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Jan 15, 2019

Pizza Dough

This recipe is dedicated to helping you make the best possible pizza dough. The recipe is inspired by the traditional neapolitan pizza. It has however been adapted to work better in a home kitchen setup. The recipe contains both a yeast and sourdough option.

The perfect pizza dough

Background

The Neapolitan pizza is characterized by a relatively high edge and a thin center of the pizza. The only ingredients required to make the dough are flour, water, salt, and yeast. Historically sourdough has been used as an alternative to yeast.

However, the Neapolitan pizza association (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) clearly states that only yeast should be used to make the dough. This can be debated as our ancestors did not have access to yeast, they were using sourdough for their pizza. Also, it can be debated whether our ancestors did truly make pizza since a high amount of gluten in the wheat is required to make the dough. The gluten is the core factor that allows us to stretch the dough apart and make it thin on the interior. It is also the factor that allows air to be trapped inside of the dough, creating the open edge filled with tiny alveoli. This high gluten flour did not exist for a long time.

The traditional Neapolitan workflow has always been to create the dough on the night before baking the pizza. This is one of the core features of creating a dough that has a great taste on its own. In fact, you could just bake the whole dough as a piece of bread and it would taste awesome. The long slow fermentation is the key to making a great tasting dough.

Process

This is an overview of the whole process from start to finish.

The whole process

Dough Ingredients

To the novice pizza baker, it is surprising how few ingredients you need to make pizza dough. The quantities of ingredients are specified as percentages of the mass of the flour that you use:

Calculating the quantity of water, salt, and yeast as percentages of the flour makes it easy to scale up the recipe and make more pizzas. This is called bakers math. It makes it very easy to adjust the desired output of pizzas you want to bake.

So assuming you want to bake 2 tiny pizzas, you would be using 200 grams of flour. In reality, it's a little more, I am just using this as an easier-to-understand math example. Don't worry - the calculator follows later. Your ingredients would look like this.

  • 200 grams of flour
  • 120 grams of warm water
  • 4 grams of salt
  • 0.1 grams of dry yeast or 0.3 grams of fresh yeast
  • Optional: 10 grams of stiff sourdough starter

A typical Pizza in Napoli has a final dough mass before making of around 250 grams. The size to pick depends on the size your oven has. Assuming you wanted to make a pizza of 250 grams final weight these are your ingredients.

  • 154 grams of flour
  • 93 grams of water (60.00%)
  • 3 grams of salt (2.00%)
  • 0.08 grams dry yeast (0.05%)
  • OR 0.23 grams of fresh yeast (0.15%)
  • OR 8 grams of stiff sourdough starter

You can also use the dough calculator from this repository. The source code is in /calculator.

Choosing the flour

The flour is the essential ingredient of your dough. It can all start very well with the right flour but can go totally wrong with the wrong flour. The experienced pizzaiolo is able to work around some of the deficits of the flour, but for a novice, this can be the factor between epic success or fail.

The rule of thumb: Pick a flour that has high protein content.

You want as much protein in your bread as possible. The flour you should be looking for is Bread flour or all-purpose flour. Pick the one that has the highest amount of protein. The higher the protein the better the properties of pizza. The reason for that lies in the nature of the wheat kernel. The bread flour is a combination of the germ and the endosperm of the wheat kernel. The bran has too much fiber that has a negative consequence on the gluten matrix that you plan to develop.

This of course also depends on each type of wheat that you have. In some specific types, the endosperm might have more protein. For instance in Italy in many cases the Tipo 00 flour is used. The same type of flour in Germany typically has less protein. The more sun the more gluten (protein) wheat will produce.

As the fermentation progresses several enzymes become activated. Their role is to break down the flour so that the germ can sprout. The more gluten you have to begin with, the longer you can push this taste developing process.

The germination process

Making the dough

As elaborated earlier - the perfect dough takes time to develop more flavor.

This is because the process of mixing flour and water will start the germination process. Of course, the flour s ground, but still, the enzymes that are triggered through water will start doing their job.

The most important 2 enzymes are amylase and protease. Amylase will start to break down your starch into easier-digestible sugars (food for the yeast) and the protease will start to convert the gluten from storage mode into shorter amino acids.

If you use too much yeast then you will not have these effects in your dough. With more yeast, your dough would become fluffy way too fast. You will want these reactions to happen and they take time. If you wait for too long then your flour is broken down and you have a sticky unusable dough. The secret is to find the balance between long enough and not too long fermentation.

This recipe has been developed during summertime. In summertime the fermentation is faster. Just a few degrees change in temperature will make the whole process a lot faster or slower.

So in winter times when it's colder in your kitchen (less than 20°C) use the double amount of yeast. In summer times use the values provided in the recipe. You can also adjust the timing of course by using warmer or colder water.

The following chapter will assume a 24-hour cycle to make the dough. In my case that would usually be 8 pm, if I wanted to bake the day after at 8 pm.

Making pizza and bread is all about the technique. If you are a novice, try to stick the to steps as much as possible. The experienced baker can of course slightly alter the recipes.

0:00 Mix all the ingredients

In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients. Stir everything with your hand for around 5 minutes. do this until you see that all the ingredients have been nicely homogenized. I typically use a large metal pot with a lid. Close the lid.

0:15 hours after mixing: Kneading

Work the dough and knead the dough until you can test the dough for the window pane effect. This means that your gluten network has been developed. I typically do this for around 5 minutes.

Place your dough back in your container and close the lid.

0:30 hours after mixing: Smooth dough surface

Make the surface of your dough round. This way the dough will be less sticky and easier to handle. This technique only works if you have no flour on the surface. You drag the dough over it, stretching the gluten. If the surface of your dough tears, wait another 15 minutes and try again. This is the single most important technique to master when making pizza and/or bread.

08:00-12:00 After mixing: Dough increased by 50% in size

In the morning I wake up and check the dough. The first stage of the fermentation (bulk fermentation) is complete when your dough has increased around 50% in size. This value depends on your flour. 50% is a good ballpark to begin with.

If your flour is stronger then you can push this value further. If it is weaker you can lower this amount on your next dough. Depending on how much yeast/sourdough you used this happens sooner or later. The temperature is also a big factor. Take a note of the parameters you used so that you can adjust this on your next dough.

Sometimes I like to extract a small piece of the dough after the initial mixing. I place the dough in a small shot glass, something of cylindrical shape. You can then then observe the dough. This is simpler than going by look and feel of the dough in the large container. Think of it as using a regular expression on a large log file.

Apply one stretch and fold on your dough. This helps to even out the gas distribution inside of your dough.

If your want to eat pizza in the next 3 hours proceed and ball your pizza dough. If you want to eat your pizza more towards the evening or the next day, move your pizza dough to the fridge. This way your dough will stay good for a long period of time. 3 hours before you want to make your first pizza you will need to remove your dough from the fridge. Then proceed with the next step.

3 hours before making the pizza: Dividing

Your dough has been at room temperature or in the fridge. At this point your dough will be divided and receive a preshape. The 3 hours resting time allow the gluten network to relax. This way shaping a pizza becomes easier. If your dough is very elastic and doesn't like being stretched you need to increase this duration.

Take a knife and cut your dough into smaller pieces. You can also use a dough scraper. You can eyeball the dough size or use a scale to be very German about it.

After dividing: Preshaping

Preshaping your pizza balls requires you to have no flour on the surface.

Drag your dough over the counter to create a smooth surface again. This is exactly the same method you used in the night when making a smooth dough ball.

Place your dough balls somewhere on your counter or on a wooden board. Do not flour the surface.

Your dough balls are going to dry out now. Earlier I used olive oil, but now I prefer to apply a wetted kitchen towel out of cotton. I learned this after receiving a pizza training in Naples. Wet your towel completely and then wring out excess water.

24:00 Shape the pizza

3 hours should have passed since you preshaped your pizza balls. They should now look more fluffy than before.

There are many different ways to shape the pizza. The steps listed here are not the most efficient ones, but they create excellent results for the home-baker. In a large scale pizzeria you will be too slow. Besides the written instructions you can also watch the whole process as a video.

Step 1

Cover a large area on a table, or your kitchen with flour. We do not want the dough to stick to the surface. With the spatula/scraper remove the dough from the surface and place it on the bed of flour.

Step 2

Start pressing the dough downwards slightly, starting from the center. That way you will move the air bubbles to the edge of your dough. Unfortunately you will degas some of them, but that is fine. Just keep pressing the dough with your flat hands. If the dough sticks to your hand, flour your hands. The flour is now used since we do not want to damage the dough by having it stick to the surface our hands.

Step 3

Lift the pizza into the air at one edge. The dough should start spreading. The center should become more and more transparent of your dough. You can see me doing this at the first picture in the guide. Turn the pizza to allow the dough to evenly stretch. If some of the areas are still too thick, stretch that area with your hand by pulling the dough apart. The inner part of the pizza should be around 1 to max 2mm in size. See the first picture again.

Other ways to achieve the same thing would be to flap the pizza. Although I personally do not like this as much, as you will degas the dough more than with this technique. Another technique is to throw the pizza into the air and use gravity to stretch it. It's a little advanced but makes you look like a truly professional pizzaiolo.

Now the dough is done place it ideally on a wooden pizza peel covered in semolina flour. That allows the pizza to slide down the peel. It is important to top it quickly, less than 30 seconds. Else it will start sticking to the peel and you will create a huge mess.

Step 4

Topping/baking is beyond this guide. But you ideally want to bake the pizza in a very hot oven. A pizza steel for the home oven is advised, a stone will do fine too. A tray is also fine. The steel is advised for home ovens as it can transfer heat faster to the pizza than the stone. If you reached 450°C like in a typical Italian stone oven, stone would be perfect.

Make sure you pre-heat the oven to maximum temperature. If your oven has a grill function, use it. Wait until your pizza turns brown on the edge. If you are interested I made a detailed comparison of a pizza stone, pizza steel and dedicated pizza oven here.

Buon appetito!

A Neapolitan Pizza


Resources

RESOURCES.md gathers all external information we love about pizza dough and pizza in general. If it's a blog article, or a research paper, or anything related to pizza... It's there.

Disclaimer

I in no way claim that all of the information here is scientifically correct. This is not a work of professional science, but more a work of my endless research over the years. If you can further back some of my observations by scientific articles I would be more than happy if you created a pull request.