Pizza & Vienna Lager

Unless the brew is of the Vienna style, the partnership of beer and pizza is merely Italian-American romance. With this supberbly suited style, it is a love affair to be consumated. – Michael Jackson

Not everyone agrees, but i’ve always felt that beer is a far better accompaniment to food than wine. There is a much wider range of flavours in the world’s beer styles, and a style for every occasion and meal. There is, however, one pairing people can generally agree upon: pizza and beer go great together.

I want to share my classic margharita pizza recipe. It’s a long, messy process, but I guarantee if you follow these steps you will end up with a wonderfully textured, authentic tasting pizza. My recipe has been through several iterations, with many different dough and sauce recipes. The dough recipe is somewhat unusual, and undergoes a slow overnight fermentation. The recipe is from here, although I have tweaked the amounts slightly.

There are a few keys to making a great pizza:

  • Use a pizza stone and a blazing hot oven. This will get you close as possible to the most authentic way of cooking pizza: with a wood fired oven. The pizza stone is a good cheat. I got mine from John Lewis for £12, and it was worth every penny. It’s great for making sourdough bread, too. Get your oven on as high as it will go a good half hour to 45 minutes before you cook the pizza.
  • Overnight dough fermentation. Pizzerias have a great amount of attention detail when it comes to retarding the dough; indeed, it is an art in its own right. This site puts it better than I can: properly risen dough produces a crust of maximum volume, even grain, white crumb, golden-brown sur­face, and full-bodied yeast bread flavour. Under-risen dough makes a crust that’s flat with a tight, dense grain and bland, biscuity flavour. During baking it tends to split like pita bread, creating large, flat bubbles. Over-risen dough, which often has a beer-like odor, makes a flat crust with an irregular grain, a gummy-grayish crumb, a white (unbrowned) surface that tends to blister, and bland flavour. If the dough hasn’t collapsed before baking it often produces small bubbles that burn and turn black in the oven.
  • Less is more. Don’t drown the dough in pizza sauce when you’re topping it. It only needs a thin scrape, and there shouldn’t be any puddles of sauce. If you use too much oil in the sauce, or use too much, you will end up with soggy pizza. The same goes for the cheese, use less than you think you need. Be sparing with your other toppings, too. I tend to favour just a plain pizza with some rocket, basil and proscuitto on top when it comes out the oven. I’m a big fan of meat pizzas, too – leftover roast chicken works particularly well.

The Dough

There’s no point in me reproducing the recipe, as it is posted here. I’m a believer in trying recipes verbatim before tinkering with them, but i’ve found it needs at least an ounce and a half more flour or the dough will be unworkably slack. This is probably because the optional oil adds extra liquid which needs to be matched with flour. Even the extra flour makes it fairly slack, you may want to add a little more, but not too much. I’ve had good results with Doves Farm Organic Strong White Bread Flour. Tipo 00 pizza flour is the classic Italian ingredient, but i’ve not found this necessary to make great pizza dough. I combine the ingredients on the dough setting of my breadmaker for 10 minutes, however this could just as easily done by hand kneading.

After 10 minutes, cut the dough into four pieces, shape into round balls on a baking sheet or similar, rub each with a little olive oil, and then put a plastic bag around the whole thing and place it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, two hours before you will be cooking the pizza, take the dough balls out of the fridge and flatten them slightly with your hand into a discus shape on a floured surface, and cover them with a tea towel.

The Sauce

This makes plenty of sauce for the four pizzas with enough leftover for more at a later date. It can be stored in a kilner jar in the fridge for a week or so, and even used as a pasta sauce base. Start preheating your oven at this point to 250C, or as high as your oven will manage. Make sure your pizza stone is in the oven so it is blazing hot when you put the pizza on it.

Chop and gently fry 4 cloves of garlic over a low heat for a minute or two. Don’t allow the garlic to brown too much or you’ll end up with a strong roasted garlic flavour in the pizza. Add two 400g tins of whole or chopped Italian plum tomatoes, and plenty of fresh chopped basil. When it comes to the boil, sieve into another pan, discarding the pulp and basil stalks. You should have a smooth, fairly runny sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes or so to concentrate the flavour and consistency. At this point I like to add half a teaspoon each of sugar, balsamic vinegar and tabasco sauce to give it a bit of a kick.

Shaping & Topping

Make sure your surfaces are clear so you have room to work. Find something large and flat that will act as a peel. I’m just using the back of a tray. Dust it liberally with semolina so the pizza can easily slide off the peel and onto the pizza stone.

The next step is to shape the dough. This is an excellent video demonstration of how to do it. Flour your hands and pick up the dough, placing it on your knuckles. Rotate the dough, using your thumbs to form the crust. Allow the dough to rest if it looks like its going to split. This is a tricky technique the first time you try it, but you will soon become an expert, easily creating massive pizza bases with little effort. The recipe should provide four pizza bases of around 14″ in diameter. The base should be nice and thin, becoming thicker at the edges to form the crust – don’t worry too much about forming a perfect circle. This is difficult to achieve with a rolling pin, so its well worth practicing the shaping technique even if it means a failed attempt or two.

Now you can transfer the base to your peel, top with some fresh buffalo mozzarella, and optionally a little grated lower-moisture mozzarella. When using the fresh cheese, it tends to come in little packets of water which needs to be drained. The fresh mozzarella can retain a lot of moisture making a soggy pizza, so squeeze the pieces a bit and pat them dry with kitchen roll.

Now you can slide the pizza into the oven, it will need around 8 minutes in at 250C, but it’s best to use your judgement as not all ovens are the same. The pizza pictured here is a little undercooked, you can see the crust hasn’t really developed a nice golden brown colour yet. It is tempting to take the pizza out of the oven at this point, but a couple of minutes extra is all it needs. When it comes out, drizzle the pizza with a little high-quality extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper, a grating of fresh parmesan, some slivers of fresh sweet basil, and some proscuitto.

The Beer

Don’t just serve any old beer with your pizza, and certainly no Peroni or Moretti. When the late Michael Jackson, the esteemed beer writer, was asked by the Palamino restaurant in Minneapolis to devise a beer to accompany their wood-oven, thin crust pizzas, he suggested an unfiltered, Vienna-style lager. It was produced for the restaurant by the local James Page brewery, and proved to be a hit. The trend caught on with other restaurants – the malty spiciness of Vienna lagers work fantastically with pizza, and I have to agree. I showed a homebrewed version in the first photo with my pizza. A classic commercial example – which Jackson recommends – is Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen. Indeed, it might be easier to brew your own than trying to find this beer; any malty lager would be fine in its place. My recipe (adapted from Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff & John Palmer) is here.

Vienna lager is a somewhat anachronistic appellation for the beer – you will be hard pressed to find any examples from Vienna these days. The style was originally devised by Anton Dreher when he introduced lager fermentation to his brewerey in Schwechat in 1841. The style was adapted by the Munich brewing family Sedlmayr and others to create a special beer for the Oktoberfest. Indeed, Vienna lagers are the origin of the classic Marzen beers served at the Oktoberfest; which have now sadly been surpassed by paler Festbiers, which is basically just a stronger Helles. Today, the term Vienna Malt is still used to describe kilning to an amber colour, and is used in spades in my recipe.

The style has also been taken up with enthusiasm by new world brewers. The briefly Austrain Imperial outpost of Mexico is not only famous for Corona, but the tawny coloured Vienna influenced lagers: Dos Esquis and Negro Modello are both widely available, albiet fairly poor, examples. The Brooklyn brewery describes its hoppy lager as a Vienna style, although I would say its closer cousin is the American pale ale.

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2 comments

  1. Larry (aka Laripu from the beer forum) · July 2, 2008

    I love this blog. I want some of your pizza. Since I can’t just get up on my hind legs and fly to Glasgow, I’ll probably make some myself this weekend. (It’s Independence Day here in 2 days, when we celebrate not having to pay taxes to King George.)

  2. Geoff · July 2, 2008

    I appreciate the comment Larry. Have a good one on the 4th 🙂

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