This is my second post in my pizza series. If you missed my last post check it out. I gave a brief history of pizza, talked about baking techniques, posted my pizza sauce recipe, and gave my recommendations for tomato products.
In today’s post I will talk about…
- Italian pizza styles (I will discuss American styles in a future post)
- Discuss different kinds flours you can use
- Discuss dough proofing and yeast
- Ways to mix your dough
- Post my pizza dough recipe
Italian Pizza Styles:
Knowing that pizza was born and raised in Italy I want to educate you on the different styles of pizza made there. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Italians for giving us this culinary masterpiece!
In Italy there are many styles of pizza, some distinctively different, others minor variations. Of course each region thinks theirs is the best. The most famous is Pizza Napolitana, and that is the most authentic style which has made it’s way to our shores. Here is some about that and some others which I think are worth being aware of.
Traditionally cooked in a wood-burning oven making for a thin crust with a puffy edge. The most popular version, Pizza Margherita, is topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (usually buffalo milk), and basil to finish.
To Neapolitans, quality and consistency is of utmost importance—both Pizza Margherita and its cousin, Pizza Marinara (topped with tomato, oil and garlic), are regionally protected recipes. To receive the stamp of approval from the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana, Neapolitan pizzas have to stick to very strict standards that govern things like yeastiness, the type of flour (00), and the thickness of the dough, ingredients, and baking temperature.
If you want to find certified pizzerias near you check out their website at http://www.pizzanapoletana.org/en/associati. Enter the name of your city where it says “Look for a Member” and it will list member pizzerias in your area.
Pizza al Taglio:
Translating Pizza “by-the-cut”, this pizza hails from Rome where it is baked in sheet pans and sold by the slice, hence the alternative names pizza in teglia (“pizza in the pan”). You order as you would in a cheese shop, making your selection from the display case, telling the server how much to cut off, and paying by the weight.
Pizza al Taglio bakes in an electric oven for up to 15 minutes, yielding a crisp, airy, golden crust that’s up to an inch thick. To prevent toppings from being overcooked, some are applied mid-bake or after-bake. Why such precautions for so humble a street food? Because, at its best, Pizza al Taglio is a base for the some of the best cheeses, cured meats, seafood, and produce in Italy.
Not all Pizza al Taglio is Roman, though you may hear it called Pizza Romana, and not all Pizza Romana is Pizza al Taglio. Pizza al Taglio is prepared in many areas of Italy and takes on different regional characteristics. Unfortunately this kind of pizza is hard to find in the states. So you may have to make a trip to Rome.
In America “Sicilian Pizza” is often synonymous with “square,” which is the shape of the pan pizzas prepared by Sicilian immigrants and their descendants, mostly on the east coast. These New World pizzas were probably inspired by Sfincione of Palermo or Cudduruni of Syracuse, two types of Sicilian pizza typically sold in bakeries and likened, on account of their breadiness, to Sicilian focaccia.
When you order pizza in most areas of Sicily you usually get a round pie or, in the case of a stuffed pizzolo, a double-crust pizza. The term Pizza Siciliana is defined less by shape than by local ingredients: Semolina and other home-grown grains in the dough; toppings of goat cheese, pecorino siciliano and local cow’s milk cheeses – anything but buffalo mozzarella. Anchovies are common.
Pizza Romana Tonda:
Christopher Columbus convinced all that the world was round, not flat. Devotees of Pizza Romana Tonda view the world as round AND flat. Whereas Neapolitan Pizza is floppy and bendy, this round pizza of Rome has a crust that is exceptionally thin, and ultra-crisp. If you hold up a slice the point of the triangle will never sag. I’ve had this style of pizza in Italy. Personally it is not my fave, but for those of you who like a super thin, crispy crust, this one is for you.
Pizza Alla Pala / Pizza A Metro:
These are alternate terms for oblong pizzas baked directly on the stone floor of the pizza oven. Think pizza boards. T he Pizza a Metro is sized according the number of people sharing it, up to a meter long, as its name “pizza by the meter” – suggests. Pizza alla Pala may be cut into square slices. Pala is Italian for “peel,” the long-handled shovel-like tool used to slide pizza in and out of the oven. Texture and depth can vary, but in most instances these pizzas are crunchy and at least a half-inch thick.
This is the none-of-the-above style. It may also be recognized as “Classica”, “Tradizionale” or, in the generic sense, “Napoletana”. It’s pizza according to the Italian model, as opposed to the American one… small size (about 12-inches)… with a thinner crust… fewer toppings… and less of them. The toppings are familiar (Margherita, Marinara, Napoli, Quattro Stagione, Capricciosa) rather than design-your-own… no pepperoni… no chicken… no pineapple.
Flour: What kind should you use for pizza?
The first thing you need to understand about flour is gluten. Gluten is NOT evil!
Gluten is a protein… when hydrated it creates an elastic system throughout the dough that gives it’s chewy, springy nature (think of it like a spider web). The process of kneading dough traps the bubbles of CO2 released by the fermenting yeast in the web that is created by the gluten strands, allowing the dough to rise. The amount of gluten in the flour is what determines just how rubbery and chewy the bread will be as well as how much it will rise.
When it comes to pizza (and bread), there are a couple of key points you need to remember about gluten.
- Too little gluten makes dough very soft and tender and air pockets do not develop properly. It will tear easily when stretched.
- Excessive gluten (or over-activated) makes dough too difficult to stretch. Like rubber it just keeps springing back.
There are different types of flour available to you at the grocery store…
- Cake and pastry flours – lowest gluten, described as “soft flour”
- All purpose – medium gluten, a blend of “hard” and “soft” flour
- Bread flours – highest gluten flours you will find in grocery stores
- Commercial pizza dough flours—made from “hard” winter wheat
- 00 – high gluten very finely milled
- Semolina – made from Durum wheat—coarser and relatively high in gluten
Which flour is best for me?
Most pizza dough recipes found online or in cook books call for using all-purpose flour. These will give you very good results. Most have a protein levels of 10-12 percent. This is what I recommend for starting out if you are not experienced at making pizza.
If you want your pizza to have more chew, and a bit more rise, you can try something higher in gluten. Unfortunately you will not find high gluten pizza flour in your grocery store. The closest you will find is bread flours which can have quite a range in protein levels from about 12 to 16 percent (most are in the 14 to 16 percent range).
High gluten flour can be a little more difficult to stretch, so if you’re a rookie, you might want to start with a good all purpose flour, or if you want to push it a little, you can blend some all-purpose and bread flour.
Personally I always use Organic or Sustainably Grown flour. It has been widely reported that standard farming practice is to spray wheat with Round Up a few days prior to harvest which makes it go through the threshers better and gives farmers a higher yield. This is not the case with Organic or Sustainably Grown flour.
There some excellent brands to choose from. For personal use, or if catering pizzas, I use a commercial pizza flour, Shepherd’s Grain High Gluten Strength Flour. It is sustainably grown… no chemicals sprayed prior to harvest. But it’s only available in 50 pound bags at places which sell commercial products. So unless you plan to make a LOT of pizza, or share it with others, it would not make sense for you.
So when teaching pizza classes I use a good Organic All-Purpose Flour. Some of my favorite brands are Bob’s Red Mill, King Arthur, and Central Milling Company. Bob’s and King Arthur are employee owned companies which really appeals to me. Both companies make standard and organic flour so make sure it says “organic” on the bag. They will cost you more, usually about $7 for a 5# bag, but for me it is worth it. The Bob’s Red Mill is easiest to find in grocery stores where I live.
A really good value for quality organic all-purpose flour can be found at Costco. They carry 20# of Central Milling Company Organic Flour. I’ve had excellent results with it.
What is proofing dough and how long should I proof mine?
“Proofing dough” is simply a term used for the final rise before baking. It refers to a specific rest period within the more generalized process known as fermentation. Fermentation is a step in creating yeast breads and baked goods where the yeast is allowed to leaven the dough.
When making pizza dough you have a variety of options, you can make the dough in the morning or mid-day for making pizza later that night. That is standard practice for Pizza Napolitana. Personally I like to make my dough at least one day, or preferably two to three days prior to making my pizzas and allow it to proof in the refrigerator after a brief initial rise. This long proofing period allows the dough to gain complexity and a more yeasty flavor.
I most frequently make my dough two days in advance. If I am busy that day I will usually push it forward or backward a day. This requires some planning but if you know what day you want to make your pizza, just put a reminder on your calendar for the day you want to make the dough.
Refrigerating Dough? Really?
Yes, if you plan to make your dough one to three days prior it will need to be refrigerated. This dramatically slows the rising but allows the flavors to develop. I then remove the dough from the refrigerator one to three hours before using. If I feel it is pretty much fully risen I give it about an hour just to bring it to room temperature. If I think it needs to rise more, I give it two to three hours. You want it to be roughly double the size of the original dough ball. This is not rocket science so if it a bit more or less than double, don’t stress about it! I like to put my dough in these clear plastic take-out containers which I buy at Cash n Carry. But you can also store in one gallon plastic bags or a bowl with a lid.
About My Dough Recipe Ingredients:
The most basic pizza doughs are simply flour, water, salt and yeast (or no yeast at all if using naturally fermented dough… more on that another time). I add two additional ingredients to my dough… extra virgin olive oil and just a little sugar. This was the recipe we used at Frankie’s and it is so good I have stuck with it.
I use Active Dry Yeast. You can buy this in packets but I prefer to buy it in the jar so I can measure it myself, and easily adjust for the size of recipe I am making. If you store the jar in the refrigerator it should last for months.
I recommend that you DO NOT use Rapid Rise Yeast unless you need your dough to be ready within 2-3 hours.
I recommend that you vary the quantity of yeast depending on how far in advance you make your dough. My recipe calls for 3/4 teaspoon, which is fine if making the dough within 24 hours of using it. If I am making it two days ahead I reduce the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon, and even less if making it three days in advance.
To properly activate your yeast you want your water to be very warm, but not hot. I use a thermometer to make sue my water is between 105-110 F. If it is cooler it will not activate as well. If it is too hot you run the risk of killing the yeast.
I list my flour and water in both volume measurements and grams. I highly recommend that you measure in grams if you have an electronic scale. To do it by weight, simply put whatever bowl or measuring cup that you plan to use on the scale and then zero it out before adding your flour or water.
Why? Because it will give you more consistent results. Look online for the weight of a cup of flour and you will get all kinds of answers. You can buy electronic scales these days for $10-$30 dollars. If you don’t have one, just be careful in measuring.
I generally mix my dough in my Kitchenaid mixer using a dough hook, and then do a brief kneading and shaping by hand. You can also do it in a food processor if yours is large enough. Some people who have tested both methods actually feel that the food processor is superior. Either will work great, OR you can mix and knead your dough my hand and also get excellent results (with the added benefit of well developed muscles in the process!).
I use a somewhat unconventional mixing method that I learned from a professional baker which I have begun to use. After mixing the dough in my mixer for 2-3 minutes I turn the mixer speed to high and mix for another 45 seconds or so. This helps develop the gluten structure of the dough.
After mixing in a mixer, food processor, or by hand in a bowl, you want to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead by hand and then form a large dough ball (which you will later cut and reform).
The key is that you want to mix and knead your dough enough to activate the gluten structure. You will know this has happened when you get some pushback when you make an indent in the dough. If the dough is very soft and does not push back, knead it a little longer. It will relax during the proofing process.
One last FYI, my dough recipe is based on a 60% hydration level (flour to water ratio). I will explain hydration levels in my next blog, and how they effect your finished pizza. This dough should be slightly sticky and take a little scraping to get it out of the bowl. Use just enough flour on your hands and counter to make it workable.
After you form the dough, you will cover it and allow it to rest and go through a short rise before forming the final dough balls. You will notice that the glutens have begun to relax when you come back to the dough. I then do another short brief time at room temperature to let the dough begin it’s rise before moving to the refrigerator for proofing.
Wrapping it up:
That’s it for today. In my next blog post I will discuss…
- Various American styles of pizza
- Hydration levels (flour to water ratio) and how they affect your crust
- Different styles of dough
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please comment if you did, or if you have questions. But mostly I hope you will get in your kitchen and bake some pizza!
Don’t forget, if you live in the eastside of Seattle area I teach hands-on pizza classes in your home for groups of six and up. I can do fewer people but you still pay for six. For details on that and/or my catering of pizzas or other Italian offerings, check out my website at http://www.frankiesitaliancooking.com
It’s time to say grazie for reading my blog and bid you ciao for now!
Great information! I happen to know I’m getting a pizza steel for Christmas, so there will be much pizza in our household after the holidays! We have yet to find any that compares with what we enjoyed at Frankie’s for all those years, but we’ll continue our quest for the perfect pizza!
You make it sound so easy. Very informative. Thanks Frank! Merry Christmas to the Curtiss family.
Larry and Cindy Carr
Thanks Cindy. Merry Christmas to you and Larry as well. May God bless you with a healthy year in 2019!
Pingback: Pizza Blog #4… finding the best mozzarella for your pizza | Frankie
This is fantastic information! Thank you!