A long overdue post. I’ve been asked about this recipe and the baking process a million times on instagram. Every time I replied, I wished I had a comprehensive blog so I can redirect anyone interested.
I have been making sourdough pizza for a long time. But it is only recently (or after moving to the US) that I shifted into making Neapolitan pizza. During the pandemic and lock down in 2019-2021, we all started making bread at home. If not at least we learned to enjoy home-cooked meals. Lots of people fell in love with cooking, making cocktails, barbecuing and gardening too.
It’s during this time that I started this blog really. And also I went into partnership with my favorite out-door pizza oven brand Gozney. I don’t get paid for saying this (just to be clear haha) but that roccbox rocked my world of pizza. It completely shifted my pizza game and me and my husband, we just fell in love with the whole process of making out own homemade sourdough Neapolitan pizza. It took me several tries to perfect everything but at this point I can safely say I have mastered most important aspects of it.
We both work from home and now we look forward to that Friday or weekend pizza night most weeks if not every week. Since I’m in Seattle, and we only have a partially covered little balcony, I make the most of the little sunny days we get every year.
What is Neapolitan pizza?
To qualify as a Neapolitan pizza, it should at minimum have the following;
- Basic dough (preferably made with 00 pizza flour)
- Topped with fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil (no fancy toppings)
- Cooked at a high temperature for no longer than 90 seconds (in a state-of-the-art pizza oven)
But no one is judging and you are allowed to make changes as you wish to your pizza. You can make your own tomato sauce. I often buy a good quality canned tomato puree (like San Marzano) from the store. I love to use fresh mozzarella if I can find it. Otherwise I use grated mozzarella. I always buy these in bulk and freeze in small containers so I never run out of them.
When it comes to basil, it has to be fresh. I grow my basil and in winter sometimes I buy plants from the store. I usually let one or two plants get mature (stop pruning and they will grow) and then they will flower. They will pollinate and I usually just let the whole thing dry out. Once dried out, it’s easier to harvest the seeds. Save them and start seedlings when the weather gets warm enough. This way you can have an endless supply of basil for most of the year.
And finally I use good quality EVOO to finish off my pizza.
Okay, so getting the perfect leopard spotting or the iconic burnt markings is the highlight, if not, the cherry on the cake, when it comes to Neapolitan style pizzas. When you have mastered the basic pizza making skills, you can graduate to this stage. There are three things that contributes to leopard spotting;
- the slightly high hydration
- longer fermentation
- cooking at an extremely high temperature
70% is the ideal hydration but the dough might be harder to handle specially for beginners. I have tested with various hydrations and figured out 60% is perfect for the sourdough base if you are using strong bread flour and 00 flour. Sourdough culture (levain) adds some water to the dough too, so the final dough hydration will be closer to 65% which brings out best in both worlds.
Since this is a sourdough recipe, we don’t have to worry about the long fermentation. When using commercial yeast, a tiny amount of yeast is used so the dough can be fermented for longer.
As for the high temperature, you can only achieve this by using a pizza oven build for that purpose. It can either be a brick oven or a portable one like what I am using. These ovens can reach up to a whopping 900°F (480°C), allowing us to cook the dough in just under 90 seconds.
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So here is the process
My recipe for the dough is very simple. All you need are these basic ingredients (flour, water, salt). But they have to be perfect!
I use a combination of strong white flour and 00 pizza flour. To know more about different flour types read my blog post on flour.
1:3 strong white: 00pizza
1:1 strong white: 00pizza
Flour combination does really matter if you are looking for great results. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make pizza without all these specialized flour types. You can use regular bread flour from the super market or even all-purpose flour. But know the difference flour could make to the texture.
00 pizza flour is finer grind (00) than white bread flour and is usually made from durum wheat. It has slightly higher protein (gluten) content than regular flour. Dough made with 00 pizza flour is soft, yet strong and super flexible. This is what enables pizza makers to stretch the dough and throw it in the air without tearing.
So if you are making pizza with regular flour, you might want to handle the dough carefully and pay attention while stretching it. Also you might want to increase the hydration in the dough as regular flour is more absorbent than 00 flour.
Also this stretchy dough results in a beautifully thin and airy crust that everyone loves in a Neapolitan pizza.
The starter or the levain (sourdough culture or however you wan to call it) has to be active and fresh.
Dissolve the levain in water
Add the mixture to flour and mix well. Flour should be well hydrated.
Leave the salt for later
The mixed dough is then covered and left to rest for about an hour. During this time, water is absorbed, starch is broken down and gluten will start to form. Natural yeast will kick start reproduction.
Now add the salt. By holding back on salt, we gave yeast a chance to start reproducing without intervention.
You can use less salt in the dough if the toppings you intend to add are salty. Eg. anchovies, bacon, olives and some cheese contain salt. You can also sprinkle some sea slat flakes once the pizza is baked.
But never skip the salt in the dough. Salt doesn’t only add flavor. It helped strengthen gluten bonds which gives body to bread dough. Also salt controls yeast production that will help stop dough from over proofing too quickly.
Once salt is added, knead the dough for 1-2 minutes and place in a greased bowl. Cover and leave in a warm place to ferment.
During this time, perform 3 coil folds at 45 minute intervals. Folds will strengthen gluten bonds further.
After the third coil fold, the dough will be a lot smoother & stronger. It will be airy with lots of air pockets on the skin.
Cover and leave this dough in a warm place for another 2-3 hours to complete bulk fermentation.
This is the bulked dough (it is in a bigger bowl than previous photo). This dough should be fluffy. If not leave a little longer.
Divide the dough into three and shape each one into round dough balls.
This size is perfect for Neapolitan pizza. this gives an individual size pizza.
weight should be between 190g – 200g
Place the dough balls in lightly greased individual containers. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least two days.
Three or four days is fine too but longer the dough ferments the less strong the gluten will be.
Over-fermenting the dough
I have left my dough longer than four days. Those pizzas turn out flatter (the crust would not puff up) and the base is crispier and dense. It tastes alright, may be a little sour which is often overpowered by the tomato sauce and other toppings. If you have left them for too long and don’t want to make pizza,, try dividing then in half and cooking them on a skillet. They will be similar to flat bread. Brush with some garlic butter for extra taste.
Pre-heat the oven well before you make the pizza. On a warm day, this oven takes only about an hour to reach 900F.
Pull the dough out from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Roughly about and hour or 2 before making pizza. The dough should be proofed and not cold to the touch.
I use a mix of semolina flour and all-purpose flour(1:1) to dust the bench and the dough. Use a generous amount or the dough will stick to everything. You can always remove the excess flour later.
When the oven is ready, you can start shaping the dough
This is how I start shaping the dough. Yes, I do sometimes throw the dough up in the air (checkout my Insta reels) This needs a fair bit of practicing. So if you didn’t get it the first time, don’t worry, we’ve all been there. just keep practicing. At the end of shaping, remove any excess flour leaving just enough to prevent the dough from sticking.
Once the dough is stretched, slather a generous amount of sauce, followed by mozzarella. Top with a few leaves of basil and drizzle with olive oil. This is now ready for the oven.
Getting the pizza onto the peel
Once you dress the pizza, don’t let it lay there for too long. The dough might get stuck to the counter top. So as soon as you are done, dust the peel with the same flour mixture and pull the pizza onto the peel. This may need a bit of practice. Swift movement is the key! Once the it’s on the peel, you can adjust it slightly and re-arrange any toppings. Just like before, don’t let the pizza hang out too long on the peel too. Always a give it a shake and make sure the dough slides on the peel freely and it’d not stuck anywhere. If you think it’s stuck, slowly lift the dough and dust with the flour mixture. If all id good, then get the pizza in the oven. So this whole process of dressing the pizza, loading the dough on to the peel and placing it in the oven should happen reasonably fast.
Slide the pizza into the oven in a single swift motion. The semolina on the bottom is going to help the dough slid away with ease.
Make sure to turn the pizza as it cooks, so you won’t burn one side. Use a turning peel for this. Pre-heat the peel before sliding underneath the dough. Again, turning a pizza needs a bit of practicing too. Let the bottom cook for about 10-15 seconds before you start turning.
You should’t have to cook it for longer than 90 seconds, if the oven is properly pre-heated. I usually reduce the flame once the pizza is in and then cook it for about 60-75 seconds, turning all the while. Once the pizza is out, you can bring the full-flame back on, to get the oven ready for the next one.
Use the turning peal to grab cooked pizza. They are best when eaten warm while the cheese is still liquid and runny. Use a pizza cutter (or a rocker) to slice and enjoy!