January 13, 2021

The Failproof Way of Making Neapolitan-Style Pizza at Home

I am maniacal about pizza. So usually Friday night is pizza night. And as I am a sadistic person I like to post pictures of my pizzas on Twitter to make people hungry and angry (hangry).

As a small apology for all the drooling out there, here’s my proven and failproof cheater method of making pizza. I have optimized my method towards a Neapolitan-style pizza that does not require a nuclear-powered 8000°C hot oven and the skills of a pizza ninja. The finished product will be chewy, airy, and doghy like this type of pizza should be.

By the way: there is even some kind of standard for Neapolitan pizza that details what a true Neapolitan pizza is… So if you want to get really serious, follow the standard.

In advance, I apologize for the length of the text. Simply writing down five ingredients is not enough. The process of how the stuff is made is important… I honestly took longer to finally understand this fact that I want to admit.

Day #1

My dough recipe for two rather large pizzas that feed two hungry people is as follows:

  • 330g of bread (German 550 or 1050 type, or a mixture of both) or pizza flour (Italian 0 or 00 type). If you cannot source this stuff, use all-purpose wheat flour. Maybe more important than the flour type is its protein content. The more protein, the better the gluten development, which again is important for the texture of the dough. So try to get flour that has at least 11% of protein.
  • about 220g of cold but not ice-cold water - this is 66% of the flour by weight, in case you want to scale up the recipe.
  • about 8g of sea salt - this is ~2.5%. If you use rock salt, use 2% as this is often saltier (as it is quite pure NaCl) than sea salt, which contains a lot of different minerals.
  • 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil - one for each pizza.
  • 2g of dry active yeast - one gram for each pizza.

The Neapolitans describe a very specific way of mixing the ingredients in their standard. I have tried that. I see no difference compared to tossing everything in a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Let the mixer run for around 10 minutes or until you have a very shiny, smooth dough which does not stick like crazy to your fingers or the bowl.

Do you have no mixer? Try the “fold and stretch” technique, which is basically a technique that uses autolyze (time) and some slight stretching and folding motions to develop gluten. You’ll find videos on YouTube, or so, that show the process.

Now divide your finished dough into two parts. Again, the Neapolitans go all crazy and create perfectly round balls but you do not really have to do this. But if you like go for it.

The reason why I think the perfect ball is not really important is that your dough balls, most probably, won’t hold their shape till you bake the pizza the next day. So yes, we let the dough rise and ferment in one step in a closed container overnight, which is pretty convenient. You can ferment the dough for two nights if you like, which should get more aroma.

One important thing you want to consider is simplifying the “unboxing” the next day. The goal is that the dough mass slides out of the container without much fuzz as your ultimate goal is not to deflate the risen dough.

So, if you have, dust your balls (to avoid confusion: I mean the dough) and the containers with a good amount of rice flour before putting the dough in the container. Rice flour does not develop any sticky gluten when it gets in contact with water and, hence, it will prevent sticking to the container. If you don’t have rice flour, use some olive oil to grease both the dough balls and the container.

Day #2 (Pizza Day)

Depending on how much the dough has risen in the fridge overnight (which again depends on flour strength, fridge temp, and yeast quality), it might be necessary to let the dough rise a bit more. Normally, two hours in a warm spot should be enough. The dough should now have at least doubled in size and be really fluffy. In my case, my small containers are almost full of inflated dough.

If the dough has already risen enough in the fridge, bake the dough right from the fridge. It will be nicer to handle compared to room temperature dough. I normally can take my dough right from the fridge, as my yeast amount is fine-tuned to my fridge temp and fermentation duration (24h).

Now, preheat your oven to full blast. My oven reaches 250°C. If you have, also preheat your pizza stone for - at least - 30 minutes (depending on its thickness). If you have, check with an infrared thermometer if the stone is really as hot as the oven gets before baking.

I tried so often to make pizza in the intended way that you might have seen in a good pizza place but I have given up. Forming the dough is not that problematic but I always struggled with shoving the pizza peel under the dough disk with toppings. Sometimes that step succeeded, but latest when I tried to slide the pizza onto the hot stone, I failed miserably.

So, recently I decided to go the student way and simply cheat:

You need some baking paper that you additionally grease a tiny bit with olive oil. Let your risen dough slide out of the container as softly as possible on to the lubricated paper. Don’t rush it. The dough comes out eventually by sheer gravitational pull.

Now, don’t even think about a rolling pin! Lubricate your fingertips a bit with oil or use a bit of flour. If you used a not round container, grab the dough and stretch it a bit so it roughly gets round.

Now, from the center, in a circular motion, press the dough outwards to the edges. The goal is to get a pizza-plate-sized dough disk. Be gentle and try not to deflate the dough. Normally, the dough should stretch and slide easily on the greased baking paper… If everything goes according to plan, you are also pressing some of the fermentation gas from the center to the rim of the dough disk. Also try to form a slightly pronounced “wall” at the rim, which prevents sauce and cooking juice overflow!

Now top your dough with pizza sauce and stuff that needs some cooking time, like raw onions, mushrooms, paprika, etc. If you like, brush the rim of the pizza with some olive oil. The last step is to cut off the excess baking paper. I once had an oven fire. That was fun but also a bit smelly.

Now bake the pizza at full whack. As we did not deflate the dough and especially the rim completely, we have some gas left in the dough that will expand instantaneously thanks to the heat and deliver the bubbly texture of a Neapolitan-style pizza.

This is also the reason why you should not use a rolling pin: If you would roll the dough with a pin, all gas would be removed from the dough. The oven spring (i.e., the gas produced by yeast activity in the oven) will never be able to achieve the same fluffiness and air bubbles in the finished dough. This is because we only have like 8mm of dough, so the yeast will simply be dead in an instant and cannot produce gas like it could if you bake a 1kg loaf of sourdough bread.

After 3 minutes, the dough is set. Quickly open the oven and pull out the baking paper with some confidence. It will not stick to the pizza. Removing the paper is important, as the stone can absorb excess moisture from the dough which helps to brown and crisp up the dough.

If you don’t have a stone, you can bake the pizza on a pre-heated baking sheet. After around 3 minutes, you could move the pizza onto a baking rack which also helps to crisp up the bottom of the pizza as moisture can evaporate better.

Bake for three more minutes. Then remove the pizza from the oven. Put on the remaining topping, like ham, salami, mozzarella, etc. Bake for additional 3 minutes.

If you prefer well-browned cheese and toppings, you can also remove the pizza after a total baking time of three minutes, top it, and bake for further 6 minutes.

© ho1ger 2015 - 2021