Pizza dough: pizza chefs' tips and tricks to prepare pizza at home
Pizza, a typical product of the Neapolitan culinary tradition, is a serious matter: the symbol of Italian cuisine par excellence hides a whole world of secrets, steps, and expectations that in all respects resemble the creation of a work of art. Because pizza must always be taken seriously, and it is a masterpiece of folk art even when you are looking for the simplest recipe to prepare it. Each step in preparing pizza is essential, from the dough to the rising times, up to the choice of ingredients to season it. For this reason, we have relied on the words and advice of the great masters of Neapolitan pizza, such as Enzo and Ciro Coccia, Franco Pepe and Enzo Piccirillo, historical pizza chefs in Naples, after reading “Pizza. The recipes of the best Neapolitan pizza makers”, a beautiful book on Neapolitan pizza written by Alba Pezone.
In this guide, you will find some tips and (almost) all the secrets for making pizza at home according to the Neapolitan tradition. Because let's face it, you need passion and dedication to make a good pizza, but you have to follow a good recipe to the letter above all.
Foreword: Neapolitan pizza dough is pure popular creative art. It is the furthest away from an industrial product. Therefore, rigorously establishing the leavening and baking processes' ideal conditions would be difficult, if not impossible. Each Neapolitan pizza maker has written a story in itself. Some have even turned it upside down by creating something equally unique, as in Anna Manfredi "la Masardona", the grandmother of Enzo Piccirillo, an inventor and lady of fried pizza in Naples.
In short, there is something for all tastes, but there is no shortage of fixed points. This article will give you some basic tips for preparing homemade pizza according to the traditional Neapolitan pizza recipe.
Pizza dough: 3 ways to prepare the perfect dough
If you are looking for the real Neapolitan pizza or the best way to prepare homemade pizza like a real pizza maker, you cannot miss the advice of the best chefs about ingredients, pizza dough preparation, leavening, and tasting. How to prepare a good pizza? How much oil do you need? What type of mozzarella is ideal for pizza? We will tell you everything, absolutely everything, starting with the basics:
1. How to choose the right flour for Neapolitan pizza?
To prepare homemade pizza, even in a pan in the domestic oven, you must first choose the best flours to prepare the dough professionally. This is a critical phase: the choice of flour will, in fact, affect dough's elasticity, its kneading, its consistency, and the cooking of the pizza.
Drinking water, salt, yeast, and flour are all you need to have a good pizza. Pizza flour can be:
- 00 type (all-purpose) flour, obtained by grinding the seeds of soft wheat, suitable for any sweet or savory preparation;
- Common wheat flour is the classic flour with small, flaky grains used for bread making obtained from the grinding and subsequent sorting of the "Triticum aestium" wheat grain deprived of impurities and foreign substances. The difference between soft wheat flour and durum wheat flour basically lies in the protein content (slightly higher in durum wheat) and in the dough's elasticity (better in soft wheat). For these reasons, soft wheat flour is perfect for preparing baked goods, such as pizza and bread.
- Mixing flours. It is possible to prepare pizza dough by mixing different types of flour (whole wheat flour or cereals), considering that whole wheat flour requires longer rising times because of its high fiber and nutrients.
2. Pizza dough rising times
The leavening of pizza dough is a fundamental phase, which changes depending on the type of processing. If you have prepared the pizza dough by hand, after making some dough loaves, you will have to cover them with a clean cotton cloth and let them rise for 6-8 hours (wholemeal flour takes longer) at medium temperature, away from drafts. The pizza dough prepared with a mixer, on the other hand, must rest for 2 hours on a work table, covering it with a cloth to avoid the formation of a crust on the surface. The longer the dough rising time, the more digestible the pizza will be.
3. The secret of the real Neapolitan pizza
Neapolitan pizza has features that make it unique. One above all, a 1-2 cm high and 0.4 cm thick crust. EU Regulation n. 97/2010, which recognizes Neapolitan pizza as a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty, allows a tolerance of up to ± 10%. The real Neapolitan pizza must be soft, elastic, easily foldable. It is no coincidence that they eat pizza wrapped in paper in Naples after having folded it in two. An understandable habit: for many, in fact, there is only one way to taste pizza and really appreciate it. Once out of the oven, eat in the next four minutes. Cooked, served, eaten!
The flavor must be typical, just like freshly baked bread, with the acidic notes of tomato and the taste of lightly cooked mozzarella, with the aroma of basil, oregano, and sometimes garlic.
(At this point in the article, according to our very complicated calculations, it will be practically impossible not to crave pizza!)
How to prepare Neapolitan pizza dough
It takes 30 minutes to prepare pizza dough by hand. You need drinking water, salt, brewer's yeast, and flour. For 6 loaves of dough, use 0.5 liters of water, 25 grams of salt (which correspond to a generous tablespoon), 2 g of brewer's yeast, and 900-950 grams of 00 type flour.
- Pour the water into a large bowl, add the salt and yeast, gradually distributing the flour;
- Knead vigorously, with crossed fists, imitating the mixer's movement;
- Remove the dough only after making sure that it has absorbed all the flour, and continue to knead it on a lightly floured working surface, swelling and stretching the dough;
- Now, the oxygen and the gluten protein network (gluten mesh) are structured, which gives the dough its softness. As you knead it, the dough becomes elastic and stretches, amalgamating, without breaking, definitively forming the gluten network;
- After kneading it for 20 minutes, the dough is no longer sticky and is ready for leavening;
- Keep on kneading the dough for another 10 minutes and divide it into pieces of 250 g each;
- Place the loaves on a lightly floured wooden surface, covering them with a clean cotton cloth, let them rest at medium temperature for 6-8 hours;
- After the rising time, roll out the dough loaves quickly on a surface with a pinch of flour (no more than a pinch!) Trying to make the dough very thin, using your hands: your fingertips and the palm of your hand. Spread the pizza disc from the center outwards. It's time to add the toppings and bake!
You can also use a mixer, but you need to give it the right speed for oxygenation and not overheat it to avoid breaking the gluten mesh. Once ready, you will need to work the dough on a rigid work surface, stretching it according to the shape you want to obtain.
Seasoning ingredients and toppings: a list of the best products
A good pizza must be seasoned with typical ingredients, essential for the success of the true Neapolitan pizza recipe! Pizzeria Italiana Espressa knows how the ingredients can make a pizza special. So we give you the opportunity to choose them and compose your customized pizza, even if you need a takeaway in Milan!
If you prepared the dough on your own, here is a list of ingredients to season pizza in the simplest way:
- Peeled tomatoes or San Marzano PDO tomato purée, to be spread on the pizza dough disc in a circular motion using a spoon;
- Organic oregano;
- Garlic. Use a clove without the outer film. Put in the tomato sauce;
- Extra virgin olive oil: choose a good, natural one, with all the flavors of the Mediterranean, because this ingredient will almost completely condition the taste of the pizza!
- PDO Campania buffalo mozzarella or the Apulian burrata, an irresistible soft cheese made from cow milk stretched curd cheese with a soft and creamy filling, made from stracciatella mixed with cream;
- Fiordilatte TSG (traditional specialty guaranteed), a cow's milk mozzarella typical of some areas of Campania and Puglia;
- Cacioricotta or podolic caciocavallo cheese, to be used in flakes or grated on pizza, always after it is baked;
- Organic basil, the most fragrant!
The secret to seasoning tomato for pizza is to put the tomato sauce in a bowl with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt (and garlic cloves, if you want to prepare the Pizza Marinara), and then distribute it on the pizza. Once cooked, wait 10 minutes, distribute the other tomatoes in pieces or fillets on the almost cooked disk, and then bake everything for another 10 minutes.
Cooking the pizza: slow, but not too slow!
In the wood-fired oven of Neapolitan pizza makers, pizza cooks in a few seconds at a temperature of almost 400 degrees. Homemade pizza baking happens in the common domestic electric oven. For optimal pizza cooking, preheat the oven to 250 degrees (Celsius) and bake the pizza for 15 minutes using a metal pan. For a soft and golden edge, Enzo Coccia, in the "Pizza - The best recipes of Neapolitan pizza makers" book by Alba Pezone - recommends adding 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 10 grams of sugar.
How to season homemade pizza in a pan?
The pan-baked pizza sauce ingredients must be added following a precise order during cooking—first, the most liquid one: the sauce. Then the most delicate ones: tomatoes, anchovies in pieces or whole and buffalo mozzarella, which must be put on the pizza 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Once out of the oven, you can add basil leaves or other ingredients, such as caciocavallo, ham, and rocket.
How do you eat pizza?
The secret to pizza-eating is: don't wait. It should be eaten hot, very hot, possibly using cutlery only to cut the slices, even if (in this case, the etiquette can wait!) real Neapolitan pizza, it is so soft and elastic that it could easily be folded by joining the corners of the edge. After all, pizza is a very simple, popular, informal dish. Pizza makers recommend eating the pizza within 4 minutes of cooking. Ready? Go!