This recipe is dedicated to helping you make the best possible pizza dough for Neapolitan pizza. My personal motivation has always been to recreate one of my childhood memories - a pizza in a small restaurant named
Panorama in the Italian city of
Valdaora1). For years I have been obsessed with tasting different pizzas, observing how the pizzaioli make the dough. I have tried endless times, discussed with people from all over the world. This repo is dedicated to sharing my quest of figuring out the best possible pizza dough. Please note - this guide is scoped to the dough only, not the actual baking/topping of the pizza.
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.
The Neapolitan pizza is characterised 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.
If you look at the popular brand
Caputo it started selling its wheat flour in 1924. New kinds of flour have been developed using radioactivity, or toxins. This resulted in faster genetic mutations which then increased the yield of the crop. So it can be argued that when pizza was created new flour and modern yeast had already been available. Using yeast is easier than sourdough, since you have fewer variables you need to control. For example if fermented too long a sourdough have a negative impact on the gluten structure of the dough. These factors can be more easily controlled with regular yeast.
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 bread and it would taste awesome. A combination of room temperature fermentation and cold fermentation creates special enzymes which foster the complex but very pleasant taste of the pizza dough.
A german translation of the recipe can be found here.
To the novice pizza baker it is surprising how few ingredients you need to make a pizza dough. The quantities of ingredients are specified as percentages of the mass of the flour that you use:
- 60.00% Warm Water
- 2.00% Salt
- 0.05% Dry yeast or 0.15% fresh yeast
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 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
- 120 Grams of warm water
- 4 Grams of salt
- 0.1 Grams of dry yeast or 0.3 grams of fresh yeast
A typical Pizza in Napoli has a final dough mass before making of around 250 grams. However in Napoli the ovens are also significantly larger. Thus I suggest the home baker to reduce this to around 220 grams dough weight of the pizza. On the picture above you can see me making one of those 220 gram pizzas.
Now to make things a little easier I created a small dough calculator, that will tell you how much of each ingredient you need to make one pizza given the desired final weight of the dough. Remember – the amount of water in one pizza should be 65% of the mass of the flour – so how much flour do you actually need for a 220 gram pizza? If you don't feel like doing the math use my small calculator.
Picking the right flour
There is an additional chapter dedicated to picking the right 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 big ass 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 for 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. That's only the Endosperm. For
Caputo flour that Endosperm already has around 13 grams of protein per 100 gram. Generally though, go for bread flour with high protein content.
Making the dough
The trick to making an excellent pizza is time. Good things take time. If you observe Italian pizzerias you will notice that most of them make the dough the night or even 24/48 hours before. They allow their dough time to develop flavour and strength. Enzymatic reactions conducted by the yeast are the reason for flavour. Time allows your dough to develop a stronger gluten network. A strong gluten network is your goal to allow the dough to stick together, hold the gas the yeast creates plus make an excellent surface for your toppings. Yes - you can speed things up by using more yeast, but if possible - I advise to make your dough 24 hours before you plan to make the pizza. My kitchen usually has a solid 20°C throughout the whole year. Depending on the temperature the yeast is either more active, or less active. Warmer temperature makes the yeast more active. Colder temperature reduces the process. You can alter the initial speed 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 8pm.
Making pizza and bread is all about the technique. If you are 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 2 minutes. The dough will stick to your hands slightly. Don't worry. There is no need for performing any sort of kneading. Cover it with plastic or a kitchen towel, that way the dough will not lose any hydration.
The phase starting now is known as bulk ferment.
0:30 hours after mixing: Stretch and fold 1
You will see me doing some stretch and folds. You can skip them and have a very good dough as well. If you have time, I recommend doing them.
The stretch and fold technique allows you to develop a better gluten matrix inside of your dough. At the same time it will re-align some of the alveoli (tiny air pockets) that the yeast inside the dough created.
To perform a stretch and fold make sure you wet your hands with cold water. That way your dough will not stick to your hands.
1:00: Stretch and fold 2
We will perform another stretch and fold. Note how the dough is now even less sticky than it was before.
1:30: Stretch and fold 3
Another stretch and fold. Compare the difference between the folds. Your dough should be even less sticky now.
2:00: Stretch and fold 4
The last stretch and fold we will perform for the day. Your dough should now feel quite smooth already. Time has helped you to develop a really great dough.
This is the time I usually go to bed and continue in the morning.
12:00 - 8 AM: Stretch and fold 5
Depending on your timing the next morning conduct another stretch and fold. You should see a good amount of gas pockets on your dough. When doing this stretch and fold your dough is likely going to degas a little. Do not worry. Imagine you had used more yeast? All that amazing gas would have been lost over the night.
Directly after you finished shaping place the dough on a surface in your kitchen. Below is an example picture of how my dough looks like after the over night bulk ferment. Note the airy structure the dough has.
We will let the dough sit on your bench for 15 minutes without touching it.
12:15: Divide the dough
What you need for the next step is your scale again, a dough scraper (a knife will do), a sealable container (could also be a pot) plus some extra virgin olive oil.
Start cutting your dough into the desired pizza size. If you are off, cut some more pieces from the large chunk of dough. The dough will stick to the surface slightly. Use the dough scraper or spatula to scratch the dough with a swift move from the surface. If the dough sticks to your hand, wet your hands properly again. Place the small pieces of dough on the surface again. This step usually takes me 5-15 minutes depending on how fast I am. Start with the next step right away. If you let the dough rest for a few minutes, it is no problem at all.
12:30: Shape the dough balls
The hardest part of the whole process begins. You need to convert the pieces of dough into a nice ball. This only works if you have no flour on the surface. I had to learn this the hard way. You need the dough to stick to the surface. Only then you can use that stickyness to create tension. See this video on how to shaping the dough into a proper ball.. You do not need a dough scraper for this. You can also use a spatula or your bare hands. If you use your hands, water them slightly. Make sure to use the same angle of your hands like shown in the video, else the balls might flip over.
Place the created balls in an oiled container. Make sure to oil the top of the balls as well. We are doing that to prevent them from leaking moisture. At the same time it will make them stick less to each other we remove them from the container again later. Below is a picture of how my dough balls look in the final container. Note how they already slightly stick to each other. Also note the beautiful pockets of air already visibly present on the dough. If you managed to pull this off - good job. That's already 80% of the work required to make excellent pizza dough.
You could already proceed and start making pizzas now. However - by cold retarding the dough (placing the dough in a cold environment) we are creating additional flavour. The cold at the same time slows down the whole yeast activity to a minimum. This is exactly what we want, since our doughs already contain a lot of gas. we don't want the bubbles in the dough to burst and collapse. In fact, you could now let the dough rest for another 24 hours if you wanted. You can now time the next steps the way you want. I however recommend a minimum of 6 hours additional fermentation. My fridge has a temperature of around 5°C. Depending on your setup this process might be faster or a little slower.
23:00: Shape the dough balls one more time
My dough balls usually look like this 1 hours before baking:
Take a knife and cut out the pieces of dough again. Place them on a non floured surface again. Try to be very gentle when cutting. Try to tear the dough as little as possible. The more gentle you are, the more of the precious structure of your dough you will conserve. At the same time we allow our dough to reach room temperature again.
Repeat the same shaping step you did in the morning. That way you will have nicely looking shaped balls again. Those will be the balls we will ultimately use again for our pizza. Oil them again slightly so that they lose no hydration. You can also cover them with a kitchen towel.
This is how my final pizza balls look like after shaping them one more time.
One hour to go for our 24 hour recipe. I use this hour to let the dough balls rest and prepare the ingredients I want to use on my pizza.
24:00: Shape the pizza
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.
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.
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.
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. Buon appetito!
1 Olang is located in South Tyrol, a german-speaking area in north-Italy. `Valdaora` is the non-native, translated italian name of it
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.