In this relatively long, but worth-reading, article, I tackle How to Make Pizza Dough at home. Truth be told, this was a bit of a tough cookie to crack. Mostly because I am, for better or worse, a bit of a pizza snob. I mean, if I’m going to indulge in a pizza that is full of diabolical gluten and ooey, gooey cheese, than it better be exactly how I like it. For me, that means a crust that is thin and crispy, yet at the same time a bit chewy and full of flavour. This is not, a recipe for homemade deep-dish pizza, my friends. No, no. This is much more in line with the great Neapolitan-style pizzas that I love So. Very. Much.
Now, look, I’m not going to say that Neapolitan-style pizza is “the best pizza” or anything like that (even though it kinda is). After all, pizza is a very personal thing and everyone likes it their own special way. In my family, though, thin crust, minimal toppings and a flavourful crust reign supreme.
Before we jump into how to make pizza dough, I should mention a few things…
How to Make Pizza Dough: a Two-Part Process
First and foremost, you need to make the dough, duh. As mentioned, this recipe is for a Neapolitan-style dough.
If you can’t make the dough from scratch for whatever reason, you can try to buy freshly-made dough from your local grocery store, if they have it, or from a local pizza shop. Sometimes they will actually just sell you the dough. Maybe even some sauce too!
The second part involves baking the pizza, also duh. You can, of course, do this in an outdoor pizza oven, if you have one. If not, don’t worry! I will share some tips for making killer homemade pizza dough in your conventional oven.
When it comes to toppings, you’re the boss, applesauce. For sake of simplicity, though, let’s just assume here that everyone is going to make a classic Margherita pizza with crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano variety), fresh mozzarella (such as fior di latte), torn fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. Maybe we finish with some freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano? Though, one of my favourites is thinly-shaved mushrooms with fresh rosemary and olive oil. Goodness gracious, it is a thing of beauty.
How to Make Pizza Dough
I’ve been researching this process for MONTHS. In my free time I would scour the internet for explanations on how to make pizza dough at home. Some of the videos and recipes I encountered were so unbelievably confusing. Some people use cold water, others warm. Some said you have to perform slow ferments, bulk ferments, fast ferments, cold ferments. Why so much confusion? Why so complicated? Can’t it be simple?
The best and most understandable explanation for making Neapolitan-style pizza dough comes courtesy of the Stadler Made YouTube channel. Pieter Stadler provides some incredibly useful tips and tricks on everything from ingredients, to percentages to balling and stretching the dough. I highly, highly recommend you watch his videos because they are extremely helpful and that’s where most of my intel comes from anyhow.
I mean, anyone that takes the time to design and build their own outdoor pizza oven probably knows a thing or two about making pizza.
He even made a free Pizza Dough Calculator to help simpletons like me adjust pizza dough ingredient percentages based on the amount of pizzas I want to make. Genius!
Neapolitan-style pizza dough consists of 4 ingredients:
Neapolitan-style pizza dough calls for “tipo 00” flour. This specialty flour is almost always imported from Italy. It can be a bit hard to find, but I think it’s worth the effort to search for it if you can. You can find it online or locally. I personally get mine from my local grocer, who has a big selection of imported Italian products.
The double zero refers to the very fine grind of the flour. It is important to note that you need a “strong” flour for this pizza dough. Strong refers here to the high protein and gluten content in the flour. Do not, however, use double-zero pastry flour, which would not be ideal because it will not be as stretchy as double-zero bread flour due to the lower protein and gluten content.
If you can’t find double-zero flour, you can use a bread flour or all-purpose flour. If you use either of these you will need to adjust the amount of water you use, dropping the percentage down to between 40 and 50 percent, versus 65% water needed if using double-zero.
You can probably also use a gluten-free flour. I imagine you will need to adjust the water percentage here as well. I haven’t tested this recipe with gluten-free flour yet. When I do, I will report back.
If using a double-zero flour, you will want 65% water. Rather than be confuse by my terrible math skills, just use the Stadler Made Pizza Dough Calculator. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.
Along with the fermentation of the dough, salt is what will give your pizza dough its flavour. Your dough should be 3% salt. Here again, use the Pizza Dough Calculator to save some time.
I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt for almost all of my cooking and that’s what I used here. You can use any unrefined salt you like. Just keep in mind that salt crystals vary in size and some brands and types can be saltier or less salty by volume. Therefore, it’s important to use a kitchen scale to keep the percentages accurate.
Also, it may seem like the recipe is calling for quite a bit of salt, but it works.
Fresh yeast is what purists will argue for. I don’t know about you, but I can’t find fresh yeast in Toronto to save my life. Even if I could find it, I don’t think I would use it all up before it went bad.
Instead, I use dry active yeast, which can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for a year, if not longer.
How to Cook the Pizza Dough
In a perfect world, we’d all have wood-burning pizza ovens that reach temperatures of around 1000 degrees. When pizza cooks at such a high temperature, the gas in the dough created during the fermentation process quickly expands and causes beautiful pockets of air in the crust. These then blister and char, giving a delicious flavour and pretty presentation to your pizza.
Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world, do we? Cough, cough, COVID.
I don’t own a wood-fired pizza oven or a specialty pizza oven of any kind for the matter. Good news: you don’t need one! I mean, yes, it’s a fun piece of kit to have and cook with and maybe one day I’ll bite the bullet and get one. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with my regular oven.
The Skillet-Broiler Method
Sometimes, I think to myself, Where would we be without J. Kenji López-Alt? I mean, the guy has cracked so many codes to cooking. Not least the ability to turn out some killer Neapolitan-style pizza at home.
In the “Skillet-Broiler” method, the pizza dough is placed and topped in a preheated cast-iron pan. The pan is then transferred to the top rack of an oven preheated to 500F with the broiler setting at maximum heat. This allows for the pizza to simultaneously cook from the bottom and the top, resulting in a better oven-spring (i.e. more air bubbles occur in the crust).
For a deep-dive into this technique, you can read the full article here.
I think it’s important to note, however, that the first to really crack the at-home pizza code was Heston Blumenthal, who called for broiling the pizza on top of an upside down cast-iron skillet instead of a pizza stone.
For a little while, I was doing this and had some really great results. However, it turns out it’s very tricky to transfer an assembled pizza onto an upside-down skillet while it’s on the top rack of an oven – especially when the broiler is on full whack and you have an old oven with really hard to move racks. Not to mention the fact that I don’t own a pizza peel.
The “Skillet-Broiler” method is much easier to do and will be the one I continue with.
How to Make Pizza Dough - Neapolitan-Style
For the Pizza Dough:
- 523 g double-zero flour plus extra for shaping the dough balls
- 340 ml room-temperature water
- 15.7 g salt
- 7 g dry active yeast or one sachet if using pre-packaged
- Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
For the Margherita Pizza:
- 1 28- ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 500 grams fior di latte cheese roughly torn into 1-inch pieces
- Small bunch fresh basil leaves roughly torn
- Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
- Freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as needed
For the Pizza Dough:
- In a mixing bowl, combine the water and the salt. Stir until the salt is fully dissolved. Add one handful of the flour and stir, with a spoon or your finger tips, until incorporated. Add the yeast and stir, with a spoon or your finger tips, until incorporated.
- Add the remaining flour and stir, with a spoon or your finger tips, until a just incorporated. Using your hands, knead the dough into a ball for 2-3 minutes or until all of the flour has been incorporated.
- Transfer the dough onto a work surface and knead it for 15 to 20 minutes. This process is very important for creating a strong gluten structure, which will result in a more elastic and stretchable dough. Once kneaded, shape the dough into a ball.
- Brush the inside of a bowl with a thin layer of olive oil and place the dough in the centre. Brush the top of the dough with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place in a warm spot on your counter for 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and cut into four equal portions. Form each portion of dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured tray. Drizzle the top of each dough ball with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Place the tray in a warm spot on your counter for 4 to 6 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size. Alternatively, refrigerate for up to 4 days. Before using, remove the dough from the fridge for 1 to 2 hours and let it come to room temperature.
For the Margherita Pizza:
- Set a rack in the top third of your oven and preheat it to 500F. Switch to broil on the highest setting your oven can manage and let preheat another 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat a dry, large cast-iron pan over medium heat.
- Flour a work surface and stretch one ball of pizza dough. Carefully lay the pizza dough in the dry, preheated skillet. Spoon the crushed tomatoes on to the dough, leaving the crust plain. Add some cheese, basil and drizzle with olive oil.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and broil for 3 to 4 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown and slightly charred.
- Remove the pizza from the oven and, if desired, place it over a medium-high stove for 2 to 3 minutes to make the bottom of the crust extra crispy. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board, top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cut into slices. Let stand 2 minutes before serving.
- Repeat this process with the remaining pizzas.