The aim of this blog is to chart the experiments that are carried out with the aim of improving the pizzas we make. However, it’s also a good opportunity to record the more esoteric tweaks that can be made to a basic dough recipe. One of my favourite ways of transforming pizza dough into something overtly pretentious is to replace the water in the dough with red wine. This gives a pale pinkish tinge to the dough – so if your dough needs to double as a cheap imitation plasticine, it’s a real winner. More pertinently, it contributes an added richness to the finished pizza that complements the tomato flavours of the sauce well. Mmm.
As with most wine-based cookery, you’re eventually going to heat the bejaysus out of the wine, so there’s not a great deal of point in using an expensive bottle – any subtle and delicate aromatics will evaporate in the oven, and the real contribution from the wine will be residual fruitiness. For that reason, if you’re all proper classy like Loyd Grossman is, you might want to choose a robust wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Though every time I’ve made this, I’ve just used whatever wine happened to be left over after I didn’t manage to finish a whole bottle the night before. And that’s always worked fine. Just avoid Vimto, because apparently that isn’t a type of red wine.
It’s a pretty straightforward recipe, though there’s one caveat to keep in mind: red wine usually contains alcohol, and mixing baker’s yeast and alcohol can stress your yeast a little. Although yeast’s greatest talent is its ability to turn boring old sugary water into magical booze, the sad truth is that leaving your yeast in a liquid that’s 13% alcohol will mean it’s a little more sluggish, and will rise a little less, than if you used water. This isn’t a big problem in the greater scheme of things, as pizzas tend to be pretty flat – so a pizza that’s fractionally more flat than usual isn’t going to ruin anyone’s dinner. But if you like to leave your pizzas out for a pre-bake rise to ensure a large doughy crust, or if you want to make dough balls as well as pizza, then using red wine will slightly diminish the rise and subsequent oven spring you’ll get. If you’re really concerned about this, there are three options available to you: (i) you can boil down the red wine before making the dough, to reduce the alcohol. If you do this, make sure you let the wine cool to body temperature before you add the yeast, or else you’ll kill your yeasties; (ii) you can increase the amount of yeast you use, using two sachets of instant yeast instead of one. This will increase the number of viable yeast cells in your dough, and will improve the lift your dough gets; or (iii) you can drink a glass of the red wine. This will help to relax you, so you won’t be that bothered about barely perceptible differences in pizza inflation. Of these options, (iii) is the best.
Here’s a picture of a pizza made with red wine dough. Given the rich deep colour of the wine, I’m always slightly surprised the dough isn’t more vividly coloured than it is. It smells boozy though, and rises noticeably less during the proving stage than water-based dough. The recipe is as per the standard dough: 500g strong white flour; 325g red wine; 7g instant yeast; 10g salt. If you don’t have that much red wine left over, it’s perfectly fine to make up the additional liquid with water. The extra flavour in the dough adds a nice twist to the usual recipe, and gives a new flavour component to the basic pizza that can be paired with particular toppings or sauce ingredients – as an example, I find mushrooms taste better with red wine pizza dough than with regular dough. And most importantly, as wine is made from grapes, making red wine pizza is an excellent way to help get your five daily helpings of fruit and veg.