Neapolitan sourdough pizza

Neapolitan pizza
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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.

sourdough pizza

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.

Home grown basil

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.

leopard crust

Leopard spots

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.

My trusty pizza oven

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So here is the process

ingredients

My recipe for the dough is very simple. All you need are these basic ingredients (flour, water, salt). But they have to be perfect!

60% hydration

flour

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.

sourdough starter/levain

The starter or the levain (sourdough culture or however you wan to call it) has to be active and fresh.

dissolved levain

Dissolve the levain in water

add to the flour

Add the mixture to flour and mix well. Flour should be well hydrated.

Leave the salt for later

mix

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.

Neapolitan pizza
salt added

Now add the salt. By holding back on salt, we gave yeast a chance to start reproducing without intervention.

salt

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.

kneaded dough

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 three coil folds

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.

after the bulk

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.

cooked pizza
divide into three

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 in separate containers

Place the dough balls in lightly greased individual containers. Cover tightly and refrigerate for two days at a minimum.

Three or four days is fine too but longer the dough ferments the less stronger 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) much like tavern pizza 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, divide then in half, roll out and cook them on a skillet like flatbread. Brush with some garlic butter for extra taste.

pre heating

Pre-heat the oven well before you make the pizza. On a warm day, this oven takes only about an hour to reach 900F.

proofed dough

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.

dusting

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.

loaded pizza

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.

Cooking time

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!

puffy dough
Thin and puffy edges

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14 comments

  1. Have you ever tried freezing the dough? Maybe during the second ferment after one day in the fridge? Dying on the counter until room temperature? Wondering if you’ve already tried it and have any tips.

    1. No, I have not tested freezing the dough Casey. If you ever want to freeze the dough, my advise is to flatten out the fermented dough and wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze, just like the once you buy from the supermarket freezer isle.

  2. Have you tried scaling this recipe up? Does everything go up equally if I want to triple it? Like 900g of flour needs 300g of starter? Seems simple enough but wondering if you know for sure!

  3. Thanks for the recipe, can’t wait to try it! I’ve always been a little disappointed with my sourdough Neapolitan pizzas as they never puffed up as much in the oven as yeasted ones. Quick question on salt: 4g (1.33% salt) seems less than in most recipes I’ve come across who recommend around 2.5-3% salt. Is there a reason for this?

    1. The reason for less salt is that most toppings are salty and I usually add a dash of sea salt flakes on my cooked pizza.
      If you want you can increase it to 2%

      Cheers!

  4. I just found your page on sourdough pizza… I have made sourdough pizza with a King Arthur recipe that uses the discard… Just curious as to what the difference might be and if you can develop a Neapolitan style pizza with sourdough discard?

    Also, I noticed that on this page much of the either photos or videos are not here there is like a play Mark with a / through them, so I don’t know if the links are broken or needs to be updated. Anyway, I really appreciate this page… I’ve been on a pizza journey for several years and I’ve tried different things on lots of pizza books, and have worked in a few restaurants, but still on my journey to make a good pizza.

    1. If your discard is active enough, you can use that to make sourdough pizza crust (or even bread)If the discard is older there may be very little yeast present in that, so you might have to proof/ferment for longer to get the desired results.

      Yes, I have videos in this post and you can click on the play button to play them. They should work in any device, but I’ll have a look to see if there is an issue. thanks for letting me know.

      Good luck with your pizza journey!

  5. Hi, also, if my starter has risen and just starts to fall, can I still use it? And, yes the videos that aren’t playing have a play mark with a cross through it… And they don’t work. I can normally access videos on my iPad Pro with no problem. unless it’s a different format or a browser problem. But you might want to check in on that and see what formats they are or if they’re still linked. So you may want to check that if you haven’t already… again… Thanks for responding. I really appreciate it.

    1. Yes, you can still use it even when it has fallen.

      I will take a look at the video links, thanks for letting me know

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