How to Make Neapolitan Pizza Dough
I’ve been pizza crazy lately, and I want to share with you a terrific, authentic recipe for Neapolitan Pizza dough, created by Johnny (Gianni) di Francesco. I happened across a YouTube video of him, and he has so much to say and demonstrate, you just must have a look. But before we do, I want to tell you about this terrific pizza dough.
When making dough, professional bakers usually describe its consistency using the term “hydration.” All this means is the percent of water in the dough. For example, a 60% hydration tells us that the dough is 60% water by weight in relation to the flour. In this case, 1000 grams of flour (1 kilo) needs 600 grams of water to achieve 60% hydration.
The kind of flour you use for pizza is most important. Tipo 00 is what Johnny di Francesco uses in his pizza dough.
Another important consideration is the W index, an indicator of a flour’s strength, commonly used by professional bakers. It is measured using an instrument invented in 1920 called a Chopin Alveograph, and it takes into account both the toughness and elasticity of the flour’s gluten. Here’s a link for more info: https://www.cooksinfo.com/alveograph. The W index is often not listed on commercial flour packaging, but it can be approximated based the flour’s protein content.
Johnny di Francesco uses a high protein flour with a W index ranging between 280-330. To give you an idea of where such a flour stands in relation to other flours, the W index typically ranges from 100-400. A flour with a W index of less than 200 is not a good candidate for yeast bread. In the United States, flour companies are beginning to label their bags to show the protein strength of the flour. Bravo to that!
For pizza and sourdough yeast breads and regular yeast loaves, a 12.7% protein content is ideal. From what I’ve been able to glean from the literature, that percentage lies within the W 280-330 index. King Arthur is what I use for practically all my breads. Can you use it for pizza? Absolutely.
I’ve become a fan of Italian pizza flour, Antimo Caputo Tipo 00, which is also high in protein and makes a great pizza. My feeling is that it’s not only the protein content but the fineness of the milling that plays a role in the final result. The Tipo 00 is a finer flour than Tipo 0. I’ve not done side by side tests of King Arthur bread flour and the Antimo Caputo Tipo 00 flour in pizza dough, but I’ve switched to the Italian flour exclusively because my results are always consistent. It’s available from many online sources.
Johnny di Francesco’s pizza dough has flour, water, salt, and yeast. To make it, put 600ml cool tap water into a large bowl and stir in 30 grams of salt. When dissolved, add about 100gm of the flour and mix it in. Add the yeast at this point–Johnny uses a small nub of cake yeast–not easy to find these days outside of a bakery. I use instant yeast (SAF brand)–2 grams or 2/3 teaspoon. Once the yeast dissolves (which will be quite quickly) gradually mix in the remaining 900 grams flour to make a firm non-sticky dough. It’s important to keep salt and yeast apart from each other at first because direct contact with salt will kill the yeast.
Turn the dough out on your work surface–lightly floured if necessary–and begin kneading it by folding the dough over and over itself and pushing it away and bringing it back towards you for 7 to 10 minutes until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Feel free to use both hands. Take the dough temperature with an instant-read thermometer. I t should be between 73˚F and 78˚F. If it’s a bit higher, that’s okay, too. The dough temp will tell you the gluten has been sufficiently developed.
When the dough has been kneaded sufficiently, drape it with a damp cloth and let it rest on the countertop for 2 hours. This important step relaxes the dough and makes it easy to divide and shape into portions for individual pizzas.
This recipe makes enough dough for 6 pizzas. I cut in half and shape 3 balls of dough.
The next step, letting the dough rise, is important. Johnny says to raise the dough overnight between 60 – 65˚F. This long rise is important for the full development of the dough. After this rise, you can reshape the risen dough balls and refrigerate them for a few days before baking.
I put the balls of dough into a covered plastic container and bring it down to my basement, where the temperature is a cool low to mid 60˚F. At the end of the long rise, if the balls of dough have risen and spread out a lot, I reshape them, cover, and refrigerate until I want to make pizza. I let refrigerated dough stand on a lightly floured surface, covered with an overturned bowl, for a couple of hours before shaping and baking.
Shaping the pizzas is a trip. Johnny does it so quickly it’s nothing short of amazing. Just follow his movements and over time you’ll get the same results, but maybe without the same speed.
The pizza picture at the top is a pesto pizza. I spread the shaped dough with pesto, cover it all with fresh basil leaves, sprinkle with a couple of ounces of grated pecorino, and bake the pizza on a preheated baking stone or baking steel. I find it really easy to put the shaped dough onto a sheet of parchment resting on a board or one-rimmed cookie sheet, putting the toppings on, and sliding the pizza and parchment onto my baking surface. Be sure to preheat a stone or steel for 1 hour at 500+ degrees F. My pizzas bake in 8 minutes. Traditional pizza ovens do the job in under 2 minutes.
So here’s Johnny di Francesco sharing his tried and true methods for producing outstanding pizzas.
Do let me know what you think and if you have any questions.