After three hold-your-breath busy days, I was thrilled to spend this morning with one of my favourite people, my godson Luca who is four, no, sorry not four, ‘Nearly FIVE, Auntie Debora’. He’d spent yesterday with his godfather and had a lovely time at ‘Pizza Express, where there’s a POOL on the ROOF!’ Now I know for a fact that they had lunch at Shoreditch House, the chi-chi-la-la members’ club down the road where annual membership costs the equivalent of 70 Pizza Express pizzas.
Luca loves to be in the kitchen. Since he was old enough to sit on one of our high stools, he has done a hero’s job of washing up at our sink. A heap of plastic picnic cups and plates bobbing in the suds would absorb him for long enough for his mum and me to have a cup of tea and catch up.
These days, we’re a long way from Fairy Liquid and soggy sleeves. Luca has a patissière’s eye for detail and insists on tasting and testing at every stage, particularly when there’s chocolate involved. There’s always chocolate involved. My baking cupboard is Luca’s Garden of Earthly Delights, with its tubs of sprinkles, crystallised flowers and bags of rainbow sugar. Each container has to be examined and pondered over, before we cut it down to a shortlist of three or four which will make it onto the final cake. Today, our chocolate cake was resplendent with vermicelli, a few yellow sugar roses, a sprinkling of purple sugar and a twinkle of silver balls. We’re nothing if not exuberant.
We also made pizza, proper pizza with a real, thin crust (Richard, I promise I’m not entering into a wicked game of Godparents: The Rivals). Just as we’d debated over sprinkles and sugar roses, so we discussed our toppings in enormous detail. Arrabiata sauce, olives (well, Luca’s Daddy is Portuguese) some dollops of fromage frais and a grating of Parmesan, then some basil leaves and a drizzle of basil oil when they came out of the oven. I have to say, they were a little pizza perfection and when I suggested saving a slice for Mummy, Luca was most emphatic. ‘I am going to eat it ALL. I’m nearly FIVE.’
Great pizza crust
This is a simplified, slightly adapted version of my friend Daniel Stevens’ recipe for pizza from his book River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread. If you are at all interested in baking bread – and certainly if you think you’d ever like to build a brick oven in your back garden – I’d highly recommend it. He’s a baker from his flour-dusted shoes to his elegant, dough encrusted fingertips. You couldn’t be in safer hands.
Makes 4 large pizzas
A small handful of semolina or polenta for dusting the baking sheets
In a mixer with a dough hook attachment, mix together the flours, yeast, salt and water on a slow speed then stir in the olive oil. Mix for about 10 minutes until smooth and silky (you can certainly do this by hand, it will just take longer). Put your dough into a warm, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise until doubled in size. Luca and I recommend Finding Nemo while waiting for the dough to prove.
Whack your oven up as high as it will go and let it come to temperature before you tip the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four. Mould each quarter into rounds with your hands then roll them out as thinly as you can and place them on your semolina-dusted baking sheets. Add your toppings – as Coco Chanel famously said, ‘Elegance is refusal’, so add them thoughtfully and sparingly. An overloaded pizza is not a good thing (the same principal does not apply to chocolate cake, just so you know). Put them in the oven and bake for about 7 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Eat quickly, in thin slices, with your hands. I could never trust a person who eats a pizza with a knife and fork.
Luca’s baby brother Leo arrives to help, and looks very fetching in a mixing bowl.