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Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe -- With Warnings!

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Hi All. A few weeks ago I had a request to post the Neapolitan Pizza Dough recipe that I had previously posted several months before. This is the long-long rising, real thing recipe I got from the "Cuisine At Home" Magazine. It comes to this magazine from Pamela Sheldon Johns, who lives and writes cook books in Tuscany. I've never seen any of her books, but the magazines says that the titles are "Pizza Napoltana" "Gelato" and "Pasta!". She included this dough along with a more standard, and much easier Basic Pizza Dough.

WARNING. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before, I beg you, do NOT start with this recipe. Even if you have done pizza dough before, and you are not particularly experienced with yeast doughs, I still wouldn't start with this. If you are overly interested in "perfect"-looking pizza crusts, that are of a uniform circular shape, do not ever use this recipe. If you are a particularly short-tempered or easily-frustrated cook, don't do this either :) Don't attempt without a heavy-duty stand mixer and some serious time and patience. This is by far one of the fussiest pain-in-the-neck recipes I've ever used. And I wouldn't waste my time on it if the results weren't so SPECTACULARLY better than any other pizza dough I've tasted anywhere, anytime (except Italy, but that's another story). It is definitely the best I've ever made at home.

The first few times I made it I failed so spectacularly that it must only have been stubbornness that kept me trying. This tears. It rips. It doesn't rise. It overrises. It's too wet. It's too dry. It never shapes regularly. You can't really roll it, but stretching it doesn't really work either. It has to be coaxed into a roughly pizza-like shape (it is NEVER EVER regular, and often comes out kind of like a mishapen square). It's often too thick on one side and nearly transparent on the other (don't worry, it somehow works itself out in the oven). There are no end to the tricks this dough can play on you.

I don't know what it is -- but the fact that the flour and the salt aren't messed with and have time to meet and marry during the long long rising time, make this a mature and rich and satisfyingly full-flavored crust. It's very thin (I love thick crusted Chicago style pizza, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish) and gets crisp -- and if you cook it on an extra-hot pizza stone it will get nearly cracker-like.

In short (I know I'm being long-winded) -- it's Divine, but you need to go through hell to get to it :)

Neapolitan Pizza Dough

Makes 4 8-inch pizzas

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees -- use a thermometer!!!!!)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (half a 1/4 ounce envelope. Do not attempt with fresh or rapid-rise yeast)

3 cups all purpose flour (I use King Arthur or Gold Medal unbleached with identical results, even though there are differences in protein content)
1 cup cake flour (don't attempt with whole-wheat pastry flour -- I did, and came to grief)
*I'm assuming yu could substitute about 4 cups of the "OO" soft Italian flour (which the allpurpose+cake flour mixture is trying mimic, but I myself have never tried it!)
1 Tablespoon sea salt (don't try to attempt to use Morton's -- it gives an unpleasant chemical flavor to the finished dough)

Combine the water and the yeast -- making absolutely certain that the water is neither too hot nor too cold. Proof for 5-8 minutes. It should be somewhat foamy.

Mix the flours and salt in the bowl of the mixer with the dough hook. Add the yeast mixture and knead on low for a FULL 30 MINUTES. Shape the dough into a round. (It's in all likelihood going to be too wet, or possibly too dry, depending on the humidity of your kitchen and the freshness of your flour. You will need to work in a bit more flour by hand, kneading it in, to get it so it's not very very sticky. It will still be slightly wet, though, so be prepared for it to be a pain to get into the rising bowl). Put in an oiled bowl, flip the dough to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a non-drafty warm place (oven with pilot light on) for a full 4 HOURS. Punch down, divide into 4 pieces, and shape into little balls. You may need to add a tiny bit more flour at this point also. Brush lightly with olive oil (or use your Misto), cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at least 2 more, preferably 4 more hours.

Shape by pressing fingertips into the dough, leaving the edge puffy to create a rim (if you can do this successfully, my hat's off to you.). Grasp the rim with both hands, and work it around in a circle. Careful, or the weight of the dough may cause a tear. Do this quickly. Once it gets to a basically uniform thickness and ABOUT 8 inches acros -- whatever shape it is -- stop. Working it more will only cause more tears and holes.

This dough sticks to peels like glue, so use lots and lots of corn meal.

My favorite is to use Muir Glen Pizza sauce, a large-format pepperoni sliced extra-thin from the deli, and a sprinkling of whole-milk mozzarella. You'll think you've died and gone to pizza heaven.

If you havent' thrown the dough out the back door in disgust first!

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  1. Wow, that does sound hard to make. I'll bet you're going to be really happy when the new Neopolitan pizza place opens in your neighborhood. (g)

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Oh I know! We'll have to plan a Chowhound Event!

    2. Mrs. Smith - All your warnings have done nothing to deter me. I'm going to try this. I will clear the house, though, and unplug the phone. I have been known to fling a ball of cookie dough across the room when it hasn't rolled properly, but I'm gearing myself up for this challenge.

      Thanks!

      1. Have you tried longer rises -- like 24 hours in the fridge? If so, on the first or second rise? (I'm trying to cut down the pizza day prep time). Have to second the Muir Glen Pizza Sauce.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sbp

          I've never personally messed with the rising time, or refrigerated this dough. Whenever I've wavered from the formula I've had disastrous results, so I'm reluctant to try...

        2. Dear Mrs. Smith,
          I gave my brother-in-law Dave this recipe, and he mixes it by hand! He loves this recipe. Humm. . .come to think of it, he has never had me over when he makes it!

          3 Replies
          1. re: Amy
            p
            Professor Salt

            Hooboy. I've tried making this by hand. I've got the Pizza Napoletana book. It got really pasty, like kneadable Elmer's Glue - probably because of the soft flour. Some day when I get a stand mixer, I'll try again.

            Mrs Smith, I'm curious - how does the crumb turn out? Does it have lots of voids of uneven sizes, or does it turn out with uniform, small holes? I ask because I like a thin pizza with lots of voids. I like it when there's lots of bubbling. So I use a dough formula that promotes that (wet dough, minimal kneading, hand stretched).

            1. re: Professor Salt

              Not much bubbling, and pretty small uniform voids. It's so thin (except for the recalictrant thick parts that you can't avoid sometimes) that it is more like a cracker than like bread. But oh, the flavor....

              1. re: Professor Salt

                From my understanding, you'll get the crust you like by cooking with a high hydration dough, and at very high heat. We cook our pizzas at about 900 degrees, and they take about 90 seconds to make. That gets some big, gorgeous bubbles and leopard spotting.

            2. Oh Mrs. Smith, you write a loverly post. I'll never try this recipe, but I always read what you write. Thanks. :^)

              1. Ah, I was lucky enough to go hang out at Pamela S.J's house in Tuscany a couple of times during my soujourn in Italy--she teaches cooking classes/food tours that are really a lovely way to get into the Tuscan food scene. But alas, I had to leave before the pizza-making day came (she has an outdoor pizza oven) so I can't offer any hints on dealing with this dough. I'm sad that it can't be done by hand, though, since I don't have a mixer. Really wet doughs drive me crazy--I've tried a lot of levain doughs like that, and it drives me nuts to be trapped wrist-deep in dough goo. I've also never had luck making my own pizza--the crust always comes out hard and dry instead of pully and chewy-flexible. But next time I'm near someone else's mixer, will try this! thanks again, Mrs. S.

                1. Thanks for the recipe.

                  After you make the dough, how do you cook your pizza? Use a pizza stone? What temperature and for how long?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Norm

                    I heat my big retangular pizza stone on the bottom floor of my oven for about 30-45 minutes on 500. Yes, it becomes the blast furnace.

                    I rarely have to cook the pizza longer than 10 minutes. Watch carefully -- the thickness of your dough and toppings will dictate the cooking time.

                  2. I just made this recipe yesterday, and it worked perfectly. It wasn't nearly as terrifying as Mrs. Smith makes it out to be.

                    In the mixer, it may need a bit more water to get it to come together. It sticks to itself pretty well, and came right out of the dough hook. When you put it to rise, the key seems to be *lots* of oil in the bowl.

                    To shape, I stretch it in the air and let gravity do most of the work. After a bit, it spreads out pretty easily. I always parchment paper for pizza, and put the paper onto the stone rather than trying to slide it directly from the paddle.

                    It is salty, so plan to use less salt with your toppings. It comes out more chewy than crackery. I actually wanted something drier and crisper, but I'm told that has to do with the temperature of the oven.

                    1. What is the point of using 105-115° water when 90° will do the job and you're not going to risk killing the yeast?

                      I make pizza dough from a sponge that has fermented on the counter for 8 hours and then do a 2-3 day rise in the fridge to get the maximum amount of flavor. I usually make a double batch and the second pizza proofs in the fridge for a week or even more. Ive never had a crust fail and the flavor gets better with age.

                      1. Interesting, as a neapolitan pizza afficionado myself I was surprised to see the use of cake flour. Haven't seen that used before. I know that it's similar to Caputo 00 flour in coarseness but most high end pizza joints use a high gluten flour to achieve the chewiness of NYC/Neopolitan pizza. How would you describe the pizza crust in terms of texture, is this dough more cracker like or chewy? And how do you bake it and at what temperature?

                        True Neopolitan pizza needs a temperature of 850 degrees or higher to cook properly.

                        For those interested, check out Jeff Varasano's Neopolitan pizza dough recipe as well: http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm

                        1. After spending a couple weeks in northern Italy this summer (in Pavia, a town south of Milan) I became *addicted* to this style pizza. I've since tried half a dozen times to replicate the pizza style with at best moderate success, however THIS RECIPE absolutely nails it! I think the critical factors are the cake flour, as well as the sea salt. *Note, I was able to cut the dough rise to 3 hours. Then rather than forming the balls, I flattened to a rough pizza shape and let rise for another two hours, pressing into the final form just before topping with sauce. Also, I would recommend skipping brushing the olive oil on the dough after punching down and splitting. I've tried both ways. It tends to get just a bit *too* burnt and masks the wonderful taste of the dough by using oil, imho... but maybe I went too heavy on the olive oil. I floured my peel, and didn't use cornmeal, and it handled very easily on the large stone (17") that I use.

                          Also, for an incredibly delicious (and I think authentic) pizza, use San Marzano crushed tomatoes for the sauce, with just a splash of good olive oil, pinch of sea salt, and pinch of oregano - and nothing else (LESS is MORE here). I've also learned the secret of using sliced (rather than shredded) mozzarella. (Tip from the Food Channel on a pizza wars show). It sounds silly, but it makes for a very even distribution that bubbles perfectly in the super hot oven.

                          For a great pie, follow the above dough recipe and *easy* sauce recipe and top simply with FRESH basil. I promise it will be one of the best pizza's you've ever eaten, here or in Italy. (Black olives, thin sliced prosciutto or soprassata, & mushrooms makes a very nice combo as well). :-)

                          *I worked for years at pizza parlors here in the states, and have made my own pizza at home for decades, but can honestly say Mrs Smith's dough recipe is truly a masterpiece.

                          For those asking about the crust style: it comes out very crisp on the bottom 1/8th inch, the middle is semi-crisp to chewy -- which is perfect (i.e., authentic) and matches exactly what I'm going for. The appearance of the bottom is a marbled light to dark brown crust. (If anyone is familiar with the pizza chain from Italy, "Piola", [ www.piola.it ] the crust is exactly that style).

                          1. I built a wood-fired pizza oven in my backyard, and we make Neapolitan pizza dough regularly. Know what the crazy easiest way to do it is? Throw the ingredients in a bread maker and push the "dough cycle" button. An hour and a half later, voila, dough for 4 pizzas! I shape the dough balls and lightly oil them, and stash them in a dough box while I'm making more dough.

                            Using the Caputo 00 flour makes a *huge* difference. Using that, you can stretch the heck out of the dough, get it paper thin, nice and big, without ripping. I bought a 50 pound bag from a local food service company, parceled it out into gallon ziplock bags, and stashed most of it in the freezer. Totally worth it. When I don't have the caputo on hand, I just use bread flour. I did *not* like using the King Arthur special pizza flour. Flavor was great, but it was awful to handle.

                            Use rice flour instead of cornmeal on your peel. It's fabulously slippery, and no burnt popcorn smell/taste!

                            The recipe I use, from Fornobravo.com (where I also got the free plans for building my WFO):
                            500g Caputo 00 flour
                            325 g water
                            2 t salt
                            1/2 t yeast

                            1. I fail to see anything complicated about this recipe and i do it all by hand. I also do an 24 hour rise in the fridge. its pizza dough guys, nothing to stress about =)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: brandonbart

                                The only problem I see is the use of cups for the flour. This is why you may get some attempts that are too wet and others too dry when using the same recipe and technique. It would be a lot simpler to use a scale.

                                For a fairly standard 61% hydration neapolitan dough, the above recipe would need about 615g of flour in total.

                                You'll also get better flavour if you measure the yeast out in a small enough amount that can give you a 2-3 day rise in the fridge. I normally use 0.2%, which is 1.2g IDY for the 615g of flour.