for its first rising and took empty solace in social media.

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At which point Dan arrived. Dan is my all baking, beering friend who just happens to have done a Bonci pizza-making workshop. ‘It’s the 70% hydration, it should be sticky’ he explained in a bakers tone before tying on my apron and setting to work. It’s a properly sticky affair, you do this wonderful, gentle pull and fold motion, the Piegature di rinforzo which means folding to reinforce. By stretching and folding the dough gently, developing the gluten and incorporating air into it you render it altogether more manageable. The joy of watching.

The dough then sits in the bottom of the fridge, balanced on the vegetable box and beside the dubious bottle of dessert wine for 24 hours. It’s a slow, steady swell, a true lunga lievitazione that reminds you dough is a living thing. I kept peeping at my pale dejeuner sur l’herbe bottom-like dough all day. I woke up at 3 am sweating and fretting about the gas bill and other animals and was reassured by my ever-increasing bowlful. By (late) breakfast the next day, 23 hours after Dan’s Piegature di rinforzo my bowl was full.

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I’m not sure why handling freshly risen dough is so nice, but it is. The key is being as gentle as possible as you cut the mass into 350 g pieces (5), fold and shape them into a balls (and leave them to rest for another half hour.) Once rested you massage and very gently – this is all about the lightest, pattering touch –  press the dough into a tin-shaped form on an evenly floured surface before lifting this soft cloth-like rectangle into an oiled tin.

I particularly like Bonci’s note that in his experience the cheaper the tin the better it cooks. My tin is a bog standard 30 cm x 30 cm one with a thin base that I inherited with the flat. You pour a thin stream of olive oil over the surface of your dimpled dough.  You have preheated the oven to 250° or 480F.

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My Pizza took 25 minutes (15 on the floor of the oven then 10 on the middle shelf) until it had the requisite characteristics: a firm bottom, full-bodied, tender center punctuated with pockets of air and a burnished crust. I brushed the top with a little more olive and was generous with the salt. It was nearly as good as the pizza I’ve eaten standing on the pavement outside Bonci’s small but perfectly formed Pizzarium. Well. Nearly.

In a world where we are often told we don’t need to fold, or rise, or wait, that we can just fling things together in a jiffy and making too much of an effort is fussy, this way of making pizza might take you aback. It did me at least. But then it didn’t. It makes absolute sense that to make something so good from very basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast, oil and salt – you need something else, two things actually; not a little effort and time.

I am not sure there are many things tastier than freshly baked pizza bianca, warm, crisp at first but then giving way to a proper mouth arresting chew, oil and salt clinging your lips.  This is one of the best things I have ever made. The end. Or the beginning.

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Pizza bianca

I may have eaten more Pizza than is decent and watched it being made many times, but this is the first time I have made it at home. I am pretty damn happy with the results – horray for Gabriele Bonci and long slow rising. I hope I have made things clear below. Elizabeth’s blog post and video are very helpful. If you are serious about pizza, I recommend Bonci’s book, which is now available in English.

Makes 5 square pizza which each divides into four nice slices.

Adapted from Gabriels Bonci’s – Gioco della Pizza with help from Dan and Elizabeth Minchilli

  • 1 kg flour (Italian farina 0. Try hard to find this. Or strong white bread flour)
  • 10 g active dried yeast (Lievito di birra)
  • 7oo g water
  • 20 g salt
  • 40 g  extra virgin olive oil

You will need a standard, square or rectangular, thin based lipped tin /baking tray or pizza stone. I used a bog standard 30 cm x 30 cm lipped baking tray.

In a large bowl using a wooden spoon mix together the flour and the yeast. Then add the water, gradually, once it is incorporated add the salt and the oil. Mix until you have a pale, sticky, putty-like mixture. Cover with a clean cloth or cling-film and leave to rest for an hour at room temperature in draught-free part of the kitchen.

Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured board. It will still be sticky. This stage is called the Piegature di rinforzo which means folding to reinforce. With lightly floured hands gently stretch and pull the edges of the dough and fold them back over themselves. Try as best as possible to turn the dough 90° (it will stick) by using a dough scape or spatula and repeat the pull and fold. With this repeated pulling and folding, the incorporation of air and the residual flour from your hands and the dough will get drier and become like a soft and manageable. Bonci suggest you repeat this pulling and folding motion three times, pause for 20 minutes, repeat, pause for 20 minutes and then repeat.

Put the soft dough into an oiled bowl and cover it (cloth or clingfilm) then leave it for 18 – 24 hours at the lower half of the fridge.

You pull the bowl from the fridge and leave it to it for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the dough from the bowl and cut it into 5 pieces of more or less 350 g – you can use a scale. Working piece by piece, shape the dough into a ball, fold it over once as you did for the Piegature di rinforzo and leave it to sit for another 30 minutes at room tempertaure away from draughts. Set the oven to 250°c/ 480F.

The final stage needs to be done with a delicate touch – you don’t want to squash out the air you have so patiently incorporated. On an evenly floured board, using your finger tips and starting from the borders and then working up the center of the dough, push and massage it into a square the size of the tin. Once it is more or less the right size, drape it over your arm and then lift it into a the well oiled 30 cm x 30 cm lipped tin /baking tray or pizza sheet. Zig-zag the dough with a thin stream of olive oil.

Bake on the floor of the oven for 15 minutes, check the pizza by lifting up the corner and looking underneath – it should be firm and golden. If it seems nearly done, move it to the middle shelf of the oven for 10 more minutes. Pull from the oven. Brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Slice and eat.

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81 Comments

Filed under Book review, bread and pizza, fanfare, food, grains, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, Roman food

81 responses to “the slow rise

  1. Simply gorgeous. I could do with some of that right now!

  2. Whilst I love to read your recipes, I do so love the asides too! Why is it that we revert to teenage when with our mothers? Discuss…….

    • rachel

      Because we revert to age old ways (I do at least). It was a full blown, stomp away growling session. I did say sorry (after sulking for a minute or two). My Mum dealt with it like a pro.

  3. I was always more of a pizza rossa kind of guy.

  4. Ooh how lovely. I like that it takes so long, resting and relaxing. Your poor mum. That bit made me squeal with recognition.

    • rachel

      And having written all about the time and effort, it was pretty easy come to think of it. And I am sure it will get even easier, as now I am rather obsessed with making pizza.

  5. Your hair’s cool – as long as it’s not in the cooking! Har.
    Wish you’d done this last week, I could have brought you Bonci’s handout from the course. Now it’s lost somewhere in our chaotic moving-house-boxes.

  6. I am impressed by your results using Bonci’s recipe! I was given his book as a present last year and while the recipe does produce the best tasting pizza I have ever been able to make at home, my air bubbles are not as big as those in your photos! I clearly need to give this another go.

    And as for the slow rise, it really is so much better than practically forcing dough to rise by putting it somewhere warm – the flavours are just so much more complex with slow proving (works wonders for brioche dough as well). And I agree there is far too much emphasis on quick recipes these days – I don’t even think we actually have less time than earlier generations (my grandmother worked 6 days a week, commuting 3hs a day and coming home during her lunchbreak to cook for her family), I think we just choose to spend it differently, forgetting that some things like bread dough or slow-cooked stews take time and won’t produce the same results when hurried.

    • rachel

      They are. Better for you too – my mum the bread maker keeps telling me – as you digest the gluten better. Horray for gluten. My second pizza was definitely more aerated and that was the one I really worked carefully, prodding gently like Bonci does in the video.

  7. You’ve inspired me (again). It’s quite a while since I’ve made either bread or pizza dough from scratch, and you’ve reminded me of the pleasure to be had in this slow – but not at all tedious – task. Hope your mum enjoyed the pizza bianca. AND that she appreciated having her advice taken (we mums of adults need to be told we’re right, just occasionally).

  8. Rachel, You are so right. We rush, rush, rush and we miss out on wonderful cooking and baking experiences that just take time.Thank you for another terrific post and recipe!

  9. Wonderful. I’m making this right away!

  10. I am afraid that I have a bit of disconnect in translating your English to my English – what is a “tin”? From context I deduce that it is some sort of baking sheet, are there any particulars to it? Standard Sizes? Round, rectangle, edges/no edges? I just want to get it right.

    • rachel

      Hi Barbera, sorry, my apologies it wasn’t clear and whats more I wrote the tin measurements in the text but not the recipe – amended. I used a 30 cm x 30 cm lipped baking tin/ tray. You could use a pizza sheet or pizza stone too. Remember to oil it well. Bonci claims the cheaper the tin the batter it bakes. He suggests a 30 cm x 60 cm tin but that wouldn’t fit in my oven.

  11. I’ve been using almost exactly these ingredients to make pizza dough since I first tried the no knead bread recipe, but I’ve never done the piegature di rinforzo. Never heard of it, actually. I usually make my dough well in advance, let it rise in a warm place for one to two hours and then just pop it in the fridge until I need it. My pizza dough has always been good, soft and chewy and really tasty, but it never has that beautiful elasticity you see in the dough in pizzerias. I think I’ll try this method and see if I can’t improve my technique.

    • rachel

      I’d been told that with excellent flour like Marino and the bonci fold and tuck I would get the mouth arresting chew and you do. I would love to know how you – a pizza pro – go. Watch Elizabeth’s Video of Bonci I’ve linked to above.

      • I did it! Yesterday I made pizza dough using the pull and fold method you describe and the resulting dough (even not having spent 24 hours in the fridge, just around 4 hours) was a delight to work with. The shaggy mess I usually work with, which is always only manageable after a stint in the fridge for the number of hours I have to spare at the time, became smooth and elastic and, by the time I got it out of the fridge to make the pizzas it was so gorgeous I almost wanted to just bake it focaccia style and eat the whole lot (the whole 1 kg of flour and the rest)! My 4-year-old would never hear of it so I did make it into two pizzas, one large one for the adults and a small one for him, which he rolled and filled himself and it was the first time the dough was strong and elastic enough to be worked by my boy into whatever mess he wanted, without breaking apart. I even pulled it into a beautiful round without using the rolling pin! Sorry this is so long but I am head over heels in love with this method and forever thankful to you for introducing me to it! As we say here in Portugal, beijinhos! :-)

      • rachel

        This makes me very happy…..the best sort of comment…..Hurrah for pulling and folding and four year olds who make their own pizza….thank you for taking the time to tell me Rx

  12. I consider the unparalleled deliciousness of pizza bianca to be one of life’s great mysteries – why is it so gorgeous to eat?? I was already planning on a potato pizza this weekend, but I think I might not sleep properly until I have tried this recipe!

  13. Good morning Rachel, there you are again with your beautiful low light pictures, and that gorgeous filtered roman light. Because i work from home growing all my own food I frequently cook using old slow methods. This looks like the perfect addition. . Rising the bread in the fridge is interesting, i wonder if it would work the same in my cold cellar/cave. We are having home made pizza this Friday too so I shall begin this tomorrow morning. How wonderful. I look forward to the eating. Though living out here in the midwest I wil have nothing to compare this to, other than that long ago memory of living and eating in Italy. But our taste buds have long memories! Beautiful writing.. celi

  14. I believe I recall you popping in to buy a slice for a hungry Luca more than once on our visit. Sometimes it landed on the pavement (lucky pavement) and sometimes it landed in Luca’s mouth (lucky Luca). Not the same thing, but it reminds me of the pizza al taglio Roberto and I ate near the spanish steps. Loads of olive oil, potato, rosemary, salt. I’ll always remember it, first because I remember everything we ate while in Italy (mostly because I wrote it down) and second, Roberto’s father had called us just as we sat down to eat. He asked me how I was liking the food. I told him I was LOVING the food. I could hear his smile (if that’s possible) from thousands of miles away. I told him this while looking longingly at the oily paper-wrapped goodness before me. So I take away from this post a feeling of great inspiration (thank you for linking to Elizabeth’s blog). Inspired to make a batch and then overload it with good olive oil and salt. To chase it with red wine and reminiscing. It seems like the moment we landed back here, our trip was immediately a million years away. Amazing how that happens. But, I can still taste it. The salt and oil on my lips and fingertips—everything.

    • rachel

      I remember that too. It does seem like a long time ago, the old flat too which seems a life away. Chase with red wine and reminiscing – I love that. baci xxx

  15. Amy

    I literally lol’ed while reading the end of that first paragraph. What you put up with for all of us!

    Sometimes I feel like really good things such as French baguettes or italian pizza bianca or neopolitan pizza margherita are best left up to the professionals and that if one doesn’t live in the appropriate area to receive such goods, then that’s too bad! Almost as if it is something that should remain a well-known secret, trapped within one specific, locale. But then I know I don’t really believe that, because I am really, really excited to try this out, especially with the recipes in your book and on this site. (still, I am wishing I lived within a shouting distance from a good forno so I wouldn’t have to)

    • rachel

      I know waht you mean. In fact Pizza bianca was one of the things better made by others and that I bought (a lot. ) Then again, I do live over a forno. I hope you try, it is a stunner.

  16. When you take your time to do things, the result is always better. As moroccan people often say: “hurry will kill you”

  17. I love the tip about baking it the first 15 minutes at the bottom of the oven, and then, moving it to the center. A new idea to me that would make sense in my oven.
    glad your Mum is there this week to help.
    and
    yes you can
    of course.

  18. Eha

    First I so enjoyed readinbg the ‘story’ from first to last ~ now to go back for a proper lesson! Perhaps you can join Celia’s ‘kitchensgarden’ Farmy Fellowship and bake a pizza on Friday also: am so looking forward to all the pictures promised :) !

  19. laura

    “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano. Chi va forte va incontro alla morte.”
    My compliments, Rachel … for taking on pizza bianca/schiacciata “from scratch” and for sharing such great stories and photos with such clear instructions. Glad to know you have your mother with you for a visit.

  20. Jessica

    Looks amazing. I’m inspired!

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  22. I make pizza lots and now am questioning pretty much everything about the way I make it. So lovely to go back to basics and see an utterly simple pizza made beautifully.

    • rachel

      The Bonci book is great if you are a keen pizza maker, it really makes you think about ingredients and the value (flavour and health wise) of a slow rise.

  23. oh, dear. it seems i’ve just ordered 22 pounds of 00 flour on amazon. the logic being thus: can’t ever find it locally; must eat this immediately; shall overcome! and really, the price was so much better on ten kilos than one. this of course led me to looking up another awol item, lyle’s golden, which lo!, is also on offer by the 2-pack! nothing at all to do with italian flour, mind you. save it’s inherent excellence. and necessariness.

    the beginning, then, gets my vote.

    • rachel

      hehehe, double golden syrup is essential (just think of the tarts, the golden pools on porridge and slightly chewy biscuits.) I am now an a panic about your flour, 00 is the most useful flour ever but you need 0 for this pizza (which is strong bread flour). Which means you might now go and order another 22 pounds of 0. Do you have a large pantry. I made beans and a fishy soup-like thing alla Molly this week. baci xx

  24. Graham Jepson

    Hi Rachel,

    I’ve messed around making pizza and focaccia doogh for years and never came close to getting it right until I discovered Gabriele Bonci. With his method, my experience has been just as you describe.
    One of the things he says is that it is not about the recipe as much as how you handle the dough and I think that is correct – you really need to be patient with the folding and stretching using a very tender touch. Studying the video helps a lot to understand this.
    The point your friend Dan makes about hydration is, in my experience, very valid. I always end up adding more water than the recipe says so that the dough starts out very sloppy and sticky indeed. I use good dustings of fresh flour to keep it managable as I go through the Piegature di rinforzo and it just resolves itself until you have that amazing spongy ball that seems to be so alive it responds to the lightest touch of your finger tips.
    As regards the flour, I have no chance of getting anything imported so I use local white bread flour. As long as it is fresh, I suspect it makes very little difference to the end result which is way better than any commercial offerings, including those from the local Italian baker.
    The only other ingredient I would suggest is a handful of fearlessness with which you have every chance of enjoying those requisite characteristics!
    Like you, I think it is one of the best things I have ever made.

    Best wishes – Graham.

    • rachel

      Graham what brilliant notes and thank you for the tip about strong bread flour – I have added it to the post. How well put; it is the way you handle the dough, the lightest touch – it is it is. Rx

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  27. Finally managed to read this post just now — I knew it would be fab and it is, just like the pizza you produced. I’m hanging on to your comment(s) invoking the judicious acceptance of lingering proviing time and folding forbearance: I bought Bonci’s book over a year ago and still haven’t tried one of his recipes … what does that qualify me for, in baking terms? tee hee (by the way I hate my hair too and all my clothes — do you think making pizza might help?).

  28. Perfect post. Please do as your mom says and include it in the book. I laughed out loud knowing there is someone else who hates her hair and all of her clothes at times. We’re stll unpacking but at least the painters have arrived. xo

    • rachel

      It is in (the book that is). I am glad I am not the only one, today I look like a mad hair lady. painting and then unpacking – just think how lovely it will be xxx

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  32. christin

    i must try this right away- but is*nt this foccacia by another name- pizza ? C

  33. christin

    be careful how you store flour- because of warm summer i have been invaded by moths who get into flour and leave eggs – which turn into grubs and moths- horrible. C

  34. Katie

    Did anyone notice that Marcella Hazan passed away last weekend? Many people referred to her as the Julia Child of Italian cooking. Of all the cookbooks I own, her’s are still my favorites. And I’ve noticed over the years that many Italian recipes seem to be versions from her original two cookbooks, Classic Italian Cooking 1 and 2. She taught me how to make and cook pasta and all about Italian food before ingredients like quality olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano were easily available in grocery stores. Just when I thought I’d made everything fabulous from her Essentials cookbook, I made a zucchini gratin this week that knocked my socks off. Zucchini gratin with tomato and marjoram is a wonderful dish that seems to caramelize all the ingredients together effortlessly. I could eat it every day. Marcella, you will be missed but will live in our hearts forever.

    • rachel

      Yes of course, and haven’t there been so many good and warm words written (even about her fiery wit and temper) about her over the last week. She didn’t teach me to cook Italian food but she certainly fortified what I was learning. 20 recipe on this blog are hers and many more guided by her. Cheers MH.

  35. This morning I woke up thinking “I miss Rachel” It’s true. I was a few posts behind and I just spent one of the happiest hours ever cozying up to your blog with a pot of tea. Will begin Pizza Bianca project this week and let you know how it goes. Lots of love- Mina

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  37. Dear Rachel,
    I love your blog! (and I know I have tons of company in this feeling) Not only because of the recipes, but also because of the textured picture of your life in Testaccio, Rome.
    To the point! I am in Rome for a year, now with 5 months left, and I would like to do a “laboratorio di pizza”, sopratutto bianca. I will die without the pizza bianca when I go back. Any suggestions? Now that my daughter started daycare, I have more time…
    Thanks for everything!
    Mara

    • Ps: Full disclosure. Do you know that many times we go to the parco giochi a Testaccio and I pay attention to see whether you and Luca are there? Excuse my “groupiness”.

      • rachel

        I love this……..I am a terrible mum and avoid the playground as much a possible – that said, as the days get longer we will go more. Send me a message next time you are over this way and we can have a coffee Rx

    • rachel

      Morning Mara, So happy you like reading along. I fully understand you pizza bianca anxiety and yes I think you should learn asap…..Gabrielle Bonci (whose recipe this is and who owns the pizzeria pizzarium) does courses. Katie Parla works with him and should have details http://www.parlafood.com. I simply bought his book http://www.amazon.it/gioco-della-pizza-magnifiche-ricette/dp/8817055190, which is great and available I english too. Rx

      • Thanks so much, Rachel!!! I will definitely let you know when we go next time (we would be there now hadn’t it been for the rain).
        I will contact Gabrielle Bonci. I can simply by his book, but since I am in Rome and not working I would like to do things with people… (another full disclosure).
        A presto,
        Mara
        PS: By the way, I took Daniel, my husband, to the norcineria, and he got ‘addicted’ to the guanciale there.

  38. Rachel, yet another reply… I have to go to Testaccio tomorrow morning or Friday morning after 11am, but with some flexibility (no kids!)… I am sure you are busy but if you have time to meet up, it would be great.
    A presto, speriamo,
    Mara

    PS: Pizzarium has been on our list since we’ve arrived…! I
    PS2: We have added the Gata Mangiona thanks to you (maybe this weekend with in-laws in town).
    PS3: Do you ever come to Monteverde Vecchio? (why should you…) If so, have you tried the Pizza Bianca at Forno Ambrosini?

  39. Hi Rachel, I’m going to try and make this today but I am not sure how many grams of yeast does Gabriele Bonci’s recipe really use because you’ve used 10g and Elizabeth Minchilli used 7g. Thanks in advance!

    • rachel

      Hi There, well spotted yes Bonci does use 7g but a friend recommended I used slightly more my variety of the domestic variety of dried yeast. I imagine this is because it is not as lively as Bonci’s yeast. IF you are confident with you yeast I’d go with Bonci: Hope it goes well RX

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