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Eastern Curve Garden, Dalston

Eastern Curve Garden, Dalston (Photo credit: Alex_Pink)

Two of my favourite places in the neighbourhood – E5 Bakehouse and Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – joined forces today to host a free pizza workshop. E5 Bakehouse was set up a couple of years ago by Ben Mackinnon to revive the lost art of artisan breadmaking. Their chewy, slowly-fermented sourdough loaves are rapidly gaining a cult following in Hackney and recognition across London. Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is an incredible community garden, a stone’s throw from Dalston Junction, that’s so peaceful that as you walk around the raised vegetable and herb beds, the only way you’d realise you were in East London is seeing the street art on the wall.

The class was part of Adult Learner’s Week, which has been going on all over the country this last week, offering free taster sessions in everything from Zumba to cross-stitch. But today 20 of us were learning how to make authentic wood-fired oven pizza. Of course, part of the joy was in baking and cooking outdoors (despite the chill in the air), but if you get your oven hot enough and use a pizza stone/granite slab, I’m sure you could recreate it at home.

The mouth of the oven was the perfect place to let the dough rise

We cooked the pizzas in a clay oven, built by the community last summer. By throwing in a few logs, the oven was soon up to 515C – so just slightly hotter than your regular oven… It really does make a huge difference though: simply chuck your pizza on the peel, shimmy it onto the base of the oven and two or three minutes later, your base is risen and crispy, your toppings perfectly cooked. Jamie Oliver does a range of wood fired ovens (is there anything he hasn’t stuck his name on?) but they retail at about £1000. Quite an investment for the occasional pizza in the garden. You can, however, build a clay oven for about a tenth of the price – a project for a long weekend perhaps!

Getting the pizzas out of the oven

If you don’t have access to a wood-fired oven, I’d just stick your oven up as high as it will go and put a (clean, smooth) paving slab in to get that searing heat cooking the base all the way through. You might need to cook it for a few minutes more but you should still get a good result. Here’s what you need to get up to the point where you put the pizzas in the oven…

Ingredients (for two pizzas)
6g fresh yeast (or 3g dried yeast)
160ml warm water
20ml extra-virgin olive oil
250g strong bread flour (we used Marriage’s Strong Organic White, grown and milled in Essex)
two large pinches of salt

For the tomato sauce (makes enough for about 20 pizzas, so scale down accordingly or save leftovers for pasta sauce)
1 bulb garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 red onion, chopped
olive oil
1 large can chopped tomatoes (around 2.5kg)
small handful black peppercorns, roughly crushed

Whisk together the fresh yeast, water and olive oil, then pour into the flour and mix until it comes together in a sticky dough. Leave the dough in a warm place to rest for 10 minutes or so, then knead in the salt. Leave the dough to rest for another 10 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and stretch and knead the dough for 5 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the olive oil and red onion in a large glug of olive oil. Once softened, add the chopped tomatoes and crushed peppercorns, then simmer for 10 minutes or so until slightly reduced.

Tip out the dough and stretch it out into a circle as thin as possible – try spinning it if you’re feeling brave! Next spread the tomato sauce thinly over the top and add whatever toppings you fancy. We had chorizo and salami, goat’s cheese, sundried tomatoes, freshly-roasted asparagus and courgette… And freshly-picked thyme, oregano and basil from the garden, of course.

Three minutes later, perfect pizza.

All in all it was a brilliant afternoon – meeting some other locals, gleaning some knowledge from Ben and pizza-pro Dan, and spending the afternoon cooking outdoors in the beautiful garden. Thank you to all involved!

You can find E5 Bakehouse in Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace, just by London Fields station. They’re open 7am-7pm, 7 days a week and as well as selling their excellent bread, also serve breakfasts, lunch and, on Sundays, pizza.

Dalston Eastern Curve Garden is opposite Dalston Junction Station and is currently open every day from 11am-6pm. They are launching the first ever Dalston Flower Show tomorrow, which runs for 3 weeks.